Chefs and operators at independents and at national chains alike are breaking out the BBQ sauce and firing up their smokers and grills for BBQ season. And if there’s one pork cut that’s in demand among the consumer audience, it’s pork ribs — perfect for BBQ. Pork ribs are both the leading and fastest-growing pork dish, with 50% of consumers choosing them at lunch, and 62% of consumers choosing them for dinner.1 And the great thing about ribs? Chefs can impart so much flavor and signature flair into them.

It’s especially encouraged for chefs to step outside of their comfort zone and get creative with ribs when customers are expecting more originality. Jeff Thalrose, owner of MeatBoneZ BBQ, says his customers are seeking out bolder tastes.

“At the new BBQ places popping up in New York, you’re not seeing the usual plain boiled ribs with BBQ sauce slapped onto them anymore. People are expecting something better now because they’re starting to taste elevated flavors at other meals. They crave something new,” he said.

One way to impart new flavors into this BBQ-favorite pork cut is to find inspiration in ethnic flavors. Smithfield Culinary’s Corporate Chef, Frank Dominguez, enjoys getting inspiration from Asian ingredients.

“On my ribs, I use gochujang as my marinade. I let the ribs marinate overnight, and then I use a spicy barbecue rub after that. I’m looking for those spicy, fermented flavors that are common in Asian cooking. It’s a great flavor profile. I take it even further by topping my ribs with a little bit of fried rice sticks, so you’re getting all the different influences of Asian food,” he said.

Chefs can also dial up the inventiveness of their ribs by getting imaginative with the use of popular beverages, like beer or soda pop. Chef Brian West, formerly of Smoke: The Restaurant, in San Antonio, uses a classic carbonated beverage to create a delicious glaze for his ribs.

“I love Dr Pepper. I love using soda on my ribs. I’ve got a little spritz squeeze bottle that I use to spray Dr Pepper onto the ribs about 45 minutes after they have cured or smoked over. Once the rub that I initially put on them has set, I’ll go in and I’ll start spritzing every 20 to 25 minutes so that the soda caramelizes over the top. It’s an interesting technique,” he said.

Take it from these chefs, and World Champion Pitmaster Melissa Cookston: firing up the grill and playing around with different tastes in your pork ribs is fun for you and your guests.

“Ribs, you can’t go wrong with ribs. Either spare or loin back ribs. For me, that’s a poor man’s dream, and I was raised a poor man, so give people some ribs, and all is good,” she said.

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1. Technomic, 2017 Center of Plate: Beef & Pork Consumer Trend Report.

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