anytime no fuss crock pot ribs

A friend from the news mill who was laid off a few rounds ago was recently re-hired following someone else's retirement. It's been great seeing him in the office again and when I can, I stop by his desk to say hello. Recently, we were chatting about how the demands of our jobs come at us from all sides and how sometimes this can become overwhelmingly frustrating. We both, in our own ways, said that the key to dealing with it all is to calmly tackle them one at a time. That's when he shared his coping mechanism with me, something he said a former mentor shared with him:

Show up.
Pay attention.
Speak your truth.
Let go of the outcome. 

It was, what Oprah calls, an "Ah-ha!" moment for me. I asked him to repeat it a few times so that it would be engrained in my brain.

Show up 

Sounds easy enough. But this is so much more than the literal act of physically showing up. As often as I drag myself out of bed some mornings, fighting the urge to just disappear for a day, I do physically get myself to work. But is that enough?

In my heart of hearts, I don't think it is. I think that showing up is more than that. It's being present. Showing up is getting there, wherever "there" is for you, so that you can be available for whatever twists and turns life brings you. It's living in the moment –– not preoccupied with what you wish you were doing, what you need to do tomorrow or regretting what you didn't do yesterday.

Showing up is shutting off the tape in your brain that is constantly making mental notes and little judgments so that both your physical self and your mental self are in the same place at the same time ready to tackle or enjoy whatever is right in front of you.

Showing up is the only way you can even attempt to pay attention.

Pay attention

I like to pride myself on being a good listener. But the fact of the matter is, I used to be a good listener. Back in 2009, following major surgery, I had an allergic reaction to ampicillin which started a degenerative hearing loss. Due to this hearing loss, I sometimes find my attention drifting or I fill in the blanks with what I think people are saying because I didn't hear all that they said. Sometimes it's frustrating. Sometimes it's amusing. But always I'm fearful that it comes off as not paying attention.

Sometimes it's a lot harder to pay attention than I think it should be. In a world where multitasking isn't only acceptable and encouraged, it's often required, the art of paying attention is getting short-changed if not altogether lost.

I multitask. A lot. Only half paying attention to stuff going on around me while the other half of my brain is desperately trying to focus on whatever task I have at hand. Some days, I utterly fail at multitasking as my attention span can be easily shifted or cut short as I flitter from project to project sometimes not even finishing any one task and ending the day feeling completely exhausted with little to show for it.

Those are the worst days.

So what to do about it? My goal is to learn to clear my head and simply focus my attention on listening to the quiet. Just five minutes a day. We can all do that, can't we? Be still and in the moment, paying attention to our heartbeat, the sounds of the neighborhood as life happens outside our front door? Yes. I think that's doable.

Speak your truth

I have a reputation for not holding back. I don't know how that happened because I actually feel like I hold back a lot, afraid to speak my truth for fear of judgment.

Rewind. Let me clarify. It all depends on the situation. Sometimes, I can be very opinionated about certain things. Sometimes, if it's a subject matter I'm passionate about or possess some level of definitive knowledge about, then I speak up more times than not without even being prompted.

But is that the same as speaking my truth? I'm not entirely sure.

There are a lot of situations that come up, at work and in my private life, in which I keep quiet. I bite my words. I hold my tongue. I swallow my pride.

Bite. Hold. Swallow. Such harsh, definitive actions. And I'm guilty of doing them. Often.

Or I'll say, "I don't know."

How many of you say that?

"I don't know."

Such an easy copout. The very definition of non-committal, wouldn't you say? A way to answer without answering. I know when I say it, often, even if I'm not 100% certain, I at least have an idea, an inkling of an opinion. Perhaps one that will be too harsh, too unpopular, too polarizing. Or one that might seem dumb or unsophisticated. Then the fear of being made to look like less than I present myself takes over and I stay silent. Or say, "I don't know."

There is, to be sure, nothing wrong with saying "I don't know" in situations when you truly do not know and don't want to speak falsehoods. In fact, those times, it's better to admit to not knowing in hopes that someone else does and you might actually learn something.

Then it's OK.

But those other times, those times when you do it to deflect, to hide, to pass the responsibility of making a decision or sharing an opinion onto someone else? Then those times I believe are the situations I need to learn to speak my truth. To be authentic to me.

And most importantly, to learn to do it without it being at someone else's expense.

I read today on this awesome blog, a simple post with a simple message: instead of correcting, instead of commanding, speak up but say it like this:

"Let me show you another way."

Isn't that lovely? That's how I want to learn to speak my truth. I want to be able to speak up gently, kindly with authority balanced by humility because I do so yearn to be the most authentic self I can be.

Let go of the outcome

There has been much in my life that I have had little to no control over. As a result, there are things, odd things sometimes, menial things that I have become a control freak about. To the point that often, I won't attempt something because I can't control its outcome.

It's sometimes overwhelming, this fear of not knowing whether something I might attempt will succeed or not. If I can't do it well, if I can't control the circumstances around me, I just don't try.

It's a difficult thing to admit to the world because it's often a difficult thing to admit to myself. But if I'm being truthful about wanting to attempt speaking my truth, attempting to be more authentic, then the confession is a necessary one because, surely, I can't be alone in this even though it often feels like I am.
Learning to let go of the outcome is probably going to be the most difficult thing for me to adopt.

It shouldn't be, since I profess to have faith. But see, that's where this gets tricky because when it comes to the big things, the life and death things, my faith is stronger and I'm able to say, God's will be done and let things go.

But the smaller, more immediate things, the "what should I do with my life" things concerning my life's passion, my art, my relationships or rather, lack there of, that I have a hard time with.

I spend so much energy trying to control things: anticipating every possible obstacle, planning for every possible outcome or taking a familiar path because I don't know where the other will take me. That's wasted energy that could be directed towards living in the present. And even now, as I type this I have difficult time trying to stay focused and not judge myself or edit my thoughts as they flow from me to the keyboard to this post. My impulse was to type, "What a shame" that I'm wasting all this energy. "Shame." I'm judging myself just by thinking that. So, yes, this cycle will be the hardest to overcome.

So I'm going to practice the art of surrender, to extend my faith into ALL areas of my life and believe that the universe knows best without additional input from me. My task will be to show up, pay attention, speak my truth and rest in the knowledge that whatever the outcome, I did the best I could do.

Did you say, "ribs?"

"Tony's Bar & Grill," Dad would announce in an exaggerated gruff, gravelly voice whenever he would pick up the kitchen phone. Eventually, all of my and my sibling's childhood friends came to expect that greeting when calling our house.

Everyone who knew Dad in his 40s and 50s would often say he should open a place so more people could enjoy his cooking. An invitation from him for a weekend cookout meant come hungry, ready to enjoy his perfectly cooked ribs smothered in his finger-licking good homemade barbecue sauce.

He would start the ribs the night before, either with a rub or in a marinade, depending on his mood. Sometimes they hit the big kettle grill straight away for a low and slow cook over coals that he had set up in zones for direct and indirect cooking. Sometimes he would bake them first then transfer them to the grill. Regardless of the method he used, everyone always raved.

Watching my dad cook all my life taught me a great deal about home cooking, but I don't have his patience when it comes to barbecues. Low and slow barbecues over coals are not my idea of a good time. And he knows it. He bought me a gas grill for a housewarming present several houses ago (I moved around a lot in my 30s!). Gas grilling I can handle. I love it and do it often, especially in the warmer months.

When it comes to ribs, though, my problem is, sometimes, I crave them but don't want to fuss with rubs or marinades or pre-baking. Sometimes, I just want to set them and forget them and still get my ribs fix.

A roommate I had back in my mid-20s showed me her rib-cooking. We were in the middle of a wet and rainy winter, but she was craving ribs for dinner. Since our grill had no rain cover, she pulled out our old trusty Crockpot and proceeded to show me how she made them.

Her method is so straightforward it's hard to call this an actual recipe. I've streamlined it a bit over the years. You start by cutting down your ribs enough to fit them in your slow cooker (I like them in sets of two or three). Grab a bottle of your favorite barbecue sauce and generously brush the ribs with it before stacking them in the slow cooker. Then pour all but ½ cup of the sauce over the ribs, cover the pot and set on high for 2 hours. Then pull them out and return them in reverse order so that the ribs on the bottom are on now on top. Switch the cooker to low and cook for an additional 3 hours.

Barbecue experts say that ribs should be tender but still stick to the bone so that you have to bite the meat off. If the meat has pulled away from the bone or falls off altogether, they're overdone. Personally, if I have to bite down to get the meat off the bone, they aren't done enough for me. But that's me. I love ribs that are fall-off-the-bone tender. So a total of 5 hours of cooking time get the ribs to where I like them. Start checking at about the 4 to 4½ hour mark to find your ideal doneness, especially if you prefer them the way the experts do.

When the cooking time is up, I pull them out and place them on a baking sheet. I slather them in the reserved sauce, then set them under the broiler for 2 to 3 minutes until they've caramelized and charred in places.

I made these for my grandmother and auntie shortly after I moved in with them and floored them with the ease and taste of these babies.

Of course, you can always zhuzh up the recipe by making your sauce. I've included a simple one to get you started.

I still occasionally make them on the grill during warm summer months that call out for outdoor grilling with friends and libations, just like Mom and Dad used to do it. But I admit, I make them in my slow cooker with bottled sauce much more often. For me, they're the perfect, anytime, no-fuss ribs.

No Fuss Crock Pot BBQ Ribs

These fall-off-the-bone ribs are so simple because the slow cooker does most of the work for you. I like St. Louis-style ribs, but any pork rib will work so long as they fit in your cooker. Don't skip the last broiling step – the caramelization and char add the finishing touch to these faux barbecued ribs.

Makes 3-4 servings

1 rack pork ribs
1 (18-ounce) bottle of your favorite BBQ sauce, divided use

Cut the ribs down to smaller portions to fit into a 5-quart slow cooker. Brush ribs with sauce, coating both sides and layer into slow cooker. Pour all but ½ cup of the sauce into the slow cooker and cover. Cook on high heat for 2 hours.

Remove ribs to a large rimmed baking sheet and return to the slow cooker in reverse order, so the ribs that were on top are now on the bottom. Cook on low for three more hours.

Turn oven on broil. Arrange ribs on a large rimmed baking sheet and brush with the remaining ½ cup of sauce. Broil for 4-6 minutes or until the ribs just start to char and caramelize. Remove from broiler and allow to rest before serving.

Alternately, finish these on the grill instead of the broiler. Prepare the grill grates with nonstick spray, then fire up the grill and heat to medium-high 400-450 degrees). Brush ribs with remaining sauce and grill until they char and caramelize. Remove from grill and let rest before serving.

Basic Barbecue Sauce

Use this as a jumping-off point to create your perfect sauce. Start with ¼ cup of vinegar, adding more if you want it more vinegary. I like to use apple or red wine (sometimes pomegranate), but white will work, too. I like molasses or brown sugar for sweetness, but honey or maple syrup make good sweeteners. I love this with Spanish pimentón (smoked paprika) but if you want more heat, try using half the pimentón and half cayenne or substitute with your favorite hot sauce. The addition of the liquid smoke is something I learned from Dad to bump up the flavor, but it's optional.

Makes about 2½ cups

2 cups of ketchup
¼ to ½ cup vinegar
½ cup of molasses or packed dark brown sugar
2 tablespoons Worcestershire sauce
1 tablespoon mustard
2 teaspoons pimentón (Spanish smoked paprika)
1 teaspoon liquid smoke
½ teaspoon kosher salt
¼ teaspoon black pepper

Whisk ingredients together in a medium saucepan until thoroughly combined. Bring to a boil, reduce heat and simmer for 20 minutes. Taste and adjust seasoning, if desired. If not using immediately, let cool completely before transferring it to a glass jar with a tight-fitting lid; store in the refrigerator, using it within two weeks.

Until next time …


  1. Jill O'Connor11/4/13, 3:59 PM

    First, these look and sound so simple and delicious! Second, I know you read my good friend Cheryl's blog "5secondrule" for that fab line, "Let me show you another way." I can't wait to tell her! She is the best, as are you. What delightful synchronicity.

    Jill O.

  2. Jill, I do read "5secondrule"... love it. I did link to her post in the paragraph so people could go read that awesome post she did on "Let me show you another way." Profound!


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