When I started this website in 2008, I was opposed to joining social media in any way. I wasn’t on the FacePage or the Tweeter and I had no plans on joining. Well, my wife convinced me that I could promote this site on social media so I joined. A few years later I started on Instagram. On that platform, my following exploded. In 2016, about 18 months after I joined I had just shy of 100,000 followers and got a call from a PR company. They were sponsoring an article on Mashable.com about Grilling/BBQ restaurants across the US. They paid me to go to one of those restaurants and do a photo shoot. One Saturday morning I flew to Atlanta and found myself at Heirloom Market BBQ shooting their amazing gochujang pork ribs. Here are the ribs back in 2016 as seen through the lens of my DSLR:
Heirloom made these phenomenal ribs that were unlike anything I’d ever had. What made the ribs unique was that they were slathered with gochujang paste and then seasoned before being smoked. The gochujang is more of a binder and mostly melts away as the ribs smoke, but the paste leaves behind a ton of flavor. The ribs are magical. I say, “are,” because Heirloom Market BBQ is still producing some of the best BBQ in the country.
Ever since I tried their gochujang pork ribs, I’ve wanted to recreate them. While finding gochujang was not so easy in 2016, it’s not hard now. I can get it at my local grocery store or from any number of online retailers. I’ve made these more than once and decided it was time to document these Korean style ribs for the website.
Gochujang Pork Ribs Ingredients
- 2 slabs of pork spare ribs, trimmed to be St. Louis style ribs
- 1 cup gochujang paste
- Your favorite BBQ Rub
- Salt to taste
- 1.5 cups peach or apple cider (substitute apple juice)
- Food grade spray bottle
- Aluminum foil
Start by trimming the slabs of spare ribs into the symmetrical slabs of St. Louis ribs:
Actually, instead of going through every cut that needs to be made to trim these properly, I have a phenomenal tutorial on exactly how to do this in this recipe that focuses on St. Louis style ribs.
One thing, these bits we cut off the slab should not be discarded. This is one of my favorite cuts of pork, the little flap on the bone side of the ribs:
Once the St. Louis ribs are symmetrical, in perfect rectangles that will cook evenly, we still need to pull the membrane off the bone side. Grab a paper towel and tug at a corner of the membrane till it comes loose and then get a good grip with the paper towel and pull it the length of the ribs:
In that pic above, it looks like I only got half of the membrane. No worries, just tug an edge free of the remaining membrane and strip that off too.
Now if your rub doesn’t have a lot of salt in it, go ahead and salt the ribs on both sides (and the bits you trimmed away):
Now it’s time for the gochujang paste:
This begs the question:
What is gochujang?
Essentially, it is a fermented Korean condiment made from ground red chilis. There are other things in it, but that is the essence of it. It’s heavy and thick and a wonderful combination of spicy and a little sweet. It also makes for a great marinade, although I haven’t tried that yet myself. It can be added to sauces and soups as well. Did I mention it’s thick?
Oh, the other question everyone is thinking right now.
Is gochujang paste really spicy?
It depends. The stuff I used was not all that spicy. My buddy Brad, who shot a lot of these pics (and corresponding video for this cook) is not much on the spicy stuff and I recall him going back for seconds. My best advice is to sample it before using it on your ribs. I dig spicy food, so I slathered this stuff on without tasting it.
Speaking os slathering it on, start on the bone side of the St. Louis ribs:
Pro Tip ~ Always start on the bone side, so when you flip the ribs over, the natural curve of the bones will keep a lot of the meat up off the cutting board.
If you start on the meat side, when you flip the ribs over, whatever seasoning and binder is on the ribs is going to stick to the cutting board and require a re-apply.
Grab your favorite BBQ rub. I used some sweet rub (to balance any spiciness from the gochujang) from my friend Susie Bulloch from Hey Grill, Hey.
One of the highlights of my BBQ career was appearing on an episode of Project Fire with Steven Raichlen. Susie was on the same episode!
Repeat with the gochujang and seasoning on the meat side:
How to Grill Gochujang Pork Ribs
Now prepare the grill for two zone or indirect grilling which means hot coals on one side and nothing on the other. Put smoke wood on the side with the hot coals and the ribs on the other side. In this case, I used my Primo Ceramic kamado grill so there is a plate that sits between the hot coals (and smoke wood) and the ribs so the direct heat is deflected around the meat and out the top without burning the ribs. That’s what I did here with coals and smoke wood on the bottom:
The other plate setter goes in next to the one above and then a second set of grill grates. The ribs go on top of the grill grates:
Target temp inside the grill is 275F (+/- 25F). Close the lid and let the smoke and the heat and the Primo work their magic:
While the gochujang pork ribs are smoking, season the trimmed pieces. I just dragged the trimmed bits through the paste and seasoning still on the cutting board:
Then put the trimmed pieces around the slabs (luckily I have a ton of space on this oval kamado):
Then fill a food grade spray bottle with some cider. I used peach cider but apple works as does apple juice. Use what’s available.
After my rub set on the ribs about 45 minutes in the heat and smoke, hit them with a good drenching of some cider:
The trimmed pieces will be cooked much quicker than the slabs. So enjoy sampling those throughout the cook process.
There is a lot of sugar in the rub and the gochujang so be careful doing these too hot:
Foil the ribs after about 90 minutes on the cooker:
If you are looking for the 3 2 1 method for grilling ribs, this isn’t it. Luckily, we have a recipe for the 3 2 1 method. This is more like the 1.5, 1, method for grilling ribs. In that we smoked for 90 minutes then foiled for about an hour with more of that peach cider (remember, apple cider or apple juice work too):
Seal up the ribs in the foil and put them back on the grill:
It’s also time to eat that piece in front, but not before I do my best Gene Simmons impression:
I’ll wait while you younger set google who Gene Simmons is.
After an hour in the foil I went ahead and pulled the ribs and got them ready to platter:
With so much sugar in the gochujang, rub and cider, we got some nice char, but nothing was burnt. The first rib I ate was the darkest of the bunch and it was spectacular.
Lately, when I’ve been plating my BBQ, I’ve been adding a sprinkle of rub right before serving. I find this works incredibly well on pulled pork so I started doing it with all sorts of BBQ and even steaks. Not a heavy coating, just a dusting. Trust me:
But time to sample:
And time to dance because dem ribs is GOO-oooooood!
I know because I’m:
Those that know who Gene Simmons is just might know what that shirt refers to besides referring to me!?!
Korean Style Ribs Recap
I was sort of looking forward to an extra spicy kick in the teeth from these. The heat just wasn’t there. Sure, 2-3 bites into the first rib a little warmth trickled through me, but it was really more subtle than anything. The inherent slight sweetness of the gochujang plus the sweetness of the rub were more prevalent than the heat. I would call the flavor profile well balanced more than anything. Next time I make these I might add some ancho or chipotle just to kick up the heat and further combine cuisines from different regions of the world. And I’m perfectly content with that. We live in a wonderful time where we can do these fusion techniques so easily.
If you have any questions, feel free to shoot me an email. Here’s my email address.
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Gochujang Pork Ribs
- 1 Food grade spray bottle
- aluminum foil
- 2 slabs Pork spare ribs
- 1 cup Gochujang
- Your favorite BBQ Rub
- Salt to taste
- 1.5 cups Peach or apple cider Substitute apple juice
- Trim the pork spare ribs into symmetrical St. Louis style ribs
- Remove the membrane from the ribs
- Salt the ribs if the rub doesn't have much salt in it, otherwise omit the salt
- Slather the ribs with gochujang paste on the bone side of the ribs
- Season with the BBQ rub on the bone side of the ribs
- Flip the ribs over to the meat side
- Slather the meat side of the ribs with gochujang
- Season with the BBQ seasoning
- Prepare the grill for two zone grilling or (on a kamado grill) place plate setter(s) between the fire and the grill grates.
- Target temperature inside the grill is 275F (+/-25F)
- Place chunks of smoke wood on the hot coals and the ribs on the grill grates
- Close the lid on the grill and season the trimmings removed from the slabs to make them St. Louis style ribs
- Add the seasoned trimmed pieces to the smoker
- After about 90 minutes, put each slab in aluminum foil with a 1/4-1/2 cup of cider
- Put the foiled ribs back on the grill for an hour
- Eat the seasoned trimmed pieces as they are finished cooking (this should be well before the slabs are done)
- Remove the ribs from the foil, slice into individual bones and dust the top with a little more rub
- Serve and enjoy