Marinated in brown sugar, these succulent Oven Baked Ribs are smothered in a thick Sweet Rum Molasses Glaze. Celebrate a Caribbean Fete with a delicious platter all your own!
[This is the third installment in a series of recipes for hosting a Caribbean Fete at home. Each recipe can be enjoyed on their own, or as part of larger menu. For more on this theme, take a look at these previous posts for Rendezvous Rum Punch and Coconut & Pineapple Fried Rice.]
Oven Baked Ribs in Sweet Rum Molasses Glaze
In my experience, few things impress (carnivorous) guests as much as home-cooked racks of ribs. They just aren’t something a lot of people make for themselves, so they feel like a real treat when you take the time for them. Personally, well-made ribs are one of my favorite foods on the planet. Hyperbole, I know. I might use the word too much – I have a lot of a favorite foods. Ribs are seriously up there, though.
When Sam and I first returned from our honeymoon in Saint Lucia, the first get-together we hosted sought to replicate the tastes and foods of our trip. In order to learn more about the cuisine, I dove into Caribbean Potluck by Suzanne and Michelle Rousseau. In their cookbook, the Rousseau sisters share a diverse number of family recipes from the Caribbean as well as their own inspired creations. They also provide an extensive glossary of local ingredients, substitutions, and hosting tips that I continue to find helpful. I served a version of these oven baked ribs, adapted from their recipe, on our dinner menu. I’ve further adjusted the recipe to my tastes since then, and just thinking about them makes my mouth water. The sauce is so good you’ll be licking it from your fingers well after you’ve eaten your fill.
One of the great things about this recipe, aside from being well-loved, is that the Oven Baked Ribs don’t require much hands-on work. You’ll need to marinate them for at least a few hours (or overnight, which I find easier), but then once the Sweet Rum Molasses Glaze is made you’ll just need time and patience. Check on the racks of ribs occasionally, flip them on the hour and then the half hour when they get closer to done, and that’s it. Plenty of time to spend with your company as they cook.
Rum and Molasses: It’s not uncommon to find molasses and rum in Caribbean cooking, and for good reason – both are byproducts of sugar cane production. As far back as the 17th century, sugarcane has been a primary export of the Caribbean islands. Rum, another major export, is made from sugarcane byproducts like molasses. While originally a way to use the otherwise worthless, fermenting remains resulting from the refinement process, rum production has become far more polished in modern times. In addition to mixing in various spices, it’s often aged in whiskey or bourbon barrels. Using molasses, brown sugar, and of course rum means that this recipe uses the full cycle of this production. And each of those are delicious in themselves to boot. (For further reading, Steven Grasses has a whole chapter on rum’s interesting history with early America in his book, Colonial Spirits: A Toast to Our Drunken History).
Jerk Seasoning: The term “jerk” (when used in cooking) has a convoluted etymology, but stems from the same word that eventually became jerky – i.e., dried, cured meat. Jerk spice blends are a staple in Caribbean-style cooking, believed to have originated in Africa before it was adapted and popularized in Caribbean and West Indian communities. While specific blends can change, all rely on two primary items – allspice and native Caribbean Scotch Bonnet peppers. Other ingredients can include cloves, cinnamon, scallions, nutmeg, thyme, garlic, brown sugar, ginger, and salt in various amounts. For my part, I’m working through a tin of Jamaican Jerk seasoning from Spices and Tease – I used to get all my loose spices from their stall in Grand Central Station when I still worked in New York City and definitely recommend them if you are in the area.
Baby Back vs. St. Louis Style: Many rib recipes call for baby-back ribs (also known as loin-back ribs), and they are notoriously the most tender cut you can get. St. Louis style (or spare ribs) are a little tougher and have a higher fat content, but are also a little meatier than baby-back ribs tend to be. I’ve made baby backs before, but for entertaining a crowd, I opted for the slightly cheaper (and currently on sale) St. Louis Style ribs when testing this recipe. With the “low and slow” cook in the oven called for here, the end result was plenty tender regardless and incredibly delicious. Both styles will cook the same, so go with the cut you can afford or prefer and you’ll be just fine. Or, when in doubt, talk to your butcher – they’ll steer you in the right direction.
Whether you are planning to build your own Caribbean Fete menu, or would just like something new for an upcoming special occasional this summer, I hope you’ll consider this recipe for Oven Baked Ribs. Make sure you keep some of the Sweet Rum Molasses Glaze on the side for dipping, drizzling over Coconut & Pineapple Fried Rice, or just for drinking – I won’t judge.
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Oven Baked Ribs in Sweet Rum Molasses Glaze
Recipe adapted from Caribbean Potluck
- 4-5 lb St. Louis style ribs
- 1 Tbsp sea salt
- 1 Tbsp jerk seasoning
- 2 Tbsp brown sugar
- 1/4 cup Hoisin sauce
- 2 Tbsp honey
- 1 Tbsp soy sauce
- 2 Tbsp sesame oil
- 1 Tbsp dried cilantro
Sweet Rum Molasses Glaze
- 3 Tbsp molasses
- 2 Tbsp soy sauce
- 1/4 cup Hoisin sauce
- 1/3 cup brown sugar
- 1/4 cup white vinegar
- 6 allspice berries, whole
- 1 tsp ground ginger
- 2 Tbsp fresh thyme
- 1/3 cup honey
- 1 cup orange juice
- 1 cinnamon stick
- 1/2 cup dark rum
Prepare a large two-gallon storage bag (or other container that will fit the ribs). If your racks of ribs are too large, you can cut them in half along one of the bones, but try not to disassemble them too much. Ribs cook best when left as whole as possible. Rub the ribs down with the salt, sugar, and jerk seasoning.
Combine all of the ingredients of the marinade in a small measuring cup. Place the ribs instead of your storage bag, cover with marinade, and refrigerate for at least 2 hours or up to overnight.
Preheat the oven to 325°F. Line a baking sheet with foil, and set an oven-safe cooling or grill rack inside of it to elevate the ribs while cooking. Arrange the ribs on the baking sheet, and cover them with foil.
The ribs will need to cook for around 3 hours total. First, cook for 2 hours covered in foil, flipping on the hour. During this time, make the Sweet Rum Molasses’s Glaze. Combine all ingredients except for the rum in a medium saucepan over medium heat and bring to a boil. Reduce the heat to a low simmer, and cook for 30-45 minutes, until thickened. Stir the rum into the glaze, cook one minute more, and remove from heat and keep warm.
Once two hours have passed, uncover the ribs, flip again, and coat the ribs with some of the glaze (You should reserve plenty of glaze for drizzling on the ribs before serving). Put them back in the oven, uncovered, for an hour. Flip and re-glaze the ribs at the half-hour mark. When the time is up, check the ribs for doneness – the meat should pull easily away from the bone. If it does not, re-glaze and cook for an additional 15 minutes, repeating until done.
Remove the finished ribs from the oven and place on a cutting board to rest for 5-10 minutes. Butcher the ribs, cutting along the bone so that each individual rib has plenty of meat from the previous rib. Serve on a large platter, sprinkled with cilantro, and put out a bowl with the remaining Sweet Rum Molasses Glaze on the side for dipping.