How to Smoke Ribs – December 2009 Newsletter

Hello friends and welcome to the December 2009 edition of the Smoking Meat Newsletter. Maybe it's just me but it seems like this year has come and gone way too fast! It is Christmas already and as is the tradition at the Phillips household, ribs are on the menu.

I have always liked turkey and ham but after eating all of that turkey and ham at Thanksgiving, I'm just ready for something a little different. Ribs seem to fit the bill and my family seems to enjoy them a lot.

Many people are intimidated by ribs and I think it is just a fear of the unknown. There are a few key elements to preparing and smoking ribs but it is definitely not difficult or complex by any means.

My intent in this article is to show you how easy it is and hopefully to inspire you to give it a go very soon at your home as well.

And if you missed last months newsletters you can find them at:



How to Smoke Ribs – Video

Video Edition: I have taken some homemade footage of a rib cook I did a week or so ago and had it put together into a video which I hope will help you to be able to see for yourself just how easy it is to smoke spare ribs and baby backs.

Smoking Ribs

About Ribs

Spare ribs are cut from an area just above the belly of the pig and contain more meat and fat than their counterparts the baby backs.

Due to this excess fat, they are well suited to smoking for long hours since the fat tends to render while they cook and keeps the meat from drying out.

Baby Backs are from the back of the pig and have less meat and considerably less fat than the spares. Many people prefer the baby backs but here in Oklahoma, the spares are king.

How to Purchase Ribs

When buying spare ribs as well as baby backs, look for ribs that are meaty with some marbling in the meat but not an excess of fat on top.

Preparing Ribs for Smoking

Pork ribs have lots of flavor built in and in my opinion do not need to be brined or marinated for days on end. My general prep starts an hour or so before putting them on the smoker.

Remove them from the package and rinse them off in cool water.

On Spare ribs, you will notice a thick flap running along the center of the slab. Cut this flap off and set aside for later.

The spares and baby backs will both have a plastic like membrane on the bone side of the ribs.. this will need to be removed for best results. Peel up a corner of the membrane with your finger or other sharp object. Then use a paper towel to grip the membrane and peel it completely off from the rib.

If you don't get all of it in one try don't be alarmed. Just peel up what you missed and removed it in the same manner even if it takes several attempts.

Note: some folks use catfish skinning pliers for removing the membrane. Might be worth a try if you have trouble.

Removing this thick, inedible piece of skin allows the smoke to get to the meat much better and improves the “eatability” of the ribs (who wants to chew on a thick piece of plastic?).

With the membrane and flap(on spares) removed, apply a thin slather of regular yellow mustard to the bone side of the ribs. Then pour on a good handful of rib rub.

Massage the rub/mustard mixture into the bone side of the ribs making sure to get some on the edges as well.

Flip the ribs over to meaty side up and do the same rub/mustard mixture on this side as well.

Repeat on as many slabs of ribs as you plan to smoke.

The ribs are now ready to smoke.

What are St. Louis Style Ribs?

This is a way to trim spare ribs before cooking them to make them more aesthetically appealing. You will notice that spare ribs have a thick piece of cartilage that runs along one edge of the rack known as the brisket bone. To make spare ribs St. Louis style, you have to remove this brisket bone and trim off the outside edge of the meat that extends beyond the bones to sqare them up and make them look more like baby backs.

Preparing the smoker

Build a fire with charcoal, wood or a combination of both.

I recommend using lump charcoal in a charcoal chimney for best results.

Note: gas or electric will work also just make sure to make whatever adjustments are necessary to maintain about 225°F for 6-7 hours.

Smoking the Spare Ribs

Once your smoker is up to temperature and smoking, the ribs can be placed on the grate or on a rib rack for smoking. I like to place them directly on the grate bone side down.

I prefer to smoke ribs with oak, pecan, or mesquite but you can also use fruit woods such as apple, cherry, plum, etc. with excellent results.

If you are using charcoal, electric or gas, keep plenty of smoke flowing for the first 3-4 hours then you can finish with just heat from that point forward.

How to Know When the Ribs are Finished

Ribs in general are hard to measure with a thermometer.. I always try to check simply because I have an OCD about that but that is a totally different story for a totally different day;-)

The ideal measurement for pork ribs is about 172°-177°F however, if you can see the meat pulled back from the bones 1/4 to 1/2 inch AND if you can pull two bones apart in opposite directions and it starts to tear the meat, then the ribs are done cooking.

They are safe to eat much lower than this however, as with most smoked meats, the temperature at which the meat becomes tender is much higher than the safe temperature.

Ribs are no exception to this rule.

Baby backs will generally require about 5 hours while the spares will require around 6 hours or so.

The entire batch of ribs that I made for the video took 6.5 hours and the baby backs and spares were both done at exactly the same time. This just goes to show that we can estimate the time but you have to stay open to some flexibility if it is required.

What if I Want The Ribs to be Falling Off the Bone Tender?

I prefer ribs with a little bit of chew left in them.. kinda like a good steak. However, if you want the meat to pull clean from the bone when you take a bite, as wrong as that is in an official KCBS competition, you can have it your way by using the 3-2-1 method (2-2-1 for baby backs).

This method is very simply.. 3 hours directly  on the grates with plenty of smoke followed by 2 hours wrapped in foil and finished off by 1 final hour unwrapped and directly on the grate again.

These times are estimates and may need to be adjusted slightly for your particular smoker, weather, etc.

I have a good article on this method at

Are There Other Ways to Tenderize Ribs?

Yes, you can wrap the ribs in foil once they are done smoking and place them in a 200 degree oven for 2-4 hours. The ribs will stay hot and will continue to tenderize while they are in the foil.

I have also heard that you can marinate the ribs in papaya juice, a natural tenderizer but since I have not tried this, you are on your own with that experiment.

What About Brining Spare Ribs

I am not a big fan of brined ribs simply because I have not noticed that it makes a difference in the end product. If you want to try it, use a basic brine of 1 gallon water, 1 cup of kosher salt and 3/4 cup of white granulated sugar. Immerse the ribs in the brine for about 2-3 hours.

If it seems to work for you then I would like to hear about it. I am not opposed to the process.. I just don't like doing anything that is not beneficial in some way.

A Word on Tender Ribs by Boiling

Ribs can be made extremely tender by boiling them for a while before smoking however, this sacrafices all of the tasty goodness into the boiling water and you are left with extremely tender but flavorless ribs.

My advice: Don't do it!

How to Smoke Wet Ribs

Wet ribs just means you sauce them up with your favorite barbecue sauce before you bring them to the table and usually before they are even done cooking.

For the best wet ribs, start mopping them with sauce about an hour before they are done cooking. Reapply the sauce every 15-20 minutes.

Some folks like to throw wet ribs on the grill to do a quick carmelize just before serving. If that is your thing then prepare a medium hot grill and grill the ribs for about 3-4 minutes per side just before serving.

My Famous Rib Rub Recipe and BBQ Sauce Recipe

Folks.. I never stop amazing myself at how good my rib rub is on various kinds of meat.

I always use my rib rub with very few exceptions on the ribs that I cook here at home.. in the few times that I did not, I got scolded and told that they did not taste right without my rub.

What can I say.. my family likes my rub and sauce on the meat!!

Yours will too and I guarantee it to be so with a full 100% buy back if they don't.

I believe my recipes are the best hand down and here are a few testimonies to prove it:


Jeff,have tried the Rib Rub and Sauce recipes several times.Simply awesome. Nothing more needs to be said


I have purchased and used your Rib Rub and love it!  I recommend your website to anyone who inquires how I transform a raw piece of meat into the slice of heaven currently in their mouth


I am making a lot of the rub for my kids in Tampa, Las Vegas and Denver.  It is the best.  They have the sauce and rave about the results.


Jeff, I have tried allot of “bottled” sauces and a few home made ones to……This stuff is GOLD! It was a big hit Labor day..


You deserve the very best and is is completely within your grasp! Only $18.95 and worth every penny. Not only do you get the best rub and sauce recipe available, you are supporting this website and helping to make sure the bills get paid so we can keep on doing what we do to teach thousands and thousands of people across the world the art of smoking meat.

Order Recipes

NOTE: My system is automated which means you should get a download email within MINUTES of ordering..check your spam/junk folder first then contact me to get the recipes sent to you as an attachment.

In Closing

Thank you for being a part of the smoking meat family which includes the newsletter, the forum, the website and many other resources that we try to provide to help you and countless others learn this great art.

A HUGE thank you to all of you who support the site with your donations and by purchasing the recipes and other products that we sell.

Thank you!!

Until next time.. keep smoking and God Bless.

Jeff Phillips

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