Brown sugar and Bourbon baby back ribs

Time2 hours 10 minutes
YieldsServes 4
Brown sugar and Bourbon baby back ribs
(Mel Melcon / Los Angeles Times)
Print RecipePrint Recipe

You’re parked on the sofa, beer in hand, face painted, Terrible Towels in a pile on the floor. You’ve spent the off-week playing Madden video games and you’re pumped. You’re hungry. But you’re NOT in the mood to have somebody in an apron hand you a tray of canapes.

The rest of the year we may nibble on pan-fried skate and wilted ache, but on Super Bowl Sunday, we want our Buffalo wings. When people watch football, they want real food. Bar food. Preferably food they can eat with their hands, piling the remains on coffee tables next to the bowls of chips and beer-can pyramids.

So forget the tapas, sushi, tea sandwiches . Instead, take a tip from the folks who programmed this year’s Super Bowl halftime entertainment -- the Rolling Stones -- and stick with the classics. Solid old-school entertainment calls for some time-honored food to go with it. No lip-synching surprises. And no deconstructed salads either.

Mean Joe Green might have accepted a can of soda at halftime, but a cucumber sandwich? Would Mike Singletary have nibbled on salmon rillettes?

Would Terry Bradshaw? Would Keith Richards?

This is the day for Buffalo wings, marinated baby back ribs and beer-battered shrimp -- timeless bar food, high in protein for the nutritional needs of the serious armchair athlete.

This is comfort food for those of us who went to PAC-10 schools or who logged more time in sports bars watching ESPN than we’d care to remember -- or can.

There’s something satisfying about wheeling out old classics. They’re like the cleats you’ve had since you were 12. Old classics are familiar. They’re safe. They don’t go in for partial nudity during half-time shows.

But classics aren’t always as great as they might be. (As Pete Carroll and Bill Belichick are now telling their rookies, there’s always room for improvement.)

So instead of using mayonnaise in a jar for your blue cheese dressing, make your own. Use cornichons and capers in your tartar sauce instead of the relish your mother used back in Bart Starr’s heyday.

Baste your ribs with Bourbon and brown sugar instead of prepared barbecue sauce. Better ingredients, more attention to details. Better food. Hike!

And making classics better doesn’t mean long hours in the kitchen. Witness Buffalo chicken wings, which were invented in 1964 by Teressa Bellissimo of the Anchor Bar and Restaurant in Buffalo, N.Y., late one night for her son and his friends.

It’s a quintessential origin myth for any iconic bar food: what to feed hungry boys really fast, before they raid what’s left of your refrigerator.

In this case, Bellissimo fried up some wings, doused them in hot sauce and served them with what she happened to have on hand: blue cheese dressing and celery. It was a definitive moment for sports food -- and for Buffalo, which has had to compensate for a lot. Think Scott Norwood. Think O.J.

The published recipes for the original wings called for fried wings slathered with a happily toxic combination of Frank’s RedHot Sauce (an old saloon staple), vinegar and butter.

But when I called the Anchor Bar last week, the cook on duty said that they didn’t do that anymore.

Nowadays, Anchor’s cooks just fry up the wings, pour Frank’s RedHot Sauce on them, and offer bottled blue cheese dressing on the side.

Although there’s a beautiful economy of motion (not to say ingredients) in that, the genius of the dish comes through much better when you go back to the original recipe, then recast it to achieve peak performance.

Buffalo wings work because of the way the aspects of the dish play off each other: crunchy fried wings, incendiary sauce, crisp celery, and the almost incongruous sophisticated depth of the blue cheese.

So make your own dressing, with homemade mayonnaise, a farmstead or other high-quality blue cheese (Maytag blue is a classic), buttermilk and garlic, and combine them into something that can hold its own against a bowlful of wings.

The difference in taste will be like the difference between, well, some Division 1 front lines and the ones the Seahawks and the Steelers will be fielding this Sunday.

You can amp up your beer-battered shrimp too. Instead of a heavy-duty batter that pads the shrimp till they resemble defensive players, make a lighter, crispier crust -- one that complements the taste of the seafood instead of burying it -- by using a good, full-bodied amber ale (we use Seattle’s Red Hook, but Pittsburgh fans have their choice of microbrews too). The ale adds more depth of flavor than club soda or Pabst; a little cornmeal adds body.

Unless you live in Detroit, you’re probably not tailgating this one, but you can give your guests something to gnaw on by making delicious oven-roasted ribs.

Marinated overnight with some extra brown sugar (to honor those Stones) and Kentucky Bourbon, the ribs have a depth and heat to them that many traditional ribs -- drowned in ketchup or barbecue sauce, the flavors masked under a layer of charcoal -- don’t escape with.

So leave your old Stones LPs in the museum you’ve built for them, crank up your iPod’s Bose sound system, and get ready for some football.

Everyone benefits from a makeover, even the best of them. Especially the best of them.


Mix the ketchup, vinegar, brown sugar, Bourbon, garlic, salt, pepper and cayenne in a bowl. Place the ribs in a baking pan and pour the sauce over both sides. Cover and refrigerate overnight.


The next day, heat the oven to 350 degrees; meanwhile, bring the ribs to room temperature. Pour off all of the marinade and reserve.


Line a clean baking pan with foil and arrange the ribs, meat side up, in the pan. Cover the ribs tightly with foil and roast for 1 hour.


Remove the foil and continue to roast for another hour, basting the ribs as desired and making sure they don’t burn. Cut into individual ribs and serve warm with your favorite barbecue sauce.