These Soy Ginger BBQ Ribs Will Knock Your Socks Off

Smoked pork ribs take amazingly well to the flavors of soy sauce, ginger, and five-spice powder.

As a seasoned BBQ cook living in Memphis, I am expected to produce nothing but the best when it comes to smoked pork ribs. The challenge for me, however, is finding a way to set my ribs apart from those available at countless BBQ joints throughout the city.

When it came time to host our kids’ friends for an end-of-school-year pool party, I set out to create a rib recipe that was traditionally “southern” in technique but with flavors less common to this part of the world.

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Smoked spare ribs with Chinese seasonings fit the bill. The flavor base comes from a dry rub of paprika mixed with five spice powder, including cinnamon, cloves, anise, fennel and Szechuan pepper (see our five spice powder recipe here or use store-bought). The ribs are smoked low and slow until moist and tender then glazed with sticky sweet soy and ginger BBQ sauce. When I set out these ribs, the kids devoured them as soon as they hit the serving platter!

Note: this sauce has dozens of other uses so make an extra batch to slather on wings, burgers, pork chops, and more. For more traditional smoked BBQ ribs, be sure to check out our last meal ribs recipe! 

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Course. Lunch. Dinner. Entree.

Cuisine. Chinese.


Makes. 2 servings, 1/2 rack each

Takes. 10 minutes of prep. About 5 hours to smoke.

Special Tools. Heavy duty foil. Three to four chunks of your favorite smoking wood.

Serve with. Sapporo or Kirin beer.


Five-Spice Rub

2 tablespoons sweet paprika

1 tablespoon five spice powder or store-bought

The Ribs

1 slab St. Louis cut ribs 

1/4 teaspoon Morton’s kosher salt per pound of meat (read more about the science of salt here)

2 tablespoons mayonnaise

3 tablespoons apple juice

Soy Ginger BBQ Sauce

1/2 cup ketchup

1/2 cup honey

1/4 cup soy sauce

2 tablespoons rice vinegar

1 tablespoon brown sugar

2 teaspoons finely minced ginger

2 teaspoons garlic powder

1 teaspoon sesame oil

About the salt: Remember, kosher salt is half the concentration of table salt so if you use table salt, use half as much. Click here to read more about salt and how it works.

About the mayonnaise: The use of mayonnaise is completely optional but is something that I have done for years. As with the more popular yellow mustard, the mayonnaise serves as a binding agent for the dry rub without drastically altering the flavor of the finished meat. Unlike mustard, mayonnaise is high in fat, which benefits the ribs).


1) Prep. To create the five-spice dry rub, combine the sweet paprika and five spice powder in a small bowl and blend well (now it's a six-spice rub!).

2) Remove the membrane from the slab of ribs (read more on removing the membrane here).

3) Season the slab of ribs with Kosher salt. If you can, give the salt 1 to 2 hours to be absorbed. The process of salting in advance is called dry brining. The rule of thumb is 1/2 teaspoon of kosher salt per pound of meat, but ribs consist of only about 50% meat, so use about 1/4 teaspoon per pound. You can simply eyeball it by sprinkling on the same amount of salt you would sprinkle on the ribs if they were served to you unseasoned. 

4) Fire up. Prepare a smoker for indirect cooking. Alternatively, you can set up a charcoal grill for 2-zone cooking by placing a chimney full of lit charcoal briquets on one side of the grill's charcoal grate in order to create direct and indirect cooking zones. Adjust the smoker or grill vents to bring the temperature to about 225°F and add three to four chunks of your favorite smoking wood to the charcoal for flavor. On a gas grill, adjust the temperature knobs so that one half of the grill is off and the other half is heated enough to maintain a temperature of approximately 225°F on the indirect side.

5) Once the smoker or grill is ready, brush both sides of ribs with mayonnaise and lightly season with the five-spice dry rub.

6) Cook. Place the slab of ribs meat side up on the main cooking grate as far away from the heat source as possible. Cover the smoker or grill. Allow the ribs to smoke until the meat just begins to shrink back from the ends of the bones, about 3 1/2 hours.

7) Lay out two double layers of heavy-duty aluminum foil approximately eight inches longer than the ribs. Lay the slab of ribs on the foil meat side down. Fold up the sides of the foil to create a boat, pour in the apple juice, and loosely seal the foil.

8) Place the foiled ribs sealed side up on the smoker or grill and cook until the meat shrinks back from the ends of the bones by 1/4 to 1/2 inch, about 1 hour.

9) As the ribs smoke, make the soy ginger BBQ sauce by combining the ketchup, honey, soy sauce, rice vinegar, brown sugar, ginger, garlic powder, and sesame oil in a small saucepan. Simmer the sauce over medium-high heat while stirring frequently until thickened, about 10 minutes.

10) Remove the ribs from the smoker or grill and cautiously open the foil packet to allow the steam to escape. Gently remove the ribs from the foil and set them back on the smoker or grill meat side up. Cover the smoker or grill and allow the ribs to cook until tender but not falling off the bone, about 20 minutes. We prefer to use the "bend test." Use tongs to pick up one end of the slab of ribs, then bend them slightly. If they are ready, the slab will bow until the meat starts to crack on the surface.

11) When they are ready, brush sauce on both sides of the ribs and turn them meat side up on the smoker or grill. Cover the smoker or grill and cook until the sauce sets and becomes tacky, 3 to 4 minutes. 


12) Serve. Remove the ribs from the smoker or grill, slice, and serve.


"My family barbecued a lot; good barbecue is more complicated than you think."Manish Dayal, actor

Clint Cantwell

Clint Cantwell is's Senior Vice President, charged with creating recipes, writing articles, shooting photos, and a little bit of everything else. Cantwell was was named one of the "10 Faces of Memphis Barbecue" by Memphis Magazine and was the winner of Travel Channel's "American Grilled: Memphis".




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