Tuesday, July 19, 2011

Lazy bones - Making juicy and tender ribs in a slow cooker

When most people think of ribs they think of barbecue. Ribs slow cooked over smoky heat is one of life's greatest pleasures. But what if it is a rainy day, or if you don't have the right equipment, or the time, or the know-how (I possess none of the three)? How do you scratch that rib itch without going out for dinner?

Those of us of a certain age recall the slow cooker craze of the 1970's. I remember when my mom got her first one, I think it was Harvest Gold in color (we had an "Early American" motif in the kitchen because we caught Bicentennial fever with the rest of the country!). These little appliances ushered in a different approach to cooking. Today, we might call it "slow food," but back then it was more of a "throw the stuff in the pot in the morning - go out and live your life - dinner will be ready when you come back home" kind of thing. All the food made in the slow cooker (also called Crock Pot, which is a brand name of Rival's appliances) was moist and tender.

This is where we come back to that taste for ribs. Making ribs in a slow cooker is NOT barbecue or anything close. It is a totally different cooking method, it's closer to braising than anything else, and for the BBQ purists out there, it would be totally unacceptable to try to pass the ribs off as anything other than what they are. Yes, they have barbecue sauce on them, but that's about as barbecue as they get. But if you like tender, moist, fall-off-the-bone, no knife required ribs, then you may want to give these a shot.

Slow Cooker Ribs

You are going to need a 6-8 quart slow cooker for this recipe. If you don't have one this size, it would be a good investment to make (if you don't get the ones with all the fancy gadgets, timers, etc. they are less than $25). If you frequent rummage sales and thrift shops - as I do - you can pick one up for under $10.

Buy a rack of spare ribs. You could use baby backs, but for this recipe I prefer the standard pork spare ribs. I find them to be nice and meaty. Take them out of the fridge about a half hour before cooking. You may want to remove the thin membrane that is on the back of the rack of ribs. You can see it - it is somewhat translucent and very thin. Removing this membrane will allow the rub to get to the meat and I think makes for a more tender rib. Slide a thin, sharp knife under the membrane and then grab and pull. It can be a slippery little sucker, so you may want to pull with a paper towel in your hand. But try to remove as much of it as you can - it's worth the effort.

Make your dry rub - or use a favorite pre-made rub. I make my own because it's easy and fun. You can make it to suit your tastes. If you like it more garlicy, or more peppery, whatever. Here is what I use:

1 tsp. black pepper
1/2 tsp. white pepper
1 tsp. dry mustard
1 TBSP granulated garlic
1 tsp. onion powder
2 TBSP. smoked paprika
1/8 tsp. cayenne pepper
3 TBSP. brown sugar
2 TBSP. kosher salt

Depending on the size of your ribs, you may have more than you need. Put what you don't use in a jar and use later - it's good on other stuff, too. Rub both sides of the ribs with your rub. Let the rub sit on the ribs for about 15 minutes, then cut the rack into sections (about three bones wide) - this is the only way you are going to get it into the slow cooker.

1 large or 2 small onions, quartered
1 12oz. can of Coca-Cola (this is what I drink, but if you are a Pepsi, RC or other cola brand person, by all means use what you like - it will work just fine)

Place the rib sections in the slow cooker. Drop in the onions and then pour the can of Coke around the rim of the slow cooker (you don't want to wash away the rub from the meat). Put the lid on and set the pot on "high" for a minimum of six hours. Then switch it to "low" for another 1-2 hours. DO NOT TAKE THE LID OFF! This is a great thing to start in the morning and then go about your day.

At the end of the cooking time, carefully remove ribs from slow cooker - use a good pair of tongs. They are going to be very moist and tender, and you don't want them to fall apart taking them out of the slow cooker. Transfer ribs to a baking sheet (I line mine with foil). You will need a bottle of BBQ sauce and a brush. You can use your favorite brand or make your own, by all means. People laugh at me because I use Kraft BBQ sauce - a food snob I'm not - but feel free to fancy it up any way you want. Brush a liberal amount of sauce on top of the ribs. Turn your broiler on in your oven. When the ribs are all sauced, put baking sheet under broiler for about 5 minutes or until the sauce begins to form a nice crust on top of the ribs.

These ribs have never disappointed my guests. If you should have any left over, they are great the next day as-is, or you can easily pull the meat off the bones and have yourself a pulled-pork sandwich. Serve these ribs with baked beans, garlic toast or buttery rolls and a big salad. Enjoy!

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