Pressure cooker, Weeknight dinner
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Instant Pot Spare Ribs with BBQ Rub and Sauce

Spare ribs brushed with sauce on a red plate with a bowl of barbecue rub in the background
Instant Pot Spare Ribs

It felt like cheating. I held out against liquid smoke in my Instant Pot Spare Ribs, but…everyone else kept using it. I had comments singing its praises. Liquid smoke? Really? I had to try it out, so I could say “Ha!. It’s not worth it!”

Instead, I’m asking myself: why did I wait so long to use liquid smoke?

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 from making charcoal, and “wood vinegar”, as everyone else calls it, has been around for centuries. (Pliny the Elder mentions it back Ancient Rome. See, Latin class was worth something!)

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.

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Individual spare ribs brushed with sauce on a red plate with a bowl of barbecue rub in the background

Instant Pot Spare Ribs

  • Author: Mike Vrobel
  • Prep Time: 10 minutes
  • Cook Time: 50 minutes
  • Total Time: 1 hour
  • Yield: 1 slab of ribs 1x


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 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


  1. 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.
  2. Make the rub and sauce: In a small bowl, stir the barbecue rub ingredients, breaking up any clumps of brown sugar with your fingers. Set aside. In a medium bowl, whisk the barbecue sauce ingredients until smooth. Set aside.
  3. 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.
  4. 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 electric PC (“Manual” or “Pressure Cook” mode in an Instant Pot.), or for 24 minutes in a stovetop PC. Let the pressure come down naturally, about 15 more minutes.
  5. Sauce and (optional) broil the ribs: Transfer the ribs to a rimmed baking sheet, bone side down. Brush the meaty side of the ribs with barbecue sauce, 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.


    • Want super-tender ribs? Pressure cook for 45 minutes in an electric PC or 36 minutes in a stovetop PC. I did a slab for that long, and they were falling apart when I tried to lift them out of the cooker. I prefer a little bite to my ribs, but if you want ultra-tender ribs, go longer.
    • Finesse the sauce – stir 1/4 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 finding it. Look near the barbecue sauce at your local grocery store.


    • Category: Weeknight Dinner
    • Method: Pressure Cooker
    • Cuisine: American

    Keywords: Pressure Cooker Spare Ribs, Instant Pot 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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    1. Lew Newby says

      I have 3 smokers so I never keep Liquid Smoke in the house. We’re hunkered down because of the Coronavirus so I substituted 2.5 hours of low temp high smoke for it. My wife likes fall off the bone ribs and these held together until she bit in. My BBQ ribs are normally very good. These were fantastic. Her’s were sauced and mine were dry ribs. Moist, tender, and delicious. This is now my “go to” for BBQ ribs.

      Your recipes never disappoint me and I frequently recommend your book. It’s nice to find a reliable place on the Internet..

    2. Mama Talucci says

      Followed recipe and they turned out perfect. I did use the trivet. Broiled for just a few minutes in the oven. Perfect texture at 30 minutes + 15 minutes NR. Used bottled BBQ sauce. The liquid smoke was an excellent suggestion!

    3. Ccary Hill says

      Mike, the ribs cooked exactly like your recipe came out delicious. My only comment is that they were fall off the bone at 30 minutes. Because I finish them on the grill for the glaze for a short period, they began falling off the bone as I moved them. What are you thoughts on reducing the cooking time and quick release time to maybe 20 and and 10. Mind you, this is not a complaint, it’s just that some of my family like to chew the meat off the bone. Thanks once again.

      • I’d cut the cooking time by 5 minutes – 25 minutes – if you want to transfer them to the grill. If you try it, let me know your timings and how it turns out.

    4. Mike, this recipe is the Best!!! I am no longer feeling overwhelmed when I think about cooking spareribs…as I don’t have to budget tons of time to slow cook the the way I normally did. I was able to get 6 lbs of ribs in my instant pot, and cooked them for initial time of 45 minutes to make sure they were cooked through, with 15 minute natural release. Followed your ingredients to the letter…and the result?? Well, they were perfect!! Thank you for a new favorite recipe in my house!!! 😊👍🏆💕

    5. Ready for Ribs says

      Since I did not see it mentioned, I can only assume that you do NOT use the trivet in this recipe, but place the ribs directly into the liquid smoke/ water on the bottom of your instant pot.
      However, we all know what assuming makes of us… so any clarification, or information concerning whether there is truly any difference, would be much appreciated.

      • Thank you for your recipe. I made these last night, and they were awesome! Rave reviews from a table full of self professed rib snobs. Full confession – I used my own rub concoction. I did use the liquid smoke. I had 12 pounds of ribs before trimming. After trimming it was probably 8 or 9 pounds. Stacked them up in my 8 quart IP, cooked for 25 minutes, and they came out perfect. I cooked these ahead. Sauced them once before refrigeration. Stuck them in the oven at 350°, it took about 30 minutes to get two roasting pans full of ribs hot and sauce caramelized.

        • Clarification: 30 minutes in the IP.
          Thank you again for the excellent recipe, plus the clear and easy to follow instructions.

    6. George R Hooper Jr says

      I REALLY appreciate your efforts, especially as regards using the Instant Pot (I/P). Growing up in Anniston, AL, in the 50s I have a great & abiding interest in all things BBQ & find this Rx to be worth trying – as for supper tonight, 9/11/18.
      QUESTION – It’s long been my “opinion” that beer, being a complex substance, brings a great deal of flavors to the foods to which it’s added. I have noticed, however, that the use of beer/wine is not suggested for use in the I/P. This is purposely done, I assume – for either reasons of incompatibility w/pressure cooking OR the author’s preference to avoid alcohol. Can you enlighten me, Good Sir?
      Thanks again!

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