Playing with Fire!

Somehow a summer holiday is just not the same unless you enjoy an outdoor BBQ. For the 4th of July we were all set to make Russ’s famous baby back ribs again when we just happened to be online and this intriguing rib recipe from Bon Appetit caught our undivided attention.


Take heed all you foodie lovers of the brash and bold—we hit the Motherlode! This is the Holy Grail of sauces. The key ingredient? Gochujang Korean Hot Sauce, a savory, spicy, pungent, fermented vegan Korean condiment that combines red peppers, cane sugar, garlic, sea salt, and other ingredients for an umami flavor with the perfect balance of sweet and savory. A one-teaspoon serving of the sauce contains just 10 calories and no fat or gluten. Ride on!

gochujang container

And as luck would have it, we just happened to have a container sitting in our pantry waiting to be used. Months ago we purposely bought it with the intent to make some recipe or other that we clearly never got around to making. In fact, we had all of the other ingredients too, except some fresh scallions, which were easy enough to pick up at the local grocery store.

Onward ho… Barbecue Ribs with Gochujang Sauce, yeah baby, we were psyched! Be forewarned, this concoction is not for those with a faint-of-spice palette (of course you could use sparingly if you wanted to try it.)

David helps with preparation by husking the corn.

Mike and David are the first to try our grilled ribs with Gochujang Sauce.

Our first “guinea pigs” were son David and his friend Mike. David, who shares a love of all things spicy, was given a tiny taste of the prepared sauce prior to cooking. His first reaction was nothing out of the ordinary, but within seconds the full flavor punch hit him, causing a succession of rapid eye blinks. Once grilled however, we all agreed the sauce mellows in intensity, and you’re left with unbelievable depth of flavors.

Knowing the ribs would steal the show with their potency, we rounded out the meal with more mellow sides starting with a Caprese Salad: heirloom tomatoes topped with slices of fresh mozzarella, just-picked basil leaves, and a drizzle of balsamic reduction; recently husked white corn on the cob; and a store-bought cole slaw.

A very summer side, Caprese Salad is the perfect accompaniment to the spicy ribs.

Simple cole slaw and boiled corn on the cob round out the meal.

Our conclusion? Gochujang rub is great on ribs, but would also work on a pork shoulder before braising, pork tenderloin, or bone-in pieces of chicken. And since we did have leftover sauce, we plan on grilling bone-in chicken breasts later in the week.

Did we like these better than Russ’s baby backs? To be honest, we did season the ribs with his special rub to get happy overnight, instead of just using salt and pepper as the recipe instructs. But the sauce, oh that wonderful attack-on-all-of-your-culinary-senses sauce! The bar has been raised once again, and happily so. David asked that I email him the recipe because he couldn’t wait for me to post this blog…


Ingredients (serves 4)

  • 2 racks baby back pork ribs (about 2 pounds each)
  • Kosher salt, freshly ground pepper
  • 4 scallions, cut into 1-inch pieces
  • 10 garlic cloves, peeled
  • 1 3-inch piece peeled ginger, very coarsely chopped
  • 2 tablespoons vegetable oil, plus more for grill
  • ¾ cup gochujang (Korean hot pepper paste)
  • ½ cup ketchup
  • cup fresh lime juice
  • 3 tablespoons plum sauce
  • 2 tablespoons light brown sugar
  • 1 tablespoon fish sauce
  • 1 tablespoon soy sauce
  • Lime wedges, for serving

The aromatics (garlic, ginger and scallions) are finely chopped in a small food processor.

The pulsed aromatics are then cooked in oil in a skillet for several minutes to soften.

All of the other ingredients are mixed into the cooked aromatics.

Once blended well, the sauce cools. It will turn decidedly darker as it is grilled.


  1. Preheat oven to 300°. Pat ribs dry; season generously on both sides with salt and pepper. Wrap each rack in a double layer of foil, crimping edges tightly, and place on a rimmed baking sheet. (We seasoned ours with Russ’s spicy rib rub and let them get happy overnight in the frig, baking them the next day.)
  2. Bake until meat yields easily when pierced with a skewer but is not quite falling off the bone, 2–2½ hours. Remove from oven and let sit inside foil until cool enough to handle.
  3. Meanwhile, pulse scallions, garlic, and ginger in a food processor until finely chopped. Heat 2 Tbsp. oil in a medium saucepan over medium. Add aromatics and cook, stirring often, until softened, golden, and starting to stick to bottom of pan, about 4 minutes.
  4. Add gochujang, ketchup, lime juice, plum sauce, sugar, fish sauce, soy sauce, and ¼ cup water and stir until smooth. Bring to a simmer and cook, stirring often to prevent scorching, until thick, 5–10 minutes. Remove sauce from heat; season with salt.
  5. Prepare a grill for medium-high heat; lightly oil grates. Remove ribs from foil (if desired, stir cooking liquid into sauce) and cut racks in half crosswise. Place ribs on grill, meaty side down, and grill until lightly charred, about 1 minute. Brush ribs with sauce and turn over. (We actually grilled ours for about 5 minutes per side.)
  6. Brush with more sauce and continue to grill, turning ribs one or two more times, until sauce is lightly charred in spots, about 2 minutes. Transfer to a cutting board and let rest 5 minutes before slicing into individual ribs.
  7. Serve ribs with remaining sauce and lime wedges.

Russ begins to baste the seasoned ribs with sauce before grilling.

After grilling for about 10 minutes total, the racks are cut in half and plated.

Recipe by Chris Vergara and Justin Montgomery, Harper’s, Dobbs Ferry, NY

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