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Pop of flavor! Root Beer Ribs get tender and sweet

By the Editors of Relish Magazine
Pop of flavor! Root Beer Ribs get tender and sweet
(Photo: Relish Magazine)

Cooks discovered the benefits of cooking and baking with sodas years ago. Chocolate cake made with Coca-Cola is almost a staple in the South; 7Up appears in pound cake; Sprite forms the base for punches of all kinds; and Orange Crush gives zing to sherbet. So it should come as no surprise that root beer makes an excellent marinade and sauce for ribs. As a marinade, the sugar flavors the meat, while the carbonation tenderizes it.

Barbecue aficionados have a lot to disagree about. Should the meat be cooked wet or dry, with a sauce or without? Should ribs be pork or beef, spare ribs or baby backs? Does parboiling help or hurt the cooking process? Should you soak wood chips or just throw them dry on the fire? One thing is for sure: These ribs, double-doused in root beer, are finger-licking good.

The sugar and carbonization in root beer (or any soda) play a major role in tenderizing and flavoring the ribs, but any soda will work: Dr. Pepper, Cheerwine, Ginger Beer — you name it.

This recipe is designed with tender baby-back ribs in mind. If you prefer larger, meatier spare ribs, simply reduce the oven temperature to 300F, and increase the cooking time to 3 1/2 to 4 hours.

Root Beer Baby Back Oven Ribs

Brine and ribs:

  • ¼ cup coarse salt
  • ¼ cup dry rub barbecue seasoning for pork
  • 24 ounces root beer, divided
  • 2 racks baby-back pork ribs


  • 1 cup ketchup
  • 1 cup root beer
  • ½ cup cranberry or apple juice
  • 2 T Worcestershire sauce
  • 2 T apple cider vinegar
  • ¼ cup light brown sugar
  • 2 T dry rub barbecue seasoning for pork

To prepare brine, combine salt, dry rub and half the root beer in a small saucepan. Cook over medium heat, stirring constantly, until salt and seasoning dissolve. Remove from heat. Add remaining root beer. Let cool completely in the refrigerator.

Pat ribs dry. Use a sharp chef’s knife to score “X” patterns into the membrane that runs along the back (concave) side of the ribs. Combine ribs and brine in a ziptop plastic bag and marinate in the refrigerator 12 to 24 hours.

Preheat oven to 375F.

Drain ribs and discard brine. Wrap each rack in 2 layers of heavy-duty aluminum foil. Place in oven and bake until tender, but not falling apart, about 1½ to 2 hours. (Make ahead tip: Ribs may be prepared in advance up to this point, wrapped in plastic and stored for several days in the refrigerator.)

To prepare sauce, combine all ingredients in a small saucepan. Bring to a boil over medium heat, whisking occasionally. Reduce heat and simmer 20 minutes to thicken, stirring occasionally. Let cool, cover and store in the refrigerator up to 1 month.

When you’re ready to finish cooking the ribs, heat broiler. Slice foil packets open along the top of each rack and peel back. (You may remove the foil completely, but leaving it on makes cleanup easier.) Brush the exposed ribs liberally with sauce and broil until caramelized and bubbly, about 5 minutes. Makes 2 full racks and 3 cups sauce. Serves 6.

Per serving: 729 calories, 19g fat, 213mg chol., 48g prot., 27g carbs., 0g fiber, 1646mg sodium