Thursday, May 5, 2011

Dry-Rubbed Espresso Chili Slow Cooker Ribs

Ribs have always seemed like something too risky too try.  I don't have a grill (no, the Foreman does NOT count and is a royal pain in the ass to clean, despite it's "dishwasher safe" claims--you can put it in there, but will it actually come out clean?  Not a chance.).  And I've always thought that if I can't do them right, meaning smoking and grilling, why bother.  Well, I am here to today to tell you that you SHOULD bother.

Why?  Making ribs isn't some complex alchemy easily botched by the uninitiated.  While I am positive that sought-after smoked BBQ ribs is definitely worth the meal out on the town or local BBQ joint (my favorite cheat meal, btw), that still doesn't make it impractical or taboo to try them on your own at home. They can provide a delicious respite to your burger-chicken-roast monotony.  Even my first time making ribs, they were a HUGE success and they were immediately devoured. So go ahead and try making your own fall-off-the-bone, juicy ribs!

The simplicity of this recipe and room for your own touch makes these ribs an easy choice when you want to spice up your weekday meat and have a hearty meal with little to no work at all.  The elements are super simple: ground coffee/espresso, spices of your choosing, ribs, onions and mushrooms easily sliced in a food processor, a crock pot / slow cooker, and fuss-free time.  The spices are completely up to you, but the espresso/chili combo gave a hint of tomato (without any in there--must be the chili and basil), a touch of spicy, and a smokey, savory deliciousness not easily described or forgotten.  Yum!  It made the whole house smell amazing!  

In the future, I'd try the BEST coffee in the world: Verve Coffee for the espresso (and maybe double the amount for the flavor) and maybe add a little cayenne for more kick.  Play around with your own spice combinations and let me know what you like, but I would keep the salt for bringing out the flavor of the dish and because salt isn't all that bad for you, contrary to what we had all thought.  For more on that, read: The (Political) Science of Salt by Gary Taubes and a Journal of the American Medical Association article published this month finding no increased risk of hypertension or cardiovascular disease (CVD) with salt intake and, if anything, lower sodium intake might lead to higher CVD risk!    

The ribs were from our half a pig we took home from our Pig Butchery class earlier this year taught by the Pig Wizard, Jonathan Roberts.  The meat froze well and was absolutely delicious.  There was no off smell when it was raw or discoloration--just bright pink/red meat and shiny bones.  The class was a great way to connect more with your food and understand the process of butchery, which is a SERIOUSLY big deal right now given the frankenmeats appearing in the meat counters of supermarkets.  Here is a disturbing article by Dr. Mercola on the health risks posed by "meat glue" commonly used to combine scraps into seemingly legit cuts of meat.  Terrifying.  This only reinforces my desire to know my meat.  

I try to single source as much as possible from farmers I can trust.  I use Morris Grassfed for my grass-fed beef and this pig came from a Mennonite community who supposedly grain fed it (not ideal) but probably cared for it better than a pig factory, so I'll take it.  I am still looking for local, pastured pigs.  They are harder to find...  I get my eggs from Live Earth Farm at the farmer's market and the chickens I eat are Smart Chickens from New Leaf (my small, local, green-minded supermarket chain--what Whole Foods should have been), which isn't ideal, but at least is better than most supermarket chicken.  Have you ever had a Costco rotisserie chicken?  It almost made me sick because it was so fatty and definitely of lesser quality than the chickens I am used to buying at New Leaf.  It didn't taste right, look right, or sit right with me to have supported that industry.  I still feel bad.  

If you are interested in the whole, sustainable meat argument, check out this recent article by Robb Wolf laying the smack down on Fox News for a stupid piece they ran supposedly "Busting the Myth" on why grass-fed beef is better for you and the environment.  Duh. 

So, without further ado, here is a recipe in celebration of this amazing pig who has been providing us with a ton of delicious, hearty, satisfying meals.  I am filled with gratitude :)

Dry-Rubbed Espresso Chili Slow Cooker Ribs
Fall-off-the-bone tender, juicy ribs packed with a spicy, savory flavor that lingers in the mushroom and caramelized onion side you can pile up on your favorite burger or chicken breast long after the ribs have been devoured. 
Prep Time: 10min or less
Cooking Time: 8 fuss-free hours on Low in the slow cooker

  • full slab of pork ribs (I am sure beef would work fine too, but make sure you can cram them in your slow cooker)
  • onions (I used 1.5 reds and 1 huge white one)
  • mushrooms (I used two pre-sliced packages--the more, the merrier)
  • the spices*: 
    • 1T ground espresso
    • 1T basil
    • 1T chili powder
    • 1T garlic powder
    • 1/2 T kosher salt
    • 1/2 T / 15 grinds or so of black pepper
*NOTE: any of these spices can be mixed and matched with any of your favorites--try whatever you like best!  


This is so easy, it's hardly a recipe: 

Food process your mushrooms and onions into slices (or slice by hand or buy pre-sliced) and add all of the onions and half of the mushrooms to the slow cooker pot.  Combine the spices and rub them all over both sides and into every nook and cranny of the ribs.  Add ribs on top of the bed of mushrooms and onions. Add the remaining mushrooms on top of the ribs.  Lid, set to Low, and forget-about-it for 8hrs.  Come home or wake up to a house that smells almost as delicious as your meal will be!  The ribs should be fall-off-the-bone tender.  Serve them with the mushrooms and onions (UPDATED 5/9/11: you can strain those from the meaty broth or leave in), if desired, or save those for kicking your chicken breast or burgers up to a whole 'nother level.  You can also add another veg like Broiled Bacon Fat-Smeared Broccolini for a mouthwateringly delicious celebration of pork!


  1. I made these today, and was wondering, do you get a whole lot of juice? I did, and the onions and mushrooms are swimming in it. Did I do something wrong? I've never really used the slow cooker before. I removed the meat and most of the broth, hoping the onions and mushrooms would caramelize, as you said yours did, but I'm a little worried.

  2. Hi Sarah,
    Thanks for the feedback and yes, I had plenty of juice too. I used it as a delicious broth and just separated out the onions and mushrooms for other uses. Slow cooking meat and veggies leaves liquid in the bottom because there is no evaporation, but that is a good thing and keeps your meat moist. Were your ribs tender? I hope they were delicious!
    Best wishes,

  3. Yeah, they were pretty good. My daughter kept asking for more "chicken" with the bones. I knew there would be juice, since the onions and mushrooms had to let it out, I just wasn't prepared for how much there was. I actually used 2 racks of ribs (family of 5), had to cut them in half to fit in the pot. We all liked the spices, though I have to say I don't have a good opinion of dried basil. I think it tastes like nothing. I may try it with oregano next time, which would make it more "Mexican" tasting, with the chili powder and coffee. And maybe some coriander.

    So this is the first time I've ever made ribs, and only the 2nd or third that I've made any sort of meat in the slow cooker, so I'd call it a success! We had cole slaw on the side, and strawberries after.

  4. Do you add any juice before you start cooking. In the past I have added beef broth or some water and beef bullion or even red wine or balsamic vinegar.

  5. Nope, no extra liquid is needed. The vegetables add plenty, leaving a nice broth in the end (1-2 bowlfuls for me). Hope you enjoy them!
    Best wishes,

  6. Two questions about this Yum looking meal... can you give me another method or time in the oven... b/c I dont have a crock pot anymore, and I have not been able to get a pressure cooker yet. What oven time do you think will work to slow cook em?
    And.. can I sub anything for the mushrooms?Im not a fan.. but I want it to be moist not dry... and I realize the mushrooms are giving that some moisture! Otherwise, Im dying to try this! :O) Thanks!

  7. Hi Karen,
    Thanks for the feedback! Unfortunately, I haven't tried ribs in the oven yet since I thought the slow cooker would be ideal for long, slow, moist cooking to keep them juicy and tender. I know oven methods have worked for others, so check out what the paleo/primal community has to offer. For the mushrooms, they do add a ton of moisture, but then, any vegetable would--so perhaps try with some cauliflower (I will in the future, too!). Good luck and let me know how it turns out for you! :)
    Best wishes,

  8. This looks like something different. I need to try it. Thanks!

  9. First, I would like to start off by saying that it's AWESOME that you attended a pig butchery class. LOL! Second I'm definitely going to have to try this recipe. I've been wanting to fix ribs for a long time but have been too intimidated to try for some reason. THis recipe sounds perfect that it's cooked in the slow cooker and will be done when I get home from my CF gym at night. :)

  10. If you're still looking for local pasture raised pigs, you should talk to my friend Jack at Souls to Grow Farms in Hollister. As far as I am concerned, it's the best tastin pork I've had in the US, plus he is a great guy and treats the pigs fantastically.