Easy Slow Cooker Barbecued Ribs

Slow Cooker Barbecued Ribs Recipe

We wanted to create a slow cooker version of barbecued pork ribs with the same fall-off-the-bone texture as their authentic grill-roasted counterparts. To develop an authentic crispy, lightly charred exterior, we broiled the slow-cooked ribs, brushing them with barbecue sauce every few minutes, until sticky and caramelized. We chose baby back ribs for this recipe, which weigh about 1 1/2 pounds per rack. Avoid racks of ribs larger than 2 pounds, as they’re difficult to maneuver into the slow cooker.–The Editors of America’s Test Kitchen

LC Unmentionables Note

When it comes to unmentionables, whereas people have panties and boxers and all manner of other underthings, ribs have membranes running along their undersides. Sadly, said membrane isn’t all lace and satin and such, but rather an unsightly sort of sheath that clings to the ribs and holds them together. It’s terribly functional—or so we’ve been led to believe. The good cooks at America’s Test Kitchen, who graciously loaned us this recipe, cautioned us to leave the membrane intact during cooking, although truth be told, some of us rebelled and found that our racks were just fine when we ridded them of the membrane before tossing the rack of ribs in the cooker. So if you, too, wish your ribs to go commando, you have our blessing to take it all off. (The easiest way to strip the the ribs? Stick them in the freezer just until cold but not frozen. Grip the membrane at one end with a paper towel and tug. It usually pulls right off; if it puts up a tussle, try beginning at the other end of the rack.)

Special Equipment: 6-quart (or larger) slow cooker

Slow Cooker Barbecued Ribs Recipe

  • Quick Glance
  • 25 M
  • 6 H, 45 M
  • Serves 6 to 8

Ingredients

  • 3 tablespoons sweet paprika
  • 2 tablespoons brown sugar
  • 1/4 teaspoon cayenne pepper
  • 1 tablespoon salt, plus more to taste
  • 1 tablespoon freshly ground black pepper, plus more to taste
  • 6 pounds pork baby back ribs, membranes removed (see LC Note above)
  • 3 cups barbecue sauce, store-bought or homemade
  • Vegetable oil spray

Directions

  • 1. Mix the paprika, sugar, cayenne, salt, and pepper together, then rub the mixture evenly over the ribs. Arrange the ribs upright in the slow cooker, meaty sides facing outward. (To ensure that the ribs cook evenly, prop the racks up on their ends along the perimeter of the slow cooker, wide end down, meatier side facing the side of the slow cooker.) Pour the barbecue sauce over the ribs, cover, and cook on low until tender, 6 to 8 hours.
  • 2. Line a rimmed baking sheet with aluminum foil and place a wire rack on top, coating both with vegetable oil spray. Using tongs, carefully transfer the ribs, meaty side down, to the prepared wire rack and tent with foil.
  • 3. Let the braising liquid in the slow cooker rest for 5 minutes, then skim the fat from the surface. Strain the braising liquid into a medium saucepan and simmer until reduced to about 2 cups, 15 to 20 minutes. Season with salt and pepper to taste.
  • 4. Meanwhile, position the oven rack 10 inches from the broiler element and heat the broiler. Remove the foil from the ribs, brush them with some of the reduced braising liquid, and broil until they begin to brown, 2 to 4 minutes. Flip the ribs over, brush again, and continue to broil until the ribs are well browned and sticky, 9 to 12 minutes longer, brushing every few minutes. Transfer the ribs to a cutting board, tent with foil, and let rest for 10 minutes.
  • 5. Slice the ribs and serve with the remaining reduced braising liquid on the side—and lotsa napkins.
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Testers Choice

Testers Choice
Testers Choice
Sofia Reino

May 20, 2013

These are absolutely the simplest ribs I’ve ever made and the final taste was phenomenal. They were extremely juicy, tender, and fall-off-the-bone and the sauce was outstanding, though I’m sure that the taste would depend on the type of barbecue sauce you use. I actually only had sweet smoked paprika at home, so that’s what I used and loved the smoky taste. My slow cooker has a 5-quart capacity and I can’t imagine being able to use a smaller one for the quantity of ribs. I must say that 3 cups of the barbecue sauce may’ve been too much. I used only 2 cups and I think next time I’ll only bother with 1 1/2 cups. Even though I used the spray oil I really don’t think it’s needed.

Testers Choice
Brenda Carleton

May 20, 2013

Up until yesterday my old pork ribs were the best I’ve ever had. Well, yesterday things changed. They’re now a tie with this recipe. What a discovery it was to slowly cook them in a slow cooker first! Mine is a 7-quart slow cooker so this stack of ribs fit a bit snugly but very well. The description of "authentic crispy, lightly charred exterior...sticky and caramelized" is very fitting. The rub is very simple and all that’s needed for flavorful meaty ribs. In the past I've always rubbed pork ribs the night before to allow the flavor to permeate, and wondered how simply rubbing the ribs then placing into the slow cooker would compare. Intriguingly, it was enough! You learn something new every day.

The barbecue sauce I used was the Chipotle Maple Barbecue Sauce. This sauce tastes complex partially because of the smokiness of the chipotles. The sauce is smoky and highly flavorful, with just the right amount of sweetness from the maple and kick that mellows when slowly cooked with the ribs. What can I say? I really love this sauce and highly recommend making it with this recipe. The ribs without this particular sauce would be good but with this sauce? Nothing short of a miracle.

The ribs were quite tender cooked on low at 6 hours but fell off the bone at 8 hours. I’ll definitely cook them 8 hours in the future. Another thing I particularly fell for was broiling the ribs for 4 minutes on the first side and 9 on the second after being basted with the sauce. Mmmmm—the look and flavor of ribs grilled outside really came through. After straining the braising liquid and reducing it for just a few minutes (it was already nicely thickened), we had just under 1 1/2 cups. It was still enough for a generous dousing. We served the ribs with the sauce, which, by the way, made a great dipping sauce for our oven fries that we also had for dinner. These ribs had everything I look for in the perfect rib. Honestly, what could be better? l already have visions of summer barbecue plans ensconced in my mind though it’s -25° at the moment.

Testers Choice
Sita Krishnaswamy

May 20, 2013

This is a lip-smacking finger-licking-good recipe and is so easy to make. I used Bobby Flay's BBQ sauce recipe. I cut the slab of ribs into 4-inch sections and put the dry rub on and then schmeared on the sauce and placed them around the perimeter of the cooker; I had to place two 4-inch pieces of rib on the bottom of the cooker as well. I poured the rest of the sauce over the ribs and cooked them on low for 8 hours, then proceeded to broil as per the instructions. The ribs were falling of the bone and incredibly moist. My slow cooker has a 16-cup capacity and is oval shaped. This is such an amazingly easy, foolproof technique that one could make ribs part of an everyday meal as well. This’ll be a staple in my family's menu.

Testers Choice
Jill R.

May 20, 2013

This recipe really is everything it seems to be. I made these in my old Rival 6-quart slow cooker and found that the 6 pounds of ribs barely fit. I used a favorite store-bought sauce that I doctored a bit to make it more like my own homemade sauce. I found that 8 hours was a bit too long for the ribs in my slow cooker—when I went to take them out they literally fell apart. You might be able to do them for 8 hours if you’ve a newer slow cooker that you can control the temperature on. The only thing I’d change on this recipe would be to use a homemade rub and sauce and check them at 6 hours. Until you know the right timing for your slow cooker I don’t recommend setting this up and letting it cook while you’re at work. These do elicit memories of ribs done on the grill.

Testers Choice
Amy Iacopi

May 20, 2013

Wow! This might’ve inched past the Carnitas as my favorite recipe from this site of all time. Everything about this recipe was easy and delicious. My husband and I couldn’t believe we were eating food of this caliber at home. Broiling the ribs at the end truly made the dish, as the ribs singed and looked a lot more appetizing. I used a store-bought BBQ sauce from Bi-Rite in San Francisco. I halved the recipe and slow cooked it on high for 4 hours instead of low for 6 to 8 hours. I’ve the All-Clad Deluxe Slow Cooker, 7-quart capacity. Today I made the recipe again as is, and found that I wouldn’t be able to add any more meat to my slow cooker. I think halving this recipe is the perfect size, as all of the meat can face out and touch the rim of the insert. When made as is, I had two circles of ribs.) Between the 2 of us, we demolished the 3 pounds of ribs in less than 10 minutes. Did I mention how easy this was?! Please keep the slow cooker recipes coming!

Testers Choice
Natalie Reebel

May 20, 2013

What a nice way to have ribs during the off-season. It was a joy to dig out my 6-quart slow cooker and try this recipe. I rubbed the ribs the night before so I could just toss them in the slow cooker before work the next morning. The rack of ribs sat up in the slow cooker without any difficulty and with plenty of room to cook. When I arrived home from work, the entire house was filled with the most wonderful aroma of barbeque sauce. My slow cooker was set to cook on low for 8 hours. When the timer beeped, I opened the slow cooker to find fall-off-the-bone-tender ribs. I carefully lifted them out of the slow cooker and placed them on a baking sheet. The sauce reduced in 15 minutes and the ribs went under the broiler for a few minutes to get a nice char. My family loved the depth of flavor and the amazingly tender meat. They enjoyed eating the ribs without fighting to get the meat off the bones, although I may check them after 6 hours next time to see how they're coming along. (While most of us like our ribs sliding off the bone, some of us like them a little less cooked.) This is a great winter recipe.

Testers Choice
Joan Osborne

May 20, 2013

My hubby, son, daughter, and son-in-law loved these. I cooked my two 3-pound racks of baby back ribs in my original, oval, 6-quart Crock-Pot Cook & Carry Slow Cooker. I placed each rack upright, wide-end down, meaty sides facing outward, as advised in the recipe. Doing this, I had to curl 1 rack a bit around the other to get them to fit. My cooker is programmable on high for either 4 or 6 hours and low for either 8 or 10, so I set mine for 8 hours, which turned out to be a bit long. When I tried removing the racks with tongs, the bones fell out of most of the ribs. I did manage to get some out with a few bones intact. I wasn’t able to put them on a wire rack on the baking sheet, so I just put them on the aluminum foil. The broiling did help the taste, as the ribs were much tastier after painting on the sauce and broiling. Hubby loved that they were so tender. I used bottled Stubs BAR-B-Q sauce since my family enjoys it.

Testers Choice
Helen Doberstein

May 20, 2013

I used an 8 1/2-quart slow cooker to make these ribs. I like the idea of being able to have the BBQ taste even in winter with a minimum of fuss. This recipe has provided me with just that. The rub for the ribs came together quite easily. It was nice to just rub them and set them in and let the pot do all the work. I used a store-bought sauce just to save a little time. After they were done it was nice that I could make the basting sauce from the braising liquid while the broiler preheated. This makes having ribs for a weeknight dinner possible. The only change I’d make is that cooking the ribs for 8 hours seems to be too long, as the meat was almost falling off the bone when done. I think that cooking for 4 hours should do the job well enough without overcooking them since they’ll be broiled for a few minutes before serving.

Comments
Comments
  1. Patricia says:

    super recipe …thanks

  2. Judy says:

    I sound like a real crank here, but why not call them “Braised Barbecued Ribs” there’s nothing here barbecued except the sauce. I expect fall-off-the-bone braised ribs, but barbecued should stay on the bone when you lift them but the meat should come clean off the bone when you bite them. You barbecue in a smoker or grill. Slow cookers braise.

    • Renee Schettler Rossi says:

      Ah, I think this comes down to a matter of semantics, Judy. You’re understanding “barbecued” to mean “grilled” whereas we’re taking it to mean “sauced and in the style of a backyard barbecue.” You’re correct, slow cookers do braise, and we intentionally chose to include that in the title so there would be no misunderstanding when readers saw the recipe. I think we’re both actually trying to say the same thing, we just have different ways of saying it. At any rate, just be sure to grab a handful of napkins when you tuck into the ribs that result from this recipe….

  3. Susan says:

    My fingers are crossed that these can be almost equally delish using beef ribs (I am a non-pork eater for religious dietary reasons). What cut would I ask the butcher for, and has anyone ever tried beef?

    • David Leite says:

      Hello, Susan. We’ve not tried this with beef, so I don’t want to say anything definitive. Now, if I were to use beef–and this is totally speculative, understand–I would go for an equal amount of beef short ribs.

      • Susan says:

        I am somewhat familiar with beef short ribs, but don’t think they would have the consistency of your pork ribs (too soft). I wonder what cut is used in the Texas BBQ places when they do BBQ beef ribs (and many do!)? Hate to be such a pest, but I NEED to make these. They look wonderful.

        • Renee Schettler Rossi says:

          Susan, I’d be inclined to use not short ribs, as I dare say they’re too meaty and fatty for this preparation, but beef back ribs…what do you think?

  4. HK says:

    If you want BBQ beef in a crockpot, get a really nice Chuck Roast (whatever you like for pot roasts). Probably horrible to say here, but we use McCormicks Pork Slow Cooker BBQ seasoning packet mix. Mix the packet, pour over your beef roasts of choice per directions, cook on high for 30 minutes to an hour, then 8-ish+ hours on low. Shred and serve plain or on buns with pickled onions and sauce on the side. Easy beef barbque in a slow cooker. We also put a folder towel on top of our cooker, careful not to touch the sides of the cooker with it.

    • David Leite says:

      HK, shame, shame!! Not because you use McCormicks Pork Slow Cooker BBQ seasoning packet mix but because you think this is the wrong place to say it! While I do think you can make a blend that is better and healthier than packaged stuff, it doesn’t mean I, or anyone here would up their nose at such a notion. Remember, I’m the guy who likes McDonald’s.

      • ruthie says:

        Yay! MacDonald’s! Seriously. I like HK’s idea, but do a chunky pulled meat thing after braising, then sauce the chunks and broil until the peaks are crispy. Can you see it? Can’t you just smell it? MMMM. I just had ribs for lunch, so the idea of doing beef in the near future sounds very tempting. Great technique!

        • David Leite says:

          ruthie, it is a great technique, isn’t it? And I do like you idea of the crispy peaks and tips. You sassy girl, you! (And, yeah, I do have my vices, and one of them is McDonald’s.)

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