Dinner Series: Start 'Em Slow

Summer is synonymous with outdoor entertaining and, of course, eating. And few items are as iconic as ribs. That said, many people shy away from these amazing picnic centerpieces in favor of burger or hot dogs because they feel like it's all just too difficult to get right. But ribs are actually quite easy, as long as you cook 'em twice:

Twice? That's right - you want to give them a slow, low heat start and, for me, that means my slow cooker gets in on the fun. Now, you don't want dry ribs, so in addition to using a slow cooker, which helps maintain a lot of the natural juiciness that ribs have, it's great to have some moist aromatics on the bottom of the slow cooker while you give your ribs the head start they'll need to end up perfect on your plate. In addition to keeping the ribs juicy, they get a great infusion of flavor from the ribs and rib rub. You'll be using all of that later, so don't toss what's left in your slow cooker insert after you've removed your ribs.

One of the things that most amazing about this recipe is that, while you are giving your ribs what they need to stay juicy when they are being finished in the oven, on your grill, or inside your smoker, you are also building the foundation of a truly simple, yet amazingly delicious BBQ sauce. Sure, you could use your favorite bottled sauce (and you can always do that and save your slow-cooked sauce for another time), but this sauce has been born from your cooking process and will really pair beautifully with your ribs. Here's a place where you can tweak things according to your own tastes. Use peppers (sweet or hot) in the slow cooker if you want. Add a canned chipotle pepper or two along with adobo sauce when you've got it in the sauce pan. Use roasted garlic instead of fresh garlic for a different flavor. Match your sauce to the rest of your menu, if you want. You get the idea.

I'll only briefly talk about what to serve alongside ribs because you already really know the sky's the limit. Salads, fresh fruit, baked beans, pickles and olives, chips, corn on the cob, and even veggies and dip are all very traditional accompaniments to a plate of tender ribs. Choose something you and your family will enjoy. Like what you see pictured above? You're in luck. Those sides are going to be highlighted later in the week so you'll have this entire menu just in time for the weekend. You're welcome!

Two-Step Tender BBQ Ribs

  • 1 (14.5 oz.) can fire roasted tomatoes, undrained
  • 1/2 large onion, sliced into thin wedges
  • 2-3 cloves garlic, crushed
  • 1 rack of ribs (I used beef short ribs, but any kind will do)
  • 1-2 T. BBQ seasoning rub - use your favorite or make your own
  • 1/4 c. maple syrup
  • Salt, cayenne pepper, and black pepper, to taste

Place the undrained tomatoes, onion slices, and crushed garlic in the bottom of a slow cooker. Generously rub the ribs with your choice of BBQ seasoning and place the ribs on top of the vegetables in the slow cooker. Cover the slow cooker and cook the ribs on LOW for 3-4 hours.

Remove the ribs from the slow cooker and place them on a plate tented with aluminum foil. Carefully pour the remaining contents of the slow cooker into a medium sauce pan. Bring the pan drippings to a simmer over medium-low heat and add the maple syrup. Using an immersion blender, coarsely blend the drippings to make a thick sauce. Adjust the seasonings as desired.

Heat your oven to 400°F, your grill to medium heat, or your smoker to medium heat. Brush some of the sauce over the ribs and bake, grill, or smoke until desired consistency has been reached. Reapply the sauce throughout the process and check the consistency of the ribs by carefully moving the end of a rib bone to see how easily it moves. The more tender the meat, the easier it will be to move the rib bones. Serve with additional BBQ sauce, if desired.

  • Yields: 4 servings
  • Preparation Time: About half a day - but most of the time will be slow-cooking time that does not require supervision

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