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Smoked Pork Baby Back Ribs for Christmas

christmas ribs

We have smoked ribs nearly every Christmas dinner and, in my opinion, it’s a wonderful tradition! There’s plenty of smoked ribs to go around and if anyone leaves hungry, it’s their own fault.

Based on emails that I receive, the one thing that many folks struggle with when dealing with ribs, is how to get them super tender.

Well, you better not say that too loud around folks who cook for competitions but, if there is one thing I’ve learned, most non-professional barbecue, smoked meat loving folks that I have met, judge ribs by just how “fall off the bone” tender they are.

My family and friends are no exception, when I am cooking for them, it’s fall off the bone ribs just the way they like them ;-)

Helpful Information
  • Prep Time: 30 minutes
  • Cook Time: 5 hours
  • Smoker Temp: 240°F
  • Meat Finish Temp: n/a (tender)
  • Recommended Wood: Pecan/apple mix
What You’ll Need
  • 2+ racks of pork baby back ribs
  • Vegetable oil (optional)
  • Yellow mustard (optional)
  • Jeff’s original rub 
  • Heavy duty foil
Getting the Ribs Prepped

With any pork ribs, one of the first steps that I recommend is removing the membrane. That’s a leathery, plastic-looking skin on the bone side of the ribs. In my opinion, it detracts from the eating process, blocks the smoke from getting to the meat from the bottom side and is best removed.

My daughter helps me out with the food prep while I take the pictures. She happens to be very good at removing the membrane and knocked out 5 of them in just a few minutes. Practice does make you more proficient;-)

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After the membrane is removed, apply some vegetable oil or yellow mustard to the ribs to help the original rub  to stick real nice to the meat (we don’t want any of it falling off).

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Wanna Try Something Special? (Optional but very good)

I have been experimenting with an extra ingredient on the ribs to give them a little holiday flair.. cinnamon!

I used a 50:50 mix of cinnamon and white sugar since I wanted it to be on the subtle side. Not too subtle but not in your face either.

After you add the vegetable oil, just sprinkle a very light dusting of the cinnamon sugar on both sides of the ribs (it doesn’t take a lot).

Trust me.. it is really good and pairs really well with my rub.

For an alternative to the extra layer of cinnamon, I had a reader tell me that he mixes in 1 TBS of cinnamon per batch of my original rub  for a nice flavor.

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Sprinkle my original rub  on the bone side first. You can go as heavy or light as you want to. The rub recipe is not very salty and adds great flavor and crust without overpowering the meat flavor.

I went all out on these.. can’t go wrong!

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Let the ribs sit there just a few minutes to let the rub absorb the oil and create a paste. This makes the ribs appear wet and when this happens, the rub doesn’t fall off as easily.

Other side now..

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The deliciousness is on!

Let the ribs sit there a little longer while you go get the smoker ready.

Set Up the Smoker

Set up your smoker for cooking at about 240°F if possible. Be sure to use a tried and true thermometer to make sure that your smoker is running at the temperature that it says it is.

I often get questions from folks asking me why things are getting done so quickly or why they are taking so much longer than what I say. I think much of this can be pinned to the fact that factory thermometers rarely read the temperature accurately.

This is due to:

  • Faulty thermometers
  • Gauge is too far from grate where the meat sits

I usually use a thermometer to monitor the smoker/pit temperature rather than relying on the built-in thermometer in the door or lid.

Once your smoker is heated up and ready to smoke, it’s time to get those ribs on the grate.

Smoke the Pork Baby Back Ribs

Step 1

Place the ribs bone side down if possible.

Let the ribs cook at about 240°F and with smoke for 2 hours.

Step 2

At the end of 2 hours, wrap the ribs with foil.

Do this carefully so as to not tear the foil. If you do happen to tear it, just double wrap it with another piece.

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Place the wrapped ribs back into the 240°F smoker  and you can even stack them all together if you need to.

Let them cook in this wrapped state for about 2 hours.

Step 3

With a total of 4 hours past, you now want to unwrap them again.

They will be very soft on the outside and very tender on the inside, and this last step is to firm up the outside just a little before serving them.

Remove the foil and place them back into the 240°F smoker for 1 hour.

That entire process is known as the 2-2-1 method and it works really well for baby back ribs.

If you happen to want ribs that are not quite as tender, you can go with something like 3-1-1 or some other variation to get the tenderness you like.

It requires practice to find the happy spot.

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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.

Serve the Ribs

Slice up the ribs and serve them

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Questions

What if I want to do spare ribs or St. Louis style spares?

No problem. Follow the same basic process but add an extra hour to the first step. It will end up being 3-2-1.

Should I put liquid down in the foil during step 2?

You can and many do but I found of late that I get better results with less steam. By leaving out the liquid, there is less steam and the rub stays intact better.

Should I brine my ribs?

I have liquid brined the ribs for about 6 hours and the results were very good. Dry brining using 1 TBS of kosher salt for the entire rack makes the meat too salty and “hammy” for my liking so I don’t recommend it.

Not enough room. Is it ok to use a rib rack?

If you have to use a rib rack due to space constraints, that is fine but I feel that the flat, bone side down is the best position since that allows the juices to pool on top of the meat and keeps the ribs more moist while they cook.

Do I need to use a water pan?

If your smoker came new designed to be used with a water pan, it is always a good idea to use it unless you are drying meat/making jerky.

Can I make the ribs ahead of time and reheat them?

Yes.. I did some like this a few weeks ago and they were very good. I modified the process slightly for this purpose as follows:

  1. Unwrapped in the smoker at 240°F for 3 hours with smoke
  2. Wrapped for 2 hours in smoker at 240°F  (no smoke)
  3. Removed on cabinet still wrapped for about 30 minutes to cool.
  4. Place in fridge still wrapped and stacked on a cookie sheet
  5. Preheat oven to 250°F and place cookie sheet of stacked ribs into oven for about 1.5 hours
Print

Smoked Pork Baby Back Ribs for Christmas

Here is the recipe and tutorial for the tender, smoked baby back ribs that I make every year for Christmas at our house. Everyone loves them and you will too.

  • Author: Jeff Phillips
  • Prep Time: 30 minutes
  • Cook Time: 5 hours
  • Total Time: 5 hours 30 minutes
  • Yield: 4 -6 1x
  • Category: Entree
  • Cuisine: Hot Smoking

Ingredients

Scale
  • 2 + racks of pork baby back ribs
  • Vegetable oil (optional)
  • Yellow mustard (optional)
  • Jeff’s original rub
  • Heavy duty foil

Instructions

Getting the Ribs Prepped

  1. Remove the membrane.
  2. Apply some vegetable oil or yellow mustard to the ribs to help the rub to stick real nice to the meat.

Cinnamon (optional)

  1. Use a 50:50 mix of cinnamon and white sugar
  2. After you add the vegetable oil, just sprinkle a very light dusting of the cinnamon sugar on both sides of the ribs (it doesn’t take a lot).
  3. For an alternative to the extra layer of cinnamon, I had a reader tell me that he mixes in 1 TBS of cinnamon per batch of my rub for a nice flavor.

Season the Ribs

  1. Sprinkle my rub on the bone side first.
  2. Let the ribs sit there just a few minutes to let the rub absorb the oil and create a paste.
  3. Flip ribs over to meaty side up and repeat oil and rub
  4. Let the ribs sit there a little longer while you go get the smoker ready.

Set Up the Smoker

  1. Set up your smoker for cooking at about 240°F if possible. Be sure to use a tried and true thermometer to make sure that your smoker is running at the temperature that it says it is.
  2. Once your smoker is heated up and ready to smoke, it’s time to get those ribs on the grate.

Smoke the Pork Baby Back Ribs

  1. Step 1
  2. Place the ribs bone side down if possible.
  3. Let the ribs cook at about 240°F and with smoke for 2 hours.
  4. Step 2
  5. At the end of 2 hours, wrap the ribs with foil.
  6. Do this carefully so as to not tear the foil. If you do happen to tear it, just double wrap it with another piece.
  7. Place the wrapped ribs back into the 240°F smoker and you can even stack them all together if you need to.
  8. Let them cook in this wrapped state for about 2 hours.
  9. Step 3
  10. With a total of 4 hours past, you now want to unwrap them again.
  11. They will be very soft on the outside and very tender on the inside, and this last step is to firm up the outside just a little before serving them.
  12. Remove the foil and place them back into the 240°F smoker for 1 hour.
  13. Alternative for Step 3
  14. 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.

Serve the Ribs

  1. Slice up the ribs and serve them

Questions

  1. What if I want to do spare ribs or St. Louis style spares? No problem. Follow the same basic process but add an extra hour to the first step. It will end up being 3-2-1.
  2. Should I put liquid down in the foil during step 2? You can and many do but I found of late that I get better results with less steam. By leaving out the liquid, there is less steam and the rub stays intact better.
  3. Should I brine my ribs? I have liquid brined the ribs for about 6 hours and the results were very good. Dry brining using 1 TBS of kosher salt for the entire rack makes the meat too salty and “hammy” for my liking so I don’t recommend it.
  4. Not enough room. Is it ok to use a rib rack? If you have to use a rib rack due to space constraints, that is fine but I feel that the flat, bone side down is the best position since that allows the juices to pool on top of the meat and keeps the ribs more moist while they cook.
  5. Do I need to use a water pan? If your smoker came new designed to be used with a water pan, it is always a good idea to use it unless you are drying meat/making jerky.

Did you make this recipe?

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4 Comments

  1. I have your book “smoking Meat” – great book.
    For salmon, I skip the brining, it came out too salty; I use the light brown sugar, lemon zest and juice, and dill for a rub, and smoke @ 225 for 2 hrs, Apple wood. Came out great. Tried also maple syrup instead of sugar- great also.
    St. Louis cut ribs, smoked w/ hickory, 3-1/2, 2-1/2, 1, since I was doing 2 large racks in cookshack electric smoker @ 225. Used your big bald rub but substituted light brown sugar for regular, smoked paprika and left out the kosher salt (lemon pepper is salty), and left out the cayenne. When I wrapped, I first brushed on a 50-50 mix of jack Daniels and Stubbs barbecue sauce. When I did the last hour, the sauce formed a light bark- excellent flavor and tenderness.
    Your recipes are great base to experiment with!

  2. I am smoking 5 racks of ribs baby back, on my electric digital smoker on Sat. Will the cooking time need to be increased. I usually use the 3-2-1 but normally only have 1 or racks

  3. I have a question, why does your naked rob rib use dark brown sugar and other recipes use regular sugar?

    1. Commercial brown sugar is basically regular white sugar mixed with molasses. The dark brown sugar has about twice the molasses of light brown sugar which makes it darker and more flavorful and, in my opinion, it works really well in the rub.