Crock Pot Ribs: Learn How to Make the Best Slow Cooker Ribs

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Crock Pot Slow Cooker Ribs

I love barbecued ribs. But in the winter it’s tough to keep the smoker cooker up to temp. So I make these crock pot ribs in the slow cooker!

Yes, gas grills may work but they provide no smoke flavor and the goal here is to stay warm while cooking. So during the winter, I make these short ribs in the slow cooker.

How to Make the Best Crock Pot Ribs

I prefer short ribs, but you can do any rib that will fit in your slow cooker.

Choosing and Prepping the Meat

Beef and pork ribs work best for this type of recipe. Short ribs or riblets work really well, although baby back ribs work well too.

You’ll need to cut your ribs so they fit into the crock pot. Choose enough to fill the slow cooker about half full, maybe a bit more. Don’t pack them in too tight, you want the juice to work around and through the ribs.

Seasoning Properly

Clean your ribs well and prepare them for seasoning. You can season them with salt and pepper, or you can use a rib rub. Keep in mind that you won’t be able to get the “crust” or “bark” like with a dry grill. The ribs will soak up any seasoning you rub on them.

I use a bit of salt, pepper, brown sugar, and a few drops of liquid smoke.

After seasoned, place the crock pot ribs in the slow cooker (WITHOUT liquid) and turn it on high. Leave it for a few hours to sear. Then you’re ready for the next step.

Choose a Liquid

Once the ribs have dry cooked for a while you can add some liquid. Depending on the size of the slow cooker and the amount of meat you have, you can use about 2-3 cups of liquid.

Here are several liquid options that impart great flavor to your crock pot ribs:

  • Root beer is a great choice. I’ve used a great organic root beer that was low in sugar, but high in flavor, which worked amazingly.
  • For the same reason, ginger beer works very well too. The spicy ginger adds a different depth of flavor.
  • Cola can also add a unique flavor. Choose an organic brand as they usually contain less sugar.
  • Veggie broth can work as a no-sugar option, but it won’t taste like barbecue. But you’ll still get tender ribs.
  • If you want something really different in your crock pot ribs try coconut milk. It’s naturally sweet and adds a very different flavor.
  • Fruit juices, like apple juice, can help tenderize ribs.
  • Pineapple juice can help with really tough meat. It contains enzymes that help break down fibers in meat.
  • Want an Asian flair? Try soy sauce, ginger, honey, and garlic. Add some broth to thin it out.
  • Barbecue sauce is always a safe choice. I used to work in a restaurant where ribs were served; they were marinated in a cheap brand of barbecue sauce, along with the juice of one lemon, one lime, and one orange. It tasted just like a great homemade barbecue sauce!

Finishing the Crock Pot Ribs

Add liquid of your choice to the slow cooker, enough to cover the ribs. Put the lid on. Cook on LOW for 4-6 hours for amazing fall-off-the-bone ribs.

Have you made slow cooker ribs in the crock pot? If so, share your tips with us!


About Debra Maslowski

Debra is a master gardener, a certified herbalist, a natural living instructor, and more. She taught Matt and Betsy how to make soap so they decided to bring her on as a staff writer! Debra recently started an organic herb farm in the mountains of Western North Carolina. You can even purchase her handmade products on Amazon!

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  1. Joanna says

    We use no liquid at all in our slow cooker with pork ribs, just dry rub them and then baste them after with sauce and quickly stick them under the broiler. Amazing! I wish we could go veg, but he’s allergic to milk and I’m allergic to soy, nuts, wheat, corn and potatoes (and I have the IgE blood work to prove it) so our pork products aren’t going anywhere. You can find humanely raised meats at farmers markets and offset carbon if you have to. We need to eat.

  2. Shawna Gregg says

    I’ve made slow cooker ribs for ages, but I have never tried adding citrus to my BBQ sauce (we love Sweet Baby Rays). I just bought some beef ribs for New Years, so I’m going to try adding lemon, lime and orange this time. Thanks for the ideas!

    In order to get a kiss of that delicious char flavor we toss our ribs onto a hot grill just before serving. I live in an area with plenty of cold temps and snow, so in the winter I put them under the broiler for a couple of minutes. It really kicks the taste up a level.

  3. cecilia says

    I am a vegetarian and will soon start a vegan diet. My reason for this has to do with the unspeakable mistreatment of dairy cattle, cattle for food, and the most extreme cases is the housing, care and slaughter of pigs and chicken. I felt that my concern for sentient beings over rode my turning my back on the horrors of what these animals undergo. I would like/love to see recipes that don’t involve the use of animals. Since becoming a vegetarian I have fewer colds, I sleep better, I am lean and love learning about plant based foods. It has Brought a lot of fun sharing info. and glad that no animal died for my sake.

    • Theresa says

      Yesssssmy son is vegetarian …. almost vegan and I have also changed significantly my eating habits. I would also truly appreciate recipes that are meat free 😉

      • Patricia Ackerman says

        Teresa, have you tried Seitan as an alternative to meats ? My husband is a carnivore and I’m trying to get him off most meats that he eats. There’s a ton of recipes online and you can make many meat items with it from ground beef to chicken fingers..etc.

    • Joan says

      I agree completely that factory farming of animals is both cruel and unsustainable. However, aside from the fact that not everyone can sustain health on a vegan diet, you really need to look at where vegan food comes from as well. Because not too many places are well suited for growing crops, water becomes a key issue. Few people realize that when you divert water to irrigate crops, whole ecosystems can die when their water is cut off. I highly recommend a book by Lierre Keith called the Vegatarian Myth: Food, Justice and Sustainability for a thoughtful exploration of some of these issues. One of the most important is topsoil. Trying to grow crops with the use of fertilizers severely depleted the soil as well as reducing the topsoil layer. Where just a few hundred years ago, we had topsoil measured in tens of feet, today we can measure it in inches. We are literally skinning the planet and that too is unsustainable. I don’t have a lot of answers but I believe it must involve sustainability as well as the farming of both plants and animals together for the future of us all.

      • Debra Maslowski says

        For those of you that are vegetarian or vegan, you can try jackfruit. It’s available at Asian markets and produce stands in places like Florida. Once you get the fruit out of the rind and take the seeds out (you can roast them like pumpkin seeds), sear the flesh in a hot pan, the proceed as you would with meat based ribs. They won’t have the firm texture, but will be more like pulled pork, and all meat free.