Grill/Barbecue

Slow Cooker BBQ Ribs

July 12, 2021
4.5 Stars
Photo by Bobbi Lin
Author Notes

Using a slow cooker (or the Slow Cook function on a multi-cooker) guarantees a fall-off-the-bone result without having to labor over a hot grill or smoker for hours. You can even cook the ribs a day in advance, store them in the fridge, and flash them on the grill or in the oven before serving. The three-ingredient honey BBQ sauce, made with the leftover cooking liquid, is highly recommended—but any sauce of your choosing will do just fine. If cooking for a crowd, doubling the recipe is advised. —Grant Melton

Test Kitchen Notes

Who would have thought that the best way to cook baby back ribs would be right in your slow cooker? This is one of our favorite methods, and this recipe also has the added bonus of putting together the best seasonings that result in super-flavorful ribs. All you need is some brown sugar, paprika, salt, chili powder, black pepper, and cayenne pepper for that perfect balance of sweet and spicy. Of course, if anyone in your family or friend group is very spice-averse, feel free to adjust the chili powder and cayenne or omit entirely (you can always serve the ribs with hot sauce on the side). You'll love the fact that you can assemble the ribs in the slow cooker in the morning, let 'em go on Low for 7 hours, then finish them off right before dinnertime. Or cook them on High for 3 hours while prepping the rest of your sides.

If you can and it's warm outside, we definitely recommend finishing the ribs on the grill. The quick sear helps caramelize and brown them and you get an extra layer of savory, sweet goodness. If it's chilly or you don't feel like grilling, you could always broil the ribs for a few minutes to achieve the same effect. Just be sure to keep an eye on them so they don't get overdone. Or you could just go ahead and eat them as is! You simply won't believe how easy it is to make tender ribs at home, and you'll find yourself using this slow-cooker method over and over again. —The Editors

Watch This Recipe
Slow Cooker BBQ Ribs
  • Prep time 30 minutes
  • Cook time 3 hours
  • Serves 4
Ingredients
  • 2 tablespoons light brown sugar
  • 1 tablespoon kosher salt
  • 1 tablespoon smoked paprika
  • 1 teaspoon chili powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon black pepper
  • 1/4 teaspoon cayenne pepper
  • 1 (3-pound) rack baby back ribs
  • 1/2 cup water
  • 1/4 cup apple cider vinegar
  • 1/2 cup ketchup
  • 1/3 cup honey
In This Recipe
Directions
  1. In a small bowl, mix the brown sugar, salt, paprika, chili powder, black pepper, and cayenne.
  2. Pat the ribs dry. Arrange them meat side down and remove the thin transparent membrane on the back of the bones. Sprinkle the spice rub evenly on both sides of the ribs and, well, rub!
  3. Into the slow cooker, pour the water and vinegar. Roll the ribs into a big coil and place in the slow cooker, meat side facing out. Cover and cook for 3 1/2 hours on High or 7 hours on Low.
  4. When the ribs are finished cooking, carefully remove the rack of ribs to a foil-lined sheet tray. Pour the liquid from the slow cooker into a small pot. Using a spoon, remove the layer of fat that floats to the top. Whisk in the ketchup and honey. Cook over medium-low heat for about 20 minutes, until reduced by half.
  5. If finishing on the grill, preheat the grill. Once the grill is hot, grill the ribs, meat side up. Pour one-third of the sauce over the ribs and close the lid of the grill. Grill for 5 minutes. Baste the ribs with more sauce, cover, and continue to grill for another 5 minutes. Cut the ribs into 4 to 6 slabs and serve with the remaining sauce.

See what other Food52ers are saying.

  • So sett
    So sett
  • Jordan Edelstein
    Jordan Edelstein
  • Abby Walsh
    Abby Walsh
  • Andy Greene
    Andy Greene
  • On Toast
    On Toast
Grant Melton is an Emmy Award-Winning producer, recipe developer and food writer. His favorite food is chocolate chip cookies (with salt.)

10 Reviews

So S. March 31, 2021
Yuuummmm--s/o describes these as the best ribs he's had

- Added a few dashes of liquid smoke to the slow cooker liquid for some smokiness

- Sauce came out sweet for my tastes but perfect for the s/o

- Do be careful moving the ribs around, I tried picking them up by the bone and the bone nearly popped right out--so they're definitely fall off the bone tender
 
Jordan E. May 17, 2020
Left out cayenne for my kids and these were still great. Finished on the grill for 10 min, which gave some nice browning. Do make sure you skim the fat off of the sauce. I didn't get enough of it, so it was a bit fatty.
 
Abby W. January 25, 2020
Made these today, exactly as described, using the low slow cooker setting on my multi-cooker. Came out perfectly! I was able to reduce the sauce using the sauté setting, then basted and popped the ribs under the broiler (2x for 3 min). So delicious. And very little mess.
 
On T. January 31, 2021
Same! I went with the slow cooker setting on high in a multi-tool. 3 1/2 hours was perfect and then a quick broil for a nice crust. A great cheat for ribs in the middle of a blizzard.
 
Janet G. September 13, 2019
Made these today and WOW they were great. Have tried for 40 years and failed and this recipe sooooo easy. Slow cooker was the key.
 
Dorie September 12, 2019
I made these ribs this evening and they were great. They cooked perfectly in 3 and 1/2 hours on high and were falling off the bone tender. I strained the cooking liquid into a fat separator and was left with just the flavorful base for the sauce. You can use any sauce for these but I would encourage you to go ahead and make this version as most of the work is already done for you. I sauced and broiled the ribs twice, about 3-5 mins, keeping a close eye on them. I cook ribs for a crowd quite a bit and this is how I will do it from now on, thank you for the new technique.
 
Andy G. September 3, 2019
Slow cooked ribs require no sauce nor rub. Montreal Steak Spice. Period. And boil the ribs slightly to remove excess fat. Ketchup is junk food and is not good for you. Sugar nurns. BBQ allows fat to drip out of the meat, and away from your stomach (cholesterol, tri-glycerides gone).
 
Charlene C. October 14, 2019
You seem pleasant
 
Tammy R. October 31, 2019
Smug
 
ProfRecipeFollower January 14, 2020
Kindly take a hike :)