Instant Pot Ribs are SO GOOD! In about an hour, you get fall-off-the-bone ribs. Slather them with your favorite BBQ sauce or use my sweet-tangy recipe. This easy recipe is one you’ll use again and again.
So you want to make ribs in your Instant Pot? Excellent choice. In fact, years ago, after setting up my Instant Pot, ribs were the first thing I made.
Odd choice, right? Looking back, I think so too. It was, maybe, the second time I’d ever made ribs. Thanks to beginners’ luck—and my special barbecue sauce—they came out great.
Over time, I tweaked the recipe and, I have to say, you can make damn good ribs in the Instant Pot.
How to Make Instant Pot Ribs
- Buy Small Baby Back Ribs. Buy racks of ribs that are about three pounds each. If the ribs are too large, they’ll come out tough.
- Dry the Ribs. If the ribs are wet, the rib rub runs off. Pat the ribs dry with a paper towel.
- Remove the membrane if needed. Turn the ribs bone side up. See if there is a thin membrane covering the bones. It can be a bit hard to see. One easy way to check is to carefully slide the point of a paring knife between the white membrane and bones. Some ribs are prepared and this membrane has already been removed. If it hasn’t been removed, you’ll want to remove it. The membrane coving the back of the ribs can get tough during cooking. (more information on how to remove the membrane from ribs below.)
- Rub them. Using a rib rub is key since we don’t have the benefit of smoke when making ribs in a pressure cooker. A simple blend, including smoked paprika, makes the ribs nice and flavorful.
- Make a simple barbeque sauce. (optional) A homemade barbeque sauce adds another layer of flavor to the ribs and only takes 20 minutes to make. If you want to skip this step, go ahead and use a bbq sauce you love.
- Allow a natural release. You can make ribs in the Instant Pot in under an hour but you don’t want to rush the process. After the cooking time completes, allow the pressure to release naturally from the pressure cooker. This ensures tender ribs. If you rush this step, the ribs could turn out tough.
- Sauce ‘Em and Broil. Remove the ribs from the Instant Pot and slather them with bbq sauce. You can serve them right away or you can pop them under the broiler for a few minutes. Broiling them browns the sauces and adds a nice pop of flavor.
Instant Pot Ribs: Step by Step
Buying the Ribs
It’s important to select small baby back ribs for this recipe. If the ribs are too large or too thick, the cooking time won’t be sufficient and the ribs will turn out tough. Buy racks weighing about three pounds each. You’ll need to cut the slab in half before loading it into the Instant Pot.
Prepping the Ribs
When you get the ribs home, take them out of the package and dry them with a paper towel.
After drying, place the ribs bone side up on your cutting board. There might be a thin membrane covering the ribs. If there is, you’ll want to remove it because the membrane can get tough during cooking. It’s easy to remove but, the first time you do you, it might take a minute or two.
Carefully slide the tip of a paring knife between the membrane and the meat. Wiggle it a little to loosen. If this seems impossible, the membrane of your ribs was probably removed prior to purchase.
Remove the knife. Then, slide your fingers under the membrane. It will be very slippery. A paper towel can help you to grip the membrane. Pull the membrane away from the ribs. It usually comes off in one sheet. If it tears, no problem. Just repeat as needed.
Make a Rib Rub
Once you’ve removed the membrane from the ribs, make a simple rib rub. If you have the time, rub the ribs the night before you plan to cook them. I like a spice mix that contains a little brown sugar (not too much because I don’t like syrupy-sweet ribs), smoked paprika, and a little onion and garlic powder. This mixture adds a good amount of flavor to the ribs, which we need because pressure cooked ribs don’t have the added smokey flavor that barbecued ribs do.
Sprinkle the spice rub evenly on both sides of the ribs. Try to put a little more rub on the meaty side than the boney side.
Rub the mixture into the ribs. Cover the pan with foil and chill for four hours or up to 24.
Make the Sauce: Optional
Let me say this: you can totally use your favorite brand of barbecue sauce in this recipe. But since ribs are a special occasion meal, I like to make my own for a simple reason: I like how it tastes. There’s just something about the combo of sauteed onions, ketchup, molasses, and a little apple cider vinegar that I adore. My not-to-sweet barbecue sauce takes about 20 minutes to make. And most of that is unattended cooking time.
Cook in the Instant Pot
Add an equal mixture of BBQ sauce and water to the pressure cooker insert. Whisk to combine.
Place the ribs into the Instant Pot, meat side out. I like to cut my racks into two pieces. This makes it easier to place it into the pot.
For racks that are three pounds each, select an 18-minute manual cooking time. The pot takes about 18 minutes to reach pressure and about 25 minutes to release the pressure. All told, these ribs take about an hour to make.
After the cooking time completes, it’s important to allow the pot to release pressure on its own. When the cooking cycle ends, don’t do a thing. Just let the pot sit there. In about 25 minutes, the pin should drop. Don’t rush or force this processes. The ribs continue to cook during the “natural pressure release”. If you rush this and do a quick release of the pressure by turning the valve, the ribs can turn out tough.
Take a fork and gently test the ribs for doneness. The meat should feel tender.
What do you do if Instant Pot ribs are tough?
This recipe was designed for small baby back ribs. But sometimes even baby back ribs have more meat on them than others. If they’re on the large side or thick, they might come out of the pressure cooker tough.
First, don’t panic. They simply need more time to cook. (It’s a good idea to start your ribs way before you want to serve them. It’s fine it they rest a bit before serving.)
For tough ribs, place the lid back on the pot. If they seem almost tender but not quite done, program the cooking cycle for 5 minutes. And, again, allow for a natural release.
For ribs that are very tough, program the cooking cycle for 10-12 minutes. When the cooking cycle completes, allow the pressure cooker to release pressure naturally.
Broiling the Ribs
Remove the ribs from the pressure cooker and place onto a foil-lined baking sheet. (The foil makes clean-up easy.) Brush on a generous amount of barbecue sauce and broil the ribs until the sauce bubbles, about five minutes.
Broiling them heats up the sauce and allows it to brown–giving the ribs more flavor.
If you don’t feel like broiling the ribs, that’s fine. While this step does add flavor, it’s not critical. The ribs are cooked and ready to serve. You can brush them with sauce and serve. Done!
Instant Pot Ribs
- 2 racks baby back ribs (three pounds each)
- 2 tablespoons light brown sugar
- 1 ½ tablespoons smoked paprika
- 2 teaspoons onion powder
- 2 teaspoons garlic powder
- 2 teaspoons salt
- ½ cup BBQ sauce recipe below
- ½ cup water
- 2 teaspoons olive oil
- 1 small onion, finely diced
- 2 cloves garlic, minced
- 1 cup ketchup
- ½ cup water
- ¼ cup molasses
- 3 tablespoons cider vinegar
- 1 tablespoon light brown sugar optional
Whisk together the brown sugar, smoked paprika, onion powder, garlic powder, and salt. Set aside.
Pat ribs with a paper towel to dry.
Remove membrane from ribs. Place ribs, bone side up, on a large cutting board. Slide the point of a paring knife between the thin, white membrane and the rib. Lift.
Once enough of the membrane has come away from the rib, remove the knife. Grasp the membrane with your hand and pull away from the rib. Usually, it comes off in one large piece. If it tears, repeat, as needed to remove all the membrane.
Cut ribs in half. This makes it easier to fit them into the pressure cooker. Slide a sharp knife between two bones. Cut the meat with a sharp knife to separate ribs.
Turn ribs over. Rub ¼ of the prepared rib rub into the ribs. Turn over. Repeat. Do this for each rack of ribs.
Place on a baking sheet. Cover sheet with foil. Chill for 8 to 24 hours.
Add ½ cup BBQ sauce into the insert (cooking pot) of an electric pressure cooker. Whisk in a half cup of water.
Place the ribs, meat side out, into the pressure cooker.
Close lid. Set to sealing position. Select an 18 minute cook time. Once the cooking cycle ends, allow the pressure to release naturally. This takes about 20-22 minutes. When pin drops, turn the valve to the “release” position. Remove lid.
Place ribs on a baking sheet. Brush with reserved sauce. Broil on high until bubbling, about five minutes.
Serve with remaining sauce.
For the BBQ Sauce
Whisk together the ketchup, water, molasses, and cider vinegar until smooth.
In a small saucepan, heat the oil. Cook onions, stirring frequently, until soft. Add garlic. Cook for an additional minute. Add the sauce. Stir to combine. Reduce heat to low. Cook for 20 minutes, stirring frequently to prevent sauce from burning. Taste sauce. Add brown sugar, if desired. Adjust with salt and freshly ground black pepper, if needed.