I temper my expectations when I read “contraption recipes,” the dishes involving slow cookers and Instant Pots, air fryers and the like. I am always ready to be disappointed at what is surely (in my mind) a substitution for the real, time-consuming version of that dish. I don’t like substitutions, much less short cuts—I don’t like feeling I’ve been tricked out of a better version of something. So reading the many recipes that I do, I kept seeing—and kept ignoring—Instant Pot ribs.
Yes, I’ve made my fair share of delicious Instant Pot meals (see cheesecake and pork chile verde). And true, this site’s Instant Pot Butter Chicken recipe is my favorite thing ever to pull out of the freezer for a solo dinner. But the Instant Pot army has pushed ribs to the level of “so good you’ll die,” and the hyperbole of that claim makes me skeptical.
Imagine my surprise when I caved in, made ribs in the Instant Pot over the weekend, and thought: Ugggh, these are really good. The meat was tender and juicy, albeit a pallid gray color. Never mind, slap some sauce on those ribs and throw them in the hot oven until the sugars caramelize. They turned gloriously glossy with meat you could slurp off like a cartoon dog eating a chicken leg.
I experimented with finishing the ribs two ways: Sauced and placed under the broiler; and sauced then grilled over wood fire. Yes, the grill-finished ribs tasted a little more like an authentic barbecue experience. Would I set up the grill, fire up the coals and wood chips just to finish ribs that I had cooked in 23 minutes? No. But you may feel differently.
To be clear, these will not satisfy the barbecue purists who insists ribs aren’t ribs unless they’re smoked in a 55-gallon drum with hickory logs from the Appalachian foothills. These are not barbecued ribs, nor do they pretend to be. The point of the Instant Pot is purely to achieve a fall-off-the-bone texture, and it does the job admirably, with tender, meaty, flavorful pork ribs in under 30 minutes. However you want to dress it up after that depends on how much effort you want to put in, and for me, glazed/broiled in the oven produces a satisfying result. The chance to eat flavorful and saucy baby backs at my dinner table on a weeknight, devoid of judgment, ranks high on my list.
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Instant Pot Baby Back Ribs
- 2 lbs. baby back ribs (1 large rack)
- 1 cup water
- Dry rub of your choice
- Barbecue sauce for brushing
Using a narrow knife, remove the thin white membrane from the underside of the ribs. This isn’t entirely necessary, but I think the ribs are more tender without it. Cut the rack into three pieces. Rub ribs all over with the dry rub of your choice.
Put the rack insert into the bottom of your Instant Pot, and pour in one cup of water. (You might want to experiment with water plus a splash of apple juice or beer, too.) Arrange the rib pieces around the outer edge of the rack so they are upright. You don’t want them laying on top of each other.
Attach the lid, and make sure the vent is set to “Sealing.” Pressure cook on high for 23 minutes. Allow to naturally release for five minutes, then carefully vent the rest of the steam.
Set your oven broiler to high. Place ribs on a foil-lined baking sheet. Brush your ribs with the sauce and broil, checking on them after five minutes. If you like a bit more of caramelization, let them go another minute or two. For better results, you can finish the ribs on a grill.