1-2-3-4-5 Sticky Spareribs

This recipe is a hybrid of two recipes given to me by Jonathan H. Liu and my friend Ivy Chan. Jonathan, an American-born Chinese, has been learning how to cook from his mom so that he can make the dishes he grew up with. He now has a good repertoire of simple, reliable stand-bys. He declares this dish has “one of the best ease-of-preparation to tastiness ratios.”

1-2-3-4-5 Sticky Spareribs

If you’ve ever thought that Chinese recipes were complicated, this dish dispels all preconceptions. Not only is it easy to remember, it’s almost effortless to prepare. To feed more people, just increase the ratios in proportion to the meat. For a tangier taste, switch the proportions of vinegar and sugar. Try it with beef short ribs too.

Time: 45 minutes
Makes: 4 to 6 servings

2 pounds pork ribs (spare ribs or country-style, cut into chunks)
1 tablespoon alcohol (Chinese Shaoxing wine or sherry)
2 tablespoons vinegar
3 tablespoons sugar
4 tablespoons soy sauce
5 tablespoons water

In a large wide-mouthed heavy-bottomed pot or Dutch oven, combine the rice wine, vinegar, sugar, soy sauce, and water. Add the spareribs and bring to a boil over high heat. Reduce the heat to medium and simmer for 40 to 45 minutes uncovered, stirring occasionally.

If the meat dries out and starts to burn, add water, 1 tablespoon at a time. The ribs are ready when the meat is tender and glossed with a sticky, reddish-brown glaze and the liquid has been absorbed. Serve with freshly steamed rice and a vegetable side dish.


If there’s still a lot of liquid at the end of the cooking time (this can happen if the meat contains a lot of water), remove the meat and raise the heat to high. Cook until the liquid turns into a thick, sticky sauce. Add the ribs back into the pot and toss to coat. You can also broil the ribs on high for 3 to 4 minutes to create a nice burnished crust while you reduce the sauce.


25 thoughts on “1-2-3-4-5 Sticky Spareribs

  1. This recipe is the 3rd I have prepared from your site in two days: shrimp with black bean sauce, adobo chicken, and now 12345Ribs. So far, for me, they are all winners.
    I have modified the ribsrecipe to correct the excessive liquid problem:
    • use about 3 lbs of ribs chopped into 1-2 inch pieces
    •thoroughly mix with all other ingredients in a wide high-sided skillet.
    • use high flame to start boiling and DO NOT reduce flame below medium but keep a slow boil and stir ribs often for about 20 minutes. The liquid left in the pan will be rendered fat which will brown the ribs. Add an extra tablespoon each of soy sauce and wine and keep stirring the ribs until nicely colored.
    Serve over light brown rice with a lettuce and tomato salad.

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  7. Hi Jennifer F, the lid ids supposed to be off. And since you tripled the recipe, I would probably only double the amount of water. You can also try removing the ribs and boiling down the sauce before combining the two together. I haven’t tried doubling or tripling the recipe so my best advice is to keep trying! Good luck!

  8. During the 45 mins cooking time, is the pot lid supposed to be off because I tripled the recipe and had SO much liquid at the end! I tried reducing it by bringing it to a boil with the ribs in the pot and boiled it almost down to nothing (possibly 1-1/2 cups of liquid) but it never got “sticky”. How far down are you supposed to reduce it before it gets sticky? I even added an extra tablespoon of sugar to help thicken but to no avail. They flavor is good but not sticky at all. Help!

  9. I’m not sure what I did wrong but my turned out to be really liquidy. ;( It was still really good though, just wish the sauce would have thickened for me.

    1. Hi there, I’m sorry the ribs didn’t turn out as expected :(. Next time, try reducing the sauce a little further by continuing to simmer the ribs but keep an eye on it so that it doesn’t burn. Or you could take the ribs out and broil them in the oven for a few minutes to dry them out. Hopefully this will work for you! Cheers, Pat

  10. Jon, thanks for the beer version. I’m sure my hubby will enjoy it! I’ve seen recipes (bulgogi, Filipino bbq) which use soda–7-Up or Coke–and I’m sure it works along the same lines too.

    Tuty, that’s what homecooking is all about–improvising! Glad to share.

  11. Pat,
    I tried this recipe and got thumbs-up from my family. Thanks for sharing… BTW, I did add 1 clove of garlic and 2 slices of ginger 🙂

  12. Pat:

    Thanks for the 12345 recipe. My Chinese mother-in-law also has a 12345, but her steps are different. She uses:
    1 – sugar
    2 – vinegar
    3 – beer/chinese xiaoxing wine
    4 – soy sauce
    5 – water (but we prefer more beer).

    Also, we just pour all the ingredients in at the same time and cook it down until all that is left is the little fat that comes out of the ribs. We like the beer because the carbonation tenderizes the meet and the sugar in the beer helps carmelize the ribs. The approach seems the same, but we may have to try a side by side and post the results.

    Thanks for the great blog.


  13. Marvin, I’ve never had a bottle longer than a year so I would just dump it. Alcohol may not “go” bad but it sure can taste bad! You don’t want that to happen to a lovingly prepared dish, especially if feeding guests.

  14. Oh my that looks good, and easy to boot! Do you know how long shaosing lasts for? I know it’s alchohol based and it probably lasts indefinitely, but I’ve had a half bottle in my cupboard collecting dust for maybe two years now.

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