Richly seasoned and perfectly roasted, Chinese BBQ ribs are an easy and tasty way to cook pork ribs. Both oven-roasting and air-frying methods are included.
Do you know that a typical Chinese kitchen isn’t equipped with an oven? So traditionally any roast dishes, such as Peking Duck, are only available in restaurants or shops that sell cooked meat. I feel luckier than my parents’ generation that I can make them in my own kitchen. Today’s dish, Chinese BBQ ribs, is one I often roast in our Red House.
What are Chinese BBQ ribs
Also known as Char Siu Ribs (Chā Shāo Pái Gǔ/叉烧排骨), Chinese barbecue ribs are a cousin of Char Siu Pork, a signature dish of Cantonese cuisine. It’s one of my favorite bone-in meat dishes. Savory, sweet, sticky, and full of wonderful aromas, these ribs are simply irresistible!
Cooking them is easy: Marinate whole racks of ribs with a mixture of sauces. Roast them in the oven (or air-fryer) with a honey glaze at the end. Slice up and serve. How simple!
Before the recipe details are explained, let me point out a few helpful tips:
- Add a little chili to the marinade to balance the sweet taste.
- Allow enough time to marinate the ribs before roasting.
- Roast in two stages to create the best result.
- The alternative air-frying method saves time and energy.
Ingredients & substitutes
Unlike Chinese Sweet & Sour Ribs which are usually made with small pieces of chopped ribs, today’s recipe works best with whole racks of pork ribs. They can be either baby back ribs with curved bones or spare ribs with straight bones.
Here are a set of seasonings that you need:
- Char siu sauce, or hoisin sauce
- Oyster sauce
- Light soy sauce
- Five-spice powder
- Garlic powder, or fine garlic paste
- Ground chili
- Sliced ginger
- Honey (or syrup), for brushing
- Red food coloring (optional)
Char siu sauce
It’s the key ingredient that creates the iconic flavor profile: savory, sweet, and aromatic with a hint of smokiness. I usually use the one from Lee Kum Kee/李锦记, a Hong Kong brand that specializes in condiments for Cantonese cuisine. You can find it in most Chinese/Asian stores. Other brands also exist.
🛎 Substitute: Through testing, I found that hoisin sauce can be used to replace char siu sauce for this recipe. The taste would be a little different, but still very nice.
I love including ground chili in my Chinese BBQ dishes as it adds a hint of spiciness that helps to balance the sweet taste. You may use cayenne powder, paprika, Gochugaru (Korean chili powder), etc.
Chili powder sold in mainstream supermarkets often contains other spices. You can use it for this recipe as the quantity required isn’t big.
Red food coloring
The restaurant/shop version of Chinese BBQ meat usually has a bright red hue. If you’re after this classic look, add a little red food coloring to the marinade.
Marinate the ribs
Before cooking, you’ll need to marinade the ribs in advance.
Place the ribs over a piece of aluminium foil that’s big enough to wrap around the ribs.
From one end of the back of the ribs, peel one corner of the membrane then tear off the whole piece. This helps to allow the marinade to fully penetrate the meat.
In a small bowl, mix all the seasonings (except for sliced ginger and honey).
Brush the mixture generously over both sides of the ribs. Then scatter ginger slices on top.
Fold the foil to tightly seal the ribs. Leave to marinate in the fridge for at least 4 hours. Do not exceed 24 hours though, as the salt in the marinade would cure the surface of the meat if left for too long.
🛎 Note: One hour before your planned roasting time, remember to remove the ribs from the fridge to bring them back to room temperature.
Option 1: Oven-roasting
To roast the ribs in the oven, you’d need a baking tray with a fitted wire rack on which to place the marinated ribs (with ginger removed).
Pour some hot water into the tray (a little lower than the wire rack so it doesn’t touch the meat). This prevents drippings of the sauce and fat from burning. It also helps to create steam in the oven, making the meat less dry.
It takes two stages to roast. Firstly, put the tray in your oven preheated at 410°F (210°C/Fan 190°C/Gas 6). Leave to roast for 35 minutes if cooking two racks of ribs like I did, or 30 minutes if cooking only one rack at a time. Check at halfway if you need to add more hot water to the tray).
Take out the tray and turn the heat up to 425°F (220°C/Fan 200°C/Gas 7). Brush a layer of honey over the topside of the ribs. This adds an appetizing glaze. Pour more hot water into the tray if necessary.
Then return the tray to the oven and roast for a further 10 minutes or so until the edges of the ribs char a little.
🛎 Rest before serving
It’s important that you leave the cooked ribs to rest for 10 minutes before cutting them into pieces with a knife. As I explained in my post on Roast Five-Spice Chicken, the resting process helps to lock in moisture.
Option 2: Air-frying
If you have an air-fryer, I highly recommend you try this alternative method (Like how I cook Char Siu Chicken). It’ll save you time and energy and the final result is just as good.
- Preheat your air-fryer at 390°F (200°C) for 3 minutes. Then place the marinated ribs over the crisper tray without overlapping (you’d need to cut the rib rack in two sections). Leave to cook for 10 minutes.
- Pull out the drawer and brush the top side of the ribs with a layer of honey (or syrup). Continue cooking for 2 mins until they char a little.
- Leave to rest for 10 minutes before serving.
What to serve with
- For a simple lunch/dinner, top a bowl of steamed rice with these BBQ ribs, along with a simple vegetable dish, such as Garlic Bok Choy, Smashed Cucumber, Napa Cabbage Stir-Fry, etc.
- Serve them as a centerpiece of a multi-course feast for special occasions like Chinese New Year, Mid-Autumn Festival, Christmas, etc.
- They taste great at room temperature too. So feel free to munch them as a savory snack any time of the day.
Other hearty dishes to try
Looking for more ideas to cook hearty dishes like this one? Check out these classics:
Love this recipe? Please leave a 5-star 🌟🌟🌟🌟🌟 rating in the recipe card below & if you REALLY like it, consider leaving a comment as well!
Chinese BBQ Ribs (叉烧排骨)
- 2 racks pork ribs - each rack measures about 1.5 lbs (680g)
- 6 tablespoon char siu sauce - or hoisin sauce (see note 1)
- 2 tablespoon oyster sauce
- 1 tablespoon light soy sauce
- ½ teaspoon Chinese five-spice powder
- ½ teaspoon garlic powder - or fine garlic paste
- 1 teaspoon ground chili - see note 2
- Red food coloring - optional
- 1 thumb-sized ginger - sliced
- 1 tablespoon honey - or syrup
- Lay each rack of ribs on a piece of aluminium foil (big enough to wrap around the ribs. Use two layers if the foil is very thin). Tear off the membrane from the back of the ribs.
- In a bowl, mix char siu sauce, oyster sauce, light soy sauce, five-spice powder, garlic powder, ground chili, and food coloring (if using) until well combined.
- Generously brush the mixture over both sides of the ribs. Then place sliced ginger over the top of the ribs. Wrap each rack tightly with the foil.
- Leave to marinate in the fridge for at least 4 hours (Do not exceed 24 hours). Bring them back to room temperature 1 hour before you start the roasting process.
Option 1: Oven-Roasting
- Preheat the oven to 410°F (210°C/Fan 190°C/Gas 6).
- Take the ribs out of the foil (discard the ginger) and place them onto a wire rack that sits inside a roasting tray. Add some hot water to the tray (make sure it doesn’t touch the ribs).
- Place the tray into the oven. Leave to roast for 35 minutes (add more water if when it dries out).
- Take out and brush a layer of honey over the topside of the ribs. Put the tray back into the oven (add more water if necessary).
- Increase the oven temperature to 425°F (220°C/Fan 200°C/Gas 7). Roast for a further 10 minutes or so until the ribs char a little on the edge.
Option 2: Air-Frying
- Preheat the air-fryer at 390°F (200°C) for 3 minutes.
- Place the marinated ribs (discard the ginger) over the crisper tray without overlapping. Cook for 10 minutes.
- Brush honey over the top side of the ribs. Cook 2 more minutes until the ribs char a little.
Rest & serve
- Allow the ribs to rest for 10 minutes. Separate each rib with a sharp knife and serve immediately.
NUTRITION DISCLOSURE: Nutritional information on this website is provided as a courtesy to readers. It should be considered estimates. Please use your own brand nutritional values or your preferred nutrition calculator to double check against our estimates.