Right on ’Cue

Piri-piri ribs marry Southern techniques with faraway flavors.

By Hanna Neuschwander June 11, 2010 Published in the July 2010 issue of Portland Monthly

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The vivid, finger-lickin’ flavors of barbecue may be synonymous with summer, but their origins are quite the opposite: common sense says you don’t slaughter a hog when it’s 90 degrees outside. Barbecue was invented for hog-killing day in midwinter—ribs were cooked up while the carcass was broken down, and other cuts were cured for later enjoyment. Yet what carnivore hasn’t come to love a sticky mess of ribs on a blazing July afternoon? To get you primed for such classic summer excess, we offer a recipe from Berlin Reed—a Portland-based butcher, chef, food blogger, and former vegan who’s better known as the Ethical Butcher—that delivers a bloom of flavors every bit as sultry as the season.

Barbecue veterans will tell you that any great marinade requires three things: sour, sweet, and spice. Reed’s unforgettable sauce replaces the traditional “sour” of American barbecue—usually derived from vinegar or tomatoes—with the bright pucker of oranges. On top of this citrusy base, Reed assembles a veritable geography of flavors whose origins map to such far-flung locales as the Antilles and Malaysia: molasses, allspice, cinnamon, star anise, and cloves. The overall effect is a marinade that, as Reed puts it, provides “the perfect dance between protein, heat, and sugars.”

Molasses, a barbecue staple that can veer into cloying heaviness, becomes the perfect foil to the devilish, strawberry-flavored heat of the piri-piri chile. Common in Portuguese cuisine, this African pepper is rare in the United States—but you can substitute a mild variety like the Peppadew in combination with a high-heat cousin like the habanero. (Don’t hesitate to use more peppery heat than you normally would—slow cooking will kill off the worst of it.) And most important, don’t skimp on the time you give the meat to marinate; it will pay you back tenfold in flavor. 

Piri-Piri Ribs

Makes enough marinade and sauce for one rack of pork spareribs. Double all ingredients except peppers for up to three racks, adjusting as needed.


  • 2-3 piri-piri peppers (substitute 1 small habanero and 4 Peppadew peppers), thinly sliced
  • 2 unpeeled oranges, thinly sliced
  • 3 whole star anise
  • 1 tbsp molasses
  • ¼ tsp cinnamon
  • 2 tsp salt 

Combine ingredients in a large bowl, putting slight pressure on orange slices to release their juice. Taste and adjust sweetness and heat by adding more peppers or molasses. Remove membrane from back of ribs. Use your hands to rub marinade into meat. Store mixture and ribs in large plastic bag or long covered dish and refrigerate for 24-48 hours. 


  • 2 piri-piri peppers (or substitute 1 small habanero and 4 Peppadews), sliced
  • 1 tbsp molasses
  • 1 cup orange juice with pulp
  • 1 orange, thinly sliced
  • ½ tsp ground star anise 
  • ¼ tsp ground cacao
  • ½ tsp ground clove
  • ¼ tsp ground allspice
  • ¼ tsp ground cinnamon
  • Kosher salt to taste

Combine ground spices in a small bowl. In saucepan on medium heat, mix orange juice, sliced orange, molasses, and peppers. Sprinkle in 1 tsp of spice mixture (taste and add more as desired). Let sauce simmer, uncovered, until reduced by half, about 20 minutes.

If you are using charcoal, pile coals on one side of grill. Heat until very hot (about 450 degrees). Place ribs bone-side down directly over heat and sear for 8-10 minutes. Turn heat down (to 200-250 degrees) or move ribs away from direct heat and continue to cook for 2 hours. After 1 hour, baste ribs with sauce every 10-15 minutes to keep them moist and tender.

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