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Pork Ribs in the Slow Cooker? You Bet!
Our faithful friend the Crock-Pot steps forward once again to help us create delicious meals in the easiest way possible. Thanks to this simple recipe, you no longer have to pay big bucks for smoked ribs at your local barbecue joint, nor do you have to spend all day outside, tending a fire and fighting off the smoke. Like the very best slow cooker recipes, this one involves placing the food in the Crock-Pot, turning it on and walking away—there's no need to lift the lid for hours. There are a few further steps just before serving, but those are optional.
Yes, you really can make your family's favorite smoky pork ribs in a slow cooker, for a fraction of the price you'd pay at a restaurant, and with much less effort compared to dragging out your grill, gathering wood and scuttling in and out of the house all day. Try this recipe and you'll become a Crock-Pot convert!
- 1-3 racks pork ribs (I prefer baby-back ribs)
- 2-6 tablespoons dry rub barbecue seasoning
- 3-4 tablespoons liquid smoke
- About 1/2 to 1 bottle of your favorite barbecue sauce
- To remove the membrane, place a rack of ribs on a large cutting board so that the side with the membrane faces up. Starting at one end, slide a butter knife under the membrane, wiggling the knife until an inch or so of the membrane has loosened. Use a paper towel to improve your grip on the membrane (it is very slippery) and pull the membrane off. If you can manage to get a good grip on one end of the membrane, the entire thing will actually pull of quite easily. Watch the video at the bottom of this article for a demonstration. As mentioned in the recipe notes, below, removing the membrane is not an absolute necessity; in fact, whether or not to remove the membrane is often the topic of debate among barbeque cooks. If you're in a hurry, feel free to skip this step.
- Sprinkle dry rub seasoning generously on both sides of each rack of ribs, then lightly pat or rub the seasoning into the meat.
- If your slow cooker has a raised roasting rack accessory, place it in the bottom of the Crock-Pot. A roasting rack is not a necessity, but if you have one, it will help keep your ribs out of any liquid that accumulates at the bottom of the crock as the ribs cook. My Crock-Pot does not have a rack accessory, so to keep my ribs out of the liquid in the bottom of the pot, I use a silicone egg cooker that is actually designed for use in an Instant Pot. It works very well, as the silicone "squishes" to fit just about any size or shape of Crock-Pot and later can be placed in the dishwasher for clean-up.
- Place your ribs in the Crock-Pot. Depending upon the size of the ribs and the size of your appliance, you may need to cut the racks of ribs in half to help them fit. In my 6-quart oval slow cooker, I am able to fit two racks of baby-back ribs once I cut them both in half. If you have placed a roasting rack in the bottom of your cooker, it takes up some room. Removing it will allow you to fit in a larger amount of meat, but keep in mind that by the end of cooking time, the ribs on the bottom of the pot will cooking in liquid. The result will still be delicious but the meat that cooks in liquid will have quite a different texture than ribs cooked in the dry heat of a smoker. Slow cooker ribs do not exactly duplicate smoker ribs, but they do get fairly close, especially if you are able to keep your ribs from cooking in liquid for hours.
- Once in the pot, douse each rack of ribs with 1-2 tablespoons of liquid smoke. Follow with barbecue sauce, drizzling on as much as you prefer. Keep in mind, much of the sauce will slde off the ribs during the cooking process. If you are stacking several rib racks in your slow cooker, drizzle the lower layers with liquid smoke and barbecue sauce before placing the remaiing ribs on top.
- Set your slow cooker to low, cover, and cook 8-9 hours.
- When cooking is complete, the ribs will be fall-off-the-bone tender. Carefully remove them from the slow cooker. It works better to slide a spatula underneath one rack (or half rack) at a time and carefully lift them out, as opposed to trying to grasp them with tongs, which will simply snap them into pieces.
- At this point you can place them directly onto a platter for serving. If you prefer your ribs to have that lovely caramelized glaze that mimics the bark they typically get from a smoker, place them on a foil-covered cookie sheet, brush on a bit of additional barbecue sauce, and place the cookie sheet under your oven's broiler for about 3 minutes. Keep a watchful eye while the meat is under the broiler. They may need to broil 1-2 minutes longer than 3 minutes, but remember that sugary sauces such as barbecue sauce can burn very quickly, especially when under a broiler's high heat. If desired, reduce the heat and give your ribs a few extra minutes in the oven until they're just the right color.
Recipe Notes and Suggestions
Should the membrane be removed or not? The debate rages on. Some barbecue aficionados believe that the membrane should be left on, pointing out that it helps to hold in juices. Others recommend that it be removed, saying that removal allows spice rub to reach the meat from all sides. Those in favor of leaving it say it basically disappears if the ribs are cooked low and slow, while those who prefer it be stripped off say the membrane can become tough and chewy. The verdict? It's up to you. Removing the membrane is not all that difficult and crock-pot cooking ensures ribs stay moist, so you may wish to go ahead and pull it off. On the other hand, if you are dashing out the door to work or if you are cooking racks and racks of ribs for a large crowd, you can feel good about saving a bit of time and leaving it on.
Smoking ribs the traditional way in an outdoor smoker is basically roasting them in a dry heat, while the Crock-Pot keeps foods very moist. Cook your ribs on low heat for a good long time, and no matter which cooking method you use, you'll end up with tender meat that falls off the bone. However, the two methods give different results as far as texture is concerned. Slow cooker ribs are cooked in a moist environment the entire time, which results in moist ribs that lack the darker, drier, chewy crust or "bark" of smoker ribs. Smoker ribs develop their dark, lovely, delicious bark because they are typically smoked first while unwrapped, then cooked for a time in a moist environment while wrapped in foil, then unwrapped, sauced, and finished off on the grill. All this unwrapped cooking time allows some fat and moisture to cook out and drip away, resulting in cooked meat that is somewhat firm yet still incredibly tender. Covering the ribs with sauce and placing them back on the grill for an hour or so really helps the bark deepen in color and become drier and crustier in texture. Saucing your slow-cooker ribs and placing them under the broiler for a few minutes doesn't give them a true bark, but it does give them a nice caramelized glaze and darkens up the top side of the ribs, so the effect of a bark is at least achieved.
Video: Easy Membrane Removal
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