June: Cocoa Ribs

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Cocoa Ribs finish 1 with script

Buon giorno!

Growing up in my Italian family, ribs were not part of the summer grilling repertoire. Spare ribs were reserved for making sauce and flavoring soups, beans, or minestra. After living in the South for more years than I lived as a “Yankee, ribs have crept into our barbeques over time – but not without a little Italian influence here and there from some special ingredients. We now look forward to ribs every summer – both beef and pork – but mostly pork. After making them for years, I think it’s time to share. Here they are – so good you’ll have trouble not biting into your fingers! The COCOA RIBS!

The best ribs: The best pork ribs I have used are from Circle B Ranch. They provide only the very best Heritage Pork products, humanely raised. OK – so that’s a good thing – but how do they taste? I wouldn’t be using their products again and again if they weren’t superior in flavor. Their ribs are terrific – lean and meaty with just the right amount of fat. I mean really! Just look at them! Visit their site, and give them a try!

What’s with the cocoa?? I can only say – you’ll see!! Remember these words – deep  – dark – rich – and mahogany…

These ribs can be made indoors or grilled outdoors – which means even if you don’t grill – you do not have to be deprived of them. I provide the instructions for cooking the ribs totally indoors, partially indoors with a quick char on the grill, and totally outdoors with smoke from wood chips. Although I prefer them cooked over the wood chips, I have made these all three ways, and they are still wonderful. If you use wood chips, apple, pecan, and cherry wood are good choices. But – if you like more pronounced flavor – you can always go with hickory.

For ease and convenience, you can prepare the rub and the sauce ahead, if you like, making the actual “rib day” an easy slide. I like to keep some of this rub in a sealed container in the pantry at all times, so I can quickly access some for grilling pork tenderloin, chicken, and brisket. Because it is a dry rub, it will last quite a while. I usually make the sauce a day or two ahead, although leftover sauce will serve you well for several days after you make it.

TIPRemember that these ribs are to be mostly cooked with the dry rub with the sauce reserved for the last few minutes of cooking – just to get that nice shine on them. Putting the sauce on too early causes them to burn and blacken. Then you serve the sauce on the side for dipping the ribs as you eat them. This is definitely the way to go!!

So andiamo – let’s fire up the grill and get that wood smoking.


Makes: about 3-4 racks of ribs

(pork or beef – I prefer baby backs)

Prep: 40 minutes

The Rub:


3 Tbsp. Chili Powder

4 Tbsp. Cocoa

1/3 c. Brown Sugar

¼ tsp. Cayenne Pepper

1/2 tsp. Garlic Powder

Salt and pepper


You can mix the rub ahead if you like.

Mix above ingredients together.

Cocoa Ribs 1

Rub the dry mixture all over your rib racks – both sides – a few hours before cooking.

Cocoa Ribs 3

Outdoor cooking: Cook the ribs on the grill over smoking wood chips until done, brushing them with the Sauce on both sides in the last few minutes of cooking. If you lather on the sauce early, the ribs will char too much. Just a a little sauce is necessary towards the end.The remaining sauce is used for dipping the ribs as you eat them. NOTE: These ribs are so much better grilled or smoked over wood chips!


For Indoor Cooking: Tent with foil and bake in the oven at 450 degrees for 15 minutes. Carefully open the foil and turn the rack over. Cover again with the foil and bake another 15 minutes at same temperature.

The ribs are now essentially cooked. Brush them with sauce on both sides. Now pop them under the broiler on both sides.


For the Partial Indoor/Outdoor Combo Method: After the tent baking indoors, they just need a quick char on the grill. Brush them on both sides with the sauce, and place on the grill with cover down. Should take just about 3 minutes – check them – you don’t want them black. If they have the desired char – turn them over – close grill again for another 3 minutes or more if needed.

Cocoa Ribs finish 2 with script


Remove from grill – cut with scissors into individual ribs. Serve with a side of sauce for dipping the ribs.

The Sauce:


3 Tbsp. Olive Oil

1 Large Clove Garlic – finely chopped

2 c. Ketchup

1 c. Chicken Broth

4 Tbsp. Soy Sauce

1/3 c. Brown Sugar

3 Tbsp. Molasses

4 Tbsp. Red Wine Vinegar

1 Tbsp. Cocoa Powder (sift for fewer lumps)

1/8 tsp. Cayenne Pepper

2 Tbsp. Fresh Chopped Oregano


In a saucepan, cook chopped garlic in oil for a minute. Do not burn garlic. Then add the remaining ingredients.

Make sure to crush the lumps of cocoa powder against the side of the pot with the back of spoon to be sure they are fully incorporated in the sauce. Sifting the cocoa powder helps with this.

Cocoa Ribs 2

Simmer all for about 15-20 minutes until sauce reduces and is thickened. You can make this a day or 2 ahead. Keep in refrigerator and reheat before serving. The sauce lasts several days and you can just keep using the leftovers.

Do not taste for seasoning until the sauce is completely cooked and thickened. The flavors will blend and change during the cooking.

This sauce is great leftover for grilling chicken, pork, or beef brisket!

When you serve COCOA RIBS, you’ll want to pray to the Guardian Angel of leftovers that he/she grants you some. They are amazing the next day. You need no reminders to get the cold beers ready –But for a vino rosso – perhaps a Syrah or Linda’s favorite with barbeque – a good BARBERA!


Comments are welcome in the “Speak Your Mind Area” beneath this post online.



Food Photos By Tommy Hanks Photography


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  1. dick giblin says:

    Linda I going to try the Ribs and Sauce. I sure they will turn out OK , It’s the stash I worry about. I”m sure I’ll need a good shampooing after eating them. Can’t wait to try them, I let you guys know.

    • Hope you enjoy them, Dick! Don’t worry about the stash – it will be worth the scrubbing!