Do Try This At Home: Hacking Ribs — In The Pressure Cooker

Jun 28, 2015
Originally published on July 13, 2015 12:01 pm

This summer, NPR is getting crafty in the kitchen. As part of Weekend Edition's Do Try This At Home series, chefs are sharing their cleverest hacks and tips — taking expensive, exhausting or intimidating recipes and tweaking them to work in any home kitchen.

This week: Making delicious, fall-off-the-bone baby back ribs in only about an hour — with a surprising piece of kitchen equipment.

The Chef

Shirlé Koslowski lives in a funky Baltimore rowhouse that bears witness to her other career as the bassist in a succession of indie bands. (You can see her rocking out with Free Electric State here.) But she's also the owner of Four Corners Cuisine, a personal chef and catering service. And that means she has to make tasty food, fast.

The Hard Way

Normally, ribs have to cook for three or four hours, low and slow in the oven or on the grill (or both, depending on how elaborate your recipe is). Whichever method you go with, it's a long, hot, tiring process.

The Hack

"I am going to show you guys how to make barbecued [ribs] in about 30 to 45 minutes in a pressure cooker," Koslowski says. "And it tastes exactly like you would have done in the oven, low and slow, you know."

Let's be clear: We're not talking a Crock-Pot, we're talking about a pressure cooker. You can use a basic stovetop model, but Koslowski has a fancy electric one that looks like it might be related to R2-D2.

You need a rack of baby back ribs, some barbecue seasoning, half a cup of any kind of liquid — water or stock — and some barbecue sauce. You can use any kind of barbecue seasoning and sauce you like, though Koslowski makes her own. You'll also need a baking sheet, some tin foil, tongs and a pastry brush. And, of course, you'll need a pressure cooker.

1. Chop the rack of ribs into four pieces and rub them with your seasoning. Pat it down into into every little nook and cranny.

2. Place the ribs in the pressure cooker, arranged in a fan or teepee shape so that they'll fit and steam equally.

3. Add 1/2 cup of water or stock (Koslowski uses homemade pork stock, but you can also use beef broth) and 1/2 tablepoon liquid smoke to give the meat a proper barbecued flavor.

4. Lock the lid down and set the cooking time to 30 minutes. (If you're using a stovetop pressure cooker, follow the manufacturer's directions).

5. While the ribs are cooking, make the barbecue sauce — or if you're using bottled sauce, kick back and have a beer.

6. Preheat the oven to 450 degrees.

7. When the 30 minutes are up, release the pressure on your cooker, unlock the lid and use the tongs to arrange the ribs on the foil-lined baking sheet.

8. Brush the ribs with the sauce and bake for 8-10 minutes on each side, turning once, until the sauce is burnt and sticky.

The Plate

Koslowski says these ribs would go well with a homemade potato salad. "Little new potatoes," she says, "cut them in half, roast them up with herbs on them, like thyme, maybe some sage, salt and pepper, oil." A little mayonnaise, some diced fresh vegetables and parsley, "I think that sounds really good to me," she says.

And the most important thing: No matter how good the ribs look, wait five minutes after you take them out of the oven before sampling the results, so you don't burn your mouth!

The Recipes

This technique will work with just about any combination of flavors (as long as you remember that crucial half-cup of liquid in the pressure cooker), but here's Koslowski's version:

For the ribs

One rack of baby back ribs, three to four pounds
1/2 cup beef broth (or other liquid)
1/2 tablespoon liquid smoke — Koslowski prefers mesquite flavor
Barbecue seasoning to rub on the ribs before cooking

For the sauce

1/2 cup chopped onion
3 tablespoons water
olive or canola oil
3 cups ketchup
1/2 cup brown sugar
4 cloves garlic, minced
2 tablespoons apple cider vinegar
1 tablespoons tomato paste
1 tablespoons Worcestershire sauce
1 tablespoons smoked paprika
1 teaspoon dry mustard
1/2 teaspoon cayenne (optional)
1 teaspoon ground pepper

Blend onion and water into a puree. Heat a three-quart sauce pan over medium heat. Add oil to coat pan.

When the pan is hot, add the onion puree. Reduce heat to medium low and simmer until the onion is golden and the water is almost gone.

Add the rest of the ingredients. Stir and cook for about 20 minutes until thick. Remove from heat to cool.

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Barbecued ribs sound like they make for a delicious summer meal. You get a plate full of tender slow-cooked meat falling off the bone. But it will take you hours and hours of hot, sticky cooking on a steamy summer day. If that sounds a bit much right now, we've got you covered. In this week's installment of Do Try This At Home, NPR's Petra Mayer visits a chef who'll show you how to cook mouth-watering ribs in your air-conditioned kitchen in just about an hour.

PETRA MAYER, BYLINE: Shirle Koslowski lives in a funky Baltimore row house that bears witness to her other career is the bassist in a succession of indie bands. But, she is also the owner of Four Corners Cuisine, a personal chef and catering company, and that means she has to make tasty food fast. Normally, ribs take about three or four hours so...

SHIRLE KOSLOWSKI: I am going to show you guys how to make barbecued spare ribs in about 30 to 45 minutes in a pressure cooker. And it tastes exactly like you would've done in the oven, slow - low and slow, you know.

MAYER: Let's be clear, we're not talking about a Crock-Pot; we're talking about a pressure cooker. You can use a basic stovetop model, but Shirle has a fancy electric one.

KOSLOWSKI: Which is kick-ass. It's really, really awesome because you just, basically, set a time on it and just let it go. And it does everything.


MAYER: Knife properly sharp, Shirle chops a rack of baby back ribs into four chunks and rubs them with a spice mix.

KOSLOWSKI: I sprinkle this with a little bit of barbecue seasoning and you can just kind of pat it.

MAYER: You can use anything, really. Shirle makes her own spice mix with smoked paprika, and it smells amazing. The ribs go into the cooker, layered in a kind of teepee shape, along with half a cup of any kind of liquid. There has to be at least half a cup to make the steam. Shirle uses her homemade pork stock, a little bit of water and - this is important - some liquid smoke to give the meat that proper barbecue taste.

KOSLOWSKI: This one here is hickory. Mesquite is probably my favorite, but I think I've run out.

MAYER: And it's time to fire up the cooker.

KOSLOWSKI: All you do is you hit close on here, and then you are going to set the time for 30 minutes. So you hit cook, and you just start beeping it up to 30. And you don't touch it until it beeps that it's done.

MAYER: So here's the thing. Normally, on cooking shows, the chef makes two of whatever it is - one to demonstrate the preparation and one that's already magically complete, so you don't have to wait. But since these ribs are so quick, we're going to show you the whole process start to finish. And while we wait 30 whole minutes...

KOSLOWSKI: We can make our barbecue sauce.

MAYER: Because when you're having ribs, two things are essential - barbecue sauce and some cold beers. We're practicing safe sauce, here, so the beer has to wait a little while Shirle chops and measures and whisks - onions and garlic, brown sugar and ketchup, vinegar and cayenne pepper.

KOSLOWSKI: All right.

MAYER: Anything that strikes your taste buds can go in the sauce pan.

KOSLOWSKI: So, we're going to stir all these spices together, and then we're just going to let this simmer until our ribs are done. We have about 20 minutes on our ribs, so that didn't take long to make that sauce. So, while it's just sitting there, you want to try some really awesome beer? (Laughter).

MAYER: Yes, I want to try some really awesome beer.

Some of Shirle's Baltimore friends have just started a brewery, and they have supplied us with a stash of seriously tasty beer.


MAYER: Cheers.

KOSLOWSKI: (Laughter).

MAYER: Don't worry, dear listeners, we're not overindulging because it's time to get back to business. The timer on the pressure cooker has reached zero.


KOSLOWSKI: Yay, it's done. All right, let's take a look. Ta-da. That is fall-off-the-bone crazy good.

MAYER: The ribs smell fantastic, but they don't look quite right yet. So there's just one more step. Shirle brushes them with the sauce we just made and pops them in the oven for 15 minutes to get that nice, sticky barbecue crust. And then...

KOSLOWSKI: So, you can see these are just like pulling off, off of the bone. Let's try this end here. They are sweet - little kick.

MAYER: Oh, my God. That is really good.

KOSLOWSKI: (Laughter).

MAYER: The ribs truly do taste like they've been cooking all day, but it was only about an hour. Petra Mayer, NPR News. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.