These Vietnamese pork ribs over-deliver on the sweet-savory-spicy promise of their native cuisine. Caramelized brown sugar, pungent fish sauce, and tangy lime create an experience that’s astounding in every way, not to mention sublimely sticky and perfectly charred from the grill. Napkins, please.–Jenny Howard
Vietnamese Pork Ribs
For the marinated pork ribs
- 2 medium (12 oz) white or yellow onions, grated (about 1 cup)
- 3 cloves garlic, grated
- 2 tablespoons five-spice powder
- 2 teaspoons kosher salt
- 2 tablespoons mild vegetable oil, plus more as needed
- One (2 1/2-pound) rack baby back ribs
For the basting sauce
- 2 tablespoons palm sugar or light or dark brown sugar
- 1 tablespoon water
- 4 cloves garlic, grated
- 2 medium stalks lemongrass (white parts only), trimmed and finely chopped
- 1 teaspoon hot chile powder (optional)
- 1 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
- Juice of 1 medium lime, preferably organic (2 to 3 tablespoons)
- Zest of 1 medium lime, preferably organic (about 2 teaspoons)
- 1/2 tablespoon light soy sauce (or substitute regular soy sauce)
- 1/2 tablespoon dark soy sauce (or substitute light or regular soy sauce)
- 1 tablespoon fish sauce
- 1/4 cup mild vegetable oil
Marinate the ribs
- In a very large bowl or roasting pan, whisk together the onions, garlic, five-spice powder, salt, and oil until well combined. Add the pork ribs and turn to thoroughly coat the ribs. Cover with plastic wrap.
☞ TESTER TIP: You can instead divvy the marinade between 2 large resealable plastic bags, cut each rack of ribs into 2 even slabs, and place a slab in each bag, pressing out the air around the ribs and tightly sealing the bags.
- Refrigerate the ribs for 2 to 24 hours.
Make the basting sauce
- In a medium bowl, combine the palm or brown sugar with the water and stir to dissolve.
- Whisk in the garlic, lemongrass, chili powder (if using), black pepper, lime juice, lime zest, light soy sauce, dark soy sauce, fish sauce, and oil.
- Preheat the grill to medium-high heat (400 to 450°F | 204 to 232°C).
- Remove the ribs from the marinade, scraping off any excess, and rub with a small amount of oil on both sides.
- Grill the ribs, meaty side down, for 7 minutes. Flip the ribs and continue to grill, basting the meat side with the basting sauce, until the pork’s internal temperature reaches 145°F (63°C), 7 to 15 minutes more.
- Flip the ribs again and grill for 7 minutes. Use a clean brush to baste the bone side.
- Flip the ribs one final time and grill them for 7 minutes. Baste the ribs all over before removing them from the heat. Discard any leftover basting sauce.
- Let the ribs rest for 5 to 10 minutes. Cut the rack into 3- to 4-rib portions and serve.
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Nutrition information is automatically calculated, so should only be used as an approximation.
Recipe Testers’ Reviews
This dish is succulent and redolent with spices. My husband loved this recipe. It was easy to prepare and can be marinated up to 48 hours. The blend of spices is well balanced and each ingredient works well together. This would be an easy recipe for a backyard barbecue. You can dress it up or down as needed. The flavor will tempt even the most finicky of eaters. This would be easy for inexperienced and skilled cooks alike.
My husband loves ribs and I love Asian flavors so this seemed like a recipe we could both enjoy. I prepared the marinade and put the pork ribs in it for 6 hours. The last hour I took them out to bring them to room temperature before grilling.
The basting sauce took very little time to put together and the flavors together are delicious. Following the grilling directions exactly, the ribs were done perfectly! A nice chew and very juicy. The caramelization was my favorite part!
I think a time saving tip would be to make the marinade in a food processor instead of grating the onion and garlic. I believe the onion would still tenderize the pork just as much as grating it. In addition, the basting sauce can be made in a measuring cup and hit with an immersion blender before adding the lime zest and lemon grass. The basting sauce has a complex flavor, really tasting the lime juice, garlic, and lemon grass. This would easily be delicious on anything grilled.
After testing this recipe once, it has shot to the top of my pork ribs recipes—it’s that good and it’s unfussy. My guests don’t know about the effort involved, but they agreed wholeheartedly about the flavor. Next time, I’ll double the recipe or invite fewer guests as not all of us got our fill of these ribs.
I cooked the ribs on a pellet smoker set to 400°F. Total cooking time was about 1 hour and the ribs were still quite moist. Perhaps they were meatier than normal or perhaps trusting the pellet smoker to report the temperature correctly was a mistake. In any case, you should always exercise judgement (and a good thermometer) when deciding when meat is properly cooked.
I used chipotle chili powder and the rack of baby back ribs I bought weighed 3-1/2 pounds. I concluded I had plenty marinade to use the whole rack, so I did.