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Slow Cooker BBQ Ribs & My Quest for Rib Perfection

It’s nearly here. You only have to look at Pinterest or Google+ to know that the big day is just around the corner. July 4th. American Independence Day. It’s a picnic blanket of star-spangled banners and holiday feasts. By my estimation, tips on how to make red, white and blue wreaths have increased by 136%, pictures of lemonade in Mason Jars by an astounding 274% and recipes for brownies up a whopping 337%. And then there’s the ribs. My oh my….the ribs. Glistening in barbecue sauce, piled in impossibly high mounds, stacked alongside coleslaw, sitting on beds of fries. Smoky, sticky, tangy ribs.

The Americans have elevated ribs to an art form as part of their Barbecue or ‘Q’ (or ‘Que’ or ‘Cue’) culture. These aren’t barbecue grills as we know them but pits that are full of smoking coals so the ribs can cook long and slow. The food that comes out of them is known as Barbecue. There are blogs, books and theses dedicated to American Barbecue and in particular Southern Barbecue and I wouldn’t pretend that I have anything more than a fleeting knowledge of it. I do however have a deep admiration for the results.

Hassle Free Ribs
Whilst July 4th signals the height of Summer in the Northern Hemisphere, it signals the depths of Winter down under. This provides the perfect opportunity to make slow cooker ribs (crock pot). Though not the authentic slow cooked pit ribs, they are a pretty good approximation with slow cooked meat finished off at the end under the grill (broiler). Best of all, these slow cooker ribs ribs need very little preparation or attention during cooking time. It’s only at the end when you are grilling them that you need to be in the kitchen at all. There are a few recipes around on the internet for slow cooker ribs. I have adapted a recipe from Mmm is for Mommy.

Slow cooker ribs in a sticky BBQ sauce

Rib Tickler
Before we move onto the recipe, I wanted to talk just a little more about ribs and my quest for perfection. Ribs have always been a major part of holiday celebrations in the US but in recent years, they have become a mainstay of everyday dining on restaurant and pub menus across the wider world. For the most part, they are pork ribs though beef ribs also makes an appearance. Ribs should be slow cooked until tender and falling from the bone. Sauce is important but only as an accent, not swathed all over the ribs to such a point that all you can taste is the sauce. Whilst there have been some good ribs, there have also been some woeful ribs. Chewy, dry or drowning in sauce, they can be quite a disappointment for a rib fan. With my visit to the USA approaching, I’m planning on consuming quantities of ribs in my quest for perfection. Whilst I will not be visiting the Southern states, I’m sure the midwest will offer up some talent as well as some disappointment. Therefore, I’ve created a rating system for the ribs I’ll be tasting on my bite sized US food adventures. The name for the rating system was provided by Anthony, who will be sharing in rib tasting responsibilities.

Rib Tickler Rating
Score out of a possible 15
  • Value: big ribs/big price (1); little ribs/little price (2); big ribs/little price (3)
  • Size: half a slab (1); whole slab (2); slab + more (3)
  • Sauce: too little (1); too much (2); just right – tangy, sweet, sticky, smoky (3)
  • Tenderness: tough & clingy (1); tender & attached (2); melting & falling from the bone (3)
  • Sides: none (0); one (1); two (2); the whole kit & caboodle (3)

Slow Cooker BBQ Ribs

Slow cooker ribs in a sticky BBQ sauce


  • 2 to 4 x racks pork ribs (approx 500 – 600g each)
  • 1 cup barbecue or HP sauce
  • 2 tbsp paprika (or 1 tbsp smoked paprika)
  • 2 tbsp brown sugar
  • 1/2 to 1 tbsp hot sauce (eg: Tabasco, Texas Pete etc)
  • salt and pepper to taste
  • 1/2 tsp liquid smoke (optional)


  • Mix all ingredients except ribs in a large bowl. If you are using liquid smoke, add a few drops at a time so you don’t make it too smoky for your tastes.
  • Place a rack of ribs in the bowl and coat with sauce using a spoon, pastry brush or your hands. Set aside any excess sauce for grilling.
  • When well coated, stand ribs in the slow cooker with the thick side in the bottom and the meaty side facing the outside of the pot. Continue with other ribs. Some can be placed in the centre if the edge of the pot is full.

Ribs ready to cook

  • Cook on low for 6 – 8 hours, depending on how fast your slow cooker is.
  • Line a baking tray with foil and place a wire rack in it (no rack, no worries).
  • Carefully remove the slow cooker ribs ribs from cooker and place onto wire rack or foil in baking tray, bone side up. They are tender so be gentle.

Slow cooker ribs cooked but unglazed

  • Drain residue sauce and fat from slow cooker through a strainer into a small saucepan. Add in any extra sauce that you set aside.
  • Boil sauce rapidly for 15 minutes until it has reduced by approx 1/3.
  • Turn on grill and place shelf approx 20cm from grill element. You want the slow cooker ribs to brown and sizzle but not burn.
  • Paint some sauce on the back of the ribs and place under hot grill for approximately 3 – 5 minutes until browned and bubbling.
  • Turn ribs over (careful!) and paint sauce on other, meaty side. Slide under grill again and cook for approx 10 minutes or until browned and bubbling.
  • Remove the slow cooker ribs from grill, brush with more sauce and the serve as one rack or slice into sections.
  • Typical accompaniments are coleslaw, potato salad or cornbread (here’s a recipe for a guest post I did on For The Love of Food).

Serves 2 – 4 depending on number of ribs you can eat


  • I gave the option of HP sauce as we never have BBQ sauce in our cupboard and the finished ribs tasted just as good.
  • I actually cooked the slow cooker ribs on one day and stored the flat in their foil lined trays in the fridge overnight. The next day I removed them from the fridge & left them on the bench to come up to room temperature before basting and grilling them.
Slow cooker ribs in a sticky BBQ sauce
Rib Tickler Rating
Score out of a possible 15
  • 2  -Value: big ribs/big price (1); little ribs/little price (2); big ribs/little price (3)
  • 2  – Size: half a slab (1); whole slab (2); slab + more (3)
  • 3  – Sauce: too little (1); too much (2); just right – tangy, sweet, sticky, smoky (3)
  • 2  – Tenderness: tough & clingy (1); tender & attached (2); melting & falling from the bone (3)
  • 2  – Sides: none (0); one (1); two (2); the whole kit & caboodle (3)
4 comments… add one
  • Lizzy (Good Things) June 29, 2014, 10:49 am

    Yummy! Love, love, love ribs!

    • Fiona Ryan June 29, 2014, 4:27 pm

      As do I. Look out for more Rib Tickling adventures.

  • Joanne T Ferguson July 5, 2015, 6:09 pm

    You had my attention right away at American + BBQ ribs Fiona!
    What a great recipe for the 4th of July! And I bet they would tickle my fancy!

    • Fiona Ryan July 7, 2015, 5:31 pm

      They are delicious and of course, you don’t need to watch them for most of the cooking. Pity ribs are so expensive now (or I think so).

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