Food and Drink

Bourbon meets Alaska blueberries in this take on barbecue baby back ribs

  • Author: Maya Wilson
    | Alaska From Scratch
  • Updated: August 2
  • Published August 2

Blueberry bourbon babyback ribs (Maya Wilson / Alaska from Scratch)

It's August and Alaska blueberry season is upon us, though I don't dare share where anyone gets their blueberries or exactly when, because I'd be breaking one of our long-standing cultural codes. And let's be real, I don't know anybody's blueberry secrets. That's the point. Blueberry-picking spots and peak blueberry-picking days are arguably more hush-hush and protected than people's fishing holes.

Not long ago, my wife and I watched a terrific documentary titled "Neat," all about bourbon. I've never been into bourbon much, but as is often true, a more complete understanding of the history and process and people involved in the making of the product causes me to appreciate it and, ultimately, use it more. It's not unlike when you go to the farmers market and meet the farmers and listen to their stories about the cultivation of their crops or the raising of their animals.

Inspired by the documentary, I got my wife a nice bottle of bourbon for her birthday last weekend. Not a week went by before I was finding ways to highlight those beautiful bourbon flavors in my kitchen as well, by making this blueberry bourbon barbecue sauce and slathering it all over a rack of baby back ribs. These ribs were tender and the meat was coming right off the bone. And this blueberry bourbon barbecue sauce was nicely balanced with smoky, sweet, spicy, and acidic notes. Bring a stack of napkins to the table and go to town.

Blueberry bourbon baby back ribs

1 rack baby back ribs

For the dry rub:

1/4 cup brown sugar

1 teaspoon chili powder

1 teaspoon cumin

1 teaspoon dry mustard

1 teaspoon garlic powder

1/2 teaspoon smoked paprika

1 teaspoon kosher salt

1/2 teaspoon ground black pepper

For the barbecue sauce:

1 tablespoon vegetable oil

1 red onion, chopped

3 garlic cloves, minced

1 large chipotle pepper, chopped (from a can of chipotles in adobo)

1/2 cup bourbon

1/2 cup ketchup

1/4 cup Worcestershire sauce

1/3 cup apple cider vinegar

1 teaspoon liquid smoke

2 tablespoons molasses

2 tablespoons brown sugar

1/2 teaspoon kosher salt

1/2 teaspoon ground black pepper

2 cups fresh blueberries

In a small bowl, stir together the brown sugar, chili powder, cumin, dry mustard, garlic powder, smoked paprika, salt and pepper. Place the ribs on a rimmed baking sheet. Sprinkle all of the dry rub over both sides of the ribs and rub it into the meat to adhere. Allow the ribs to sit in the dry rub for 30 minutes at room temperature.

Preheat oven to 300 degrees. Tightly wrap the pan of ribs in aluminum foil. Bake the ribs for 90 minutes, or until the meat starts pulling away from the bone and is tender.

Meanwhile, make the barbecue sauce. In a large saucepan over medium heat, sauté the onions in the vegetable oil until tender. Add the garlic and chipotle and sauté two minutes more. Deglaze the pan with the bourbon. Add the ketchup, Worcestershire sauce, vinegar, liquid smoke, molasses, brown sugar, salt, and pepper. Stir to combine. When the sauce starts to bubble, add the blueberries. Using a potato masher, mash the blueberries as they cook in the pot. turn the heat down to low and allow the sauce to thicken and simmer 30 minutes. Taste the sauce and add more brown sugar if needed. Keep warm. Note: If you like your barbecue sauce smooth, you can use an immersion blender or carefully transfer the sauce to a standard blender at this stage. The sauce pictured has not been blended.

Turn the heat on the oven up to 375 degrees. Remove the foil from the ribs. Brush the ribs liberally with the blueberry bourbon barbecue sauce. Return the ribs to the oven for another 30 minutes. Serve the ribs with extra sauce on the side. Sauce recipe adapted from Boulder Locavore.

Maya Wilson lives in Kenai and blogs about food at alaskafromscratch.com. Her new book, "The Alaska from Scratch Cookbook," is available now. Have a food question or recipe request? Email maya@alaskafromscratch.com and your inquiry may appear in a future column.