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Over the years, I have had a lot of questions concerning the use of a brine on pork ribs and while I have brined ribs, the results were inconclusive and I wanted to take another stab at it.
I decided to use a coffee brine to give the ribs some added dimension and I even went so far as to introduce some coffee grounds into my original rub to bring some cohesiveness to the flavors.
If you haven't tried it, coffee is an excellent flavor to add to meats and the coffee flavor definitely came through in these smoked baby back ribs.
- Prep Time: 45 minutes
- Brine Time: 4-6 hours
- Cook Time: 5 hours
- Smoker Temp: 225°F
- Meat Finish Temp: 195°F
- Recommended Wood: Apple
What You'll Need
- 2 racks of baby back ribs
- Jeff's original rub
- 2 Large foil pan(s)
- 32 oz coffee brine (recipe below)
- Jeff's barbecue sauce
Brining the Ribs
Make the coffee brine using:
- 32 oz (1 quart) of brewed coffee
- 1/4 cup of Kosher salt
- 1/4 cup of brown sugar
- 1/4 cup of Jeff's original rub
However you make your coffee in the morning will work. I used a Keurig coffee maker and just made several cups and poured them in until I had enough. (quick and easy).
Note: If it's easier, purchase some already made cold brewed coffee wherever you pick up groceries. I really like the SToK® brand (unsweetened) and it comes in a 48 ounce container.
Pour the coffee into a tall pitcher then mix in the salt, sugar and rub and stir real well until everything is dissolved. Some of the ingredients in my rub recipe will not dissolve but they will leach great flavors into the brine.
Once the brine is made, add a few cubes of ice to cool it down and set it aside.
Remove the ribs from the packaging and give them a good rinse under cold water.
Lay them on the cutting board.
Remove that thick plastic-like skin on the back called the membrane
Note: Here's a new and better way to remove the membrane on ribs:
Pry up the skin in the middle of the rack of ribs and pull straight up once you have a good firm grip on it.
Use your other hand to hold down on the rack of ribs.
This method seems to tear less and come off a lot easier.
Use a paper towel if you need a better grip.
Note: You can also use catfish pliers to pull the membrane from the ribs.
Once the membrane is off, they are ready to go into the brine.
I like to cut the ribs in half when I am brining them to make them fit into gallon-sized bags.
This also makes them easy to work with.
Once the ribs are in the bags, pour enough brine into each one to cover the ribs.
Seal them up pressing out as much air as possible.
Lay them in a pan in case you get a leaker.
Note: I am only brining (2) of these racks of ribs. The 3rd rack of ribs will remain un-brined and will be used as a taste comparison once they are all done cooking.
Place the pan of ribs in the fridge for 4-6 hours with 6 hours being better if you can do it.
Once the ribs are finished brining, remove them from the brine.
Discard the brine.
The racks/pans make it real easy to prepare the ribs and then carry them out to the smoker without having to handle them too much.
Preparing the Ribs for Smoking
If you have plenty of time, you can apply my rub directly to the wet ribs. If you are in a hurry, apply a light coat of mustard first to help the rub to stick.
I had plenty of time ;-)
Be generous with my original rub and you'll be very, very happy later.
Bone side first then wait until it starts looking wet (so it won't fall off) then flip them over meaty side up.
Apply rub generously to the meaty side and once again leave them alone until they start getting that “wet” look.
Want to go a little further with the coffee theme?
- ¼ cup of finely ground coffee
- ¾ cup of my original rub
Mix it together real well and ta-da!
I think you WILL like it!
The upper bag is my original rub recipe, the lower one is the same rub but has coffee added to it. You can see the difference.
Folks have been adding coffee grounds to meat rubs for a very long time but I just tried this recently with my very own original rib rub and it really works well with the coffee brined ribs.
Once the ribs are rubbed down real well, they are ready to go on the smoker and get the royal treatment!
Smoking the Ribs
Ribs are pretty versatile and they can be made to turn out really good regardless of whether you have a really expensive rig, an old junker that you found at a yard sale or anywhere in between.
Maintain about 225-240°F indirect heat and apply smoke and you are good to go.
Heres the plan, you can just put the ribs on the grate, smoke them for about 5 hours and they will be very good but I do have a lot of folks who ask me how to get that really, tender rib where the meat easily pulls free from the bone.
Just remember 2-2-1 when you want a slab of super tender baby back ribs
And I'll walk you through this easy process.
Step 1 – Place the racks with the ribs on the smoker grate and let them cook for 2 hours with plenty of smoke (apple is recommended). You can also just place the ribs directly on the smoker grate.
Step 2 – Wrap the ribs in foil (or place them in a foil pan and cover tightly with foil) Add ¼ inch of liquid to the pan to create a little steam. (apple juice, water, chicken broth, coffee, almost anything) Place back in the smoker at 225-240°F for 2 hours. No smoke is needed since they are wrapped up.
Step 3 – Remove from pan or foil and place them back in the smoker on the Bradley racks and let them cook for an additional hour to firm them up a little and form a little bark (that delicious brown stuff on the outside of meat that's been cooked or grilled.). Smoke is optional.
Alternative for Step 3 – Throw them on a very hot grill and let the high heat give them a good char. Paint on some barbecue sauce if you like sticky ribs. I usually do a rack of sticky ribs and a rack of just dry rubbed ribs to suit everyone's taste.
Like your ribs Competition Style?
I did NOT forget about you guys who love them not quite so tender better known as “competition style” where they leave a bite mark but don't pull away from the bone quite so easily ;-)
Just add an hour to step one and remove an hour from step 2 and they should be just about right (this makes them 3-1-1).
You can adjust this as needed to get them perfect just the way you like them.
When the ribs are finished, you should see some good pullback of the meat from around the bones and they should be as tender as you like them.
For those of you who “don't use no stinkin' thermometer on your ribs”, just go by feel and how they look and you'll know when they are done ;-)
Cut them up into individual pieces and call dinner.
Serving the Ribs
These ribs never even made it to the table. The folks at my house grabbed meaty ribs and threw down bones like a bunch of barbarians. I have to admit, I had a few or 9 myself!
- The brined ribs were better textured and more moist than the non-brined ones which is what one would expect.
- I could taste the coffee but it was subtle and while it did not overpower the taste of the ribs, it did give them some extra depth which I enjoyed.
- I think you could probably brine these overnight if you wanted to with no problem.
- The brining process did not make them salty in the least.
If you try this, let me know what you think in the comments below.
Coffee Brined, Smoked Baby Back Ribs
- 2 racks of baby back ribs
- Jeff's original rub and barbecue sauce
- 2 Large foil pan
- Foil (Heavy duty)
- 32 ounces brewed coffee
- ¼ cup kosher salt (coarse)
- ¼ cup brown sugar (dark is best)
- ¼ cup Jeff's original rub
- Make the brine by mixing the coffee, brown sugar and kosher salt together. Stir until the ingredients are dissolved. Add the rub and stir to combine.
- Place the brine solution in the fridge, preferably overnight, to get cold.
- Prep the ribs for brining by removing the membrane on the boney side of the ribs
- Place the ribs in a plastic container or a large zip top bag then pour the brine solution over the top of the ribs to cover. Refrigerate for 6 hours then rinse with cold water and discard brine.
- Rub yellow mustard on the bone side of the ribs then sprinkle Jeff's original rub generously onto the ribs to cover. Flip the ribs over and repeat the mustard and rub on the meaty side. Lay aside while you set up the smoker.
- Prepare the smoker for cooking at 225-240°F with indirect heat. If your smoker uses a water pan, fill it up.
- Stage 1: Place the ribs directly on the grate and let them smoke cook for 2 hours using apple wood for smoke.
- Stage 2: Remove the ribs from the smoker and wrap with 18-inch wide heavy duty foil. Place them back into the smoker and cook for 2 hours wrapped. No smoke required during this stage.
- Stage 3: Remove the ribs from the foil and place them back into the smoker, directly on the grates. Smoke cook for 1 hour using apple wood for smoke.
- Remove ribs from the smoker when they reach 195 degrees or when they have reached the level of tenderness that you desire. Let the ribs rest for about 10-15 minutes before slicing.
- The ribs are perfectly done when they reach 195°F using a Thermapen or other digital meat thermometer.
- Feel free to use another type of smoke wood if you do not have apple wood.
- Mix ¼ cup of finely ground coffee to ¾ cup of Jeff's original rub before applying the seasoning to the outside of the ribs for some additional coffee flavor. Try it.. it's great!