When I say "faux-smoked", I'm not referring to liquid smoke. I'm not even talking about smoked salt (like I used for Kalua pig). I came across a technique here on Civilized Caveman Creations using wood chips in your slow cooker and I had to try it.
The first step is to soak wood chips (I used mesquite) for 30 minutes, then fold them into a packet of parchment paper. I laid the drained wood chips in the center of a rectangle of parchment, folded it over itself, and then crimped the edges closed. Pierce it all over with a paring knife so that smoke can escape.
After removing the membrane and coating the ribs with a spice rub, I used a tip from Slow Cooker Revolution for crock potting ribs: curl them against the side of the slow cooker, meaty side touching the walls. I cooked the ribs for 8 hours, then brushed them with barbecue sauce and ran them under the broiler for a couple minutes.
The verdict? I loved the flavor and texture, plus they were so easy to make. However, it was not terribly smoky. I did get a nice hint of mesquite aroma, but it's certainly no substitute for a real smoker. The crock pot did not fill up with smoke or anything. It is definitely a fun trick and a nice easy way to make ribs; I've already done it twice (once with baby back, once with spare ribs) and I really liked it.
SLOW-COOKER FAUX-SMOKED RIBS
Servings variable; count on about a pound per person
- Baby back ribs, membrane removed (video demonstration)
- Spice rub of choice*
- 3 cups wood chips (I used mesquite)
- 1/2 cup of liquid to put in the bottom of the slow cooker (beer, cider, broth, or water)
- Barbecue sauce**
- Soak the wood chips for 30 minutes and drain well. Fold them up into a packet of parchment paper and place it in the bottom of your slow cooker. Pierce it all over with a paring knife. Pour the 1/2 cup liquid over it.
- Rub the ribs liberally with your spice rub and place them against the slow cooker as shown.
- Cook for 8-10 hours on low.
- When ready to serve, carefully remove the ribs with tongs and place them on a foil-lined baking sheet or broiler pan, meaty side up. Brush with barbecue sauce and broil for 2-3 minutes. If you want saucier ribs, you can repeat this step one or two more times, brushing with more barbecue sauce each time (I kept the sauce usage light to reduce overall sugar in the recipe).
- Cut into riblets with kitchen shears or a large heavy knife. Serve with extra BBQ sauce for dipping.
*I used this one from a local spice shop, about 1.25 oz for 2 lbs ribs. Penzeys also makes a good one, or you could make your own. There are lots of good rib rub recipes out there; this one has no sugar and looks pretty good, feel free to Google or shop around.
**Husband loves Kansas city style BBQ sauce with ribs, so I just made a regular high-sugar recipe and used it sparingly. I used this recipe with the following substitutions: 1 tsp onion powder instead of chopped onion, 1/2 tsp garlic powder instead of fresh, no butter since I'm not sauteeing anything (those subs are just because I'm lazy), unsweetened ketchup instead of the HFCS-laden kind. I also used Splenda brown sugar blend instead of brown sugar because it's what I had in the house; you could use sucanat, date sugar, or palm sugar instead. For a low-sugar BBQ sauce, do a mustard BBQ, vinegar BBQ, or a different tomato-based sauce recipe such as this one.