Earlier this year, a good friend asked if I would create some images for a hard cider guide he was writing. Or maybe I volunteered and he accepted. The important thing is that I ended up in Portland shooting for HipCider. It was a blast and kicked off my cider education.

While photographing over twenty variations of cider, I tasted more than a few, soon realizing that ciders were every bit as varied as craft beer and wine. It wasn’t long before I had picked out my favorites. Add cider to the growing list of things I’m snobby about (pizza, ramen, Mexican food, etc.).

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We were talking about pairing cider with food and it wasn’t long until I started thinking about things I could cook using cider. I decided I was going to do some hard cider recipes and do some cross-promotion between shootwhatyoueat.com and hipcider.com. This was the first time I’ve ever really sat down to create a recipe for a specific purpose.

Admittedly, pork dishes are the low-hanging fruit (no pun) because everyone knows pork and apples go together. I figured a BBQ sauce using hard apple cider was a good place to get my feet wet. I don’t have a smoker, and trying to do ribs on a regular grill is just plain insane, so, I slow cooked the ribs: first in a dry rub sitting on a bed of onions, and then hard cider.

I put chipotle in the sauce because I like the kick and it adds some of the smokiness to the ribs that could be missing. I also finished the ribs on the grill to sear the meat and caramelize the sauce.

I don’t make ribs a lot, but I’ve made my fair share. I can honestly say that these are the most tender, fall off the bone and delicious ribs I have ever made.

Hard Cider BBQ Ribs

  • Prep Time: 30m
  • Cook Time: 4h 15m
  • Serves: 4

What's in it:

  • 1 rack pork spare ribs
  • 1 onion, sliced
  • 1 c hard apple cider

For the dry rub:

  • 2 tbsp. salt
  • 1 tbsp. garlic powder
  • 1 tbsp. onion powder
  • 1 tsp. coriander (heaping)
  • 2 tsp. chili powder

For the sauce:

  • 1 c unsweetened apple butter
  • 2 c hard apple cider
  • 1 c brown sugar
  • 1 tblsp chipotle powder
  • 1 tblsp cinnamon

How to make it:

  1. Mix dry rub spices together and rub over both sides of ribs. Spread out onions on a sheet of foil large enough to fit the ribs with a few inches on all sides for sealing. Lay ribs on top of onions and place a piece of foil on top and seal the edges. Place the seal ribs on a pan and refrigerate for no less than 6 hours to overnight.
  2. Preheat oven to 225º. Open foil enough to pour 1 cup of cider in the bottom and reseal. Place ribs (in pan) in the oven for 6 hours. Pull ribs and let rest while making sauce. Even refrigerating them for a couple of hours will help them hold together on the grill.
  3. Combine apple butter, cider, brown sugar, chipotle powder and cinnamon in a saucepan over medium heat. Simmer until reduced by half and sauce thickens.
  4. Place ribs face down on hot grill and coat with almost half of the sauce. Let sear for a few minutes and then flip over. Slather with the rest of the sauce and close the lid for 3-5 minutes until the sauce on the top gets a glaze-like sheen. Remove and rest the ribs for a few minutes.