Slow Cooker Ribs

These slow cooker ribs require just baby back ribs, barbecue sauce, a slow cooker, and, for the finishing touch, your oven. Easy to make, tasty as can be, minimal mess to clean up, and no need to stand outside and shiver in the snow or sleet as you tend a smoker.

Slow Cooker Barbecued Ribs Recipe

This slow cooker ribs recipe bears all the same fall-off-the-bone succulentness as ribs that you slowly tend on a grill or a smoker—without having to stand outside in the rain or snow or sleet or ice or heat. The easy and tasty and not-so-secret secret to getting these lightly charred barbecued ribs to taste like they came off the grill comes at the very end of the recipe when you take the ribs out of the slow cooker and slide them under the broiler and brush them with barbecue sauce now and again until sticky and caramelized. Easy. Crowd-pleasing. And a cinch to clean up. This recipe has been updated. Originally published May 20, 2013.Renee Schettler Rossi

How To Remove The Membrane From Ribs

When it comes to unmentionables, people have panties and boxers and all manner of other underthings, whereas 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 slow cooker ribs recipe, cautioned us to leave the membrane intact during cooking, although truth be told, some of us rebelled and found that our racks of ribs 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 rack of ribs to go commando, you have our blessing to take it all off. The easiest way to strip the ribs is to stick the entire slab in the freezer until it’s cold but not frozen. Holding a paper towel in your hand, grip the membrane at one end of the slab of ribs and tug. It usually pulls right off; if it puts up a tussle, simply try 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 (each rack should be no bigger than 1 1/2 to 2 pounds), membranes removed (see How To Remove The Membrane From Ribs note above)
  • 3 cups barbecue sauce, store-bought or homemade
  • Vegetable oil spray

Directions

  • 1. Mix the paprika, sugar, cayenne, salt, and pepper in a small bowl and then rub the mixture evenly over the ribs. Arrange the racks 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. (If you like your ribs tender but not fall-apart tender, you’ll want to start checking your ribs for doneness after 6 hours. If you let them go all the way to 8 hours they will be literally fall-off-the-bone tender.)
  • 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. Let the braising liquid in the slow cooker rest for 5 minutes to allow the fat to float to the surface. (To make the ribs ahead of time, place them on a rimmed baking sheet lined with foil, let them cool, and then cover and refrigerate. Pour the braising liquid into a measuring cup and then cover and refrigerate. Remove the ribs from the fridge about 30 minutes before continuing with the recipe.)
  • 3. Skim the fat from the surface of the braising liquid and discard it. Strain the defatted 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 between the bones and serve with the remaining reduced braising liquid on the side—and lotsa napkins.

Cooking For Two Slow Cooker Ribs Variation

  • It’s incredibly simple to scale down this slow cooker ribs recipe for just the two of you. And you don’t have to be incredibly precise about the amounts. Depending on your appetites, you’ll want to use just a single rack or two of ribs. And then use as much spice rub as desired, and use 1 cup barbecue sauce per rack of ribs you’re making. Follow the instructions above. When reducing the barbecue sauce and pan drippings, use a small saucepan and reduce until it measures about 3/4 cup if you used 1 cup barbecue sauce and 1 1/2 cups if you used 2 cups barbecue sauce. Otherwise everything remains the same.
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Recipe Testers Reviews

Brenda Carleton

Feb 01, 2017

Up until yesterday, my old pork ribs were the best I’ve ever had. Well, things changed. They’re now a tie with this slow cooker ribs recipe. What a discovery to slowly cook baby back ribs in a slow cooker! Mine is a 7-quart slow cooker, so the stack of ribs fit a bit snugly but 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 slow cooker 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 although it’s -25°F at the moment here in Canada.

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. Ribs without this particular sauce would still be good but with this sauce? Nothing short of a miracle.

Sofia Reino

Feb 01, 2017

These slow cooker ribs 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 baby back ribs. I must say that 3 cups 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. I used the spray oil though I really don’t think it’s needed.

Sita Krishnaswamy

Feb 01, 2017

This slow cooker ribs recipe is a lip-smacking finger-licking-good recipe for ribs and is so easy to make. I used Bobby Flay's BBQ sauce recipe. I cut the slab of baby back 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 slow cooker ribs recipe will be a staple in my family's menu.

Jill R.

Feb 01, 2017

This slow cooker ribs recipe really is everything it seems to be. I made the ribs in my old Rival 6-quart slow cooker and found that 6 pounds of baby back 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 allows you to control the temperature. 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.

Amy Iacopi

Feb 01, 2017

Wow! This slow cooker ribs recipe 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 a little and looked a lot more appetizing. I used a store-bought barbecue 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!

Natalie Reebel

Feb 01, 2017

What a nice way to have ribs during the off-season. I rubbed the baby back 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.

Joan Osborne

Feb 01, 2017

My hubby, son, daughter, and son-in-law loved these slow cooker ribs. 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.

Helen Doberstein

Feb 01, 2017

I used an 8 1/2-quart slow cooker to make these slow cooker ribs. I like the idea of being able to have the barbecue 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 the baby back ribs 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 recipe makes having ribs on a weeknight 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.

Lori Widmeyer

Feb 01, 2017

For years I have made a rub that has way too many ingredients, let the ribs sit in the refrigerator overnight with the rub on them, and cooked the ribs in the oven. Never again. This slow cooker ribs recipe is just as good and so easy—even to make just for 2 of us! I purchased a single rack of baby back ribs and made 1/2 the rib rub recipe using smoked paprika to add a hint of smoky flavor. It required all the rub to coat the rack. I measured out 1 cup sauce and covered the ribs with it prior to putting them in the cooker. I was not home again until 6 hours had passed, so when I checked on the ribs they were perfect. I reduced my sauce for 18 minutes, stirring constantly, and it was thicker than most bbq sauces I have used but in a good way. I brushed the ribs with the thickened sauce and broiled as the recipe instructs. I did 3 minutes on the first side and then the full 12 minutes on the second. If I had not watched it with my own eyes I would have sworn they were grilled by the appearance and the taste. I never thought I would even consider making ribs just for 2 people but this was too easy. I was pleasantly surprised to find the single rack was plenty for both of us even with very little to serve as sides. One of the best slow cooker recipes I have made to date.

Comments

  1. 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.

    1. 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….

  2. 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?

    1. 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.

      1. 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.

        1. 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?

  3. 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.

    1. 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.

      1. 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!

        1. 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.)

  4. I accidentally discovered that this dish can be made ahead! I put the ribs on without realizing that we had a sports event to attend that evening. They cooked the requisite 8 hours. I took them out of the slow cooker and cooled them on a foil lined sheet pan, then covered them and shoved the whole thing in the fridge. I poured the braising liquid into a large measuring cup and refrigerated it. The next day, I set the ribs out for a little over 30 minutes, popped the fat off the braising liquid, then picked up the recipe at Step 3. I was afraid that the dish was going to taste “leftover,” but it didn’t! It was fantastic.

    1. Brilliant, BBSTX! Thank you so much for taking the time to share your make-ahead trick with us! I’m adding your advice to the recipe instructions to help out others who want to make them ahead for a harried weeknight or weekend entertaining. Again, many thanks! Also, have you ever considered becoming one of our recipe testers? I love the way you think and would love your input on recipes that we’re making in our home kitchens and evaluating whether they’re sufficiently spectacular to share with readers…

      1. Thank you for the kind words. I’m glad my accidental discovery is going to be included in the recipe. I also appreciate your encouragement to become a recipe tester. I’ll look at the qualifications to make sure I can fulfill any obligations I would take on.

  5. We made these again tonight after loving them so much when I first tested them a few years ago. They are every bit as delicious and EASY to make as I remembered. Thank you!

    1. Magnificent, Amy! You’re very welcome and many thanks for taking the time to let us know!

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