I receive emails every week asking how to make super tender spare ribs in the smoker and some even say that the 3-2-1 method still doesn't get them as tender as they like. This week I'm going to show you how to make spare ribs that are so fall apart tender that you can just pull the bones out as if they were in hot butter.

Not your thing? No need to email me saying that this is not how spare ribs are supposed to be cooked. If that's your paradigm, then you can ignore this recipe– no hard feelings =)

I made these spare ribs a while back and we deboned them (very easily I might add) and made one of the best rib sandwiches I've ever had (and that's saying something)!

The flavor is also unbelievable since we will apply my original rub recipe (instant download after purchase) on them the night before and give them things of beauty all night to soak up the good stuff. I could not get over the flavor as well as the tenderness on these and everyone at the table agreed that these were to die for.

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Helpful Information
  • Prep Time: 20 minutes
  • Cook Time: 10 Hours
  • Smoker Temp: 225-240°F
  • Meat Finish Temp: 195-200°F
  • Recommended Wood: Pecan/Cherry mix
What You’ll Need

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Rinse and Pat Dry

Remove the spare ribs from the package and rinse under cold water.

I purchased my ribs already cut St. Louis style and for this reason, I wanted to make sure that there was no bone fragments. The rinsing takes care of this.

The ribs are then patted dry with a clean paper towel and set aside.

What Are St. Louis Style Spare Ribs

It occurred to me that some of you may not know what St. Louis style ribs are.. it's just a style of trimming the ribs to get rid of the less desirable parts of the spare ribs and make them into a better looking rack much resembling a rack of baby backs.

The picture below will show you a basic pattern for cutting the full size spare ribs into St. Louis stye:

Remove Membrane

With the ribs laying bone side up, you'll notice a shiny, plastic-like membrane covering the bones.

Work your finger, a spoon or some other implement under the membrane, work it loose and grasp it with a paper towel to pull it clean off.

This takes practice but in no time you'll have it.

Don't fight with it.. if you have trouble with it, just get what you can and leave it at that. It's not the end of the world if it remains.

Apply Rub 12 Hours Before

Bone Side
With the ribs still laying bone side up, coat the meaty part of the bone side with lots of the original rub (instant download after purchase). Be extremely generous as this will create the delicious crust that you'll rave about later.

Give a light sprinkling over the bone area as well..

Leave them sitting in this configuration for about 10 minutes or until they get that “wet” look.

Top Meaty Side

Turn the ribs over to meaty side up and generously sprinkle my original rub (instant download after purchase) all over making sure to hit the sides and ends as well.

You can place them in the fridge at this point but after just an hour or so, you'll see how the rub draws the moisture to the top and creates a nice paste. The flavors merge and some of that is drawn back into the ribs. It's a beautiful thing!

Prepare Smoker

Setup your smoker for cooking at about 230°F using indirect heat. If your smoker has a water pan, fill it up with hot water.

You will need enough smoking wood to last about 4 hours– I recommend a mix of pecan and cherry but any smoking wood will work great.

Smoke and Set Rub Crust

Once the smoker is ready, place the ribs on the smoker grate bone side down with at least an inch between each one to allow the smoke and heat to have access to all sides of the meat.

The ribs will stay in this configuration for 4 hours.

During this time the rub will turn into a crust (a good thing), the heat will cook the meat and the smoke will flavor the meat.

Wrap and Continue Cooking

Very carefully remove the ribs from the smoker and wrap the ribs individually with heavy duty foil. I did not get pictures of this process but I wish I had so I could show you how I wrap them.

I tear off as many pieces of 18-inch foil about 30-36 inches long as I have racks of ribs. I had 2 racks of ribs so I had 2 pieces of foil this size laid on top of each other.

The first rack was taken off and laid in the center of the top piece of foil.

Note: often during this wrapping stage we'll add a liquid of some kind but I don't recommend it on these since they will be in the foil for so long. We want them to tenderize but if there's too much moist steam, it can make the rub crust soft and in some cases even dissolve it and we want it to stay intact and crispy.

The bottom of the foil was brought up over the ribs then the top was folded down over that. Each side is then carefully folded over.

I say carefully because some time a bone will be sticking out and that can easily puncture the foil. The foil doesn't have to be airtight but it's best if it doesn't have holes that allow the steam and juices to escape.

The wrapped ribs are placed into a full sized steam pan (about 12 x 20). For what it's worth, I can fit about 4-5 racks of wrapped ribs in one of these.

The purpose of the pan is to catch leaks. The foiled ribs will most likely leak.. it's bound to happen and in my opinion, this is an easy way to contain it. Less cleanup is always a good thing!

If you have an electric smoker or one that is very easy to maintain a good set temperature, then the pan of wrapped ribs can just go right back into the smoker at the same temperature (230°F)

If it's easier, you can also just place the pan of wrapped ribs into your kitchen oven set to 230°F.

Keep them at this temperature for 2 hours.

Super Tenderize at Lower Heat

At this point the ribs are done and somewhat tender but we want to super tenderize them, remember?

Turn the smoker or oven down to about 200°F since we don't want to cook them a lot more but just let them tenderize

This super tenderizing step will go on for about 2 hours.

I recommend checking the ribs at the end of this step using the Thermapen Mk4, one of my favorite handheld thermometers which has a very small tip and is able to get between the bones very easily.

Open one side of the foil very carefully and check one of the racks to see if it's where it needs to be.

The temperature should be around 195-200°F at this point.

Rest at Really Low Heat

Now we just want to let the ribs rest at a really low heat during which time the meat will continue to tenderize, the fat will continue to render and the bones will loosen from the meat.

For the final step in the cooking/tenderizing process, turn the smoker or oven down another 30 degrees to 170°F.

This step only took about 1.5 hours but be ready to be flexible. At 1.5 hours open one of the packages, grab a bone and try to rotate it. If the ribs are ready you should be able to rotate the bone and even pull it cleanly from the meat with little to no resistance.

If you are able to rotate/remove the bones, then good, If there's resistance, wrap it back up and give them 30 more minutes.

Unwrap and Remove Them Bones

Unwrap the ribs, flip the rack over to bone side up so you can get to the bones. If they break in half during this step (very likely) it's ok. They will be so tender that they will be falling apart.. that's what we wanted on these.

Grasp each bone and rotate to make sure it's loose then simply pull it out of the meat and discard.

Once the bones are removed from the entire rack, cut the meat into pieces about 1 inch wide and they are ready to serve.

Here's a close up to show you just how tender and juicy these end up being:

This Recipe in 8 Easy to Follow Steps

Because there's so many steps, this one may seem complicated so let me break it down for you in 8 easy to follow steps:

  1. Rinse, pat dry, and remove membrane.
  2. Apply my original rub (instant download after purchase) heavier than usual.
  3. Place in fridge on a cookie sheet overnight
  4. Setup smoker for cooking at 230°F
  5. 4 hrs @ 230°F – laid on grate with pecan/cherry smoke
  6. 2 hrs @ 230°F – wrapped (no smoke required)
  7. 2 hrs @ 200°F – wrapped (no smoke required)
  8. 1.5 hrs @ 170°F – wrapped (no smoke required)

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"Love the sauce and rub recipes. So far I have used them on beef ribs, pork ribs, and different chicken parts. Can't wait to do a beef brisket. Texas rub is great as well!" ~Peter S.
"I tried the rub on a beef brisket and some beef ribs the other day and our entire family enjoyed it tremendously. I also made a batch of the barbeque sauce that we used on the brisket as well as some chicken. We all agreed it was the best sauce we have had in a while." ~Darwyn B.
"Love the original rib rub and sauce! We have an annual rib fest competition at the lake every 4th of July. I will say we have won a great percent of the time over the past 15 years so we are not novices by any means. However, we didn't win last year and had to step up our game! We used Jeff's rub and sauce (sauce on the side) and it was a landslide win for us this year! Thanks Jeff for the great recipes. I'm looking forward to trying the Texas style rub in the near future!" ~Michelle M.

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Printable Recipe

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Smoked Spare Ribs that Literally Fall Apart

4.8 from 6 reviews

In this recipe, I show you how to make smoked spare ribs that are so fall apart tender that you can just pull the bones out as if they were in hot butter.

  • Author:
  • Prep Time: 20 mins
  • Cook Time: 10 hours
  • Total Time: 10 hours 20 mins
  • Yield: 4-6
  • Category: Entree
  • Cuisine: Hot Smoking

Ingredients

  • 2-4 racks of St. Louis style spare ribs
  • Jeff's Original rub recipe (instant download after purchase)
  • Foil (Heavy Duty)
  • Full size foil pan (approx. 12 x 20 works best)

Instructions

  1. Remove ribs from package and rinse under cold water.
  2. Cut brisket bone and square ends to make them St. Louis style spare ribs.
  3. Remove membrane.
  4. Generously coat bone side of ribs with Jeff's original rub.
  5. Wait about 10 minutes for the rub to take on a “wet” look. This means the rub has mixed with the rib juices and will stick to the ribs without falling off when you turn them over.
  6. Flip the ribs over to meaty side up and coat the top and sides with generous amounts of Jeff's original rub.
  7. With the ribs on a cookie sheet, place them in the fridge overnight to allow the flavors in the rub to seep into the meat.
  8. Set up your smoker for cooking at about 230 °F with indirect heat. If your smoker has a water pan, fill it up with hot water.
  9. Follow this cooking schedule:
  10. -4 hrs @ 230°F – laid on grate with pecan/cherry smoke
  11. -2 hrs @ 230°F – wrapped (no smoke required)
  12. -2hrs @ 200°F – wrapped (no smoke required)
  13. -1.5 hrs @ 170°F – wrapped (no smoke required)
  14. Remove the ribs from the foil and pull the bones out of the meat.
  15. Slice the meat into ribs that are about 1-inch wide.
  16. Serve right away.

 

About the Author

Long time Industrial Engineer turned self-proclaimed fire poker, pitmaster and smoke whisperer and loving every minute of it!

26 Comments on this article. Feel free to join this conversation.

  1. Doug Weaver October 12, 2017 at 8:30 am - Reply

    Hello Jeff! This recipe sounds so good. My Wife is getting me a Camp Chef for Christmas, to use when I am not using my Masterbuilt. Can I get the same temps on the Camp Chef? I know you have to dial in the set temps.
    Thanks for your help.

  2. Doug Weaver October 12, 2017 at 8:28 am - Reply

    Hello Jeff. This recipe looks so good. Haven’t tried it yet though.
    My wife is getting me a Camp Chef for Christmas and can I get these temps on this smoker? I know it has a dial on it to set the temps but I don’t know if you can get those exact temps.
    I appreciate your help. Love your book and recipes.

  3. TSHobbes September 11, 2017 at 8:37 am - Reply

    I made these a few days ago and they turned out amazing. My only error was not starting them until the early afternoon. I was up until midnight waiting for them to finish. But the result was well worth it. I’m sure I will use this recipe again but next time I will start them in the morning.

  4. Bobby August 10, 2017 at 11:03 am - Reply

    Love your recipes! I’m not a competition smoker, just a backyard smoker…but i saw an article on Competition Ribs. The article said to mop a baste every 1 hour on the first 2 to 4 hours of smoking to keep meat moist during smoking. I assume it’s a light baste to not wash-away the dry rub. What’s your thought on basting during the initial smoking process?

    • Jeff Phillips August 10, 2017 at 6:55 pm - Reply

      Yes.. until the crust forms, you have to be careful to not wash the rub away by mopping. I prefer lightly spraying apple juice or some other basting liquid onto the meat.

      I have also been known to use a turkey baster to periodically dispense liquid over the top of a piece of meat.

  5. Mark Beveridge July 21, 2017 at 9:04 am - Reply

    Made ribs this week for a family gathering using your directions for fall apart ribs. Used your tip for mustard coating for the first time. I used Black’s BBQ rub (sorry Jeff; I had it and wanted to use it up) which was very good. Also, followed your timing for the smoking. FANTASTIC!! Ribs fell apart. My brother-in-law ate two full racks. Actually, he was the one who requested ribs. The mustard worked wonders and didn’t flavor the ribs at all. My next ribs will use your rub. Your book is excellent as well. I use a Smokin’ Tex smoker which does a fantastic job of smoking everything.

  6. Alisa July 4, 2017 at 11:46 am - Reply

    Im just starting to use my electric smoker.But I would like the bones on my rib.I like to hold on to the bone and eat it.Whats my cooking time for the kinds of ribs.

    • Jeff Phillips July 4, 2017 at 1:35 pm - Reply

      Alisa,

      The 2-2-1 method is what we normally use on baby backs which leaves them tender but the bone intact.

      2 hours on the grate at 230°F with smoke
      2 hour wrapped at 230°F (no smoke required)
      1 hour unwrapped again, on the grate at 230°F (smoke if desired)

      If you want them even less tender than this, you can remove time from stage 2 and add it to stage 1. For instance you might try 2.5-1.5-1 if the 2-2-1 is still too tender.

  7. Steve July 4, 2017 at 7:56 am - Reply

    Can this “fall off the bone” method be used with baby backs?

    Thanks

    • Jeff Phillips July 4, 2017 at 1:31 pm - Reply

      Absolutely but you’ll want to reduce the cooking time a little. The baby backs don’t have as much fat and they are usually not as meaty so they will reach this stage faster and you’ll want to be careful that they don’t dry out in the process.

      Something like this should work:

      3 hrs @ 230°F – laid on grate with smoke
      2 hrs @ 230°F – wrapped (no smoke required)
      1 hr @ 200°F – wrapped (no smoke required)
      Check tenderness..and only perform the next step if necessary.
      1 to 2 hrs @ 170°F – wrapped (no smoke required, check tenderness and moisture intermittently)

  8. Dutch July 1, 2017 at 12:16 pm - Reply

    Thanks for the recipe rehash.
    Always a nice reminder of recipes that can get forgotten.

  9. Jp June 29, 2017 at 11:19 am - Reply

    Jeff, Does your rub or sauce contain any pepper type spices? Family member cannot tolerate any pepper spices. Thanks, Jp

    • Jeff Phillips June 29, 2017 at 9:21 pm - Reply

      Yes, it has black pepper and some cayenne.

  10. Michel June 1, 2017 at 9:55 am - Reply

    Hi Jeff
    I tried a different method this weekend to save time but getting ribs fall off the bone with a smoke taste. I cooked the ribs 20 minutes at high pressure in my Instant pot then smoke the ribs for an hour apply the sauce smoke for another 30 minutes. The meat kept his pork taste in addition to the rub,sauce and smoke

  11. Tom Ingram June 1, 2017 at 8:52 am - Reply

    I have a Louisianna Smoker that utilizes a fan. Cooking times are quite a bit less with this. Is there a formula to adjust smoking times to this style smoker?

  12. Krystaal Kabler May 31, 2017 at 1:25 pm - Reply

    How do you set up the wood? I’ve heard about lava rocks on the bottom but I’ve always just used charcoal. Looks great can’t wait to try recipes!

  13. lizsarge May 29, 2017 at 8:18 am - Reply

    Jeff-These are the ribs I’ve been trying to make!! I have a very basic Brinkmann electric smoker so ribs went on for 4 hrs with cherry smoke and then wrapped in foil for 4 hours. Used your delicious rub as I always do – no sauce needed! Outstandingly tender! I know this is not what’s done in competitions but this is exactly how we like them!! Thank you!!

  14. John Angove May 21, 2017 at 9:17 pm - Reply

    I am a certified bbq judge and fall of the bone ribs are over cooked and will get you a low score you should leave a clean bite mark no meat on the bone at the bite and if the meat falls off over cooked. Rub the meat with your tongue on the roof of your mouth if it turns to mush no texture over cooked’

    • Jeff Phillips May 23, 2017 at 12:20 am - Reply

      This website is not about teaching folks how to win competitions..it’s about teaching them how to cook the kind of things they love to eat. Whether we like to admit it or not, folks love their ribs “overcooked” and who are we to tell them they are not allowed to like them that way? Many of the competitors on the circuit have told me time and time again, what they cook for judges is not what they cook at home for their families and having tasted it a few times, I can certainly understand why.

      • Tyler Bradshaw June 9, 2017 at 5:48 am - Reply

        Amen. Thank you. Had this thought of low heat holding for an extended duration creating fall off the bone quality when I went on vacation and noticed the spare ribs would fall off the bone at the local bbq shack at night, but the two following days at the same shack with the same pitmaster and lunchtime being the only changed variable. Thanks for being my validation mechanism. Now off to the store to buy 6 racks of st louis style spare ribs!

  15. John May 20, 2017 at 7:30 am - Reply

    I was thrilled to get such a great rib recipe.
    The 3,2,1 method is dead on. I let the ribs go one extra hour after I sauce and put them back on the smoker. Man they are fall off the bone good. And with some coleslaw and a cold beer, well we here in Vermont just love them. I wish I had a good thermometer its on my wish list. Thanks for the great cooking tips.

  16. Mick May 16, 2017 at 1:17 pm - Reply

    Any thoughts on smoking the ribs for the first 4 hours in the smoker and then finishing them of in the oven or maybe a slow cooker? Maybe even the next day?

    • Jeff Phillips May 16, 2017 at 8:29 pm - Reply

      You can definitely finish them off in the oven but you will not get the same results by finishing them the next day. All of the cooking time must be cumulative in temperature.

  17. Jeff Bulger May 6, 2017 at 9:29 am - Reply

    Jeff, what do you suggest we do for the trimmings on the Saint Louis style ribs? That seems like a waste, which keeps me going with baby backs. Any ideas?

    • Jeff Phillips May 10, 2017 at 12:00 pm - Reply

      I often season the parts I trim off and place them in the smoker with everything else. When they are done I freeze them and add them to beans, soups, stews, etc. for some great smoky, meaty flavor additions.

  18. Hoosiersmoker May 4, 2017 at 9:21 am - Reply

    There is something to be said for a little “chew” when it comes to ribs but then there’s the melt in your mouth aspect some people can’t (or at least don’t) appreciate. I’ve achieved this a couple different ways. One on the smoker and the other actually in a slow cooker. Same prep as this recipe shows but 2 racks standing on edge curled up in the slow cooker at low for about 6 or 7 hours. Family said it was one of the best sliders they had. With Jeff’s recipes for rub (minus the heat for my wife) and sauce they were near perfection. If you try this don’t bother with liquid smoke, it almost ruins the flavor, better to leave it out. Great for winter time if you can’t fire up the smoker.

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