Southern country ribs with watermelon barbecue sauce

The sweet secret in this barbecue sauce is watermelon and fresh tomatoes. Brush it on grilled chicken breasts, slather it on pork tenderloin, or use as a sauce for wings.

The Runaway Spoon
Southern barbecue sauce made with watermelon and fresh tomatoes. Brush it on grilled chicken breasts, slather it on pork tenderloin, or use as a sauce for wings.

I have several Southern community cookbooks that have recipes for watermelon barbecue sauce. I love the idea, and I have made every one of those recipes, but the results were never what I had hoped for. No watermelon flavor, or sickly sweet, or just bland. But the idea appeals to me so much that I have continued to tinker with the concept for years, and I finally hit on it.

With a pile of fresh in season tomatoes on the counter as I chopped up yet another melon, I decided to try fresh tomatoes instead of bottled ketchup and that has made all the difference. I little hint of tomato paste adds the depth needed in a sauce, but the acidity of a fresh tomato balances everything nicely. Rich Southern cane syrup is perfect with sweet watermelon, adding a complexity to such simple ingredients.

I realized the other recipes I tried just had to many ingredients – spices and herbs and all manner of things. So I whittled the ingredient list down to use as much fresh summer produce at possible, good Worcestershire sauce creates layers of flavor without masking the watermelon sweetness. I’m really crazy about the end result.

So when I perfected the recipe, I set my mind to figuring how to use it. I settled on pork country ribs, which are not ribs at all, but boneless cuts of pork shoulder that stand up well to slow cooking and the hearty sauce. But I can attest, this sauce works in any way you would normally use a barbecue sauce. Brushed on grilled chicken breasts, slathered on pork tenderloin, as a sauce for wings or stirred through pulled pork.

Southern country ribs with watermelon barbecue sauce
Serves 6

For the watermelon barbecue sauce:
2 tablespoons olive oil
2 Vidalia onions, diced
4 cups chopped watermelon, from about 3-1/2 pound melon, seeds removed
1 tomato, about 12 ounces, diced
2 tablespoon tomato paste
4 tablespoons apple cider vinegar
4 tablespoons Worcestershire sauce
3 tablespoons cane syrup or honey
salt and pepper to taste

1. Heat the oil in a large saucepot and cook the onion until glassy and soft and beginning to brown, about 10 minutes. Add the garlic and cook a further 2 minutes.

2. Add the watermelon chunks and the tomato and cook until soft and beginning to release some liquid, about 10 minutes, stirring frequently. Add the tomato paste, stir and cook a further 2 minutes. Remove from the heat and leave to cool a few minutes, then transfer to a blender (you may need to do this in batches).

3. Remove the vent from the top of the blender and hold the lid down with a tea towel. Puree until smooth, then pour the sauce back into the pan through a sieve, scraping as much liquid through as possible. Stir in the vinegar, cane syrup and Worcestershire sauce and cook until thickened and reduced almost in half, about 30 minutes, stirring frequently. Season with salt and pepper to taste.

4. The sauce can be cooled, covered and refrigerated at this point up to three days.

For the ribs:
4 pounds boneless country style pork ribs
half an onion, sliced
salt and pepper

1. Preheat the oven to 425 degrees F. Line a baking dish that fits the ribs comfortably with foil. Season the ribs all over with salt and pepper, then lay the sliced onions on top. Roast for 30 minutes.

2. Reduce the oven temperature to 350 degrees F. Carefully drain off any accumulated fat from the pan, then pour over all but one cup of the barbecue sauce. Turn the ribs to coat in the sauce with tongs and return the pan to the oven. Roast for 30 minutes, then turn the ribs again and cover the pan tightly with foil and return to the oven. Roast for a further 30 minutes.

3. Heat the remaining sauce in a small pan. Serve the ribs with the extra sauce to spoon over.

Related post on The Runaway Spoon: Brilliant Baked Beans

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