Weeknight Cooking

Irene Kuo's 1-2-3-4-5 Spare Ribs

May 14, 2019
38 Ratings
Photo by Julia Gartland
  • Cook time 50 minutes
  • Serves 2 to 3
Author Notes

"This is a lighthearted title for an extremely easy and delectable dish—the 1 to 5 referring to the simmering ingredients. The sauce-coated meat is succulent, with a deep sweet and sour flavor. The dish serves 2 or 3 amply when accompanied by rice and a stir-fried leafy vegetable or a crisp salad. The ribs are also good as an appetizer." —Irene Kuo —Genius Recipes

Test Kitchen Notes

Featured in: These Sweet & Sticky Chinese Ribs Are Certified Genius. —The Editors

What You'll Need
Watch This Recipe
Irene Kuo's 1-2-3-4-5 Spare Ribs
  • 1 1/2 pounds meaty spare ribs (ask the butcher to slice them into individual ribs and cut each rib crosswise into 3 pieces)
  • 1 tablespoon dry sherry
  • 2 tablespoons dark soy sauce
  • 3 tablespoons cider vinegar
  • 4 tablespoons sugar
  • 5 tablespoons water
  1. Put the ribs in a skillet or saucepan and set it over high heat; add the rest of the ingredients and stir to mingle. When the liquid comes to a boil, adjust heat to maintain a very gentle simmering, and cover and simmer for 40 minutes. Stir and turn the spareribs from time to time.
  2. Uncover and turn heat high to bring the sauce to a sizzling boil; stir rapidly until the sauce is all but evaporated. Serve hot.
  3. Note: It’s best (and easiest!) to ask your butcher to do the cutting, but if you find yourself with whole ribs, you can either carefully chop them yourself with a sturdy cleaver, meaty side down, or leave them whole. Left whole, they’ll be harder to stir and coat evenly and might look a little funny as the meat shrinks up on the bone, but it works fine in a pinch.

See what other Food52ers are saying.

  • Jay Pro
    Jay Pro
  • Emily Bearrow
    Emily Bearrow
  • manitouanne
  • Grace DeBruyne
    Grace DeBruyne
  • Lindsay
Genius Recipes

Recipe by: Genius Recipes

34 Reviews

Susan B. November 11, 2020
I used short ribs for a Birthday dinner and combined this recipe with Food 52’s Asian Braised Short Ribs by Chef Vy Tran (3 hours at 300 and less star anise as one reviewer said 5 star anise were too strong.). Instead of reducing braising liquid, I removed them and did this sauce in my trusty 12 inch skillet. Then I served them with Chef Lucas Sin’s Golden Fried Rice! Wow! My short rib-loving wife couldn’t stop raving about them. (I think she had been worried as I had never done short ribs before and she’s finicky.)
Rosemarie November 10, 2020
Only simmer covered for 20 minutes — NOT 40 —or the ribs will dry out. Then, uncover and carefully stir and toss ribs until they are covered in sauce. Sauce should still be a bit runny. If you cook too much, it turns into a syrupy glop. It's a wonderful recipe — just like the spareribs I ate back in the 60s when I was a teenager.
jonekm November 3, 2020
I'm glad I read reviews before cooking. I doubled the sauce as recommended in multiple reviews. I also found the meat tougher than expected. Anyone else? Next time I plan to cook the ribs low and slow then move the ribs and accumulated juices into a pan and continue as recipe describes. Anyone else tried this method?

Also of note, I skipped the sherry.
And I use a soy:molasses (2:1) combo in place of dark soy sauce as recommended.
jonekm November 3, 2020
I'm glad I read reviews before cooking. I doubled the sauce as recommended in multiple reviews. I also found the meat tougher than expected. Anyone else? Next time I plan to cook the ribs low and slow then move the ribs and accumulated juices into a pan and continue as recipe describes. Anyone else tried this method?
Fergwalker328 July 17, 2021
I really wanted to love this dish but ours came out so tough as well. The sauce was great but next time I will prepare sauce separately and do ribs in the crock pot first.
Rosemarie August 2, 2020
Excellent. But I had to reduce the cooking time to 25 minutes, as it dried out the first time I made it.
jgagen1 July 5, 2020
So good and so easy! I used shaoxing instead of sherry and doubled the sauce. I reduced the sauce for quite a while, since the recipe says to reduce the sauce until almost evaporated. I didn't get all the way there and the sauce ended up a bit too thick. Next time, I'd not double the sauce and reduce for less time.
Jay P. March 28, 2020
So I had some uncooked pork loin, was in the mood for the take out version of these and stumbled on this recipe. I cut pork loin in julienne strips, browned them and then added the sauce the way the recipe calls. I have to say the flavor and sauce was exactly what I was looking for but the texture of the loin was superior to the ribs I get with take out. I recommend this recipe as it is now a house hold favorite.
Hermsoven December 5, 2019
• I doubled the sauce ingredients.
• Used Chinkiang (dark) vinegar
• Used 2 strips separated St. Louis style ribs (about 14 riblets)
• Used Shao Shing cooking wine
• Reduced cooking time to 30 minutes to avoid drying out the ribs, and sauce reduction time to about 3-4 minutes. Keep an eye on the sauce since it reduces quickly.
Knives and forks OK, fingers better.😬
Really good.
Hermsoven December 11, 2019
Also, a good sprinkle of roasted sesame seeds over the sauced ribs looks nice and tastes good.
Rosemaybud October 23, 2019
I started making this recipe so many years ago. It never fails and everyone always loves it. Irene Kuo’s Key to Chinese Cooking is still my go to cookbook. It taught me how to do various techniques such as velveting which make such a big difference in the finished dish.
RisenWell July 13, 2019
This is very similar to a Madhur Jaffrey recipe from long ago. Ingredients for her "Glazed Gingery Spareribs are similar but quantities aren't. Hers calls for 2 lbs. spareribs (I use the country style ones) 6 T. dark soy or any other) 6 T sugar , 2 i " cubes fresh ginger, 3 scallions, 3T. dry sherry (or rice wine, or mirin) 1 qt. water. Put everything in a pot, bring to boil. Cover and simmer "vigorously" for @45 min. Turn meat around to get even coloring. Remove lid, put on high and remove ginger, scallions. Cook @20 min. more to reduce liquid to thick, syrupy glaze. I've never had it "break" and I often throw in some extras to simmer, like chunks of lemongrass , definitely 2-3 cloves garlic, and then some sriracha toward the end. Foolproof and toothsome.
Jeannie I. July 4, 2019
I was so excited to make this! The ribs turned out perfect and are delicious, but I'm not sure what happened to the sauce. It was going so well and I was boiling it down as directed until it was all but evaporated, when suddenly it separated into oil and brown bits. So disappointed! I was hoping the sauce would look like the thick, brown sauce video....:(
jodyrah July 5, 2019
You have to keep a close eye when reducing. As soon as it thickens, take it off the heat or it will break. I always add a crushed Thai chili (or two) to the recipe. Double the sauce as well. As written it is barely more than a glaze.
Emily B. June 12, 2019
This recipe was super yummy, however, I'd suggest a changes and have a few tips.
-I doubled the sauce as it didn't make enough for the half rack I had gotten
-I reduced the sugar significantly. I would suggest a quarter of what the recipe says and use honey instead
-If you can't get the butcher to cut the ribs for you, make the sauce separately as it's tough to cook with full size ribs
jodyrah June 12, 2019
Usually when trying a new recipe with a “sauce”, I make the sauce before making the dish. If I don’t like it, I can tweak or pitch and move on without wasting the entire dish. Thankfully I did this with this sauce. I found it as written, too sweet for my taste. I decreased the sugar to 3T and replaced the cider vinegar with plain white vinegar. This made a better sweet to pungent ratio. To the skillet I added about 4 smashed garlic cloves, a couple slices of smashed ginger and a smashed fresh Thai chili. Garnished with a sprinkle of sesame seeds and shredded scallions. Would definitely make again with these revisions.
mary D. May 21, 2019
I made this tonight and the ribs were delicious. I salted and peppered the ribs before i started I did brown the ribs before putting them in a pot...I mixed all of the other ingredients together and poured the mixture over the ribs once they were browned. I had 2.5 lbs of ribs so I doubled the sauce. My only issue was that the sauce was saltier than I thought it would be (next time I won't salt the ribs to start). I thought it might be a result of reducing the sauce all of the flavors concentrate so much. I didn't have soy so I used Tamari sauce. I got great feedback on the ribs. I will make this again and perhaps add a bit more water to dilute the salty flavor. It was great.
Tam May 21, 2019
OMG these are so good, they are my new favorite way to eat ribs. Thank you for this recipe. I don't have dry sherry or wet sherry, so I used Mirin. I also had about 2 pounds of ribs. Wow, easy, I put everything in the saucepan and did about 20 minutes of yoga while they were simmering under low heat, then turn up the heat to high to reduce the sauce (I added 3 hard boil eggs as I had them on-hand so they can get some of that yummy) sauce flavor - about 15-20 minutes. Wish I have more sauce. I did sprinkle some salt on it at the table, maybe because I had .5 pound extra meat and eggs. Definitely a repeat recipe. Yum.
manitouanne May 20, 2019
Has anyone tried reducing this sauce and using to baste BBQ’d ribs?
BAE May 20, 2019
I thought the headnote said something about using a slow cooker...?
Grace D. May 18, 2019
I have been making this since the eighties. It is always good no matter what kind of ribs are being used. I have made them with country ribs, baby back ribs and regular spare ribs. Outstanding recipe!
Lindsay May 18, 2019
Great recipe! I used two small racks of pork side ribs. I didn’t bother with cutting them in half, I just cut each rib apart. It worked great!
Neil B. May 17, 2019
Just a thought from a Texas/Tenn/Carolina BBQ fan: As good as all you F52 cooks are (and you are because you are so inventive), I'd like to add to the conversation this: Most markets sell Country-style ribs which are nothing more than shoulder cut into long strips. No sawing, chopping bone, bone fragments or chipped teeth. Might have to adjust the cooking time a bit - the only thing missing would be psychological delite of gnawing on that (missing) bone. Lets see if there is a post here from someone who tries subbing these bad boys for spare ribs.