True story: My family does not celebrate Christmas. (You might be wondering why we're talking about Christmas in the summer, but stay with me here! I promise there are ribs to come.) My family never really got into the spirit of Christmas because it just wasn't a thing for my parents when they were growing up in South Korea. So when they immigrated to America in 1985, it never became a thing for my sister and me growing up either.
For a few years we had a sad plastic tree I'd help my mom disassemble into its three interlocking pieces, then shove back into the closet under the stairs. My sister and I never ran down these stairs Christmas morning in eager anticipation of a flurry of gift-unwrapping. Present-receiving meant arduous, month-long battles of begging our parents for a pair of Steve Madden platform sandals (I hear those are back now?), which I never got (for good reason).
Christmas Day, then, was usually a forlorn affair. Everything in town would be closed, so we'd stay home and my mom would heat up leftovers, or maybe we'd drive out to watch a movie.
Until one year, when I was back home from college, I thought, "Hey, why don't I try and do some traditional American-y Christmas stuff this year?"
I pitched my mom the idea of making a pot roast, something I had never even eaten before, much less made. We went to the local Vons to pick out a giant hunk of beef, put it in the oven and a few hours later, we had a nice crusty rump roast that was unutterably rare through and through.
BUT! My dad was very excited and pleased, proclaiming that we could eat the cooked ends for dinner now, and the rareness of the meat would make it even easier to reheat and enjoy in the upcoming days. (Thanks for the spin, Appa.)
The next year, I brainstormed with my sister to figure out what we should make. My dad loves a good steakhouse dinner, and his favorite thing to get are baby back ribs, so this seemed like a great idea. Again, my mom drove us to the store, where I picked out a rack of ribs (which I did not know came shrink-wrapped) and a bottle of BBQ sauce. I encased the whole shebang in foil and stuck it in the oven, pulling it out a few hours later to be greeted with the warm, comforting smell of tangy-sweet ribs.
My dad went nuts over them. As we sat at the dining table sucking pork meat off the bone, mouths sticky with sauce, even my mom managed a "These are pretty good, Irene!" She's always been a tough critic, and yet two days later, she asked me to make them for us again.
These days I've upgraded from the bottled supermarket stuff to a creation of my own tinkering: a spicy gochujang BBQ sauce. The ingredients here are traditional in many Korean meat dishes (gochugaru, aka Korean red pepper powder, sesame oil, garlic, ginger, and of course, gochujang), but the proportions are tweaked to echo those classic sweet and sticky American flavors.
Gochujang ribs are my family's own version of Christmas in the summer. Eating them reminds me of the holidays, but of course they're fit for this summer cookout season, as well. All the better, because you can cook these ribs in advance and pop them on the grill right before you're ready to serve.
Just don't forget the napkins.
This story was originally published on Food52.com: These sweet and spicy BBQ ribs will rock your sauce-loving world