Recipe: Asian Style Slow Cooker Ribs Make an Easy Weeknight Meal

Busy with kids, the job, the spouse? Take the easy route. For a simple weeknight meal made in the slow cooker, try a twist on classic baby back ribs with Asian flavors.

As a working mom of two kids under the age of 3, I'm always on the lookout for flavorful, easy recipes, that will please my family. Oh, and the twist with my family is that they want me to make Asian food basically all of the time.

I can't say I blame them. I grew up in Greenville, South Carolina, but my family is first-generation Chinese-American. I grew up speaking Mandarin Chinese and eating mostly Chinese food at home, but I've also grown up loving the food of my home state. My dad deep fries turkeys every Thanksgiving, just like many good Southerners, except that he also throws dozens of egg rolls into the fryer as well. I love an iced sweet tea on a hot, humid, Charleston afternoon, but I love a good, steaming hot pot of Jasmine tea with my dim sum.

When my husband and I met, his experience with Asian food was fairly limited, but that quickly changed after we spent two years living overseas in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia. Nowadays, he loves Asian tapioca dessert soups, a good hand-pulled stir-fried noodle, spicy curries and other authentic Asian dishes that unfortunately just aren't widely available in the Deep South. Our children, one of whom was born in Kuala Lumpur, also prefers a good Indian chicken tikka masala to pizza or chicken fingers any day. I like to think that this is a good problem to have, but quite honestly, some nights I just want everyone to be excited about spaghetti.

Luckily, I recently stumbled on a recipe from Taste of Home that I've adapted for our family of four. It's a really easy weeknight recipe, requiring just 10-15 minutes of prep time in the morning before work. All of the cooking is done over eight hours of low heat in a slow cooker. Coming home in the afternoons to the sweet, tangy smell of these ribs ready and waiting, well, let's just say it's enough to make anyone want to eat them standing directly over the slow cooker. Not that it's a good look, of course, but I wouldn't judge you for it.

I mean, would you judge me for it? Because, maybe I've done it before. Maybe.  

Asian Slow Cooker Baby Back Ribs

Serves 4-5

2 racks of baby back pork ribs, membranes removed, cut into serving-size pieces.

1/3 cup packed light brown sugar (for a truly Asian-style caramelization, use 2-3 chunks of rock sugar.)
1/3 cup reduced-sodium soy sauce.
1.5 tablespoons rice vinegar.
1.5 tablespoons sesame oil.
2 tablespoons grated fresh ginger.
2 garlic cloves, minced.
pinch red pepper flakes (optional.)
2 tablespoons cornstarch.
1 scallion, thinly sliced.
2 tablespoons sesame seeds.

Combine brown sugar (or rock sugar, if using), soy sauce, rice vinegar, sesame oil, ginger, garlic and red pepper flakes in a small bowl. Place cut, trimmed ribs into slow cooker. Pour mixture over ribs and cook on low for 8-9 hours until meat is tender and falling off the bone.  

Remove ribs from slow cooker and place on a plate and cover with foil to keep warm. Skim fat from juices remaining in the slow cooker and transfer juices to a small saucepan. Put cornstarch in a small bowl and add around 1/4 cup of the juices from the slow cooker, whisking to combine with the cornstarch. Pour cornstarch mixture back into saucepan. Bring to a boil, then reduce heat to a simmer until mixture thickens slightly. Pour over ribs and garnish with scallions and sesame seeds. Serve immediately.

Cook's Notes:


  • If you've never made ribs before, it's really important to trim your baby back ribs as directed here. I've made and eaten ribs without performing this essential step, and the flavor and tenderness difference is astounding. Trim your ribs, people. Trim your ribs
  • I've linked to my favorite Asian ingredients used in this recipe, such as low-sodium soy sauce, rice vinegar, and sesame oil, all of which can be purchased at most any major grocery store or at You can use any brands, of course, but clicking on the links will direct you to some brands I've had success with.