Recipe of the week: smoky baby back ribs in a root beer glaze

Beyond its compatibility with ice cream, root beer is a talented ingredient. With its sweet and earthy (yes, root-y) notes, it’s an elixir that pops in the presence of aromatic spices. And when used in meat dishes, root beer is a true gift.

Baby back ribs in a root beer glaze, anyone? Yes, please! 

In fact, in the recipe below – found in the book, “Red, White, and ‘Que” (Running Press, 2017) – a slab of ribs gets aromatic love from a genius spice rub that’s made to enhance a root beer glaze. That rub, by the way, is a keeper. Store it with your spices for generous use on poultry, beef or pork dishes. 

As for the root beer, this recipe and its smoky-sweet promises may inspire you to keep a bottle or two in your pantry. 



The following recipe and authors’ text is reprinted from the 2017 book, “Red, White, and ‘Que,” by Karen Adler and Judith Fertig, with permission of its publisher, Running Press.  


“The classic flavors in American root beer—anise, vanilla, sugar, spice—just naturally go well with pork. So, it’s not too much of a stretch to use a root beer marinade and a rub with root beer flavors for ribs, and then finish with a root beer glaze. Five-spice powder is avail¬able at better grocery stores, Asian markets, or online at Penzeys or other spice emporia. We recommend removing the membrane from the back of the ribs so that the aromatic rub and glaze can penetrate the meat more. Use needle-nose pliers to remove the membrane from the just-out-of-the-refrigerator slab of ribs. If the ribs are room temperature, it is more difficult to remove the membrane because it will break apart. For the wood, choose apple, cherry, pecan, or oak (or a combination).” – Karen Adler and Judith Fertig  

Serves 8  


For the ribs: 

2 (1- to 1 1⁄2-pound) slabs baby back ribs 

3 (12-ounce) bottles root beer, divided  

For the root beer rib rub:  

1 tablespoon five-spice powder 

1 tablespoon ground coriander 

1⁄ 4 cup packed dark brown sugar 

2 tablespoons garlic salt 

2 tablespoons sweet Hungarian paprika 

2 tablespoons freshly ground black pepper  

For the root beer glaze: 

1⁄ 2 cup clover or other amber honey 

4 ounces unsalted butter 

Favorite barbecue sauce, for serving (optional)  

Prepare the dish:

The ribs:

  1. Remove the membrane from the back of the chilled ribs using needle-nose pliers. Place the ribs in a large disposable aluminum pan or a large roasting pan and pour in 20 ounces of the root beer.
  2. Place 1 bottle of the root beer in a spray bottle; reserve the remaining 1⁄2 cup of root beer for the glaze.  
  3. Cover and let the ribs marinate in the refrigerator for at least 4 hours or overnight, turning once.  

The grill:

  • Prepare an indirect fire in your grill or smoker to slow smoke, using apple, cherry, pecan, or oak wood (or a combination).  

The Root Beer Rib Rub:

  1. Combine all the ingredients in a large glass jar with a tight-fitting lid. Secure the lid and shake to blend.
  2. This rub will keep in the kitchen cupboard for several months.  
  3. Drain the ribs and pat them dry with a paper towel. Transfer the ribs to a large baking sheet. Sprinkle the rub all over the ribs.  

The Root Beer Glaze:

  • Combine the remaining ½ cup of the root beer with the honey and butter in a saucepan over medium-high heat. Stir to combine, and cook until just bubbling, then transfer to a bowl.

Grill the ribs:

  1. When you see the first wisp of smoke, place the ribs on the smoker rack. Cover and slow smoke at 250F for 2 hours, spraying with root beer every 30 minutes.
  2. When the rib meat has pulled back from the bones, carefully turn the ribs over. Brush them with the glaze. Close the lid and keep slow smoking for 30 more minutes.
  3. Turn the ribs again and bruch again wiht the glaze. Close the lid and slow smoke for 15 more minutes so that the ribs develop a beautiful sheen.

To serve:

  • Leave as whole slabs on a platter or cut into individual ribs. Pass your favorite barbecue sauce, if you like, or the remaining Root Beer Glaze.

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