If you could tell already by the Instant Pot honey garlic chicken, 30 minute maple glazed pork chops and the overnight einkorn pizza dough, I’ve been on a “I need dinner and I need it fast and I don’t want to do a whole to make it happen” kick lately.
Let me guess – you too? 😉
I’ve been looking for ways to take some of my favorite recipes and make them easier, faster and if it’s possible – MORE delicious. These slow cooker ribs are exactly just that!
When I was a kid, we used to have dinner at my grandparents house every so often. During the winter, my grandma would have several links of polish sausage and sauerkraut going in the slow cooker.
In the summer, my grandpa would be firing up the grill, getting ready to put on a couple slabs of ribs. His ribs were fall-off-the-bone delicious, and he always said his secret ingredient was Kraft barbecue sauce.
I need to digress for a moment…
As much as I loved my grandpa, we’d have to agree to disagree on the barbecue sauce. The number one ingredient is high fructose corn syrup, which was one of the first harmful ingredients we kicked out of our house when we first started our real food journey.
We make our own barbecue sauce now using this tried-and-true recipe and sometimes making substitutions based on what we have (or don’t have), like…
- Tomato paste for half the ketchup
- Honey instead of brown sugar (and the amount is halved too)
- All spicy mustard
- Any mix/match of whatever vinegar I have, or if I just want to use up what’s left of a few different bottles taking up room in my pantry.
It’s a CRAZY flexible recipe, and it’s super easy to make. Just dump it in a pan, whisk it together, bring it to a simmer, and turn it down a smidgen until you’re ready to use it.
Ok… back to the ribs.
While my grandpa always said the secret to his ribs was the barbecue sauce, my dad (a chef) later told me that the secret to perfectly tender ribs was to BAKE them first in the oven for a few hours, AND THEN finish them on the grill.
“Really?” I asked him one day. “Because I used to watch grandpa make ribs and I NEVER saw him put them in the oven. He always put them on the grill.”
“Yes, I’m sure Tiff,” he told me. “You didn’t see them in the oven because he did that part earlier in the day, before we came over.”
Ahhh…. The secrets that our grandparents keep!
As an adult learning how to cook, I always made ribs the way my dad did them – in the oven for a few hours with either orange juice or a beer poured in the bottom.
He has a certain temperature and a certain time… either 250F or 275F or 300F… and they baked for either 2 hours of 2 ½ hours or 3 hours…
And that’s my point right there – I could never remember what the temperature should be, or how long they should be in the oven!
Ribs aren’t cheap in general, and we only make them on special occasions like Father’s Day or for Mr. Crumbs’ birthday. But even if ribs were cheap, I wouldn’t want to spend the money on meat knowing that I was gambling on how to properly cook them.
- Cook them too long and you have tough, rubbery meat for dinner.
- Don’t cook them long enough and you’ll be waiting HOURS for dinner…
- And then you’ll be in a panic trying to figure out what else you can make instead because those STUPID RIBS just won’t cook in the oven (and you know darn well you can’t up the temperature because then you KNOW you’ll end up with rubbery ribs).
In addition to NOT potentially wasting money, cooking ribs in the oven is very time intensive. Essentially, you have to get dinner ready REALLY early and you can’t leave the house until they’re done.
But the oven is off limits. It’s too low for anything to bake properly and you don’t want to mess up the air flow because you know those darn ribs are finicky!
So for me, making ribs quickly went from something fun and out of the ordinary to something I dreaded. And I certainly don’t want to dread making a special meal for my husband!
Slow Cooker Ribs
Enter slow cooker ribs.
Friends, I don’t know why I didn’t try this sooner
Actually – I do.
My husband once told me that he didn’t like foods cooked in the slow cooker. He said they all have that same “slow cooker taste.”
Of course, that didn’t stop him from scarfing down my famous slow cooker pot roast on a regular basis or specifically requesting my slow cooker carnitas for our Christmas party or asking if we could make a batch of my favorite dump dessert slow cooker peach cobbler (topped with homemade vanilla bean ice cream? YUM!).
So OF COURSE he turned his nose up at me when I said I was making slow cooker ribs.
But I ignored him anyway and it’s a good thing, because you know what he said to me when we ate them for dinner?
“Wow babe – these are just like the ones from the oven… except they’re cooked more consistently. Every rib is delicious, and it’s the perfect balance of fall-off-the-bone without the meat actually falling off the bone before you’ve had a chance to take a bite. And I’m betting they’re much easier to make, right?”
“Oh my goodness yes,” I said. “I put them in before we went for the hike. I come home and BAM, they’re done in 15 minutes.”
“I’m sold then – let’s make them this way from now on,” said the man who doesn’t like food cooked in the slow cooker.
Just a few quick tips before you dive in:
I have this 6 quart slow cooker and I can fit two racks of ribs in it without the meat touching the lid. It’s fine if the meat touches each other, but you don’t want the ribs crammed in your slow cooker so much that there’s no air flow. And you need the lid to sit on top correctly too. Use your best judgment as to how many slabs you can cook at one time.
I’m a HUGE fan of pork from Butcher Box – honestly, it tastes NOTHING like pork from the grocery store and it’s worth every penny. Here’s my honest review on Butcher Box. If quality meat is important to you, it’s worth looking into to see if it’s a good fit for you and your family.
I’m using a very, very basic rub on these ribs and it won’t fall off into the juices, so feel free to get fancy if you have any of those fun rubs in your spice cabinet!
I’ve never cooked these ribs on low. If you want to be the guinea pig, I’d suggest setting the clock for 8 hours and going from there. Please let us know how this turns out, if you try it!
- Place sliced onion in a single layer at the bottom of the slow cooker. I have and recommend this 6 quart slow cooker.
- Mix the spices in a small bowl. As written, these spices are enough for one slab of ribs. If you're making two slabs, double the spices.
- Generously cover both sides of the ribs with the spice rub.
- Place ribs in the slow cooker with the meat-side up (and bone-side down). It's okay if the slabs overlap a little bit.
- Cook on high for 4 hours for perfectly tender ribs. If you want them to have a bit more of a bite and less fall-off-the-bone, set the timer for 3½ hours.
- Preheat the broiler on high.
- Meanwhile, use a pair of tongs to carefully remove the ribs from the slow cooker and place on a cookie sheet or a 9x13 glass baking dish with a lid*. I recommend approaching the ribs from the very end and sliding as much of the tongs underneath the ribs as possible, so that nearly the entire slab is resting on the tongs. (This helps to keep the ribs together, instead of falling apart.)
- When the broiler is ready, generously coat the ribs with barbeque sauce and place under the broiler for 5 minutes. You *can* keep them in there for another minute or two, but I've found that 5 minutes gives us the carmely outside yet leaves the inside meat still very tender.