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Eric Akis: Spice up your barbecue sauce with splash of cola

Fire up the BBQ: These tender pork side ribs are slathered and served with cola barbecue sauce.
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These tender pork side ribs are slathered and served with cola barbecue sauce. ERIC AKIS

If you literally want to pop some life into the barbecue sauce you use on pork ribs, add and simmer some cola in it. When you do, you’ll be infusing the soda’s mix of sweet and subtly bitter and sour flavours, with, depending of the brand, hints of such things as citrus and vanilla.

And, the best part is, the sauce is easy to make. In a pot, you simply combine the cola with other ingredients, things you might already have on hand, such as ketchup, brown sugar, Worcestershire sauce, vinegar, spices and a few other tastes, and simmer them until a thickened barbecue sauce forms. As the sauce simmers, it develops an umami-rich flavour that wonderfully enhances the taste of pork ribs.

Speaking of those ribs, to prepare them, I cut racks of meaty pork back ribs into half-rack portions, set each one on a lightly oiled sheet of aluminum foil, sprinkled and rubbed them with seasonings, sealed the ribs in the foil, and then baked them until tender. As noted in a past column using this method, as the ribs cook in the foil, their natural juices release, steam builds and, by the end of cooking, they are very tender and have a deep, rich, pork flavour.

The last step in the preparation of the ribs is to remove them from the foil, grill and char them a few minutes on a barbecue to enhance their colour, and then brush and serve them with the cola barbecue sauce.

My recipe for the ribs yields four, half-rack of ribs each serving. The recipe for the cola barbecue sauce makes about one and half cups of it, enough to nicely slather the ribs with it and serve some of the sauce alongside them. Both recipes could be doubled if you’re feeding a larger group. In the Eric’s options part of the rib recipe you’ll also learn how you can prepare the ribs partially in advance and how to cook them completely in the oven if you don’t have a barbecue.

To make a meal of ribs, if desired, you could serve them with my recipe for summer six vegetable coleslaw, corn on the cob and some dinner rolls or cornbread.

Pork Back Ribs with Cola Barbecue Sauce

Pork ribs, seasoned and then wrapped in foil, baked in the oven until very tender, grilled, and then brushed and served with flavourful cola barbecue sauce.

Preparation time: 25 minutes

Cooking time: about 110 minutes

Makes: four (half rack of ribs each) servings

1/2 tsp paprika

1/2 tsp chili powder

1/2 tsp oregano

1/2 tsp ground cumin

2 large, meaty, full racks of pork back ribs (each about 850 to 950 grams)

• vegetable oil or vegetable oil spray

• salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste

• Cola Barbecue Sauce, warmed (see recipe below)

Preheat oven to 325 F. Make rib seasoning by combining paprika, chili powder, oregano and cumin in a small bowl. Tear four, 18-inch long pieces of aluminum foil and set on a work surface. Cut each rack of ribs widthwise in half, creating four half-rack portions. Pat the ribs dry with paper towel.

Lightly oil the centre of the top of the foil on which you will set the ribs. Now set a half-rack of ribs, meaty-side-up, in the centre of each piece of foil. Sprinkle and rub the ribs with the rib seasoning and salt and pepper.

Package up and seal ribs in the foil. (If the foil tears during this process, wrap ribs in a second piece of foil.) Set ribs in a single layer on a large baking sheet. Bake ribs 100 minutes, or until very tender (see Eric’s options).

When ribs have done baking, preheat a barbecue to medium-high (see Eric’s options). Remove ribs from the foil and grill them three to five minutes on either side, until nicely charred. Lower the heat to medium-low. Turn ribs meaty side up. Brush the top of the ribs with some of the barbecue sauce and cook one minute more. Plate the ribs and serve remaining barbecue sauce alongside, for drizzling on the ribs.

Eric’s options: On a hot summer day, you could bake the ribs in the foil in the morning, unwrap them and set them on a baking sheet, cool them, and then refrigerate the ribs until ready to serve. When you are ready to serve them, simply grill and brush them with the sauce as described in the recipe, adding a few minutes to the grilling time as you’ll be starting from cold.

If you don’t have a barbecue, once baked until tender, remove ribs from the foil and set on a parchment paper-lined or non-stick baking sheet. Brush ribs with some the cola barbecue sauce. Put ribs back in the oven and bake, uncovered, 10 to 15 minutes more, or until nicely glazed. Plate the ribs and serve with remaining barbecue sauce.

Cola Barbecue Sauce

Easy to make, cola-spiked barbecue sauce you can slather on pork ribs and other barbecued foods, such as chicken and burgers.

Preparation time: five minutes

Cooking time: about 20 minutes

Makes: about 1 1/2 cups

1 cup cola (see Note)

1 cup ketchup

2 Tbsp brown sugar

1 Tbsp Worcestershire sauce

1 Tbsp cider vinegar

1 Tbsp soy sauce

1/2 tsp onion powder

1/4 tsp garlic powder

• splash or two Tabasco or other hot pepper sauce

Combine ingredients in a small pot (mine was four inches wide, and three inches tall), set over medium-high heat and bring to a gentle simmer. Lower heat to maintain that gentle simmer. Simmer sauce until it begins to thicken and is reduced to about 1 1/2 cups. This should take about 15 to 20 minutes.

The sauce is now ready to use, or could be cooled, transferred to jar, sealed and refrigerated until needed. The cola barbecue sauce will keep many days in the refrigerator.

Note: One (222 mL) can of cola will yield the one-cup needed here. I used Coca-Cola brand cola when testing this recipe.

Summer Six-Vegetable Coleslaw

Green cabbage and a mix of five other vegetables give this sweet and tangy coleslaw a colourful look and summery taste.

Preparation time: 25 minutes

Cooking time: none

Makes: six servings

3 Tbsp cider vinegar

2 Tbsp vegetable oil

1 Tbsp honey

2 tsp Dijon mustard

4 cups thinly shredded green cabbage

1/2 cup grated carrot

1/2 cup grated zucchini

1/3 cup thinly sliced green onion

1/3 cup finely diced celery

1/3 cup finely diced red bell pepper

• salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste

Combine vinegar, oil, honey and mustard in a medium bowl. Add cabbage, carrot, zucchini, green onion, celery and bell pepper, season with salt and pepper, and toss to combine. Cover and refrigerate coleslaw until needed. It can be made a few hours before serving. Toss the coleslaw again just before you serve it.

eakis@timescolonist.com

Eric Akis is the author of eight cookbooks. His columns appear in the Life section Wednesday and Sunday.