Slow Cooker/Instant Pot Chinese-Style Spare Ribs (Paleo, gluten-free)

These Chinese-Style Spare Ribs are an easy dinner that can be made in your slow cooker or Instant Pot!

Juicy ribs are coated in a simple spice mixture, cooked to tender perfection and then glazed in a sticky sauce.

And by making these in a slow cooker or electric pressure cooker, you don’t need to bake them in the oven for hours. Just set it and forget it!

Plus they happen to be Paleo, gluten-free and dairy-free.

spare ribs coated in a sticky glaze on a foil-lined baking sheet with a silicone brush

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Slow Cooker/Instant Pot Chinese-Style Spare Ribs

Spare ribs are often seen in Chinese restaurants coated in a sticky red sauce that’s positively irresistible.

Unfortunately, the sauce often includes ingredients that are problematic for some of us, like soy sauce (which has gluten), refined sugars and even fake food coloring.

So these Chinese-style spare ribs are packed with many of the same flavors – garlic, ginger, 5-spice powder – but in a healthier way, yet they’re still good enough that anyone will enjoy them.

Soy sauce gets replaced with coconut aminos, which is coconut sap reduced to a thick syrup that’s similar to soy sauce. Brown sugar is replaced with honey and molasses so you still get that sticky sweetness but from refined sugar-free ingredients.

And we’ll skip the food coloring altogether. These might not have the telltale red color of traditional Chinese spare ribs but you won’t miss it!

You won’t believe how easy it is to cook ribs in a slow cooker or Instant Pot, too.

 

What you need for Slow Cooker/Instant Pot Chinese-Style Spare Ribs

Ingredients:

Equipment:

individual Chinese spare ribs on a white round plate with a small bowl of dark sauce

How to make Slow Cooker/Instant Pot Chinese-Style Spare Ribs

First, mix the dry seasonings together in a small bowl.

Pat the ribs dry, then coat all over with the spices. If any spices fall off, try to swipe them up and pat back on the ribs but if they don’t all stay on that’s fine.

For the slow cooker: Add 1 cup of water to the insert. Add the ribs so they’re standing up on their side, leaning against the insert if necessary. Cover and cook on low for 8-9 hours or on high for 5-6 hours.

For the Instant Pot: Add 1 cup of water to the insert. Add the ribs so they’re standing up on their side, leaning against the insert if necessary (you’ll have to curl them around into a circle or spiral). Lock on the lid, make sure it’s sealed, and set the manual time for 20 minutes. When the time is done, hit the Cancel/Keep Warm button and let the pressure release naturally for 20 minutes. Release any remaining pressure.

When the ribs are almost done, combine the coconut aminos, rice vinegar, honey, molasses and salt in a small saucepan. Bring to a boil and then reduce heat so it simmers for about 5-10 minutes, until reduced and thicker.

When the ribs are done, cover a baking sheet with foil. Place the ribs meat-side down and brush with some of the sauce. Broil for 2-3 minutes, until the sauce has caramelized and browned. Flip the ribs, brush with more sauce and broil for 3-4 minutes, until they look browned and sticky.

Serve with any remaining sauce.

 

Substitutions and variations

  • Chinese 5-spice powder is usually a combination of cinnamon, fennel seed, star anise, Sichuan pepper and cloves. If you don’t have it or if you don’t like the fennel/anise flavor, you can omit it and increase the black pepper for 1 1/4 teaspoon, the cinnamon to 1 teaspoon and the ground cloves to 1/2 teaspoon.
  • Conversely, if you love the fennel/anise flavor and want more of it, add 1 whole star anise pod to the sauce as it simmers.
  • If you don’t have coconut aminos, you can use gluten-free soy sauce (often called tamari). This is often saltier than coconut aminos so leave the salt out of the sauce. Once it’s done simmering, taste it and only add salt if necessary.
  • No honey? Use the same amount of coconut sugar instead.

a whole slab or St. Louise-style ribs on a foil-lined baking sheet with a hand holding a silicone brush brushing on sauce

Make ahead/leftovers

You can make the spice mix up to 2 weeks in advance and store at room temperature.

You can whisk together the sauce ingredients and store in the fridge for up to 2 weeks.

Once cooked, the ribs will last in the fridge for up to 5 days. Store any remaining sauce separately in the fridge for up to 2 weeks.

The cooked ribs can also be frozen. Wrap them tightly in plastic wrap and freeze in an air-tight container or baggie for up to 3 months. Thaw overnight in the fridge.

To reheat leftovers, broil each side for 3-5 minutes or reheat in a low oven for 15-20 minutes (then broil each side for a few minutes if desired).

 

What to serve with these Chinese-Style Spare Ribs

These would be great served with rice, cauliflower rice, sweet potato rice or parsnip rice to soak up the sauce.

They would also be great with this Braised Red Cabbage, especially if you replace the apple cider vinegar in the recipe with rice vinegar.

Or you could serve them with these Roasted Green Beans and Brussels Sprouts. Just replace the balsamic vinegar with coconut aminos.

 

Other recipes you might like:

  1. Chinese-Inspired Roasted Carrots and Asparagus
  2. Beef Satay Stew with Sweet Potato Rice
  3. Slow Cooker Korean Short Ribs
  4. Instant Pot Creamy White Chicken Chili
  5. Slow Cooker Espresso Pulled Pork
Chinese-Style Spare Ribs on a foil-lined baking sheet with a silicone brush
spare ribs coated in a sticky glaze on a foil-lined baking sheet with a silicone brush
Print Recipe
5 from 5 votes

Slow Cooker/Instant Pot Chinese-Style Spare Ribs (Paleo, gluten-free)

These Chinese-Style Spare Ribs feature juicy ribs coated in a savory spice rub and then glazed in a sticky sauce. They can easily be made in a slow cooker or Instant Pot and they're Paleo and gluten-free!
Prep Time10 mins
Cook Time9 hrs 15 mins
Total Time9 hrs 25 mins
Course: Main Course
Cuisine: Chinese
Keyword: Chinese ribs, Instant Pot ribs, slow cooker ribs, spare ribs
Servings: 4 servings
Author: Don Baiocchi

Ingredients

For the ribs:

  • 2 teaspoons garlic powder
  • 2 teaspoons ginger powder
  • teaspoons fine sea salt (or 1 tablespoon kosher salt)
  • 1 teaspoon ground black pepper
  • ¾ teaspoon Chinese 5-spice powder
  • ½ teaspoon cinnamon
  • ¼ teaspoon ground cloves
  • 1 rack (about 2½-3 pounds) St. Louis-style ribs (spare ribs)

For the sauce:

  • ½ cup coconut aminos
  • ¼ cup unsweetened, unseasoned rice wine vinegar
  • 2 tablespoons honey
  • 1 tablespoon molasses
  • ½ teaspoon fine sea salt (or 1 teaspoon kosher salt), plus more if necessary

Instructions

For the ribs:

  • Mix together the garlic powder, ginger powder, salt, pepper, Chinese 5-spice powder, cinnamon and cloves in a small bowl.
  • Pat the ribs dry. Evenly coat them on both sides with the spice mix. If some falls off, that's okay.
  • For the slow cooker: Add 1 cup of water to the insert. Add the ribs so they're standing up on their side, leaning against the insert if necessary. Cover and cook on low for 8-9 hours or on high for 5-6 hours.
    For the Instant Pot: Add 1 cup of water to the insert. Add the ribs so they're standing up on their side, leaning against the insert if necessary (you'll have to curl them around into a circle or spiral). Lock on the lid, make sure it's sealed, and set the manual time for 20 minutes. When the time is done, hit the Cancel/Keep Warm button and let the pressure release naturally for 10 minutes. Release any remaining pressure.

For the sauce:

  • When the ribs are almost ready, combine the coconut aminos, rice vinegar, honey, molasses and salt in a small saucepan. Bring to a boil over medium-high heat, then reduce to medium heat and let it simmer for 5-10 minutes, until the sauce has reduced and thickened.
  • When the ribs are ready, line a baking sheet with aluminum foil. Place the ribs on the foil bone-side up (discard leftover water in the insert). Brush on some of the sauce and broil for 2-3 minutes, until the ribs look caramelized. Flip the ribs, brush on more sauce and broil for 3-4 minutes, until this side looks caramelized as well (broiling times might vary by oven setup so keep an eye on the ribs to make sure they don't burn).
  • Brush with one more layer of sauce on the meaty side of the ribs. Serve with any remaining sauce on the side to dip in or pour over.

Notes

Substitutions and variations
  • Chinese 5-spice powder is usually a combination of cinnamon, fennel seed, star anise, Sichuan pepper and cloves. If you don't have it or if you don't like the fennel/anise flavor, you can omit it and increase the black pepper for 1 1/4 teaspoon, the cinnamon to 1 teaspoon and the ground cloves to 1/2 teaspoon.
  • Conversely, if you love the fennel/anise flavor and want more of it, add 1 whole star anise pod to the sauce as it simmers.
  • If you don't have coconut aminos, you can use gluten-free soy sauce (often called tamari). This is often saltier than coconut aminos so leave the salt out of the sauce. Once it's done simmering, taste it and only add salt if necessary.
  • No honey? Use the same amount of coconut sugar instead.
 
Make ahead/leftovers
You can make the spice mix up to 2 weeks in advance and store at room temperature.
You can whisk together the sauce ingredients and store in the fridge for up to 2 weeks.
Once cooked, the ribs will last in the fridge for up to 5 days. Store any remaining sauce separately in the fridge for up to 2 weeks.
The cooked ribs can also be frozen. Wrap them tightly in plastic wrap and freeze in an air-tight container or baggie for up to 3 months. Thaw overnight in the fridge.
To reheat leftovers, broil each side for 3-5 minutes or reheat in a low oven for 15-20 minutes (then broil each side for a few minutes if desired).
 

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