Instant Pot Spare Ribs with BBQ Rub and Sauce are fall-off the bone tender after pressure cooking.
I know, I'm already cheating by cooking my ribs in an Instant Pot. Liquid smoke felt like a bridge too far. But…everyone else kept using it. And they left comments in my rib recipes singing its praises. Liquid smoke? Really? I had to try it out, expecting to say "Ha!. It's not worth it!"
Instead, I'm asking myself: why did I wait so long to use liquid smoke?
What are Spare Ribs?
Spare ribs are pork ribs from the lower part of the ribcage, with the sternum and rib tips still attached. They are larger than baby back ribs, which come from the upper part of the ribcage, and spare rib meat has more fat and connective tissue. Spare ribs take longer to cook than baby back ribs, but are juicier when they're done cooking, thanks to that fat and connective tissue. Sometimes you will see St. Louis Cut spare ribs, with the rib tips and sternum removed. You can substitute St. Louis Cut for regular spare ribs in this recipe, and the instructions and cooking time remain the same.
If you want to make baby back ribs, check out my Instant Pot Baby Back Ribs; if you have Western ribs (aka Country ribs), use my Pressure Cooker Pork Western Shoulder Ribs with Barbecue Rub and Sauce recipe.
How to Make Instant Pot Spare Ribs
Spare ribs in the Instant Pot are almost too easy. The steps are:
- Peel the membrane off the back of a slab of spare ribs.
- Cut the slab into 4 pieces, between every 3rd bone, then season the ribs with BBQ dry rub.
- Pour a cup of water into the Instant Pot (or another pressure cooker) and then loosely stack the ribs, bone side down.
- Lock the lid and pressure cook for 30 minutes, then let the pressure release naturally.
- Brush the ribs with a layer of BBQ sauce, then (optionally) broil them for a few minutes to tighten up the sauce.
- Brush with another layer of sauce and serve these finger licking ribs.
Testing liquid smoke with Instant Pot Spare Ribs
I made two batches of Instant Pot Spare Ribs, one with a tablespoon of liquid smoke in the water, the other without. I expected a strong woody flavor, kind of like over-smoked meat; instead, I got a flavor enhancer. It's a terrible description, but the liquid smoke ribs taste "meatier," not smokier. I'm a liquid smoke convert, and I'm going to update all my pressure cooker ribs recipes to recommend it.
I know, I know. I was once a One True BBQ fanatic myself. And I still pull out the grill when I can. But, when time is short, I take the easy way to tender Instant Pot spare ribs.
What is liquid smoke?
Liquid Smoke is made by burning wood in a low-oxygen environment and distilling the water vapor that is produced. That's right; liquid smoke is actually condensed wood smoke. It's a side effect of making charcoal, and "wood vinegar", as everyone else calls it, has been around for centuries. (Pliny the Elder mentions it back in Ancient Rome. See, Latin class was worth something!)
💡Tips and Tricks
- Want super-tender ribs? Increase the pressure cooking time to 45 minutes in an Instant Pot or other electric PC or 38 minutes in a stovetop PC. In my tests, when I cook ribs for that long, the slab is falling apart. I prefer a little bite to my ribs, but if you want ultra-tender ribs, go longer.
- Finesse the sauce - stir ¼ cup of the cooking liquid from the pot into the sauce before brushing on the ribs. It will take some of the porky goodness from the liquid and add it back to the recipe.
- The liquid smoke is optional…but as I found out, it’s worth using it. Look near the barbecue sauce at your local grocery store.
- If you want dry rub ribs, skip the BBQ sauce, and sprinkle on some more BBQ rub after pressure cooking. (Or check out my Instant Pot Baby Back Ribs with Memphis Dry Rub recipe).
Instant Pot Spare Ribs - quick and easy, pressure cooked with liquid smoke for a big meaty flavor, brushed with barbecue sauce, and glazed under the broiler.
- 1 slab pork spare ribs, membrane peeled off
- 1 cup water
- 1 tablespoon liquid smoke
Barbecue Rub (2 tablespoons of my Homemade Barbecue Rub), or use your favorite store-bought rub
- 1½ teaspoons fine sea salt (or 2 teaspoons kosher salt)
- ¾ tablespoon paprika
- ¾ tablespoon brown sugar
- ½ tablespoon chili powder
- ½ teaspoon ground black pepper
- ¼ teaspoon garlic powder
- ¼ teaspoon onion powder
Barbecue sauce (1 cup of my Easy BBQ Sauce), or use your favorite store-bought sauce
- ¾ cup ketchup
- 2 tablespoons brown sugar
- 2 tablespoons cider vinegar
- 1 teaspoon Dijon mustard (or cheap yellow mustard)
- ½ teaspoon soy sauce
- Make the BBQ rub: In a small bowl, stir the barbecue rub ingredients: Fine sea salt, paprika, brown sugar, chili powder, ground black pepper, garlic powder, and onion powder. Stir and mix until thoroughly combined, breaking up any clumps of brown sugar with your fingers. Set aside for later. (Or, use a tablespoon of store-bought BBQ rub)
- Make the BBQ sauce: In a medium bowl, whisk the barbecue sauce ingredients: ketchup, brown sugar, cider vinegar, dijon mustard, and soy sauce. Whisk until smooth. Refrigerate for later. (Or, use a cup of store-bought BBQ sauce.)
- Remove the membrane from the ribs: On the bony side of the slab of ribs, work a butter knife between the membrane and one of the bones. Grab the membrane with a paper towel and pull gently but firmly to peel the membrane away from the ribs. If the membrane tears while you’re pulling, work the knife under the remaining pieces and pull them off as well. Trim the flap of meat from the bone side of the slab. You can discard it, or sprinkle it with rub and add it to the pot with the ribs as a cook’s snack.
- Season the ribs and put them in the pressure cooker: Cut the rack of ribs into 4 pieces, cutting between every 3rd bone. Sprinkle both sides of the ribs with the rub. Pour the cup of water into the Instant Pot (or use the minimum liquid amount for your pressure cooker), and then add the liquid smoke. Stack the ribs in the pot in a loose pile, bone side down.
- Pressure cook the ribs for 30 minutes with a Natural Pressure Release: Lock the lid and pressure cook on high pressure for 30 minutes in an Instant Pot or other electric PC (“Manual” or “Pressure Cook” mode in an Instant Pot.), or for 24 minutes in a stovetop PC. Let the pressure release naturally, about 15 more minutes. (You can quick release any remaining pressure after 15 minutes if you're in a hurry.)
- Sauce and (optional) broil the ribs: Transfer the ribs to a rimmed baking sheet. Brush the ribs with barbecue sauce, turn them bone side down, then put the sheet under a broiler set to high. Broil the ribs until the sauce is bubbling and just starting to brown, about 5 minutes. Remove the pan from the broiler, brush with another layer of sauce, and serve.
- Prep Time: 10 minutes
- Cook Time: 50 minutes
- Category: Weeknight Dinner
- Method: Pressure Cooker
- Cuisine: American
Keywords: Instant Pot Spare Ribs, Pressure Cooker Spare Ribs
What do you think?
Questions? Other ideas? Leave them in the comments section below.
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My other Instant Pot and Pressure Cooker Recipes
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