Football season in Texas, where I grew up, is a whole different beast. We often joke, “it’s not a sport, it’s a religion.” With football comes tailgating. Fans from all over the nation come together to eat good food, watch football and trash talk each other.

I remember going to my first-ever football game in Houston as a 10-year-old Randy Moss fan. He played for the New England Patriots at the time and was close to breaking an NFL record for receiving yards. I spent the days leading up to the game making a Randy Moss jersey out of a Hanes T-shirt and fabric markers. I was so excited! I got a taste of what it’s like to be a Patriots fan that day, and I still have the ticket from that game. 

A big part of the football game day experience, however, is the food. As you enter the parking lot of any stadium on game day, you smell the tailgaters even before you see them. Trucks with barbecue pits hitched to the back, smokers filled with brisket and ribs, tables with all sorts of amazing snacks. Each and every chef has their own technique, wood selection and cooking method. 

While I wish making delicious smoked ribs was as easy as devouring them, that’s not a reality for a lot of us.

A flavorful and key component of any smoked meat is the “bark” — the caramelized, chewy and often smoky-flavored crust that forms during the low and slow smoking process. While we won’t be smoking these ribs, the crockpot and an oven can help us achieve our goal: Ribs that are savory and tender enough to stay together but melt in your mouth. Brushed with a simple, tangy barbecue sauce that has a hint of heat, this recipe will definitely satisfy your taste for saucy, fingerlicking good ribs. Make them for a Sunday night game to enjoy with friends and family, or anytime you want ribs.

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Crockpot Game Day Ribs

Prep time: 30 minutes to 24 hours, depending on how long and whether you choose to marinate your ribs.

Cook time: 4-6 hours

Makes: 4-10 servings

INGREDIENTS

  • 2 racks of baby back ribs (a 6-quart crockpot will typically hold 2 racks, however they will overlap in the pot)
  • 1/2 cup Dijon mustard 
  • 1 large onion, peeled and chopped in half
  • 1/2 cup barbecue sauce; use any of your choice or follow a quick and simple homemade recipe below

For the dry rub:

  • 1 teaspoon salt 
  • 1 teaspoon black pepper 
  • 1 tablespoon cayenne 
  • 2 teaspoons brown sugar 
  • 1 tablespoon garlic powder 
  • 3 teaspoons smoked paprika 
  • 2 teaspoons onion powder
  • 1 tablespoon cumin

For the homemade barbecue sauce:

  • 1 cup ketchup 
  • 2 tablespoons apple cider vinegar
  • 2 tablespoon Italian seasoning 
  • 2 teaspoons black pepper
  • 1 tablespoon onion powder (or granules) 
  • 1 tablespoon garlic powder (or granules) 
  • 1 teaspoon red cayenne
  • 1/4 cup brown sugar
  • 1 tablespoon hot sauce 
  • 1 teaspoon paprika
  • ½ cup stout (I used a pumpkin stout! ‘Tis the season! But in lieu of stout, you can use water)

STEPS

Homemade barbecue sauce:

  1. In a small saucepan, whisk all ingredients.
  2. Simmer on medium-low to low for 30-45 minutes, whisking occasionally. If it starts to thicken too soon, feel free to add 1/4 cup of water at a time.
These ribs will spend most of their time in your crockpot. Then, pull them out at the end, pop them under the oven’s broiler for five minutes to create that crispy, smoky bark and enjoy! (Detria Turner / Special to The Seattle Times)

Making the ribs:

  1. Mix the dry-rub ingredients together in a small bowl.
  2. Pat ribs dry. Lay two pieces of foil down on your prepping surface; this will make cleanup easier. Lay ribs down, meaty side up. Brush lightly with Dijon mustard.
  3. Sprinkle dry rub over the ribs, if you’re making two racks of ribs, do both at the same time, using a little over half the rub for the tops of the ribs.
  4. Optional step: Wrap the ribs in plastic wrap and place in the fridge to marinate with dry rub. Let sit for 2 to 24 hours. Thereafter, unwrap ribs and place into the crockpot with the meaty side against the crockpot bowl. 
  5. If you choose to skip the long marination, put the ribs in the crockpot after seasoning. Place the meaty (thicker) side against the crockpot bowl. This will help create a bark.
  6. Place peeled and halved onion in crockpot.
  7. Cover and cook on low for six hours, or high for four hours.
  8. When ribs are done in the crockpot, remove and place on a prepared baking sheet. Preheat broiler to low setting. Adjust racks two places below the broiler heating element.
  9. Brush barbecue sauce on top of ribs, using about 3 tablespoons per rack.
  10. Place in the oven under low broil for 5 minutes until a bark starts to form. 
  11. Cut up individual ribs and serve with sauce. These are great for football parties! Having dinner? Serve with your favorite sides.