Back in the day when I worked for AT&T, I oftentimes tried my hand at crock pot meals. I’d throw a whole, spiced chicken in there, add some vegetables and a bit of liquid, put it on low for 8 hours, then come home to disappointing, tasteless mush. Other times I put a beef roast in with some onion, jarred pepperoncinis, and a beer. The beef shredded nicely, but again, I found the meat lacking in texture and taste. Eventually I gave up and pushed the crock pot deep into the pantry, deciding I’d rather eat an hour later than have the convenience of walking into a home cooked meal in the evening.
Over time, I kissed and made up with the crock and started using it a little differently. It’s a work horse for bone broth, and this time of year I make that at least once per month. I also love it for homemade applesauce, which can be frozen when the apples are perfection so you can enjoy it all winter long. Turns out it’s a great kitchen tool but not necessarily the “set it and forget it” magician it’s made out to be. I’ve learned with a lot of trial and error that the best way to use a crock pot is to cook items on high for a shorter amount of time. While that certainly takes away from the convenience of setting it and going to work for 10 hours to come home to dinner, it’s still a nice time saver, particularly in the wintertime.
Ribs are one of my family’s favorite slow cooker meals. While we love the slow smoked variation in the summertime, it’s just not feasible in the late fall and winter. When we all get a November rib craving we don’t have to run out to a local barbecue restaurant; rather, I make them in the crock pot.
First they need a really good rub. We use our Musky Rub on all cuts of pork, but for ribs I add a bit of brown sugar to the rub before applying it. Are they good without the sugar? Sure. But that little touch allows them to caramelize just a bit – making them ever so much better.
A quick sear in a hot oven, and they’re ready to be cut and layered in the crock pot with three other simple ingredients you likely already have on hand. Last week I seared them and decided to have something else for dinner, so I cut them and put them in the refrigerator for a day. They turned out just as great. The initial sear sets the rub into the meat so it doesn’t slide off in the crock.
I like to layer the ingredients: ribs first, half a sliced onion, a tablespoon of minced garlic, and a smattering of sauce to top.
Then the rest of the ribs, onion, garlic, and one more topping of sauce. In all I probably use 1/2-3/4 cup of sauce. As the ribs cook they release their fat and juice, so you really don’t need to go hog wild on the sauce.
Here’s the ultimate trick…four hours on high in the crock pot. About 1.5 to 2 hours in, move the bottom ribs to the top of the crock.
These particular ribs were extremely meaty, and they were done in three hours which is the point I recommend testing yours. You want the meat to easily come away from the bone, but not to shred and fall right off.
Be not distracted by that golden, glorious gooeyness next to the succulent meat. More on that later – it just so happens to be the most perfect accompaniment in the world to these delicious ribs. Serve them with additional sauce if you’d like, but I highly encourage you to first sample them “naked” right out of the crock pot to experience the full flavor yourself.
These are meaty, tender, spicy, and saucy. The texture is perfect and they’re a nice alternative to their summery smoked cousins. Give crock pot ribs a try on your family when you miss the summer barbecue season.
More coming soon on the side. It’s a meal in and of itself!
- 1 or 2 racks of baby back pork ribs (I use one if they are extra meaty, and two if they are the standard kind you buy in the grocery store)
- 2-4 T your favorite pork rub (I use Musky Rub mixed with a bit of brown sugar)
- 1 large onion, sliced thinly
- 4-5 cloves garlic, minced
- Your favorite Barbecue sauce
- The day before you plan to make the ribs, remove them from any packaging, rinse them, and pat them dry.
- If the ribs were not packaged in an air-tight, briny solution (e.g. if you bought them from the butcher and they weren't pre-packaged), then season them with salt and put them back in the refrigerator for 24 hours.
- The day you plan on eating the ribs, preheat your oven to 450 degrees and line a sheet pan with aluminum foil.
- Liberally season the ribs with your favorite rib rub, adding a bit of brown sugar if your rub is sugar-free. Massage the rub into the meat.
- Place the rubbed ribs on the foil-lined baking sheet and put them in the oven for 30 minutes to 'set in' the rub and brown the exterior of the meat.
- Remove them from the oven. When cool enough to handle, cut the rib slabs into pieces - two to three rib bones per piece.
- Place a layer of ribs in the bottom of a crock pot insert. Sprinkle some of the onion on top of the ribs, some of the garlic, and a drizzle of sauce (about ¼ cup per layer). Continue layering until all the ribs are in the crock. (NOTE: You can actually complete all the steps up to this point a day or two ahead of time. Just ensure the ribs cool completely before you layer them in the crock pot with the other ingredients, and place the lidded crock in the refrigerator until you cook them).
- Cook the ribs on high for 4 hours, checking them at the 3 hour mark. The meat should be tender and easily pull away from the bone. You can keep them on warm for an hour before serving, if necessary.
- Serve with extra sauce on the side.