Ginger, Garlic, and Honey Grilled Baby Back Ribs


Ribs, like wine, reflect strong regional and cultural influences. The vast ranch lands and forests of the New World led to American-style barbecue, with its mammoth slabs of spareribs slow roasted in a smoker for the better part of a day. Asians adopted a different strategy, cooking small cuts or single ribs on tiny grills engineered for fuel efficiency. The flavor comes not from wood smoke (Asians didn’t have wood to burn by the cord) but from the intensely flavorful seasonings indigenous to the region, like lemongrass, ginger, and fish sauce. These Cambodian-style ribs are a specialty of Sarun Pich, chef and culinary instructor at the Amansara resort in Siem Reap, Cambodia. If you’re interested in learning about Khmer cuisine, there’s no better way to get an immersion in Cambodian culture than by booking a private cooking class with Sarun, taught in a traditional Cambodian stilt house overlooking lake Srah Srang.

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For the Ribs and Spice Paste

  • 4 racks true baby back ribs (each ¾ to 1 pound), or 2 racks American baby back ribs (each 2 to 2½ pounds)
  • 6 cloves garlic, coarsely chopped
  • 1 piece (2 inches) fresh ginger, peeled and coarsely chopped
  • 1 tablespoon sugar
  • 1 tablespoon Coarse salt (kosher or sea)
  • 2 teaspoons Freshly ground black pepper
  • 2 tablespoons honey
  • 1 tablespoon soy sauce
  • 1 tablespoon Asian fish sauce or more soy sauce

For the Dipping Sauce

  • 4 teaspoons Coarse salt (kosher or sea)
  • 4 teaspoons white pepper
  • 4 juicy limes, cut in half


Advance Preparation

to 4 hours for marinating the ribs

  1. Prepare the ribs and spice paste: If necessary, remove the thin, papery membrane from the back of each rack of ribs (see photo number 1)—some stores sell baby backs with the membrane removed. If you are using the larger racks of ribs, cut each rack in half. Place the ribs in a nonreactive baking dish just large enough to hold them in a single layer.
  2. Place the garlic, ginger, sugar, 1 tablespoon of salt, and the black pepper in a mortar and pound to a paste with a pestle. If you do not have a mortar and pestle, puree these ingredients in a food processor. Work in the honey, soy sauce, and fish sauce. Spread the spice paste over the baby back ribs on both sides. Let the ribs marinate in the refrigerator, covered, for 1 to 4 hours; the longer the ribs marinate, the richer the flavor will be.
  3. Prepare the ingredients for the dipping sauce: Place 1 teaspoon of salt and 1 teaspoon of white pepper in neat mounds side by side in each of 4 tiny bowls for the dipping sauce. Place 2 lime halves next to each bowl.
  4. Set up the grill for direct grilling and preheat it to medium.
  5. When ready to cook, brush and oil the grill grate. Place the ribs, bone side down, on the hot grate and grill until golden brown and cooked through, 8 to 12 minutes per side, a little longer for full-size ribs. Watch for flare-ups. Should they occur, move the ribs to another section of the grill. When the ribs are done, the meat will have shrunk back from the ends of the bones by about ¼ inch.
  6. Transfer the racks of ribs to a cutting board and cut them into individual ribs, then arrange them on a platter or plates for serving. Just before eating, instruct your guests to squeeze 1 to 2 tablespoons of lime juice into their bowls of salt and white pepper and stir them with chopsticks until mixed. Dip the ribs in the sauce before eating.