Slow Cooker Pork Western Shoulder Ribs with Barbecue Rub and Sauce

My kids just started school, so this week I’m featuring weeknight dinners. Today, I’m using my slow cooker…and I’m cheating. Oh, the shame…

I’m almost embarrassed to publish this as a recipe. It’s almost too easy. Almost. This is an example of dump and cook in the slow cooker, which I was disdainful of in my previous slow cooker recipes. But, because this is an attempt to simulate low and slow barbecue, where you don’t brown the food before putting it on the grill, I let it slide. And, you know what? It works, because there is so little liquid in the crock. The ribs brown where they are exposed to the air, adding the extra flavor that browning gives to meat.*
*The Maillard reaction strikes again!

The key to this recipe is to find pork shoulder cut into 1″ to 2″ thick strips. My local grocery store calls these Western Ribs; make sure you see the words pork shoulder somewhere on the label. Country Ribs, which are cut from the pork loin, will dry out if they are cooked for this long. The loin doesn’t have the fat and connective tissue that the shoulder does, and that connective tissue is what makes the shoulder “ribs” so tender and juicy after the long cooking time.

Are these really ribs?  No. Is this real barbecue? Absolutely not. Is it as good as real, low and slow, smoke kissed pork shoulder? Not a chance. But…if you need some tender, juicy pork to feed the family after a long day at work (for you) and school (for them), this will get the job done nicely.

Recipe: Slow Cooker Pork Western Shoulder Ribs with Barbecue Rub and Sauce

Cook time: 8 hours

Equipment:

  • 6 quart or larger slow cooker (Crock Pot brand is fine, but I like my fancy ones from All-Clad and KitchenAid)

Ingredients:

Directions:
1. Prepare the ribs: Sprinkle the ribs evenly with the kosher salt and the barbecue rub.

2. Slow cook the ribs: Put the ribs in the slow cooker, add the 1/2 cup water, and slow cook for 6-8 hours on low or 3-4 hours on high. Add 1 cup of barbecue sauce to the cooker, and cook for another 30 minutes to to 1 hour.

3. Serve: Remove the ribs to a platter. Spoon 1/2 cup of the liquid from the crock into a measuring cup.  (If you have time, pour all the liquid into a fat separator and let rest for ten minutes, then pour 1/2 cup of the the defatted juices into a measuring cup).   Add the remaining 1/2 cup of barbecue sauce to the measuring cup, and stir to combine.  Serve, passing the juices/sauce at the table.

Variations:
*Tex-Mex ribs: substitute ground ancho powder or chili powder for the barbecue rub, and substitute tomato salsa for the barbecue sauce. (This works best if you shred the ribs with a fork, and serve with tortillas as a taco filling).

Notes:
*Serve with cheap white bread (for sopping up juices and barbecue sauce), dill pickle slices, cole slaw, and potato salad. And a cold beer, of course.  Or, rough chop the ribs into chunks, and serve with hamburger buns as rib sandwiches.

*Normally, I will brown meat before putting it in the slow cooker; it adds an extra depth of flavor to the recipe. In this case, the small amount of water in the cooker leaves most of the ribs exposed, and the cooker browns the ribs for me.

*That said, if you have the time, brown the ribs before putting them in the slow cooker. Heat 1 tsp of oil over medium-high heat until just showing wisps of smoke, then put the (salted, bbq rubbed) ribs in the pan and sear for 3 minutes per side or until well browned. Put the ribs in the slow cooker crock, then add the 1/2 cup water to the pan over medium heat. Once the water comes to a simmer, scrape the pork bits from the bottom of the pan and pour the water into the crock. Cook the rest of the recipe as described.

What do you think? Questions? Other ideas? Leave them in the comments section below.

Related Posts:
Slow Cooker Pork Pot Roast
Slow Cooker Caribbean Black Beans and Rice

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55 Comments

  1. Excellent – tried them today and they worked great. So simple and I just used a bottle of BBQ sauce, not even homemade! The trick of adding some of the rib juice at the end to remaining bbq sauce is very good. Will do this again.

  2. @BJ:

    Thank you! Glad you liked them.

  3. Mike:

    We enjoyed this very much as well! I used “Country Style” pork ribs which aren’t ribs at all, but rather boneless strips of the pork shoulder….I am guessing this the same as “Western Shoulder Ribs”?

    The flavors of the meat and sauce, along with the tenderness made this a huge hit with the kids.

    Thank you for you comments on slow cookers in the Slow Cooker Chicken with Herbs posting. In this case, I used my Kitchenaid Slow Cooker on the Simmer setting for 8 hours total and it seemed to work fine. (the Kitchenaid runs hot) So far my ceramic insert has not cracked but I have read that this is a common problem. Thank you for the guidance on my impending replacement.

  4. @Mike:

    My understanding is “Country style” ribs are from closer to the loin, and “Western style” are pieces of boston butt cut into strips. Either works, so get what your store carries.

    Good luck with your new slow cooker!

  5. Just tried these tonight (actually found your blog searching for “western shoulder pork ribs”) and they were wonderful – bbq rub, homemade sauce, and all. Looking forward to cooking them again and trying some of the other recipes/tips here.

    Though reading about pressure cookers didn’t make me less scared of them…

  6. I’m glad you liked the recipe!

    I guess I’ll have to keep working on the pressure cooker sales pitch… :)

  7. Tammfr9 /

    Delish. My husband loved it..mr picky. I made your rub too. I was so impressed with the flavor of the juices. Thank u for sharing.

  8. Tammfr9 /

    Ps. I even had it on my fiesta!

  9. You’re welcome. Glad you liked it, and really glad “Mr. Picky” liked it as well.

  10. WOW, Just tried this, and what a hit with my family. It will be a favorite at my house!!! Thanks for sharing your recipe.

  11. Came across a huge pack of boneless pork shoulder ribs from my local Vons that i couldn’t pass up! I’ve never cooked these before so i’m trying out your recipe to see how it goes! I don’t see how it could go wrong! Thanks for the easy recipe!!! I’ll follow up with how they turn out :)

  12. If you think this is shameful you should see how my MIL cooks country ribs. In the microwave. Start to finish.

  13. Can this recipe be used on uncut pork shoulder blade country style rib?

  14. It works for pork shoulder ribs – if these really are ribs cut from the pork shoulder you’re OK.

    But, “Country style” ribs are usually cut from the loin, which is leaner, and dries out easier. The recipe will work, but you have to get the ribs out at the low end of the cooking time (3 hours on high, 6 hours on low).
    Good luck!

  15. Thank you. I look forward to my cooking adventure-Commencing…now!)

  16. I live in Wadsworth, this better be good, or I’m hunting you down. HA, kidding, I can’t wait to try this today :)

  17. Good luck! And, just in case, did I mention that I’m out of town until…um…February?

  18. HA, they were fantastic, by the way, and my 2 1/2 year old twins went nuts over them :)

  19. Alaska Knit Nat /

    This recipe is really delicious. Thank you so much for sharing it. I featured it on my blog: http://alaskaknitnat.wordpress.com/2012/11/12/slow-cooked-pork-shoulder-ribs-over-creamy-polenta/#

  20. Bob Billings /

    Found the shoulder ribs on half price sale ($1.49/lb) and said what the heck. Your recipe produced an excellent result. Used both your rub (similar to mine anyway) and BBQ sauce. Only thing I added was a large sliced onion during last 11/2 hours of cooking. Adds a bit of a “smothered” touch if you like that kind of thing.

  21. Sounds like a great idea. Thanks for sharing.

  22. Kimberly Conway /

    This was sooooo good my husband went crazy. Even my picky 15 month old was licking his lips! Thanks for sharing!

  23. You’re welcome. Glad you enjoyed it!

  24. Made this for dinner tonight. Used this rub recipe (it’s a keeper!) and my own BBQ sauce. It was restaurant worthy….an excellent recipe!

  25. Thank you! I’m glad you liked it.

  26. MIke,

    Brock pot is a no-go for me but I have the “rubbed” ribs ready to go. Any suggestions for oven cooking this recipe?

  27. Put them on a baking sheet with a rim (or a roasting pan), wrap with foil, and cook at 250°F for 3 hours, or until the ribs are tender.

  28. thanks so much, I am so trying this right now, i love that they will cook in 3-4 hrs seeing as i got a slow start.

  29. gina /

    I bought these shoulder country style strips from our grocer the other day and have been wondering what exactly they are and how to cook them. Thank goodness I found your site :). That’s a chunk of meat with a confusing name! I can’t wait to try this recipe today!

  30. Jess Wood /

    I have made this 3 times now, and I think it gets better every time! Bonus that my 2-year-old gobbled it down when she rarely eats meat at dinner!

  31. Great! I’m glad she likes it.

  32. Nickelle Walther /

    I love this recipe. I am from Nashville, and am extremely picky about my ribs & bbq. This is a quick and delicious comparison. I serve it with cheddar hashbrowns, bisquits and a roasted veggie..

  33. Alison_R /

    Glad I found this, just picked up some shoulder ribs on clearance last night, going to fill the crock pot right now! Thinking of browning them afterwards on the grill really quick prior to serving. Will definitely use the juice + BBQ sauce on the table.

  34. Browning them is a good idea, but be very gentle when you transfer them – they will be falling apart tender.

  35. I have NEVER made shoulder ribs so tender until I made these last night! LOVED it! Same with my teenage boys…I think they went into a food coma after eating so much! Thank you so much!

  36. You’re welcome – I’m glad you enjoyed them!

  37. Love this! I’ll have to buy extra ribs next time. Everyone loved it! This was a great choice for a family rib night :-)

  38. I’m glad you enjoyed it!

  39. Chris Peterson /

    This is a great recipe! When I’ve made it, I’ve finished the ribs in the broiler afterwards, to caramelize the BBQ sauce. With sufficiently high heat, will this enable a Maillard reaction, negating the need to brown beforehand?

  40. Broiling the ribs after brushing with barbecue sauce is a great idea, and will caramelize the sauce, adding more flavor.

    But, it won’t brown the meat of the ribs – the sauce will protect the meat, browning before the meat does. If you want the best flavor, do both – brown the ribs before cooking, and then broil with sauce after cooking.

    And, yes, I know that’s asking for a lot of work. Doing one or the other is better than nothing, so use whichever one works best for you.

  41. Chris Peterson /

    Eh, it’s not that much extra work – I tend to cook most of the week’s food on Sunday, so this just adds a bit of prep to what is already a 1-2 hour affair.

    Last question: if I decide to cook a much bigger portion (say, 5-6 pounds), should I increase the water/bbq sauce? And if so, at what ratio?

    Thanks! This is the second recipe I ever made with my new crockpot, and it was a great one!

  42. Don’t increase the water – you just need enough to generate steam in the slow cooker, and 1/2 cup should be enough, then the pork will start letting go of its own liquid – but do increase the barbecue sauce in a 1:1 ratio (so another 3 pounds of meat means another 1 cup of barbecue sauce.)

  43. Chris Peterson /

    Thanks Mike!

  44. Chris Peterson /

    One other question, hopefully of general utility:

    As someone new to slow-cooking meat (and crock pots in general), what are the general considerations / tradeoffs for low vs high temperature *other* than the time?

    The past 2-3 times I’ve made this recipe (because I can’t stop) I did 4 hours on high, followed by an hour on low (with BBQ sauce), because I didn’t have more than 5 hours. Today, I started in the morning, and set it to 8 hours on low just to try it.

    Will one have better results than the other? More fat rendered out? How do you figure out where in the range to have it fall (does it depend by portion size, or is there some kind of heuristic you use for doneness, etc)?

  45. In general, I use half the time at high that I do for low. I think low works a little better – longer time at low heat breaks down more of the connective tissues – but it’s not a huge difference. I tend to pick the timing that works better for me – low if I’m starting before I leave for work, high if I’m starting around lunchtime.

    For the range – pork shoulder is very forgiving, so anywhere in the range should work. Outside the range you’re in danger of undercooking or overcooking…but I think plus or minus an hour isn’t going to affect it much. (Like I said, pork shoulder is very forgiving.)

    Where I increase the timings (from 6-8 on low to 8-10 on low) is when I’m cooking a whole pork shoulder roast. The big hunk of meat takes longer for the heat to penetrate, so I want to give it extra time.

    I haven’t done extensive testing on these timings – intentionally undershooting and overshooting to see what happens-  I’ll add that to my list of food experiments to try.

  46. Chris Peterson /

    Awesome. Thanks again for the help and insight!

  47. Hi Mike, any chance that you’ve made western country ribs in the pressure cooker? Recipes for this cut of meat seem to range from 15 minutes to 55.

  48. Agree with your comment about the ribs getting a slight crust from the rub and the lower amount of water. Yet still tender and tasty. They were great right out of the crock put AND I didn’t brown them first. One thing i did do was put then in the oven with bbq sauce. Baked then at 350 for 20 minutes. Put down a sheet of aluminum foil and clean up is easy. Tasted like they just came off the grill!

    Thanks for sharing! This is a keeper!

  49. Michael P /

    This recipe turned out great. I was really stumped on what to do with some Country Style Shoulder Ribs I got a super deal on. I did the browning and de-glazing, and don’t think I would skip that part. Now I know what to do when they go on sale again. Thank you. Keeper.

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