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Instant Pot Baby Back Ribs (Plus Slow Cooker Directions)

instant-pot-baby-back-ribs-(plus-slow-cooker-directions)

If you’re craving BBQ ribs but don’t have all day to tend the grill, don’t fret. These Instant Pot Baby Back Ribs are super easy and come out tender and juicy every time. And the best part is that they’re ready in under an hour and can either be finished off under the broiler or on the grill so no matter the weather you can enjoy the flavor of slow-cooked ribs any day of the year. If you don’t have an Instant Pot, you can also follow our directions for Slow Cooker Baby Back Ribs.

Instant pot baby back ribs with bbq sauce plated on white plate with sweet kale salad on side.

This post was originally published on July 10th, 2017. Updated on December 1st, 2020 to include slow cooker directions as well. Also updated July 22, 2022.

You get that “Cooked-all-day” flavor without the fuss

Even if you don’t have a grill, you can get the slow-cooked taste of barbeque baby back ribs thanks to the Instant Pot. Using a simple homemade spice rub and your favorite barbecue sauce, you can make ribs that taste like you’ve tended them all day on the grill in under an hour. That’s the magic of Instant Pot Ribs!

We’ve taken an otherwise intimidating recipe and made it super simple. Now anyone can make tender, juicy, fall-off-the-bone barbecue ribs without fuss.

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Are baby back ribs pork or beef?

People often wonder if baby back ribs are pork or beef. It’s a fair question, since people do eat both pork ribs and beef ribs. However, baby back ribs always refer to pork ribs. Here are the five types of pork and beef ribs you can buy:

  • pork back ribs (also known as baby back ribs) – tend to be shorter bones and leaner meat, but from the upper part of the rib cage
  • pork spare ribs – cut from the lower section of the ribs and tend to be fattier ribs with juicier meat; also called St. Louis style ribs
  • country style pork ribs – pork rib chops cut from the front end of the loin
  • beef back ribs – cut from the upper part of the ribs, tend to have little meat
  • beef short ribs – come from the lower part of the rib cage and tend to be a lot meatier than beef back ribs

what are baby back ribs?

This popular type of ribs was made even more popular by the catchy Chili’s commercial jingle that goes “I want my baby back, baby back, baby back ribs.” Yet still, many people still wonder: “What are baby back ribs?” Are they from a baby pig? Are they smaller? What’s the story behind the name of baby back ribs?

You will hear baby back ribs also referred to as pork back ribs, and they are cut from the back of a hog. They’re called “baby” ribs because they’re shorter than pork spare ribs, which are cut from the lower part of the ribs.  The reason ribs are typically cooked for a long time is because you need either time or moist heat (or both) to help the membrane and connective tissue separate from the bone. Our method for Instant Pot Pork Ribs, however, doesn’t take more than an hour. It uses moist heat (which is created inside the Instant Pot) in lieu of a long cooking time.

Ingredients To Make Instant Pot Baby Back Ribs

Here’s what you need to make pork Instant Pot baby back ribs today:

  • Pork ribs – choose pork baby back ribs or St. Louis style ribs
  • Broth or water – using beef broth or chicken broth will infuse the ribs with a little extra flavor, but if you don’t have any on hand, water also works great
  • BBQ sauce – Use your favorite bottled barbecue sauce or make your own. For a Whole30-friendly option try Primal Kitchen’s Classic BBQ Sauce.

ingredients For the Spice Rub

See the recipe card below for the ingredient amounts. Here’s what you need to make our quick and delicious spice rub for our ribs in Instant Pot:

  • Chili powder 
  • Garlic powder
  • Onion powder
  • Ground cumin
  • Smoked paprika
  • Salt and pepper

Many spice rub recipes call for brown sugar, apple juice, apple cider vinegar, or liquid smoke. But our homemade spice rub is full on flavor and brings out the best quality in the ribs without any added sugar or extra pungent ingredients. Also, feel free to use your favorite pre-made rub, if desired. For extra heat, add a dash of cayenne pepper to your spice mix.

Tip!

Our Go-To for Quality Spices

For the best price on quality spices and other pantry ingredients, our team at The Real Food Dietitians loves to shop Thrive Market. New members get a free gift valued at $24 or more, plus frequent discounts.

How to Cook Baby Back Ribs in the Instant Pot

If you’re wondering how to cook baby back ribs in the Instant Pot, here are the steps to get you there:

  • Start with the best-quality pork baby back ribs you can find: Delicious Instant Pot BBQ ribs starts with getting your hands on some great quality pork ribs. You’ll need a 2- to 2½-pound rack of ribs to feed 4 people. If you have any more than 3 pounds of ribs, then you won’t be able to fit them into a 6-quart Instant Pot and still close the lid. Our go-to for high-quality, heritage breed pork is ButcherBox. They seriously have the BEST baby back ribs! 
  • Prepare the ribs: Grip one end of the rack and use a sharp knife to cut the rack of ribs into 3 equal-ish sections and pat dry with a paper towel. Sprinkle each section with the spice dry rub, focusing more on the meaty front side of the rack than the backside. Now give each section a good rub. At this point, you can wrap them up and return them to the fridge if you’re just ‘prepping ahead’ then cook them at a later point. This can be done up to 2 days in advance.
  • Set the Instant Pot: Place the wire rack into the Instant Pot insert then add 1 cup of water or broth (chicken or beef broth both work great) to the pot. Select the ‘Saute’ function. This will essentially pre-heat the Instant Pot and decrease the amount of time it takes to get up to full pressure.
  • Add the seasoned ribs: Now creatively arrange the 3 sections of ribs in a teepee or pyramid formation so that they’re not lying on top of one another. Standing them rather than stacking means they cook faster and more evenly.
  • How to cook baby back ribs in the Instant Pot: Use the Instant Pot lid to press the ribs down gently if needed then lock the lid in place. Flip the pressure valve to the ‘sealing’ position. Select ‘Manual’ for 30 minutes. While the ribs cook, prepare the BBQ sauce if you’re making it from scratch, or grab a bottle of your favorite pre-made barbecue sauce. When the cooking time is up, use the ‘quick release’ method (not the natural release method) to release the pressure then remove the lid when safe to do so.
  • Finish the ribs: Remove ribs to a rimmed baking sheet and set the oven to broil. Generously mop the ribs with barbecue sauce (on both sides – this isn’t the time to be stingy with the sauce). When the broiler is hot, place the ribs under the broiler with the oven door slightly ajar. Broil ribs for 3-4 minutes or until sauce is hot and bubbly and starting to caramelize. Remove the ribs from the oven and serve with your favorite side dishes.

Can I Make Baby Back Ribs in the Slow Cooker?

Absolutely! If you don’t have an Instant Pot, these baby back pork ribs can be made in the slow cooker. You’ll just need to make a few adjustments, namely the amount of liquid and the cooking time. Slow cookers require less cooking liquid so you’ll want to reduce the water or broth to ½ cup. Plan to cook your ribs for about 8 hours on low or 4 hours on high or until tender. Scroll down to the “Notes” section of the recipe card below to see our directions for cooking baby back ribs in the crockpot.

How long to cook baby back ribs in the instant pot

Wondering how many minutes you need to set your Instant Pot to get perfectly tender and delicious fall-off bone baby back ribs?

The total cooking time in the Instant Pot is 30 minutes. You’ll also want to factor in the several minutes (usually 5 to 10) that it will take for the Instant Pot pressure cooker to build up steam before the 30-minute timer starts. Also, we recommend finishing these ribs for a few minutes under the Broiler or on the Grill. That’s how you get that sticky finger-licking flavor and texture that you’d get if these ribs were smoked for hours. So, the total cook time is 40 to 45 minutes when you factor in the pressure build and the finishing.

Can I Finish the Ribs on the Grill instead of the Broiler?

Yes, you can! In fact, finishing baby back ribs on the grill is a great option when you don’t want to heat up the oven, if the oven is already in use, or if you want to add an extra smoky flavor to them. We love to finish these Instant Pot pork ribs on our Traeger wood-fired pellet grill. Using a smoker grill, like the Traeger, makes these ribs taste like you’ve been tending the grill all day. And honestly, if you didn’t tell anyone that you didn’t, no one would ever know.

Can This Instant Pot Pork Ribs Recipe be made ahead?

Yes. You can make the ribs up to 2 days in advance by cooking them in the Instant Pot. Then, store them in a covered container in the fridge until you’re ready to finish them off by adding the sauce and broiling or grilling to reheat them.

For the ultimate reheat and eat convenience, prepare the ribs as directed. Then, cut the ribs into individual ribs before storing the fridge. Baby back ribs can be reheated in the microwave or toaster oven for a quick and easy meal.

Our Go-To Method for Cooking Ribs Ahead of Time and Reheating Baby Back Ribs

  1. Cook and cool the ribs (without saucing them) following the directions in the recipe card below. Let the ribs cool slightly, then refrigerate them for up to 3 days.
  2. To reheat, place the ribs in roasting pan or large baking dish, overlapping them as needed. Add a little broth to the bottom of the pan and cover with a lid or foil.
  3. Place the ribs in an oven preheated to 350 degrees. Bake until heated through (about 45 minutes), adding more liquid as needed to keep the pan from boiling dry.
  4. Transfer the ribs to a large baking sheet. Brush with sauce and either broil or grill them until the sauce starts to caramelize.

What to serve with Baby Back Ribs

These bone tender ribs are delicious and appropriate any time of the year. We think they make a wonderful holiday meal and are just perfect for a backyard BBQ or picnic. Serve them along side corn on the cob, a fresh green salad, a quinoa dish, or roasted sweet potatoes.

Perfect Sides for Baby Back Ribs

See All Sides

The side dish recipe shown in the photos with these Instant Pot Baby Back Ribs is our DIY Sweet Kale Salad. We highly suggest this salad as a wonderful pairing with the ribs.

Instant pot baby back ribs with bbq sauce plated on white plate with sweet kale salad on side.

Recipe

Instant Pot Baby Back Ribs

Love the taste of BBQ baby back ribs but don’t love how long it takes to cook them? This simple recipe for baby back ribs made in the Instant Pot takes less than one hour (start to finish), making it easy to enjoy delicious ribs when time is not on your side. 

Prep: 10 minsCook: 40 minsTotal: 50 mins

Ingredients

  • 2– to 2½- lb. rack of baby back ribs, cut into 3 equal sections
  • 1 cup water or broth
  • BBQ sauce of choice*

For the Spice Rub:

  • 1 teaspoon garlic powder
  • ½ teaspoon chili powder
  • ½ teaspoon onion powder
  • ½ teaspoon smoked paprika
  • ½ teaspoon sea salt
  • ¼ teaspoon ground cumin
  • ¼ teaspoon black pepper

Instructions

Instant Pot Directions:

  1. Combine the ingredients for the spice rub; set aside.
  2. Cut the rack of ribs into 3 equal sections, then pat the ribs dry with paper towels. Rub and press the spice rub generously over each section of the ribs, pressing the spices into the ribs.
  3. Place the metal rack into the bottom of the Instant Pot. Add the broth or water to the Instant Pot.
  4. Place the ribs on the rack and arrange the ribs into a pyramid by standing each section up on its end and leaning them against one another.
  5. Place the lid on the Instant Pot and lock it into place. Flip the valve to the ‘Sealing’ position.
  6. Select the high-pressure setting and set the cooking time to 30 minutes. It will take several minutes for the Instant Pot to build up pressure before the 30-minute timer starts. 
  7. As soon as the cooking time is up, immediately release the pressure by flipping the valve to the ‘Venting’ position.
  8. Preheat the broiler to medium-high heat. Remove the ribs from Instant Pot and place them on a rimmed baking sheet (line the baking sheet with foil for easy clean up).
  9. Brush the ribs with barbecue sauce on both sides. See the Notes section below for finishing the ribs on the grill instead of under the broiler. 
  10. Broil for 3-5 minutes or until the sauce is bubbly and slightly caramelized.
  11. Cut into individual ribs for serving.

Slow Cooker Directions:

  1. Combine the ingredients for the spice rub.
  2. Cut the rack of ribs into 2 or 3 equal sections (whatever you need to do to get them to fit into your slow cooker) then rub each section with the spice rub.
  3. Place the ribs in the bottom of a slow cooker with ½ cup of water.
  4. Cover and cook on LOW for 8 hours (or HIGH for 8 hours) or until tender, then proceed with the saucing, broiling, or grilling as indicated next.
  5. Remove the ribs from the slow cooker and place them on a rimmed baking sheet (line the baking sheet with foil for easy clean up).
  6. Preheat the broiler to medium-high heat. Brush the ribs with barbecue sauce on both sides.
  7. Broil for 3-5 minutes or until the sauce is bubbly and slightly caramelized. Alternatively, you can finish the ribs by placing them on a hot grill until the sauce is slightly caramelized. 
  8. Cut into individual ribs for serving.

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Notes

*Try Primal Kitchen Classic BBQ Sauce for a no-added-sugar, Whole30-friendly BBQ Sauce option

To finish the ribs on the grill, preheat the grill to low-medium and place them directly on the rack over indirect heat and cook for 10-15 minutes or until the sauce ‘tightens’ and becomes thick and sticky.

If using a Traeger Grill, preheat the grill to 185℉ using your favorite pellets (we love the hickory, mesquite, or Traeger Signature Blend pellets for ribs). Place the ribs directly on the grill grates and cook for 10-15 minutes or until the sauce tightens.

Nutrition Information

  • Serving Size: 1/4th recipe
  • Calories: 514
  • Fat: 26 g
  • (Sat Fat: 17 g)
  • Sodium: 563 mg
  • Carbohydrate: 17 g
  • (Fiber: 0 g
  • Sugar: 2 g)
  • Protein: 30 g

Dietary

© The Real Food Dietitians

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Close up view juicy bbq sauce covered instant pot baby back ribs on plate with kale salad on side.

Photo Credit: The photos in this blog post were taken by Jess of Plays Well with Butter

For ultimate success, we highly recommend reading the tips in the full blog post above. All photos and content are copyright protected. Please do not use our photos without prior written permission. If you wish to republish this recipe, please rewrite the recipe in your own unique words. Link back to the source recipe here on The Real Food Dietitians. Thank you!

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