bowl of sticky asian ribs with green onions and sesame seeds

STICKY ASIAN PORK RIBS (1,2,3,4,5 RIBS)

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These Pork Ribs Asian Style are cooked and coated in a sticky sauce then garnished with sesame seeds and green onions for that perfect fresh crunch. The finger licking glaze is made with just 5 simple ingredients hence why they’re also commonly referred to as 1-2-3-4-5 ribs!

No matter what you call these Asian style pork ribs – sticky ribs, Chinese ribs, Asian ribs or 1-2-3-4-5 ribs – I just know you’re going to love them as much as I do! I first discovered this very simple (and cleverly named!) recipe from a fellow food blogger I follow on the good ol’ Instagram. I mean, if you know anything about me at all by this point, it’s that I’m an absolute sucker for anything sticky, saucy or meaty. So when I saw that this recipe contains all of the above, I immediately knew I had to get right on making ’em. Fast forward a few years (yes, YEARS!) and these sticky Asian pork ribs have become a family favourite and THE most common way of preparing a rack of ribs in my household. However, I gotta warn ya, these babies are HIGHLY addicting!

sticky asian ribs with green onions and sesame seeds on a parchment lined baking sheet, bowl with more in the background

I know, I know. Making a rack of baby back ribs – whether it be in the Instant Pot, oven, crockpot or grill – may seem a little bit intimidating at first. I know it definitely intimidated me when I first started cooking. I’ve always wondered how restaurants achieved that perfectly tender fall-off-the-bone meat you so look for in a good rib. I mean, I think it’s fair to say that noone wants to bite into a tough one where you literally have to fight the meat to part ways with the bone. Am I right?

Well, fear not as I can assure you that there will be no fighting meat and bones in this recipe. These sticky ribs are so tender and cooked to saucy perfection that yes, the meat literally falls rights off the bone. The sauce – ah, don’t even get me started on the sauce – also not only contributes to the tenderness of the ribs (as they cook in it for pretty much the whole time) but adds a tremendous amount of flavour. The 5 simple ingredients you need to make it create a sticky glaze for the ribs that is so perfect, even Colonel Sanders will say they’re FINGER LICKIN’ GOOD!!!

WHAT YOU’LL NEED TO MAKE THESE STICKY RIBS ASIAN STYLE

ingredients for ribs asian - pork ribs, green onions, sesame seeds, balsamic vinegar, water, honey, mirin, soy sauce
Complete list of ingredients and amounts can be found in the recipe card below.

These Asian style sticky pork ribs are commonly referred to as 1-2-3-4-5 ribs because of the 5 simple ingredients you use to make the sauce. You can see it more clearly in the recipe card down below. You need 1 tbsp of this, 2 tbsp of that, 3 tbsp of the next ingredient and so on. Clever, huh? Now, let’s get into the details of the exact ingredients you will need down below:

  • Pork Ribs: The main protein source in this recipe. Make sure you go for baby back ribs and not side ribs as they are a different and shorter cut.
  • Honey: Adds sweetness and helps create the sticky glaze on the ribs. You can use maple syrup instead, if you prefer.
  • Balsamic Vinegar: Contributes a rich and slightly sweet flavour to these Asian style sticky ribs. It adds depth to the sauce.
  • Mirin: A sweet rice wine that you commonly find in Asian cooking. Adds sweetness and helps balance out the flavours in the sauce. Also helps with caramelization of the ribs as they cook on the stove. You can use rice wine or dry white wine instead, if you prefer.
  • Soy Sauce: Adds saltiness and umami to the dish. It also gives the ribs that nice deep brown colour.
  • Water: Used to adjust the consistency of the sauce. It helps to balance out all of the flavours and prevent the sauce from becoming too thick.
  • Green Onions: Used for garnish. They add a fresh, onion-like flavour and a pop of color to the dish.
  • Sesame Seeds: Used for garnish and add a nutty flavour and a bit of crunch to the finished dish. Also helps in making the ribs look extra appealing. Toasted white sesame seeds work best in this recipe.
ribs with green onions and sesame seeds on a piece of parchment

HOW TO MAKE CHINESE STICKY 1-2-3-4-5 RIBS (KEY TIPS)

hand holding a rib with sesame seeds and green onions over a bowl with more

You can find full instructions for how to make this recipe for sticky ribs in the recipe card down below. But here are a few quick tips to keep in mind:

  • The measurements in the recipe card down below is for one HALF RACK of ribs. If you’re doing a full rack (or more), you need to double/adjust the quantities accordingly.
  • Remove the membrane (silver skin) from the underside of the ribs. It can become tough and chewy when cooked. So, removing this thin, tough layer that covers the bone side of the ribs improves the tenderness of the meat. See photos in the recipe card down below for step-by-step instructions for how to easily do this (don’t skip it!) EXTRA TIP: Use a butter knife to help you get under the membrane and seperate it from the bone. Then, use a clean and dry paper towel to help you get a good grip on it (it’s slippery) so you can easily pull it apart from the bones.
  • After removing the membrane, cut the rack of ribs into single rib portions before adding them to the pot to sear/cook. This makes them more manageable, allowing for easier flipping and maneuvering once they hit the pot on the stove. It also increases the surface area that comes into contact with the heat source. This can result in more caramelization, a desirable crust, and enhanced flavour.
  • Sear the ribs in little to no oil before adding anything else to the pot. I know you might question me as to why one wouldn’t use oil (don’t they stick to the bottom of the pot?!?!?!). But trust the process. They might stick a little bit but that’ll add a bit more flavour and it’s nothing that a good pair of tongs can’t handle. Use high heat and try not to overcrowd the pan too much for best results. Searing the ribs beforehand adds a tremendous amount of flavour and promotes caramelization.
  • After adding the sauce to the ribs, keep the lid on the pot. This traps in steam which gives you that cooked to perfection, fall-off-the-bone, extra tender meat. EXTRA TIP: When the ribs are as tender as you like them to be (usually after about 25 minutes) remove the lid, raise the heat and allow the steam to escape during the last 5-10 minutes of cooking. The increased heat and escaped steam will allow the sauce to cook and thicken over the ribs creating that perfect sticky glaze. The sauce should be almost all absorbed when the ribs are done. EXTRA EXTRA TIP: Be careful during these final few minutes of cooking. The sauce can easily burn and the ribs can become too caramelized if you don’t pay attention.
  • Flip the ribs (or turn them in the sauce) halfway through cooking. This ensures that each one has had a chance to cook and be coated in the sauce.
hands holding a bowl of sticky asian ribs garnished with sesame seeds and green onions
FAQ

FREQUENTLY ASKED QUESTIONS

WHAT’S THE DIFFERENCE BETWEEN BABY BACK AND STICKY RIBS?

The terms “baby back ribs” and “sticky ribs” refer to different aspects of preparing and serving ribs. In general, “baby back ribs” refers to a specific cut of pork ribs (that come from the upper part of the pig’s ribcage, near the spine). While “sticky ribs” refers to a style of preparing and flavoring ribs. You can have baby back ribs that are also sticky ribs if they are prepared with a sweet and savoury glaze. It’s common to see recipes for “sticky baby back ribs,” indicating both the cut of ribs and the preparation style.

“Sticky ribs” usually refers to a preparation style or a specific sauce/glaze used in cooking ribs. It’s not a specific cut of ribs. Sticky ribs are characterized by a sweet, savoury, and often caramelized sauce or glaze that coats the ribs. You can make sticky ribs using various cuts of ribs, including baby back ribs or spare ribs.

WHAT DOES VINEGAR DO FOR RIBS?

Vinegar serves several purposes when used in rib recipes, contributing to both the flavour and texture of the final dish. It adds a tangy and acidic element to the flavour profile of the ribs. This acidity can balance the richness of the meat and complement other sweet or savoury components in the marinade or sauce. The acidity in vinegar can also help tenderize the meat by breaking down its fibers. And lastly, in certain recipes such as this one, vinegar contributes to the caramelization process, especially when used in combination with sugars. This creates a flavourful crust or glaze on the ribs during cooking, adding depth and complexity to the overall taste.

WHAT TO EAT WITH ASIAN STICKY RIBS?

When serving Asian sticky ribs, you might want to complement the rich and flavourful ribs with side dishes that balance the meal, provide contrasting textures, and offer a variety of tastes. Here are some of my favourite things to serve with up with Asian sticky ribs: instant pot white rice, caramelized bok choy, garlic broccoli, green beans and bacon, spicy cucumber salad, smashed potatoes or mashed potatoes or a simple green salad.

bowl of sticky asian ribs with green onions and sesame seeds
bowl of sticky asian ribs with green onions and sesame seeds

STICKY ASIAN PORK RIBS

Yield: 1/2 Rack of Ribs
Prep Time: 15 minutes
Cook Time: 45 minutes
Total Time: 1 hour

These Pork Ribs Asian Style are cooked and coated in a sticky sauce then garnished with sesame seeds and green onions for that perfect fresh crunch. The finger licking glaze is made with just 5 simple ingredients hence why they're also commonly referred to as 1-2-3-4-5 ribs!

Ingredients

  • 1 Half Rack of Ribs*
  • 1 tbsp Honey or Maple Syrup
  • 2 tbsp Rice Wine, Dry White Wine or Mirin
  • 3 tbsp Balsamic Vinegar
  • 4 tbsp Soy Sauce
  • 5 tbsp Water or Rice Wine
  • 1/2 bunch Green Onions, sliced, for garnish
  • Sesame Seeds, for garnish

Instructions

  1. Remove the membrane (silver skin) from the ribs. Turn the rib rack so that the bone side is facing up. Locate the thin, shiny membrane covering the bones. Starting at one end, use a butter knife or your fingers to loosen a corner of the membrane. Once you have a good grip, you can use a paper towel for better traction. Gently pull the membrane away from the ribs. It may come off in one piece or in smaller sections. Discard.
    knife underneath the membrane of a raw rack of ribs
    hand removing the membrane off a rack of ribs
    hand holding the ribs membrane over a rack of ribs
  2. Cut the ribs into singles. Then, sear each side in a pot over medium high heat with little to no oil.
    raw single ribs in a pot
    single seared ribs in a pot
  3. Once the ribs are nicely browned on all sides, add 1-2-3-4-5 into the pot with the ribs (all of the remaining ingredients except for the green onions and the sesame seeds). When the sauce starts to boil, reduce the heat to medium, cover and cook for 25 minutes, turning once halfway, to ensure they're cooked and coated in the sauce on both sides.
    single ribs in a dark sauce in a pot
  4. After 25 minutes, take off the lid and turn up the heat. Cook for an additional 5-10 minutes and allow the sauce to reduce to your liking - ribs should be a deep caramelized colour and the liquid almost all absorbed.
    single ribs in a dark sauce in a pot
  5. Garnish with fresh chopped green onions and sesame seeds. Enjoy immediately!
    sticky asian ribs with green onions and sesame seeds on a parchment lined baking sheet, hand grabbing one, bowl with more in the background

Notes

These measurements are for a HALF RACK of ribs. If you're doing a full rack (or more), you need to double/adjust the quantities accordingly.

Nutrition Information:
Yield: 4 Serving Size: 1
Amount Per Serving: Calories: 252Total Fat: 8gSaturated Fat: 2gTrans Fat: 0gUnsaturated Fat: 5gCholesterol: 14mgSodium: 899mgCarbohydrates: 19gFiber: 1gSugar: 13gProtein: 6g

Nutrition is only an estimate and calculated using Nutritionix.

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