Smoking Ribs – "Everything You Need to Know" Guide

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Smoking RibsSmoking ribs is one of my favorite outdoor activities . I prefer spare ribs but the baby backs and country style are very good as well. Read on below for my complete tutorial on smoking ribs.

I think some folk have the idea that ribs are hard to smoke and get right but after reading this and following a few tips which I am going to show you I think you will find out that it is actually not that difficult.

Choosing the Ribs at the Store or Market

When you go to the store or market to purchase spare ribs or baby backs, look for meat that has plenty of marbling of fat but not large clumps of fat on the outside of the ribs. Also look for ribs that have an even thickness across the entire slab for best results.

I prefer ribs that are minimally processed.. i.e. they are not injected with solution. This is sometimes hard to find so you may have to go with what you can get if your choices are limited.

Remove the Membrane before Smoking Ribs

To remove the membrane you simply lay the rack on a hard surface with the bone side up and starting at the corners you will see a thin plastic looking substance…starting at the corner use a knife or something sharp to get it started then use a paper towel to grab it and pull it off in one clean sweep. OK…well I admit it really is not that easy but with a little practice you can get quite proficient at it.

Remove the Skirt (Flap) on Spare Ribs

You will also want to cut off the flap of meat that runs horizontally across the meaty side of spare ribs. Not only does this even up the thickness of the ribs so they will cook better but the meat that you cut off can be cooked/smoked right along with everything else and is a really nice treat for the chef in about 2 hours or so.

Adding a Little Flavor with Rub

Ribs are tasty on their own and the smoke does a lot to add some goodness but I am a firm believer in using a good rub on the outside of the ribs. To me it adds so much to the meat and it just isn't the same without it.

To apply a rub to the ribs, I recommend applying a light coat of regular yellow mustard first to give the seasoning something to stick to. Don't worry, they won't taste like mustard when they are done cooking.

After the mustard is applied, sprinkle on the rub and if you like, gently massage the rub all over the ribs.. top and bottom.

Note: Use my very own rub recipe for best flavor. I sell the rub recipe to help support the website and it comes with my very own barbecue sauce recipe. Both recipes are amazing and I get raving testominials almost every day from folks who have discovered just how good they really are. Order the recipes HERE

At this point the ribs are finished being prepared and are ready to be smoked.

Low and Slow is the Key to Smoking Ribs

Smoking ribs is a slow process and should never be rushed. Always cook the ribs low and slow at about 225-240 degrees F using your favorite hard wood such as pecan, cherry, hickory or mesquite.

Keep the smoke flowing for at least 3 hours then if you have a charcoal, gas or electric smoker, you can finish them the rest of the way with just heat if you like.

When are the Ribs Finished?

The meat between the rib bones do not give a lot of leeway for using a thermometer but not to worry.. ribs are best cooked/smoked until they are tender. For spare ribs this normally takes about 6-7 hours. For Baby backs, you are looking at 5-6 hours depending on how meaty they are. For best results, use one or both of my tenderness tests below to make sure the ribs are ready to serve.

  • Tenderness test #1: Pick the ribs up by the very end using a set of tongs. When they bend about 90 degrees and almost break in half, they are done.
  • Tenderness test #2: Grasp two adjacent bones and pull them in opposite directions. If the meat between the bones tears easily, they are done.

Saucing the Ribs

In reality if the ribs require sauce to taste good then the cook needs more practice smoking ribs. I do not serve sauce on my ribs and I rarely if ever baste the ribs with sauce while they are smoking. I serve sauce on the side most of the time. Nothing wrong with sauce but it should be a compliment to the meat not a replacement for lack of flavor.

Having said that, I understand that some folks love their wet ribs and who am I to say there's anything wrong with that. If that's your thing then just start brushing on the sauce about 30-45 minutes before the ribs are finished cooking. Repeat this at least a couple of times before bringing them in the house for that nice saucy finish. My special sauce recipe offered below is amazing and if I sauced my ribs, that's what I'd use.

Special Deal…

I am now offering my famous rib rub recipe and my super excellent barbecue sauce recipe at a special price..

Here's a couple of testimonies that I've received from very happy customers:

Jeff, All I can say is, WOW!!!!
I have been reading your news letters for over a year and I Just now purchased your rub recipe. I have used it on steak and chicken legs on the grill so far. Both times I have people say that it was the best steak or chicken they had ever had. I can't wait to smoke something with it. Great job, you are THE MAN!!!! ~ Chris


When I first saw the rub ingredients, I didn't think it could live up to its reputation. Boy, was I wrong. This is great stuff and the proportions were perfect. I can't wait to try the sauce! ~ Steve

You get the point so what are you waiting on.. order the amazing recipes now!.


Some Final Rib Tips

When the meat is brought in I recommend waiting for ten minutes or so to let the meat rest and to allow the juices to move from the center back to the entire slab before slicing.

If you like the ribs to be "falling off the bone" tender then you need to check out my 3-2-1 method for smoking ribs. They will be down your alley for sure!

Free Smoking Meat Newsletter

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  1. Steve says

    I had trouble with my Master Built 30″ smoker at first…I found out the hard way that after a few hours, juice would drip on the electric control sensor “insulating” it and causing the temp to get too high…now I cover it with foil and no problem…also, I found that by putting wood chips on some foil and placing directly on the heating element gets the smoking process started almost immediately and then the chips in the chip container (without water) start smoking a few hours later….I am in the process of rewiring a new Honeywell boiler control into the smoke to control the heat to the very degree I want it…

    • says

      Only if you want to leave all of that great flavor in the water.. rib stock anyone?

      Boiling is considered to be one of the worst things you can do for ribs. Although it does help to tenderize them, you are left with something that must have sauce to be tasty.

      Follow the 3-2-1 method for spare ribs or the 2-2-1 method for baby backs on the smoker, no boiling and you will find out how great ribs can taste;)

  2. Ian says

    My ex bought me a smoker for Christmas (guess she wants me out in sub zero in upstate NY) I have followed a couple of different recipes for ribs – all turned out dry. Just followed yours (not your rub sorry) and I have to say WOW. I was gonna share some with her but ……… too late.

  3. Bob Barber says

    Hi jeff  im useing a natural gas bbq this the first time im doing smoked ribs do i keep adding water to the chips Thank you Bob.

  4. diane says

    we tried to smoke some ribs for the first time. they were only in for 2 hours  at 225 degrees and they were black and crispy what went wrong?

  5. Jim Wunderlich says

    I have a small "bullet" shaped electric smoker which works well for up to about 6 people.  Temp is controlled easly.  When I have to clean the grills I put them on my regular gas grill.  They fit perfectly.  They get heated up with the grill and get a good brushing with a good grill brush.  If you got em smoke em.  Jim

      • says

         Ed, that really depends on your smoker, how large of a wood chip box you are using, etc.. If you are using an electric or a gas smoker, I recommend just watching for the smoke to stop coming out and once it slows to almost a stop, you can add more chips.

        Once you use the smoker a little you will be able to start estimating how long the chips will last.

        If you will let us know exactly what kind of smoker you are using, we can probably give you some specific advice on it regarding smoke.

    • Jeremy Mayrose says

      first off thank you for all your help, i have become a block favorite with my smoker.  i have noticed that it seems like the cooking times using my electric smoker are usually less then recomended.  just wanted to verify that i am not undercooking the meat, and didnt know if you have heard the same from others?  thanks again

      • Robert Powers says


        cooking times are just an estamate and not set in stone.  the first brisket i smoked cooked about 4 hours quicker than it should have.  internal tempurature is the key.  what temps do you cook at?

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