These Chinese Spare Ribs are delicious, finger-licking Asian-style pork spare ribs that are as simple to cook as 12345 (a mnemonic device that will also help you recall the recipe.) Using only the Asian pantry staples of wine, dark soy sauce, vinegar and sugar to braise the meat, with only a few minutes of active cooking, this is the best easy sticky Chinese Spare Ribs for a lazy food lover.
⭐ Why These Ribs Are So Good
So why is this the best easy, sticky, Chinese pork ribs recipe?
- These Chinese Braised Pork Ribs are delicious but effortless! Better than any from a Chinese restaurant, 12345 pork ribs are loaded with umami flavour but very low-effort. (Made in 1 pot, no cutting of aromatics involved- my pet peeve- and mostly passive cooking.) If you can mix things together- no rubbing the sauce into the meat necessary so you won't get your hands dirty!- and turn on the stove, you can make this perfectly. This easy recipe is also very forgiving, so if you leave it on the stove for longer than called for, it will still taste good (as long as it doesn't burn).
- It doesn't require special ingredients: Don't you just hate it when a recipe involves going out to buy 10 new ingredients which you won't use in any other recipe so they just end up taking up precious pantry space till they go bad?! Thankfully, all the components of this recipe are kitchen staples which anyone who has done a little Chinese cooking before would have in their cupboard. You won't even need five-spice powder, star anise, Sichuan peppercorns or anything like that!
- It is easy to remember and can be easily varied: People are often bemoaning how they can only cook from recipes which is why I love ratio recipes like this that can be easily memorised and adapted. Depending on your preference for sweet, tangy or savoury, the proportions of the 1-2-3-4-5 condiments can be changed.
Note: Adapted from an Irene Kuo recipe to make it more juicy and tasty! This is so easy to cook that even someone who couldn't boil water till she was 18 (yes, me, true story) can make them perfectly on the first try. And healthier than Chinese takeout with no red food coloring etc!
You only need 5 ingredients for these 12345 Chinese Pork Ribs:
- pork spare ribs: Choose a cut with some marbling of fat to keep the meat tender, such as St. Louis style ribs. Remember to get meaty ribs, pre-cut (or ask the butcher to chop them up for you.) If you don't have a butcher and don't want to mess around with cleaving the meat on a cutting board, the recipe still works with bigger pieces. However, smaller pieces are easier to coat and stir in the pot when reducing the sauce. There's also a better meat: sauce ratio! An alternative to spare ribs are baby back ribs.
- shoaxing wine: This Chinese rice wine can be found at almost every Asian market. If not, you can use a dry sherry instead.
- Chinese dark soy sauce: Not to be confused with light soy sauce, thick soy sauce or sweet soy sauce. I use Lee Kum Kee or if you can't get it, here's a homemade dark soy recipe. (Highly recommend you buy or make it if you like Chinese food, as it's used in many recipes such as Hong Kong Cantonese Soy Sauce Chicken and Singaporean Braised Pork.)
- rice vinegar: use white wine vinegar or apple cider vinegar as a substitute. Chinkiang vinegar (Chinese black vinegar (浙江红醋)) tastes great but the ribs end up so black, they look burnt, even though it's really just the colour of the sauce! You'll need to rely on the feel when stirring to tell if the sauce has been sufficiently reduced, or risk really burning it!
- brown sugar: regular sugar (white) or rock sugar work too
These are used in the ratio of:
1 (shaoxing wine)
2 (dark soy sauce)
3 (rice vinegar)
4 (brown sugar)
i.e. for 1 Tablespoon of Chinese wine, you use 2 Tablespoons of dark soy or if you use ½ Cup Shaoxing, you use 1 Cup Soy Sauce etc Super easy to remember!
However, if you double up on the recipe, you can use slightly less water. If not, it will take a bit longer to boil off the liquid!
Instead of 1 tablespoon of Shaoxing and 2 tablespoons of dark soya, for example, you can inverse the amounts and make it 1 tablespoon of soy and 2 tablespoons of shaoxing. The sauce will still be amazing!
The only thing to be mindful of is the sugar and dark soya.
If you reduce that too drastically (for example, from 4 tablespoons of sugar to 1 tablespoon), you may not get as thick, sticky and dark a glaze as I did in the photo as sugar is needed for the caramelization of the sauce. (I've only reduced the sugar by a maximum of 1 Tablespoon when experimenting.)
Cooking is meant to be fun so play around with the ratios, see which combination is your favourite and let me know!
Note: I have not tested this recipe in a slow cooker or instant pot.
📋 Step-by-Step Instructions
Optional: brine the meat overnight.
1a. 20-30 minutes before you want to cook, take the pork out, rinse, pat dry and leave at room temperature for 20-30 minutes. This is to make sure the flesh is not fridge cold when you cook!
Optional: if your pig is not neutered, you may want to blanch the meat before braising, to remove the strong smell. (You can add some ginger and scallions to the pot of water help.)
1b. Place the ribs in a pot and pour in all the ingredients for the sauce. Turn the heat onto high and stir till everything is well-mixed.
1c. Once boiling, reduce to low heat (such that the sauce is simmering) and cover.
1d. Every now and then, pop by to stir the sauce. If the pot looks dry, add in a few tablespoons of water.
2a. After 40 minutes, uncover the pot and turn the fire up to high. Let the sauce boil and sizzle- this is the key step to getting that thick, sticky glaze.
Note: However, you don't want the sauce to burn (danger from the high sugar content) so feel free to turn down to medium heat if the sauce splutters too much.
2b. Stir well so all the individual ribs are coated thoroughly and most of the sauce has evaporated. When you are left with a thick and sticky glaze, switch off the pot and serve.
Delicious with white rice!
👩 Expert Tips
Here are a few adaptations I've made to the original 12345 pork ribs recipe for more flavorful and tender meat!
Tip #1: Brine your meat. You should alwaaaaaayyyys brine your meat. The original Irene Kuo recipe didn't include brining, and though the ribs were good thanks to the savoury sauce- we never have any leftovers- the meat itself, sans sauce, lacked flavour. Brining ensures that the flavour goes right into the flesh and not just on the surface. It also makes sure that you get a juicy and tender rib!
Tip #2. Simmer the Chinese-style spareribs before adding in the sauce. If you want to eat these sticky glazed pork ribs Right Now, but don't have brined meat ready, an alternative is to simmer the ribs in water for 1 hour before adding the sauce in. (Keep the water the pork has simmered in: it's pork stock!) The meat then simmers in the sauces for another 40 minutes, after which it is perfectly juicy, tender and flavourful all the way through to the bone.
Tip #3. Use a light- coloured pot You don't want to over-reduce the sauce or burn it. Using a pot with a light coloured base makes it easier to see how much the sauce has boiled down by. Do make sure you keep it on the fire till it is nice and thick to get a nice, sticky sauce!
Tip #4. Pay attention when reducing the sauce This reduction is key to caramelizing the meat. Most of the recipe is passive cooking but, at the end, the sauce reduces super fast. Make sure you keep close watch on the braised pork ribs during the last few minutes!
🥗 Other Asian Side Dishes
This dish goes well with egg rolls or 1 of these Chinese sides:
Enjoyed this easy Chinese Spare Ribs Recipe? Please leave a 5-star 🌟🌟🌟🌟🌟rating in the recipe card below! If you REALLY liked these 12345 ribs, please consider supporting my work by buying me a coffee! 🙂 (No obligation though!) Thank you and have a great day!
12345 Chinese Spare Ribs (5-ingredients)
- Pot Use a light coloured one so you can keep a better watch on the sauce (there's sugar in the sauce so it can burn at the end if you don't watch it on high heat and a dark pot makes it hard to tell what's happening!)
- Wooden ladle Substitute: heatproof spatula
- 1 lb Pork ribs, cut into small pieces i.e. 454g Ask the butcher to cut it for you to make your life easier!
- Salt & Water to brine the meat overnight Optional step
- For the sauce
- 1 tablespoon Shaoxing wine Substitute: a dry sherry
- 2 tablespoons dark soya sauce Not to be confused with light soy. You can also make your own dark soy.
- 3 tablespoons rice vinegar Substitute: white wine vinegar, apple cider vinegar or chinkiang vinegar (note the latter will make the ribs very black and it's hard to tell if they burn.)
- 4 tablespoons brown sugar Substitute: granulated white sugar or rock sugar
- 5 tablespoons water If doubling or tripling the recipe, e.g. if you use 2 or 3 lbs of pork, you double/ triple all the ingredients for the sauce except the water. (Too much water will lengthen the cooking time.)
- Sliced green onions, sesame seeds, coriander etc Optional garnishes. You can use these instead of spring onions.
- Optional: Mix the salt and water till the salt has dissolved to make the brine. Place the pork into the brine and refrigerate overnight.
- Half an hour before cooking, remove the ribs from the fridge, rinse and pat dry. Leave till the ribs are room temperature/ about 20 minutes. Note: Cooking cold meat turns it hard and dry!
- Put the meat in a pot over high heat. Add the rest of the ingredients and give them a stir to make sure everything is mixed well. Once it's come to a boil, turn down to low heat whilst maintaining a gentle simmer.
- Cover and leave it for 40 minutes over low fire. Give it a stir every now and then, making sure there's enough liquid in the pot and that you give the ribs a toss.
- After 40 minutes, uncover the pot and increase the heat so that everything comes to a sizzling boil. This is the key step to making the pork caramelised you want a thick, sticky sauce but you don't want it to burn. (Turn the heat down if the sauce looks like it's burning.)
- Keep stirring till most of the sauce has evaporated and is a thick glaze consistency. Serve with white rice!
Note: the nutritional information is an estimate automatically calculated using the WPRM recipe maker and I am not responsible for its veracity.
If you've enjoyed these caramelised Chinese Spare Ribs, please do sign up for my Asian recipes mailing list here!