Coffee Barbecue Sauce

What do you do with your used coffee grounds? Do they go into the compost? Into the garden to help repel slugs? Do you use them to cut through the grease in your sink after making curry? (True story- they excel as a cleaning helper).

I’ve been thinking about this a bit at the moment. Partly, because we go through a lot of them. And partly because I’ve taken on a fun gig, with the truly novel title of ‘Coffee Curator’ for this year’s TEDxSydney Conference at the Sydney Opera House. If there’s anything better than combining the TED talks format, with a location as iconic as the Opera House, with a food program themed around rebellion, I’m yet to find it.

Part of the joy of my role has been unofficially being the person in the menu tastings who will try anything that the innovative chefs from ARIA Catering put in front of us. Mealworms? Grasshoppers? Ant butter? Bull’s testicles? Sure. None of it can ever be as confronting as hakarl.

And the rest has been sourcing some of Sydney’s most innovative caffeinators, to exhibit their wares and help keep more than 2500 people alert throughout the day. We’ve got Mecca, The Little Marionette, The Grounds, Toby’s Estate, Sensory Lab coming to the party (if you’re ever in Sydney and after a great coffee, go to one of those places and you’ll be set). Beyond their classic offerings they’re toying with the rebel theme with coffee that is being served cold, whisked with butter, siphoned and batch brewed.

There are lots of things we’re rebelling against; habit and fear when it comes to food,  joylessness and waste. So we needed to think of a way to give the coffee grounds generated in preparation for the day a second life.

This coffee barbecue sauce started as the happiest of experiments and has quickly become a household staple. Turns out there is still plenty of flavour present in a group head of grounds. These days I’ve started collecting some and transferring them to the freezer, rather than putting them straight into the compost. I’ll add them to spice rubs for game meats (which is one way they’ll be employed during TED), add a sprinkle into chocolate cakes or chillis to help amplify the rich flavours, or secret some away for this sauce.

The coffee gifts this sticky rib sauce with a curious depth and murkiness. It’s downright sexy. It’s more acidic than sweet, but to me that balances perfectly with the richness of slow cooked (organic, happy) pork ribs.

I like to swaddle the ribs in foil and place them in the oven for a couple of hours, then baste them liberally in this dark sauce before grilling them on the barbecue over high heat and serving with sweet potato fries, slaw and a beer or two.

It’s a meal that’s perfectly sustaining, in more ways that one.  Thanks TED for the inspiration. This is definitely an #ideaworthspreading.

Coffee Barbecue Sauce

Makes 1/2 cup of barbecue sauce. Is perfect to generously baste one full rack of pork ribs.


1/2 tsp ground cumin
1 tsp sweet paprika
1/2 tsp smoked chipotle chilli (or 1/2 tsp chilli powder)
1 tbsp olive oil
1 garlic clove, minced
1/3 cup ketchup/tomato sauce
2 tbsp tomato paste
1/4 cup apple cider vinegar
3 tbsp honey
1 tbsp coffee grounds


1) Place the spices in a saucepan over medium heat. Toast for 30 seconds, until they are fragrant. Add the olive oil and garlic clove and take off the heat and swirl for a minute to infuse.

2)  Add the remaining ingredients and return to the heat. Bring to a simmer and stir well to combine.

3) Simmer until the sauce has thickened to the consistency of a custard. Set aside and use as a basting on steaks, chicken, or pork ribs.

Nb, my default method for cooking perfect, low maintenance barbecue ribs at home is now; take a full rack of ribs. Preheat the oven to 150C/300F. If you have the inclination, rub them with a dry rub, combining 1 tsp each of ground cumin, coriander and sweet paprika. If not, then there’s still plenty of flavour that will come from the sauce. Swaddle them in a double thickness of aluminum foil. Bake in the oven on a baking tray for 2-2 and a half hours, until the meat is just starting to shirk away from the bone. Just before you’re ready to serve, heat the barbecue/grill. Baste the ribs in the barbecue sauce and grill over high heat until crispy and caramellised.  Cut the ribs and serve with sweet potato fries and a kale, coriander and white cabbage slaw. And some napkins.



  1. Never thought to use coffee when cooking 😀 Yet this sounds promising.. guess that’s next thing in the list after the house cleaning marathon

  2. Wow this looks fab. Can’t wait to try 🙂 xx

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