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If you can't cook outdoors, you can do pretty well indoors. Now let's get this straight, slow cooker ribs can be tasty, but they are an entirely different animal than slow roasted ribs on a grill, smoker, or even indoors. They are very moist and tender, like stewed meat.
The idea is to braise the meat. Braising is a method of cooking meats so they come out very tender. The core concept is to cook the meat in a closed pot over a low temp in a flavorful liquid that covers the meat only about halfway. Slow cookers are cheap and excellent at making braised meat that melts in your mouth. They have the advantage of being easy to setup and you can start a meal in the morning and when you come home, it's ready and the house smells like a restaurant. Every dorm room needs one.
Slow cookers adhere to the same principles as good outdoor barbecue cookers: Low and slow heat in a moist atmosphere. Slow cookers come in a wide range of sizes. If yours is large enough to hold two slabs, just double the recipe. This recipe is designed for a slow cooker that uses heating coils all around a removable ceramic pot such as the Rival Crock-Pot, West Bend Crockery Cookers, and Cuisinart Slow Cooker. Rival trademarked the name Crock-Pot and it is now owned by Jarden Corp. Some crockery cookers are nothing more than a hot plate with a crock on top. These heat from below only, and will likely burn the sweet sauce. If you don't have a ceramic slow cooker, you can use a Dutch oven, a lidded pot, or even a baking pan covered with foil and put it in your oven at 200°F.
But don't just throw in a slab and a bottle of sauce (although this works fine). Make just little effort and you will be rewarded with this meat, potatoes, and veggie meal in one pot. If you have a Dutch oven or a nice pot with a tight lid, you're good to go. Assemble the ingredients and cook it in your oven so the pot is surrounded by heat, not from just below.
This recipe is so simple. The ribs steam in flavorful aromatics, the sauce penetrates the meat, and they fall off the bone. You can use a storebought sauce or make your own. Even a displaced Alabama girl stuck in a University of Minnesota dorm during a blizzard will feel a little bit like she's back on the farm if you serve her this ribs recipe alongside Pillsbury Buttermilk Flavored Biscuits, deli counter coleslaw, and Sara Lee Peach Pie.
Slow cooker temps
Slow cookers usually have three settings. Depending on the manufacturer, here's what the mean, more or less:
Low. Approximately 200°F
Medium. Approximately 250°F
High. Approximately 300°F
The problem is that if there is a lot of liquid in the crock, then the water temp will rise to 212°F and stay there no matter what temp you have on the dial.
Click here for another recipe for indoor ribs cooked in the oven.
Preparation time. 30 minutes
Crockpot cooking time. 4-8 hours
1 rack of baby back ribs
2 teaspoons kosher salt
1 large onion, sliced into slivers
4 carrots cleaned and cut into bite-size pieces
2 medium potatoes, peeled, quartered, and cut into bite-size pieces
1 crunchy apple, peeled, quartered, cored, and cut into bite-size pieces
1 teaspoon liquid smoke
About the sauce. Doctor the sauce as you see fit. Add a teaspoon of hot pepper sauce or minced hot peppers. Try a tablespoon of matchsticked ginger slivers. If you want it sweeter, add 2 tablespoons of honey or molasses or even your favorite jelly for a fruity flash. I ike to garnish with chopped scallions.
About liquid smoke. Liquid smoke is made by catching the smoke from smoldering hardwood, concentrating it, and dissolving it in alcohol. Many commercial barbecue sauces already have a nice jolt of iquid smoke in them. If you are using a commercial sauce, taste the sauce and if it tastes smoky, leave the liquid smoke out of the recipe. If you want more, add up to 1 tablespoon.
About the ribs. I have specified baby back ribs above because one slab can be enough for two people, and because they are lower fat than spares. If you wish, you can use spares, rib tips, country ribs, and even chops. Use about 1.5 pounds per person of the boney cust (spares, tips), or 1 pounds per serson of the meatier cuts (country ribs and chops).
1) Skin and trim. Slice into 2-3 rib sections. Sprinkle with salt. Optional. If you have a broiler, place the meat about 6" under the broiler for about 15 minutes per side until brown. Keep an eye on them because they can start smoking in a very hot broiler. If you don't have a broiler, you can brown them in a pan with a little oil. Otherwise, don't sweat it. The little bit of flavor added by browning will not be missed.
2) Mix the liquid smoke with the barbecue sauce.
3) Line the bottom of the crockpot with the onion slices, carrots, apples, and potatoes. Place a layer of ribs on top, meaty side up. Pour some of the sauce over the ribs and coat the surface with a brush, spoon, or your (clean) fingers. Place another layer of ribs on top of the first layer, pour on more sauce, and spread. Keep going until all the ribs are in. Pour the remaining sauce on top. Resist the temptation to put the meat on the bottom. It will just get mushy.
3) Cover and cook on low (about 200°F) for 6 to 7 hours or on high for 3 to 4 hours.
4) When you're done you will notice that the sauce is not as thick as when you started. A lot of the juices from the meat and other gredients will be extracted and you'll have a rich, but runny sauce. If you have a stovetop, you can cook it down and thicken it, but I never bother. The thin sauce is concentrated in flavor and delicious.
5) Divide the meat and other stuff between the diners, pour off the sauce, and serve it on the side.