One of our favorite family Christmas traditions in regards to food is the delicious smoked pork ribs that we pile up on the table for our annual Christmas dinner. This year we are going sticky so get the paper towels ready 'cause it's gonna get a lil' messy!
I have been thinking about something else I can do to make these even better than they already are and I happened upon the idea of dry brining the ribs for several hours before adding my original rub (purchase recipes here).
This extraordinary brining process that uses only salt and the natural juices of the meat has definitely pushed these over the top and you'll want to try these really soon.. maybe even for Christmas dinner?
These ribs are not only dry brined to add flavor deep into the center of the meat, my rub is used to create the perfect flavor crust on the outside.
You don't have to worry about them being too salty… my rub is low on salt and it works with the dry brined pork ribs so well you'll think it's magic!
I promise you’ll love my dry rub/seasoning recipes and my barbecue sauce recipe or you don’t pay!
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Wet brining is when you place the meat down in a salt/water solution (usually about 6% salt) and it works really well but the meat takes on water. Sometimes this is good but there are other times when you just want the salt to get into the meat without extra moisture and this is where dry brining comes in.
When you sprinkle salt on the outside of meat, it begins to draw moisture to the surface. This salt and moisture becomes a sort of slurry that further dissolves and begins to get drawn back into the meat. If you give it time, it will find it's way all the way through the meat.
The hard part is knowing how much salt to use and this is something that you can't really measure accurately.. you just sort of have to “eyeball” it. I have included some pictures within the instructions below to show you what the proper amount of coverage looks like.
With these ribs, I removed the membrane first and then added salt to that bone side first for a few hours then flipped them over and dry brined the meaty side for about 4 hours. This method worked beautifully and I recommend you duplicate this.
The membrane is a thick plastic-like skin over the boney part of the ribs. removing this allows the smoke to penetrate the meat better and, in these ribs, it will allow the salt to penetrate the meat so as to dry brine them.
Pry up on the membrane using a knife or other sharp utensil. Then grab the membrane with a paper towel and pull it clean off.
Note: You can also use a pair of catfish skinning pliers if you like.
I explained above what dry brining is and how it differs from wet brining and now we are going to use this unique method on these pork baby back ribs.
Starting on the bone side, sprinkle kosher salt as consistently even as you can all over the surface of the ribs. You are looking for approximately 1/8 to 1/4 inch between the grains.
My best estimation is that I used 1 teaspoon of kosher salt on this side.
Here is a picture to give you an idea of the coverage you are looking for..
Place the ribs bone side up into the fridge for about 2 hours then remove them and place them back on the table or cutting board meaty side up.
You will now, once again, sprinkle kosher salt on the meaty side of the ribs using the same coverage as on the bone side.. about 1 teaspoon on this side as well.
Place the ribs once again in the fridge to let the kosher salt work it's magic on the top, meaty side of the ribs. About 4 hours is sufficient but 8 hours is ok if you need to leave them overnight.
There is no need to rinse the ribs.
Place the ribs meaty side up into a throw away aluminum pan (to contain the mess) and let the seasoning process commence.
Let the ribs sit undisturbed for about 15 minutes and you'll see that the little granules of salt in the rub pull moisture to the surface that mixes with the rub and you will know this because they will begin to have a “wet” look.
While you are waiting is a great time to go get the smoker ready.
Some of you may be wondering about this… I normally use mustard as a sticking agent to help the rub to bond to the meat and I also usually apply rub to the boney side of the ribs as well. In this version, I decided to forego these parts of the process to reduce the salt on the surface of the ribs due to the addition of salt into the meat via the dry brining process.
This was just a precaution and my original rub is low on salt so there's no need to worry about the ribs ending up overly salty doing it the way I did. After the fact, I can tell you that you can rest assured that this method works perfectly.
Set up your smoker for indirect cooking at about 230°F.
I used cherry smoke for these but use whatever smoking wood that you like and have available.
If your smoker has a water pan, fill it up with hot water.
Once your smoker is preheated and you have selected the wood you will use and it is producing a little smoke, you are ready to place the pork ribs in the smoker.
Place the ribs bone side down if possible.
Let the ribs cook at about 230°F and with smoke for 2 hours.
At the end of 2 hours, wrap the ribs with foil or place them in a deep foil pan.
Do this carefully so as to not tear the foil. If you do happen to tear it, just wrap it with another piece.
Place the wrapped ribs back into the 230°F smoker.
Let them cook in this wrapped state for about 2 hours.
Please note: This foil stage is where the ribs get super tender. If you do not like super tender ribs then simply reduce the amount of time the ribs are in the foil.
It is now time to unwrap the ribs from the foil or remove them from the foil pan and place them back on the smoker grate at 230°F for about 1 hour.
This is also a great time to start painting some of my original barbecue sauce (purchase recipes here) on them. If you are using my original rub (purchase recipes here), you won’t necessarily “need” sauce but it tastes amazing and that's what makes them sticky ribs.
I like to brush on a couple of layers of sauce during this last hour.. maybe 20 minutes apart to let each layer caramelize real good.
This 3-step method of cooking pork ribs is known as the 2-2-1 method for smoked baby backs. (for spare ribs it’s 3-2-1 with an extra hour in the first step)
For super-tender ribs:
For tender ribs that are not quite falling off the bone:
This method works flawlessly, but if you need some metrics for making sure that the ribs are actually ready to eat:
Remove the ribs from the smoker and take them into the house.
Turn them upside down on the cutting board so you can see the bones and slice between the bones with a sharp knife.
Pile the ribs onto a serving platter and let the feasting begin!
Oh.. and be sure to serve some of my warmed barbecue sauce at the table for those who like their ribs “extra messy”.
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A sticky must-have-paper-towels version of our annual smoked Christmas ribs taken up a few notches by dry brining them before adding the rub on the outside.