Weber Grill Parts

Smoked Ribs: The Ultimate Guide for Pork Ribs!

Everybody loves barbecued ribs. 

Let me show you a few different ways to make these bad boys.

Let’s get started with an important truth.

The BEST smoked ribs are the ones that YOU like the most.

You will see people getting all crazy about the RIGHT way to barbecue ribs.

Don’t pay those folks any attention.  They can’t help it if their Mama didn’t raise them right.

Something people like to argue about is how tender smoked ribs should be.

The Competition Barbecue crowd swears that ribs that have been smoked until they are “falling off the bone” are overcooked and ruined.

The other 99% of the world uses the phrase “falling off the bone” as a great compliment.

I like my ribs real tender.  I bet you will too.

I am going to show you four different ways to smoke ribs.

The recipes for the dry rubs and barbecue sauce are given at the end of the article.

Smoked Ribs #1: Classic Baby Back Ribs

We are going to start with a slab of baby back ribs that weighs about 3 pounds.

The first thing we are going to do is flip these ribs over.  We want the meat side down and the bone side up.

There is a membrane on the back of these ribs and we need to take it off.

Get started by using a butter knife and prying up a section of the membrane.

Once a section of the membrane has been separated you can grab it with a paper towel and pull the whole thing off.

Here is what it will look like when you are done.

Now that the membrane is off we can apply a dry rub.

Some folks like to put the dry rub directly on the meat.

Other folks like to get the meat damp to help the rub stick better.

To get the meat damp you can apply a thin coating of oil or a little bit of mustard.

This step is completely optional but for this cook I went with a little mustard.

Liberally apply your dry rub to BOTH SIDES of the ribs.

Now that the ribs are prepped it is time to get your smoker ready.

I do most of my smoking on my Weber charcoal grill at around 250F.

The amount and type of wood you use for smoke is important.

I typically use three chunks of hickory.  Other great wood options are pecan, apple, cherry, peach and oak.  I have never had any luck with mesquite.   

We are going to let the ribs cook uncovered in the smoker for two hours to soak up some smoke.

Two hours is a simple guideline.

It won’t hurt anything if you are off by a half hour in either direction.

After two hours the ribs are off to a good start.

Now that the ribs have some smoke on them it’s time to make them tender.

The standard trick is to wrap the ribs in a double layer of heavy duty aluminum foil to accelerate the cooking process.

As long as you are taking the time to wrap the ribs you can add to the flavor profile.  The main flavor that people like to add to their ribs is “Sweet”.

For this cook I added a quarter cup of honey to the ribs.  Other great options are maple syrup, melted peach preserves or apple jelly.

Before you finish wrapping the ribs add a quarter cup of apple juice to the foil pouch.  The apple juice adds some flavor and helps the ribs braise inside the foil.

The foiled ribs go back on the smoker to cook a while longer.

How long the ribs cook in the foil is a matter of how big the ribs are and how tender you like them.

If you want to make the Competition Barbecue crowd happy then baby back ribs only stay in the foil for an hour.

If you want to make fall off the bone tender baby back ribs then they stay in the foil for two hours.

If this is your first time smoking ribs it might be a good idea to open up the foil pouch after an hour and take a peek.

Be careful when you open the pouch.  Any escaping steam will be HOT.

Here is what you want to see when you open up the foil.

See how the meat has started to pull away from the rib bone?  That’s a a good sign!!

Once the meat has pulled back from the bone by about half an inch it is time to take the ribs out of the foil, add some barbecue sauce and put them back on the smoker.

Let the ribs finish cooking to your desired level of tenderness.  I let these ribs cook for another hour until the meat pulled back by a full inch.

There are a couple of ways to know when your smoked ribs are done.

One test is to poke the meat between the bones with a toothpick.  The toothpick should slide through the meat with little or no resistance.

Another test is to grab two adjacent rib bones and gently pull them away from each other.  The meat should easily separate and it might feel like you could even pull the bone out.

Again, the Competition Barbecue guys will tell you these smoked ribs are overcooked.

I am okay with that.

What I have just outlined is a general framework for smoked ribs that is commonly called the “3-2-1” method.

The 3-2-1 method was originally developed for spare ribs which are much larger than baby back ribs.

3-2-1 stands for

Since these baby back ribs are smaller and cook faster we went with 2-2-1.

Spare Ribs on a Gas Grill

All of you Competition guys and hardcore barbecue “purists” probably ought to skip this section.  You aren’t going to like what I am sharing 🙂

There are some folks that don’t own a proper smoker who still want to dine on some righteous ribs.

The hard part about smoking ribs on a gas grill is that you just can’t generate the right type or quantity of smoke.

You can place a smoker box or a foil pouch with wood chips over a burner tube and generate some smoke but it just isn’t the same.

Since a gas grill lacks proper smoke, ribs cooked on a gas grill wont ever be as good as ones from a proper smoker.

But we can still use a gas grill to turn out some ribs that will fool most people.

The trick to smoking ribs on a gas grill is simple.

CHEAT.

The day BEFORE you want to smoke ribs on a gas grill you need to give them a little extra loving.

After you remove the membrane you are going to make up a little marinade and baste it onto both sides of the ribs.

Fake Out Rib Marinade

Baste the marinade onto the meat side, flip it over and baste the bone side.  Repeat until all of the marinade has been used.

The Liquid Smoke is going to add a nice smokey flavor to your ribs.

The Morton Tender Quick is going to give you a killer smoke ring.

Let the ribs rest in the refrigerator overnight so the Morton Tender Quick has time to act.

In the morning hit the ribs with some dry rub and let it melt into the ribs.

The marinade already added a lot of salt to the ribs so you want to use a low salt dry rub.

Set your front burner to HIGH and leave your back two burners off.

Put your ribs over the back burner (which is turned OFF).

On my grill the ribs will be cooking at about 275F.  Your grill will be different so pay attention and check on things every 20-30 minutes.

Let the ribs cook for two hours.

The ribs will take on some color and the meat will start to pull back from the bone.

After two hours it is time for the ribs to get into the foil!

This time around the ribs were foiled with apple juice, liquid margarine (Parkay) and apple jelly (1/4 cup each).

I know that the Parkay seems strange.  Trust me…it works.

You really can get creative with what you put in the foil.

Some folks will also add a 1/4 cup of brown sugar at this point.

There are not any hard and fast rules here.

The foiled ribs went back on the grill for another 90 minutes.

After 90 minutes I took them out of the foil, brushed them with melted apple jelly and put them back on the grill for another 30 minutes.

The end result?

Yeah…they were pretty good.

Check out that “smoke ring”.

Most people would have no idea that these “smoked” ribs came off of a gas grill!

Traditional Low and Slow Ribs

This is the old school technique for smoked ribs.

We are going to start with a slab of St Louis style spare ribs.

Remove the membrane and apply your dry rub.

We are going to cook these ribs on our smoker at a much lower temperature for a long period of time.

These ribs were smoked at 230F for six hours.

Simple.

 

For my Weber kettle I am using the Slow N Sear.  The Slow N Sear let’s me bank enough charcoal for a six hour cook and the built in water reservoir keeps things moist inside the kettle.    (If you are curious you can read my full Slow N Sear review.)

Here is how the ribs will look after four hours.  The only thing I did when I opened the lid was take a picture.

After two more hours the meat has pulled back from the bone and a toothpick slid right through the meat.

Slice them and serve them.

No sauce, please.

Have to love the smoke ring.

 

Hot and Fast Spare Ribs

You can still eat some great smoked ribs even if you don’t have 4-6 hours to mess with with a smoker.

Start by grabbing a slab of spare ribs and cutting them into one bone sections.

Throw the rib sections into a bowl, coat with 1/4 cup of peanut oil and then apply a liberal coating of dry rub.

You are going to be smoking these ribs at a high temperature (375-400F) so go with a dry rub that has little or no sugar.  Burnt sugar tastes bad.

Set up your smoker to run around 375F.  I used the Slow N Sear with a filled water reservoir and the top and bottom vents on my Weber kettle completely open.

Add some hickory to the charcoal, put your ribs on the grill and let the magic happen.

After an hour they will start to look good.

After two hours they will look amazing.

You can hit them with a little barbecue sauce and let them cook a few more minutes to let the sauce set up.

These ribs wont be as tender as ones that have been slow smoked for 4-6 hours but they will be just as delicious!

Dry Rubs and Barbecue Sauces for Ribs

For the first rib technique I showed you I used Bone Sucking Sauce Seasoning for the dry rub and Sweet Baby Ray’s barbecue sauce.

If you want to make your own dry rub and sauce for your smoked ribs then here are some of my favorites.

Dry Rub for Low and Slow Smoked Ribs

You can use this recipe as the Low Salt dry rub for ribs smoked on a gas grill by decreasing the Morton kosher salt from 1/4 cup to 1 tablespoon.

Dry Rub for Hot and Fast Ribs

Homemade Barbecue Sauce for Ribs

(Similar to Sweet Baby Rays)

Combine ingredients and simmer for 5-10 minutes until the sugar has completely dissolved.

More Resources for Smoked Rib Recipes

There are plenty of other great folks out there that know a thing or two about smoking ribs.  Here are some of my favorites.

Competition Style Ribs from Chris at Nibble Me This

Memphis Style Dry Ribs from Josh at The Meatwave

Best Ribs in the Universe by Mike Scrutchfield

Last Meal Ribs from Meathead at AmazingRibs

Here is a great video from my buddy, Kinger showing exactly how to make Meathead’s world famous Last Meal Ribs.

 

Now get out there and fire up your smoker!