These Slow Cooker Ribs with Bourbon BBQ Sauce are fall-off-the-bone tender and packed with flavor. You don't have to wait until summer to enjoy this easy make-ahead recipe. Includes a Paleo option!
My husband and I are kind of famous for our BBQ baby back ribs. In our house, making ribs is a team effort. Ron works the smoker and the grill while I take care of the rub and the sauce. Our ribs are really outstanding, but they are also really a big project, so we only make them a few times a year.
I wanted to make an easier version that did not need to be babysat all day. If you are handy with a smoker and are up for a project, you could absolutely smoke these ribs and finish them off on the grill (obviously, you would not need to use liquid smoke in that case). However, this version is so stinkin easy (and almost as good as the original), that you could save yourself the headache and just use your slow cooker.
I also love that you can make Slow Cooker Ribs with Bourbon Sauce during the cold weather months. I’ll definitely be making them at my ski house next winter, especially since they have a make-ahead option where you can do the prep work in advance.
We got our original rib recipe from a Gourmet Club that we belonged to ages ago. I still have the old, stained, and wrinkled print-out. I have no idea where they got the recipe, or I would credit the source.
My original recipe calls for ketchup and worcestershire sauce (both of which have lots of no-no ingredients), so I decided to borrow some of the flavors that I use in both my Paleo Ketchup recipe...
and in my Homemade Paleo Worcestershire Sauce:
I also subbed a mix of maple syrup, raw honey, and coconut sugar for the brown sugar called for in the original recipe. While I reduced the total sugar count, there is still a fair amount of sugar in this sauce. For a lower sugar and Paleo option, sub in my Cherry BBQ Sauce, it works beautifully with the spice rub.
You will not need all of the Bourbon BBQ sauce for these ribs. There will be extra sauce for dipping, or you could freeze the excess for a future date (it’s awesome on chicken). Note, there is so much bourbon in this sauce it may not fully freeze. Not to worry, it will still keep in the freezer for up to three months.
This recipe calls for Hickory Liquid Smoke, I was surprised to learn that liquid smoke is actually safer to eat than smoked meat. "It turns out that most of the carcinogens in smoke are fat soluble, so when we make a water-based solution, like liquid smoke, we capture the smoke flavor compounds without capturing most of the smoke cancer compounds."- from NutritionFacts.org.
If you have trouble finding whole dried ancho chili peppers, you could get some from Amazon. Penzey’s Spices also carries them. Alternately, you could sub in 1 Tbs ancho chili powder for the whole dried ancho pepper.
You can adjust the spiciness of these ribs by adjusting the amount of cayenne pepper. As written, these have a little kick, but they are not so spicy that my kids won’t eat them.
I suggest using kitchen gloves to apply the rub and to cut the ancho chili pepper. Every time that I have neglected to do this, I have rubbed my eye and with spicy fingers 🙁
If you like a maximum of sauce-to-rib ratio, you can cut the racks into individual ribs before brushing them with sauce and then broiling or grilling.
For instructions with cooking process photos, scroll down past the recipe.
Instructions with cooking process photos:
For the Bourbon BBQ Sauce:
(Note, I usually start my sauce after I get my ribs in the slow cooker)
Heat oil in a large pot over medium-low heat. Add the chopped red onion and sauté for 3-4 minutes. Add green onions, sauté for an additional 3-4 minutes. Add garlic and sauté for 2 more minutes.
Mix in all remaining ingredients, adding in the bourbon last. Simmer for about an hour, stirring occasionally. Cover and refrigerate (or freeze) until you are ready to use.
For the Spice Rub:
Wash and dry your rib racks. Remove the silver skin (white membrane) along the bone side of ribs. If it really gives you trouble coming off, you can take a shortcut and just score the membrane between each rib bone.
Cut each rack in half so that they can fit inside your slow cooker. Brush fronts and backs of the rib racks with 2 Tbs of Liquid Smoke (I like Hickory).
Whisk together the dry spice rub ingredients and rub the mixture evenly over all sides of the rib racks. If you are not ready to cook yet, you can cover and refrigerate the ribs for up to 24 hours in advance. They will only get more flavorful that way.
Making Ahead? You can freeze the trimmed and spice rubbed ribs to make for a future date. Wrap them tightly, first with foil, and then again with plastic wrap. Then place the racks in a zip-close plastic freezer bag with the air squeezed out. You can store the racks in the freezer for up to three months. Defrost in the refrigerator and then follow the directions below.
When you are ready to cook the ribs, add 2 Tbs water and 1 Tbs liquid smoke to the bottom of the slow cooker. Stack the rack halves, bone side down, into the slow cooker, with the thickest racks on the bottom and the thinner racks on the top. Cover and cook and on low for 8 hours.
After the ribs come out of the slow cooker, generously brush the racks all over with the Bourbon BBQ Sauce.
Arrange on a foil-lined baking sheet that has been oiled with olive oil.
If you are bringing the ribs to a party, you can cover and refrigerate the ribs at this point and bring them (along with the sauce) to the party in a cooler. If the party is close by, just get in the car and go with them. These make a great appetizer!
Heat remaining sauce (not from the bowl used to brush the meat), on the stovetop while performing the next steps.
You can finish the ribs off in the oven on a foil-lined baking sheet. Broil for 3 minutes bone-side-up, and then flip the racks to meat-side-up, brush on more sauce and broil for 3 more minutes. Keep an eye on them; they can go from saucy to burned in a moment.
Alternately, you can finish the ribs off on the grill. Season and preheat a grill to medium. Grill ribs until they are brown and crisp on the edges, brushing with more sauce as needed and turning occasionally, about 10 minutes.
Serve with warmed BBQ sauce for dipping.
I love adding a whole, unprocessed and healthy twist to classic recipes. My food is often grain-free, usually gluten-free, and always unprocessed.