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Spicy, Sweet, & Smoky Barbecue Sauce | The Talented Ribkins

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Spicy-Sweet & Smoky Barbecue Sauce | The Talented Ribkins
Welcome to the TLC Book Tours stop for The Talented Ribkins, debut novel by author Ladee Hubbard! I'll start by saying that after reading the book jacket, there were two initial things that made me want to read this novel. The first being mention of the characters having "superpowers", the second being the reference to W.E.B. Du Boi's essay The Talented Tenth. (Which, if you haven't read it before, I recommend checking out The Talented Tenth just before or after reading The Talented Ribkins.)

I can definitely see Du Bois' influence, and adore the way that Hubbard made this family have these superpowers in their DNA. And if you're not into sci-fi, don't let the word superpower throw you off—these characters don't wear colorful body suits, masks, or capes. But they still do things like create amazing maps, scale flat walls, draw objects towards them, burp fire, and mask your perception (to name a few). But these superpowers aren't the focus, but the essence of what makes each member of the Ribkins family so special in their everyday endeavors.

The novel is woven as a sort of family history. Johnny owes somebody some money, and puts his map making skills to use, retracing his steps and digging up money he buried many, many years before. Quite by accident, 72-year old Johnny Ribkins learns that he has a 13-year old niece named Eloise who most definitely has her own superpower. With Eloise along for the ride, they visit family members and we not only meet more of the Ribkins family, but also learn more about what makes them special (origins stories, if you will).
Spicy-Sweet & Smoky Barbecue Sauce | The Talented Ribkins
I'd venture to say The Talented Ribkins is magical and heartwarming, a tale of perseverance, acceptance, and personal power. Oh, and there's even a bit of a foodie-lean to it. The patriarch of the family is known affectionately as "the Rib King", his superpower landing squarely in the flavor department.

She opened the book an pointed to a yellowed newspaper advertisement for Rib King™ Barbeque Sauce, featuring an exaggerated cartoon portrait of a smiling black man, with a pair of bulbous eyes, a wide nose, and white teeth. There was a crown on his head but it had been drawn to curve over at the points, making it look like a jester's cap. At the bottom was the caption, "Dat Eats Like a King!"

"Your Legacy," Simone said.

Johnny winced. It was a caricature so familiar from his childhood that he'd forgotten how obscene it was.

I thought a batch of homemade barbecue sauce would be a fitting way to represent The Talented Ribkins.

The Talented Ribkins book cover

The Talented Ribkins

author: Ladee Hubbard
publisher: Melville House (August 8, 2017)
genre: Literature & Fiction > African American > Family Life
hard cover: 304 pages pages

"foodie" read: Not really a foodie novel, per se, but food plays a big part in the Ribkin family history!

opening sentence: He only came back because Melvin said he would kill him if he didn't pay off his debt by the end of the week.

teaser: At seventy-two, Johnny Ribkins shouldn’t have such problems: He’s got one week to come up with the money he stole from his mobster boss or it’s curtains for Johnny.

What may or may not be useful to Johnny as he flees is that he comes from an African-American family that has been gifted with rather super powers that are rather sad, but superpowers nonetheless. For example, Johnny’s father could see colors no one else could see. His brother could scale perfectly flat walls. His cousin belches fire. And Johnny himself can make precise maps of any space you name, whether he’s been there or not.

In the old days, the Ribkins family tried to apply their gifts to the civil rights effort, calling themselves The Justice Committee. But when their, eh, superpowers proved insufficient, the group fell apart. Out of frustration Johnny and his brother used their talents to stage a series of burglaries, each more daring than the last.

Fast forward a couple decades and Johnny’s on a race against the clock to dig up loot he’s stashed all over Florida. His brother is gone, but he has an unexpected sidekick: his brother’s daughter, Eloise, who has a special superpower of her own.

Inspired by W.E.B. Du Bois’s famous essay “The Talented Tenth” and fueled by Ladee Hubbard’s marvelously original imagination, The Talented Ribkins is a big-hearted debut novel about race, class, politics, and the unique gifts that, while they may cause some problems from time to time, bind a family together.

about the author: Ladee Hubbard is the winner of the 2016 Rona Jaffe Foundation Writer’s Award and the William Faulkner-William Wisdom Creative Writing Competition for the Short Story. She holds a BA from Princeton University, an MFA in Dramatic Writing from New York University, an MFA in Creative Writing from the University of Wisconsin, and a PhD from the University of California, Los Angeles. She lives in New Orleans, Louisiana. The Talented Ribkins is her first novel.
Ladee Hubbard, author of The Talented Ribkins

recipe inspired by the book: Spicy-Sweet & Smoky Barbecue Sauce


I received a complimentary copy of this book in exchange for my honest review.

Yield: 5 cups
Spicy, Sweet, & Smoky Barbecue Sauce recipe

Spicy, Sweet, & Smoky Barbecue Sauce

prep time: 10 MINScook time: 30 MINStotal time: 40 mins
This homemade barbecue sauce recipe covers all the bases — it's spicy, it's sweet, and it's smoky!


  • 1 tablespoon olive oil
  • 1/2 cup chopped shallot
  • 2 garlic cloves, minced or pressed
  • 1 (32 ounce) bottle ketchup, preferably one made w/out HFCS
  • 1 cup apple cider vinegar
  • 3/4 cup packed brown sugar
  • 1/2 cup bourbon
  • 1/2 cup molasses
  • 2 chipotle chiles en adobo, minced (can add more adobo, to taste)
  • 1 tablespoon Worcestershire sauce
  • 1 teaspoon liquid smoke, optional
  • 1 teaspoon smoked paprika
  • 1 teaspoon kosher salt
  • 1 teaspoon cracked or coarsely ground black pepper
  • 1/2 teaspoon dried crushed red chiles


  1. Heat olive oil in a medium pot over medium heat. Add shallot and garlic and cook, stirring constantly, until soft and fragrant, but not brown. Stir in the remaining ingredients and bring to a boil, stirring from time to time. Reduce heat and simmer for 30 minutes, stirring occasionally.
  2. Turn off heat, then use an immersion blender to blend until thick and smooth.
Suggested uses:
  1. Our favorite way to use this barbecue sauce is with these simple and tender barbecue ribs. It's also great slathered on grilled chicken, in pulled pork, or even used as a dipping sauce.
Created using The Recipes Generator

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