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
- 6 quart or larger slow cooker (Crock Pot brand is fine, but I like my fancy ones from All-Clad and KitchenAid)
- Fat Separator
- 3 pounds pork shoulder western ribs (or cut a pork shoulder into 1½" thick strips, or use pork shoulder chops)
- 1 teaspoon kosher salt
- 1 teaspoon barbecue rub (My homemade barbecue rub recipe is here; or use your favorite rub.)
- ½ cup water
- 1 cup barbecue sauce plus ½ cup barbecue sauce (My homemade barbecue sauce recipe is here; or use your favorite store bought sauce)
- Prepare the ribs: Sprinkle the ribs evenly with the kosher salt and the barbecue rub.
- Slow cook the ribs: Put the ribs in the slow cooker, add the ½ 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.
- Serve: Remove the ribs to a platter. Spoon ½ 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 ½ cup of the the defatted juices into a measuring cup). Add the remaining ½ cup of barbecue sauce to the measuring cup, and stir to combine. Serve, passing the juices/sauce at the table.
- 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).
- 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 teaspoon 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.
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