Boneless Asian BBQ Beef Ribs


So let’s talk a bit about weekday realism.  I work some funny hours.  There are times when I’m up at 3am to be at work on time, and other situations when I have the luxury of sleeping in until 6:45am….which all of a sudden doesn’t sound particularly glamorous.  Huh.  But the point is, although I do love to cook, there are times for puttering about your kitchen making things that are stuffed, breaded and layered, and there are times when you want to come home, kick off your safety shoes, and lie listlessly on the couch for half an hour until dinner is ready.  There is no shame in that.

Back in my university days, a slow cooker was one of the first pieces of kitchen equipment that I bought.  I think it was from a garage sale.  That beast was straight out of the 70’s, with a baby-puke colored insert and a brown paisley pattern on the exterior. But man, the chilis that sprang from it’s womb….a small tear escapes me.  Eventually, after about 10 years of chronic use, my 70’s crock pot asked to be retired.  I said no.  It asked again, rather nicely.  I said NO.  It started a small electrical fire on my kitchen counter.  I said….okay…..but it was grudging.

Obviously, when my parents asked me what I wanted for Christmas last year it was a no-brainer:  I wanted a crock pot.  But a BIGGER ONE.  And one with a timer.  And it couldn’t have any patterns on the outside with little olive branches or flowers.  Pfft.  I mean, been there and done that.  And wow, but did they ever buy me a crock pot!  This is the slow cooker to put all other slowcookers to shame.  It has a digital thermometer, timer, warming option, manual and system options – this beauty does it all.  I have been riding a sort of slow-cooker bliss ever since I opened the box.  

Even so, in three long months, all that I’ve made in my new darling joy is a chili and stew.  That’s just not RIGHT!  I mean, you can’t go on a date with Tiger Woods and ask him to play mini-putt…unless there’s a really good courtesy bar.  No, even then, you’re right – not gonna happen.  So I decided that the time was nigh to bring my slowcooker out and show the world what it could do – courtesy of a pack of boneless beef rib finger meat which was on sale at the grocery store.  Because hey, I might be all about the glory of slow cooked meat, but I’m more about the price tag.

I love to slow cook tough cuts of meat in the slow-cooker with a relatively acidic (and super flavorful) braising liquid, because after 8 hours of heat your regular ol’ naugehyde stewing beef turns into the most divine ruddy chunks of bliss, which can be cut with no more than a shoddy spoon and some loving adoration.  More importantly, at the end of the day when your spirit is broken and frankly you start to reconsider your chosen career path, you open up your door to be greeted by the fragrance of exotic spices, pungent garlic, sweet ginger, and tender meat.  Yes, tender meat has a smell.  And it smells good.  So there you have it, in eight words or less:  I love slowcookers because they give me hope.  End of story.  Okay, almost end of story – they give me hope and dinner.

Boneless Asian BBQ Beef Ribs

Serves 4-6

  • 1.5 kg boneless beef rib finger meat
  • 1.5 ” ginger root, about the size of a fat thumb
  • 6 cloves garlic
  • 1 yellow cooking onion
  • 1 tbsp Chinese Five Spice *
  •  2 tbsp sesame oil
  • 3 tbsp oyster sauce
  • 3 tbsp sambal oelek **
  • 1/4 cup rice vinegar
  • 1/3 cup brown sugar
  • 1 tbsp fish sauce
  • 1/3 cup soy sauce
  • 2 tbsp Chinese cooking wine ***
  • 1/2 cup hoisin
  • 1 cup + 1 tbsp water
  • 2 tsp corn starch

* Chinese Five Spice is not a single type of spice, but rather a spice blend – like curry powder or Garam Masala.  Five Spice generally includes ground cinnamon, cloves, star anise, fennel seed and peppercorn (pink peppercorn like Sichuan, preferably).  Other ingredients often make their way in as well, like cassia, ginger, anise seed, and even orange peel.  

**Sambal oelek is a spicy red chili paste with a little bit of salt, garlic and oil to thin it a tad.  If you don’t have sambal oelek, a good substitute is Chinese chili paste, chili-garlic sauce, red chili sauce, sriracha hot sauce, or even harissa in a pinch.

*** Chinese cooking wine (Shaoxing) is a fundamental ingredient in much Asian cooking, and yet it’s not always easy to find.  Often if you do find ‘Chinese wine’ in a major supermarket, it tends to be salty and low quality – a poor substitute for good rice wine.  A reasonably good alternative to use would be a dry sherry or even gin.

Things that are not in the picture below (because I swear sometimes I think I try to function on slightly less than half a brain) include the five spice powder and cornstarch.


Peel the ginger (I find that the side of a teaspoon is the fastest and most efficient way to do this) and grate it into a medium mixing bowl.  The garlic cloves can be finely minced, grated or pressed into the bowl as well – just make sure that they aren’t too chunky and use whatever method you like.


Cut the top off of the onion but leave the root end intact, which will help enormously when you grate it.  Peel the tough outer skin from the onion and grate it on the bigger holes of a box grater.  

Being one of those people who starts weeping at the mere thought of somebody else cutting an onion, GRATING onions is like serving me up misery on a plate.  A big, hysterical, wet plate of tearstained despondency.  However, in the interest of Asian style BBQ sauce, I am willing to gird the loins of bravery and tell myself “Whatever, just suck it up kitten-face”….and then I go running into the bathroom with flailing arms as soon as the horrible deed is done.  It’s just not fair.  Frogs get to have a second set of eyelids, and they RARELY spend much time in a (non-French) kitchen.


Add the rest of the sauces, condiments, and whatnot.  Appetizing, it is not.  But just wait.


If the fingers of rib meat are long, cut them horizontally into roughly 4 inch lengths.


Put the boneless rib meat into your slowcooker insert, pour the marinade over top and add just enough water (about 1 cup) to almost – just barely sort of-  cover the ribs.


Now because this is a week night dinner, my five minutes of prep work gets done the night before and the ribs are tucked into the fridge until 6 am when I’m awoken by a piercing scream. And Mike’s alarm clock isn’t too pleasant either.  If you don’t have time to let this rest overnight, no worries – the flavors will combine beautifully during the long slow cook.

When you’re awake and ready, put the slowcooker insert into the device and set the heat to go on at it’s lowest heat and set the timer for 8 hours.  I’m not kidding.  That might seem like an incredibly long period of time, but what do you care?  You’re at work anyway, right?

Cooking the meat long and slow with a gentle heat and acidulated liquid will tenderize this ribs like you would not believe.  If they had bones, they would fall off.  As it is, you’ll need to be gentle when moving the pieces of meat so that they don’t completely fall apart.

Now the picture below might look a bit like the surface of Venus, and the amount of fat released by ribs is appalling at the best of times, but let me remind you of two fabulous things:

1.  Fat has flavor. 

2.  Here’s  your chance to scoop it all off.

Using a large and shallow serving spoon, gently press down on the surface and scoop the fat off the stewing meat and sauce.  This can be discarded.  Oh, and don’t be shy – it’s worth losing a teensy bit of sauce as you scoop it up with the fat, if only to know that it won’t be in the final dish.  As for how much fat comes up?  Well…ahem….do you have a ‘fat can’ at home for bacon drippings and the like?  So do I….but it was full…and all that we had left were empty cat food cans from our recycling bin.  I filled THREE CAT FOOD CANS with the fat.  That’s a lot of fat.  But hey, I go back to this point again:  at least you’re scooping it off and not eating it, right?


When you have skimmed off as much fat as you can, add in the cornstarch which has been whisked with the remaining tablespoon of water (to make a slurry).  Gently stir this into the sauce, cover the crock-pot again, and crank the heat up to high for between 30 minutes and 1 hour, or until the mixture has thickened somewhat and become rather homogenous. 


Serve the boneless riblets over jasmine rice with a sprinkle of freshly sliced scallions.


I adore bok choy, so our sides were also some lightly steamed bok choy, marinated soy eggs, and a handful of leftover sweet sesame edamame that I managed not to devour last night.


There may be no bones for these riblets to fall off of, but that doesn’t mean that they don’t try.  Meltingly soft and tender meat is exactly what you would expect from 8 hours in a slowcooker though, isn’t it?


I love BBQ sauce for the combination of sweet and salty, smoky, spicy, rich deep and delicious flavor.  These ribs capture that and them some, with the exotic flair of sesame, five spice, and an unmistakable soy twang.  For dinner in half an hour (of actual work) or less, I’d say GIMME SOME-A-DAT-DEHR MEAT!  Yes, I would.  But in a way that isn’t quite so redneck.


  • Mike


  • Margie

    He said cock.

    Do you think this would work with pork? I’ve got what they call “country style” ribs around here. They look basically the same as the beef finger meat, except they’re pork. Surely, that would work, don’ t you think? This sounds delicious!

  • Heather

    That beef and those tea-cooked eggs are blowing me away (speaking of cock).

    Re: what Margie asked, I personally feel that beef short ribs and pork ribs don’t totally translate in Chinese cooking, in my opinion, but would still be deeeeelishuss. Just not as delicious as what you made.

  • Tina

    Mike – SIGH.

    Margie – I love country style pork ribs. The flavor would be a bit different and I wouldn’t cook them for quite as long as the beef ribs, but I’m totally in support of that decision!

    Heather – Aw, thanks man. With all the white on rice in the pictures I was afraid that they kind of sucked. Sorry. I couldn’t help myself with that one.

    • Mike

      What? It’s a very flavorful and essential addition to any Asian cooking toolkit. I get very excited about it.

      I can’t help it if you have a dirty mind.

  • maggie (p&c)

    Yum. Looks awesome. The last asian-style ribs i did in the slow cooker came out strangely garlicky…maybe I’ll try this recipe.

    • Choosy Beggar Tina

      Ha – Maggie, these are garlicky as too, but the garlic isn’t overwhelming because the sauce is so flavorful with the sweet, tangy, salty smoky Asian goodness. I find that because vegetables don’t cook the same way in a slowcooker that it helps to make sure the garlic is really broken down – either very finely minced or grated makes an enormous improvement so that the garlic flavor can meld and mellow.

  • Mark


    Picked up ribs at Costco with no idea of how I was going to cook them – I just knew they were reasonably priced and looked yummy. I’m not much of a chef but I followed your recipe and they turned out DELICIOUS! My kids said they were like something you would see on one of the food network shows. 🙂

    Now I just need to search for more recipes that use all of these wonderful spices and sauces!


  • Mark

    Oops… meant to be thanking TINA (obviously). 🙂

    • Tina

      Mark – how excellent that your family enjoyed this recipe! Your kids saying that totally cracks me up. I’m so glad that you were pleased with the results! Thank you so much for stopping by to let us know.

      In terms of using up the spices and sauces, well, I can certainly help you out with that one!!

      Sambal Oelek: Use to add some heat to tomato sauce or marinades. I use sambal oelek in the same types of things that I would make with sriracha. I’ve got a recipe for Grand Marnier chili shrimp on the site which I make all the time for company, so I go through quite a bit just with that!

      Hoisin: Thinik of hoisin as “Chinese BBQ Sauce” and use it to baste meat on the grill. It’s also a great addition to stir fry.

      Oyster Sauce: I adore this one, and I can’t help licking the spoon EVERY TIME before I put it in the dishwasher. Oyster sauce has that earthy, salty, sweet (I’m going to hate myself for saying this) “umami” taste. I use it in a lot of marinades, dumplings, stir frys and Asian style sauces.

      Chinese Five Spice: Ever had roast chicken rubbed with five spice? Because it’s GOOD.

      Rice Vinegar: I can’t praise this one too much. I use rice vinegar almost daily. It’s got a sweeter, milder flavor than many vinegars so it’s great in marinades, sauces, and PERFECT for salad dressings when you don’t want the vinegar to overpower.

      Chinese cooking wine: I usually just use this for sauces or marinades, but it’s a great flavor boost if you were poaching some fish or chicken.

      Fish sauce: salty, delicious goodness! Used sparingly, it can add a wonderful flavor to everything from curries to dumplings. It’s a great addition to many marinades or sauces, because it just blends with other flavors rather than overwhelming them with a “HI, I TASTE LIKE FISH!” because nobody wants that.

      And now that I’ve bored you with more than you wanted to hear about sauces, I’ll leave you in peace….

  • Trailgurl

    This was amazing!!! Used Sherry instead of the wine. sprinkled chopped fresh cilantro on top. Made it for a ski trip and had 5 requests for the recipe – yummmmm!

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  • Ian Brisbin

    I would be remiss not to post and to thank you for sharing, as this truly has become a staple in our house. This is one of those classic recipes that lends itself to freestyling and as a result, each time is oh so slightly different, but always a treat. Thank you!