Spare ribs can take hours to prepare, whether it’s in an oven or on the barbecue. They slowly heat up and become tender and soft with regular basting and watching over the spare ribs.
If it’s winter though, or the weather isn’t good, you don’t want to go outside with your barbecue. If it’s too hot in your house, you don’t want to turn on the oven. Luckily there’s a third solution: using a pressure cooker. We’ve explained the science of cooking under pressure before, but how does it work for spare ribs?
Where spare ribs come from
Where a cut of meat comes from determines how it is best prepared. Does it come from the shoulder, the legs or the belly? It will help you decide how to prepare it.
You should give some pieces just a quick sear or heat. Those are the muscles in the animal that haven’t had to work that hard during the life of the animal. Other pieces really become best by cooking them for a long period of time. These tends to be the muscles that worked hard during the life of the animal making them firmer.
Butchering a pig
So let’s look at where the spare ribs come from! As the name says, the spare ribs come from the ribs of the pig, it’s hard to explain this in words and definitely better to see it. This video below from Bon Appetit shows it wonderfully. The overall video is 20 minutes long and it definitely is worthwhile to watch it completely (but below it will start at the point. The butcher makes it look oh so easy to break down the pig, whereas it definitely isn’t as easy as it looks!
Preparing spare ribs in an Instant Pot
As you saw in the video, the spare ribs sit very close to the belly which will be turned into bacon. Even though bacon is full of fat, spare ribs have a very different composition and are mostly bones and more connective type tissue which needs time to break down.
That is why spare ribs generally need a few hours to cook. As we did when preparing them in the oven. The long cook helps to break down all the tougher parts of the spare ribs and will result in the meat falling off the bone when it’s done.
Using high pressures
But sometimes, you just don’t have the time to make spare ribs the conventional way, or you want to try something new. And that’s when pressure cooking comes in! When you cook food under higher pressures the boiling point of water goes up which means that you can cook under higher temperatures. Those higher temperatures greatly reduce the cooking time, we discuss why here.
How (long) to cook spare ribs in the Instant Pot
When you cook the spare ribs in a pressure cooker you will only need about 40 minutes to cook them through. You need to make sure the spare ribs are not all stacked on top of each other to ensure even heating. In a pressure cooker you can lay them on their sides or form a ‘tent’ of the spare ribs to ensure that they all get exposed to the heat evenly.
This is very different than an oven or a grill where the heat comes from the bottom and/or top. Instead, the whole space is evenly heated so you just need to make sure the heat can find the meat and you don’t have to worry about a bottom or top burning because it sticks out from the rest.
Spare ribs normally take hours to cook, but by pressure cooking them (e.g. in an InstantPot) you can greatly reduce the cooking time.
- 5 tbsp brown sugar
- 3 tbsp paprika powder
- 2 tbsp black pepper
- 1 tbsp mustard powder
- 1,5 tsp cayenne pepper
- 1 tbsp coriander powder
- 1,5 tsp nutmeg
- Half a spare rib (6 ribs)
- 100ml apple cider
- 400ml water
- Make the spice mix by blending the ingredients for the spice mix together.
- Coat the spare ribs with the spice mix, make sure to rub it all in. You will have some spice mix left over, it makes almost double what you need but this is simply the easiest way to measure out all the spices.
- Pour the apple cider vinegar and water in the InstantPot (or other pressure cooker). Make sure the moisture level isn’t too high, the meat should stay dry.
- Place the steaming rack in the InstantPot and put the meat on top of the rack.
- Put the InstantPot on high pressure cooking mode and cook for 40 minutes under pressure.
- Optional: for some extra flavour. Take the ribs from the pressure cooker and coat with a nice layer of barbecue sauce. Put under a grill for a couple of minutes until the barbecue sauce has caramelized nicely.
NPR, Do try this at home: hacking ribs, 2015, link
Serious Eats, Why Anything Slow Cookers Can Do, Others Can Do Better,
2016, link ; nice article on differences between slow cookers and pressure cookers, very interesting read if you want to understand better what happens during these longer cooking processes.