Nothing like a plate of barbecued ribs to bring out the raging carnivore in even the most mild-mannered of salad nibblers. While barbecued ribs might seem like one of the most iconic of Southern dishes, right up there with jambalaya, fried green tomatoes, and peach cobbler, Serious Eats says they didn’t really become popular until the 1920s. They weren’t just limited to the Southern states, either — nobody really knows where the first rib shacks started popping up, but soon they were a nationwide phenomenon.
Ribs these days are a staple of every sports bar and many a tailgate party, but their association with sporting events dates back almost a century — to celebrate the Yankees 1928 World Series win, Babe Ruth treated his teammates to 50 pounds of ribs as well as glasses filled with a mysterious foaming liquid whose name could not be spoken until Prohibition was repealed some five years later.
The one problem with cooking barbecued ribs like a true pitmaster is that it takes, well, a pit (or at least a smoker) as well as a whole lot of time. Recipe developer Erin Johnson of Probably in the Kitchen, admits that these Instant Pot ribs "may not be a substitute for slow cooked, smoked baby back ribs," but says they are "a great way to get delicious ribs onto the table for your family in less than an hour with little hands-on effort."
Get the Instant Pot ribs ready for cooking
While Johnson’s recipe calls for baby back ribs, you should be able to use spare ribs, as well, although you may have to tweak the cooking time a bit. BBQ Host says spare ribs might take up to twice as long to cook, and you may also need to cut the rack in half. A rack of baby back ribs should weigh 1 to 2 pounds, while spare rib racks may be larger (though cheaper).
The first thing you’ll need to do before cooking the ribs is to remove the silver skin, which is that membrane that covers the back of the rack. While you could try asking a butcher to do it for you, if you’re buying prepackaged ribs you’ll need to do it yourself. Don’t worry, it’s not that hard to do, all you really need is a sharp knife. Don’t skip this step, though. Johnson says "It’s important to remove the membrane from the back of the ribs to allow the flavor to fully absorb into the meat," and also warns that if you leave the silver skin on, it "will leave a rubbery, tough layer on the back once cooked." If you hate to waste anything, you can always use the silver skin, along with leftover bones, to make soup stock, or you could feed it to your pets –- the Norfolk Daily News suggests that silver skin is extra chewy so makes for a long-lasting doggy treat.
Let’s spice things up a bit with these Instant Pot ribs
At a minimum, you’re going to want some salt and pepper to spice up your ribs, and these should be sprinkled on before they go into the Instant Pot. Even if you’re going to be using a lot of sauce (later! the sauce comes after the Instant Pot stage), you may still want a dry rub since ribs are rich enough to stand up to a lot of seasoning. You can go with a store-bought dry rub mix if you like, though it’s easy enough to make up your own and there’s no shortage of recipes available online.
Vindulge suggests that the best rib rubs manage to balance both sweet and savory, incorporating a sweetener like brown sugar with coarse salt and your choice of seasonings such as chili powder, dried mustard, garlic powder, paprika, or anything else that sounds good to you.
Leave the cooking of these ribs to your Instant Pot
Once the rack of ribs is spiced to your satisfaction, it’s time to add it to the Instant Pot. Stand the rack on end and wrap it around the inside of the pot so it fits, that way you won’t have to cut it. Add the vinegar and water but NOT the sauce! Johnson agrees with the Pioneer Woman that barbecue sauce is best added to ribs right at the end of the cooking process. Cook the ribs on high pressure for 27 minutes, then do a quick release of the pressure before opening the pot to remove the ribs.
If you don’t have an Instant Pot, you could always use a slow cooker to make the ribs. This is what Ree Drummond does, and it seems to work for her. In this case, though, it will take about 8 hours of cooking before your ribs are ready. Unlike slow-smoking, however, you can pretty much just let them sit and cook on their own, even overnight or while you’re at work.
Finish the Instant Pot ribs under the broiler
Once you’ve taken the ribs out of the pot, now it’s time to add the barbecue sauce. Not a fan of sweet, sticky sauce? In that case, Johnson says "You can simply eliminate the sauce and sprinkle on a little more dry rub before you throw the ribs under the broiler." Whether you go with the sauce or the dry rub, your ribs will benefit from a few minutes under the broiler. If you do use a sauce, though, Johnson warns to watch them pretty closely, since the sauce might caramelize more quickly depending on how much sugar is in it. Caramelized is good, but burnt sugar is just yuck, and it would be a shame to ruin the ribs this close to the end. Even dry-rubbed rubs, though, should need no more than five minutes per side to finish them off.
You can also throw Instant Pot ribs on the grill
If the weather and your living space both permit, you can always opt to finish your ribs on the grill. As Johnson says, "You can’t beat the char that you get from the sauce caramelizing on the grill," plus you’ll get those crisscross grate marks that always add an air of authenticity. Hey, you can even pretend you spent all day cooking the ribs, if you want, and let the Instant Pot be your little secret (most great cooks have a few tricks up their toques, after all).
Johnson does say, though, that "if you are going to grill them, I would suggest lowering the cook time by five minutes to make the ribs a bit easier to handle without falling off the bone."
Once the ribs are all done, it’s time to chow down! Cornbread, baked beans, and coleslaw make for classic sides, or you could go "new school" with elote or an ancient grain salad. You might also want to make your ribs more Instagram-worthy with a garnish of sliced green onions. As for a beverage pairing, well, you could always emulate the Great Bambino and wash down your ribs with beer, though, sweet tea works just as well.