Bacon ribs don’t seem to be as popular in modern Ireland as they were in my Grandad’s youth. He likes his bacon ribs boiled with cabbage until both are tender, then served with a pile of buttery mashed potatoes. Ribs were far cheaper to buy 80 odd years ago than they are now but they are still a frugal cut of bacon to enjoy for a family meal.
Mam remembers this dish being prepared as she was growing up (Grandad will turn 99 this year, Mam obviously is an awful lot younger!). She absolutely detested it, she said that the smell of the boiling cabbage would linger in the hall when she got home from school and she would have to eat a mound of slimy, over-cooked cabbage because that was the way Grandad liked it.
I find it very interesting that my husband’s family always ate their bacon ribs in a completely different way. I wonder if Mam had been exposed to their way of eating the ribs when she was growing up, would she be persuaded to try them nowadays?
My husband loves his bacon ribs boiled until tender, then served with massive hunks of fresh, white “turnover” bread slathered in golden Irish butter. When he worked at night and still lived with his parents, his mother would put the pot on to simmer as he left for work. In the wee hours of the morning he’d return home to lift the ribs and use the slabs of soft yielding white bread to mop up the salty juices.
His late supper/early breakfast was washed down with pints of strong builder’s tea, sweetened with 2 spoons of sugar. I’ve since convinced him that he’s sweet enough without the sugar, but this traditional Irish dish is one that we still have every now and again. The lads sit around the table and bicker over who’s getting the biggest portion or who will get the last rib. If I ditch all but one slice of the bread, add in a fresh salad with a zingy fat-free dressing, then this meal (which would normally be high enough in fat and salt) becomes more healthy and virtuous.
Great pigs make beautiful pork and amazing bacon. There’s an old saying that the only part of a pig you can’t eat is the squeal. We’ve taken that saying to heart by using up as much of the pork that we rear as we possibly can. This recipe was made using our own bacon ribs but you can buy bacon ribs easily in your local craft butcher. Be sure to ask whether or not the ribs are Irish if it matters to you – of the 3 butchers locally that I enquired, only 1 had Irish bacon ribs.
I don’t throw away the salty liquor left over from boiling the bacon ribs. I cool the liquid, then skim off any fat before freezing it if I don’t use it straight away. The stock is brilliant for adding flavour to a soup, boiling potatoes in their jackets or cooking vegetables.
While some of the vegetables I’ve used in the salad may seem a bit alien, actually we grow and/or rear most of the ingredients I’ve used. Grandad may not be familiar with them from his youth but we grow plenty of “unusual” vegetables and fruit in our allotment.
Read on to the bottom to see how I’ve adapted the recipe for cooking/boiling the bacon ribs so that you can make this dish using the slow cooker.
Boiled Bacon Ribs With Fresh Salad
- 2 racks of bacon ribs (at room temperature)
- 2 large carrots
- 1 large kohlrabi OR 1 large broccoli stalk plus 1/4 raw head of turnip (see below)
- 12 small brussels sprouts
- 4 tablespoons rice vinegar
- 1 teaspoon honey
- 1/4 teaspoon salt
- 1 clove of garlic, peeled and sliced
- 1 medium sized chilli, sliced
- Juice of 1 lime
- Fresh coriander, parsley and mint to dress the salad (optional)
- Bread and butter to serve (optional)
Place the racks of ribs into a large pot of cold water (you may need to cut the racks into smaller pieces to make them fit into your pot). Cover the pot and put it on a medium temperature.
While you’re waiting for the ribs to come to the boil, peel and chop the vegetables (kohlrabi, carrots and sprouts) into thin pieces. You could of course use a food processor or even grate them into large chunks. Whatever makes life easier for you. Put all the vegetables into a large bowl.
Combine the dressing ingredients in a small bowl (vinegar, honey, salt, garlic, chilli and lime-juice) and stir until the ingredients have dissolved together. Pour about half of this dressing on top of the prepared vegetables and stir well until you have coated the vegetables in the mixture. Cover this bowl and leave it to one side.
At this point your ribs should be bubbling away. Turn down the heat so that they are at a slow simmer. Leave at this temperature for about 2 hours or so. The ribs are ready when the bones begin to separate way from the flesh. Check the pot after 90 minutes to see how it’s progressing and don’t be afraid to cook for longer if the meat still seems tough.
Once cooked, remove the ribs from the pot, separate them into individual pieces and toss in the remaining dressing. Tear some fresh herbs and stir them into the dressed salad that has been soaking away while the ribs cooked.
I’ve included a couple of thick-cut pieces of white bread with a slather of golden Irish butter, as this is how we would eat it but it is completely optional.
Slow Cooker Bacon Ribs
- 2 racks of bacon ribs (at room temperature)
To cook bacon ribs in a 3.5L, take the racks and cut them so that you fit chunks into the slow cooker. You will more than likely end up with 4 or 5 pieces of bacon ribs. Presoak the ribs in cold water for at least 3 hours if you don’t like your ribs too salty. Pour away the soaking water before placing the rib pieces into the slow cooker. Add 2 cups of water. Cover the slow cooker and cook on high for 4-5 hours. Don’t remove the lid at all. For every time you take the lid off to check the contents, add a further 30 minutes to the overall cooking time.
Note: Kohlrabi is becoming more common in Ireland, in fact we will grow plenty of it this year as we have loved eating it over the “hungry gap”. It can be difficult to find in supermarkets though. It’s for this reason I suggest using a combination of broccoli stalk and raw turnip if you can’t find any in stores – it’s a similar taste profile and a good substitute for kohlrabi.
Gosh, isn’t it dreadful that only one butcher had Irish ribs? It looks so totally delicious…. my memories would be similar to your Mum’s!
Yep. “craft butchers” are not always what they seem and do not always carry Irish meat. It’s a bugbear of mine. Maybe this recipe might convert you though. Do you make your own bacon ribs?
We do… and I quite like them…. but tis the other half needs the convincing 🙂 I think his memories are even worse!
To be fair if I had the cabbage sludge introduction to bacon ribs I don’t think I’d want to eat them again either.
hi was reared on ribs when we were was growing up along with cow tongue both top notch both have got very expensive a tongue now is £8 but has luck has it we have a butcher here in south armagh that we get a carrier bag busting and i mean busting of ribs for £5 our children go mad for them i think its of sorts of an irish tradition long may it last
I know. I was only saying the other day how expensive tongue has become. There must be a market elsewhere they’re going to. Ribs thankfully seem to be still cheap enough. My kids go mad for them too!
I live in the USA and have never heard of bacon ribs. Are they pork ribs that have been cured like bacon?
Hi Karen. Yes exactly, pork ribs that have been cured as bacon.
That sounds delicious – we’re so bacon crazed over here I wonder why we don’t have them???
I don’t quite understand that at all. I think they’re fabulous!
Maybe when I get my half pig from my sister-in-law this year I’ll have the butcher cure some for me. 🙂
You’ll get enough for 2 adults from a rack. Enjoy!
Jeremiah D. Fogarty
I live in Arizona & have perfected brining pork ( shoulders) into bacon.
I would like to try doing the same with pork Ribs but not sure how long to bribe them for.
I brine full shoulder for 8 days & am thinking the ribs might only need 3 or 4 days. Can you advise ?
Hi Jeremiah I don’t cure my own ribs. Sorry I can’t help you with that query!
how do you cook them to serve at a bbq? i ate some at the Commons Inn in Cork and really liked it. i asked for bbq spareribs and got baconribs. they tasted wonderful with the sauce and crispy.. How to cook them to taste like that?
Boil them for an hour then finish on the BBQ!
thank you so much i will try them.
I live in England and my gorgeous wife is from Waterford in ROI. She longs for bacon ribs, as do my 4 children, but have only found one online supplier of bacon ribs. I would love to surprise her buy curing my own bacon ribs. How do you do it?
My best advice for you is to talk to your local butcher and ask them will they cure some ribs for you. Alternatively I believe that Whelan’s Butchers in Ireland do ship to the UK!
Any chance you can post a recipe for doing bacon ribs from scratch (i.e. which cuts to get, how to brine and for how long). This would be handy for the diaspora who have no choice but to make our own since there’s no local Irish butcher (at least not alive). Thanks!
Ah no PMS student, my butcher does the bacon ribs for me. Are you based in the UK? I know that you can get a rack of ribs delivered from James Whelan Butchers to the UK. Otherwise I can’t tell you exactly how the butcher does it; only that it’s a plain dry salt cure.
Go on amazon and find the the company called Tongmaster seasonings , 1 packet of salt cure mix will do a couple of racks of pork ribs ( full ribs from butchers ), just rub 1/2 pack on both sides of each rack , wrap tight in cling film and leave in fridge for 7 days. Then take out rinse off and boil gently for 1hr 30mins. I also use this same mix to make my own salt beef ( 1 whole pack into a plastic bowl with 900ml of cold water and drop in your beef joint, put on lid ( about 1.5 kg joint ) , I leave this in fridge for 14days, rinse and boil for about 2hrs. ENJOY
That’s a great tip thank you for sharing!
I have just bought my first rack of bacon ribs will cook as told and serve with mustard mash and red cabbage
That sounds gorgeous. I hope you enjoyed!
bacon ribs are pretty common fayre in Liverpool, must be because of the larger than average Irish community here. Love them, my kids do too!
That’s brilliant I’m delighted to hear it!
Just bought a couple of racks from my local butcher on the Wirral. Mash and cabbage to accompany ?
Sounds perfect to me!
I have just put a pan of ribs on the hot plate, will boil them to death.
Like Cheri said, bacon ribs are pretty common fayre in Liverpool, where I am from. My dad used to cook them in the same way you described your granddad did, only difference was that we put loads of butter and pepper on the cabbage.
The americans who commented seemed to have gotten the wrong idea, the ribs are not cured separately. The ribs are cut off a side of bacon before the bacon is sliced and butchers regarded them as waste – in Liverpool they were called spare ribs.
By the way, you can buy in Morrisons in the UK and I have not had a plate of decent irish stew for years.
Brilliant ribs are treated exactly the same here. I’m also a fan of lashings of black pepper and a bit of butter on my cabbage. Enjoy your supper!
HI, Caitriona. I’m 60, and, like your mam & Grandparents, was brought up on good wholesome food like Bacon-Bone soup with Lentils. After finding your recipes, I’ve been down to my local meat wagon Butcher and got three mahoosive sides of ribs for only £10. Can you tel me how to cook them in a very large (15 litres!) Pressure Cooker? Do the Lentils get cooked with the Bones? I have soaked the Lentils for 6 hours to release the Lectins, and soaked the Bones for two hours as well. 11/07/2020
Hi Steve I’d love to be able to help you but I actually don’t have and I’ve never used a pressure cooker! If you were cooking a lentil/bacon soup I would definitely cook them together and possibly add in some onions too. I’m really not sure how to work the pressure cooker so I’d suggest you follow your manufacturers instructions for how long to cook a small joint on the bone. I hope that helps.
Thanks Caitriona. I will just have to wing it as I lost the recipe book years ago. I’ll let you know how I get on! 🤗
Great thanks Steve!
I’m making Ribs and Cabbage tonight. Ive had then all my life and there not just an “Irish thing” I come from Leigh near Wigan and our local market still sells them along with good stuff like tripe and cowheel.
Cut a sheet of Bacon ribs up, put then in a large pan, cover with water, bring to boil and through off the first boiled water and then start again, Just cover with water, and add a chicken stock cube, simmer for 30 to 35 mins until the meat is tenderising. Chop up one full White cabbage (Its got to be a white cabbage) and put on top of the ribs, cover and simmer for 10 mins then toss the cabbage and ribs together and continue simmering 5 to 10 mins until the cabbage is as you like.
Done, serve in bowls with some of the cooking liquid. Really good the next day as well. I like it with a bit of Worcester Sauce.
By the way, it might get a bit “windy” later on….Fantastic.