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Coffee Brined, Smoked Baby Back Ribs

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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 (Purchase formula here | Purchase bottled 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.

Helpful Information
  • 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
Brining the Ribs

Make the coffee brine using:

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.

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Remove the ribs from the packaging and give them a good rinse under cold water.

Lay them on the cutting board.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

Rinse the ribs under cold water and lay them bone side up on Bradley racks, Weber grill pans or cooling racks set on paper towels to drain.

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.

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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 (Purchase formula here | Purchase bottled 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.

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Want to go a little further with the coffee theme?

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 (Purchase formula here | Purchase bottled rub) and it really works well with the coffee brined ribs.

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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 Bradley racks or Weber grill pans 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.

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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.

Finishing up

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.

If you have a high quality thermometer like a Thermapen or a ThermoPop that has a tapered tip, you can check the meat of these ribs right between the bones. 195°F is about perfect tenderness.

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.

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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!

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Observations

  • 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.

Print

Coffee Brined, Smoked Baby Back Ribs

This recipe uses a coffee brine to give the ribs some added dimension and even goes so far as to introduce some coffee grounds into the rub to bring some cohesiveness to the flavors.

  • Prep Time: 45 minutes
  • Cook Time: 5 hours
  • Total Time: 5 hours 45 minutes
  • Yield: 5 1x
  • Category: Entree
  • Cuisine: Barbecue, Hot Smoking

Ingredients

Units Scale
  • 2 racks of baby back ribs
  • Jeff’s original rub and barbecue sauce
  • 2 Large foil pan
  • Foil ((Heavy duty))

Coffee Brine

  • 32 ounces brewed coffee
  • 1/4 cup kosher salt ((coarse))
  • 1/4 cup brown sugar (((dark is best)))
  • 1/4 cup Jeff’s original rub recipe

Instructions

  1. 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.
  2. Place the brine solution in the fridge, preferably overnight, to get cold.
  3. Prep the ribs for brining by removing the membrane on the boney side of the ribs
  4. 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.
  5. 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.
  6. Prepare the smoker for cooking at 225-240°F with indirect heat. If your smoker uses a water pan, fill it up.
  7. Stage 1: Place the ribs directly on the grate and let them smoke cook for 2 hours using apple wood for smoke.
  8. 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.
  9. 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.
  10. 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.

Notes

Note 1: The ribs are perfectly done when they reach 195°F using a Thermapen or other digital meat thermometer.
Note 2: Feel free to use another type of smoke wood if you do not have apple wood.
Note 3: 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!

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26 Comments

  1. This recipe rocks! I mainly wanted to thank you for always providing interesting and new ideas for brines, smoke, etc. I recently went to the next level by adding a stick burning offset smoker. I can always count on you to provide tips and tricks to end up with a successful smoke. BTW: I purchased your original rub and sauces several years ago and have been a crowd pleaser every time. Thanks for sharing Jeff.

  2. I purchased Jeffs rubs about two months ago snd have been using them since. I highly recommend you add them to your BBQ repertoire. They are great on anything and everything.

    Now the real reason for my comments.
    I was sceptical about the coffee brined rib recipie. However, my curiosity got the best of me and I used it to the letter. WOW! I was so surprised at the results. In fact, it was so good it goes down as one of my favorites. The blend of Jeff’s original rub and coffee is fantastic. I cant wait to make it again.

  3. My favorite rub is the Weber Coffee Rub, it’s good on just about everything. So I have no doubt that adding some coffee to Jeff’s already good rubs would also be a great idea.

  4. Jeff I’ve watched several bbq postmaster episodes and Myron Mixon, Melissa Cookson and Johnny Trigg all laughed at a competitor using mustard on bbq to keep the rub on. They said mustard goes on hot dogs not bbq. I’ve never used it I use peanut oil.

    1. Tim, using something like mustard is a great way to help the rub to stick to the meat but you can definitely use other things such as oils, sauces, condiments, syrups (maple, honey, molasses), etc.

      I like to see and read what other pitmasters are doing but I usually try things myself and make up my own mind as to whether it’s for me or not regardless of who says otherwise. In my opinion it is very narrow minded for a chef/pitmaster to use blanket statements such as “mustard is only for hotdogs and never for barbecue”.

      I use mustard because I’ve tried things like pork butt and chicken with and without mustard and I tend to like it better with. I also use mayonnaise on chicken which some do not like.. it’s a very personal thing and not something you should tell other people they should or should not do.

      I recommend you try things and see what you like.. then you can decide what should be used where in your own cooking for you and your family.

      That’s my opinion and I’m sticking to it ;-)

  5. So I’m going to try this recipe this weekend. Been a loyal follower for years. Bought your rubs and sauce recipes and make them in bulk (I save Smart and Final or Costco large spice containers) and give them to friends as gifts. No receipe, I just say it’s my secret. ? Best hit especially with our teenage crew, Costco wings. A bag will feed a large crew. And they are meaty. Flash frozen so you do have to drain moisture before oil and rub. Getting pissed at my 7 year old Masterbuilt. Struggles to get up to 265 and that is here in Scottsdale when it is already 110. I’ve looked at that pellet your selling, but concerned about the size. Seems a tad small… especially if you’re cooking for 10 people or more like I typically am. Thoughts?

  6. Hello Jeff
    Long time customer and reader and smoker of your recipes Thank you Awesome Job
    I like your printable version on your new recipes but your older recipes how do you print on one page

    Thanks again

    this is the coffee baby backs

    1. Walter, there is a print button at the top of the left sidebar on the desktop version. It’s not a perfect solution but it does allow you to do some modification to the recipes before printing or saving as a PDF. Additionally, I have went ahead and created a printable version of the Coffee Brined Smoked Baby Back Ribs as this has been requested several times.

  7. Looks great, I actually have tweaked your rub a bit and actually always add a bit coffee and a bit of cocoa powder.

    1. Spare ribs usually take about an hour longer than baby backs. If you are using the 2-2-1 method, increase the first step by one hour making it the 3-2-1 method for spare ribs.

  8. I have no choice but to use the “moist and tender” ribs from my grocery. I want to try this brine but I’m concerned about ending up with salty meat since the ribs already have a 15% solution on them. If I skip the salt, will this work or does it need the salt in the brine to pull the flavor into the meat?

    1. I followed your recipe from last time and it came out ok. Not as good as the normally way but that is just my opinion.

  9. I tried your coffee brined smoked rib recipe for a family 4th of July party. I had one slab of coffee ribs and 3 with just your rub recipe, just incase the coffee ones didnt turn out. Also I wanted people to compare the 2 recipes. The only thing I didnt do was rinse the brine off the ribs. I didnt think that they would be salty and they were not. The one thing that I did wrong was smoked them for 3 hours instead of 2. People said that they were not two smoky but I know better. They were very moist and tender, everyone seemed to like them the only thing some people said was that the coffee ribs had a gritty feel to them. I assume it was due to I didn’t grind the coffee any more then what it was. Someone even said I should try this as a bacon brine? A very good recipe thanks for sharing. I might try this with beef ribs next. Thanks

  10. Coffee ribs the best fall off the bone I cooked It dry for the first 3 hrs then added BBQ sauce last hour.

    Brine 24 hrs no problems

    1. Last weekend I smoked four racks of pork ribs. I soaked them in Brine and brown sugar 20 hours before. Used rub on them and smoked them for 2 and 1/2 hours, then sprayed them with grape fruit juice and covered them in foil and returned them to the smoker for 1 and 1/2 hour at 230 degrees, removed them and coated them with Brown sugar and BBQ sauce then re-wrapped them and cooked them for another 30 min. I took them out and left them in Foil for another 20 minutes. Wow they were great. I used an electric smoke with Apple chips for smoke. I like a electric smoker because you can regulate the temperature better.
      Brine and brown sugar is always the best way, in my opinion

      Don Butterbaugh.

  11. Made these for father’s day and what a hit! Coffee brine taste was perfect. Enough to taste but not enough to over power. I put an espresso rub on half of the ribs and my Father and the rest of our friends and family are still talking about them! Thanks for this idea!

  12. Jeff, I smoked spareribs with this recipe several days after you published it (Oct. 2013), putting 2 racks of ribs into Foodsaver packs for “later”. I just opened the last freezer-packet of ribs on 6/21/14 and the flavor/taste is still amazing. Love your fantastic book and your web-thread is my favorite for fresh ideas…Thanks!

  13. If you are a novice like I was, I strongly recommend Jeff’s book. I have tried most of his recipes and have been very happy with the results. His rub is out of this world, and he is very good about helping novices when you have questions. I cannot praise him enough, I never thought I could obtain the results I have had with my smoker. You have to be very careful though. Once you start you become addicted for life. Thank you Jeff for all the help you have given me, your email receipts are outstanding.
    Donald Butterbaugh

  14. Hi Jeff:

     

    I enjoye greatly your site.

    We are having a turduken for thanksgiving.  Do you have a receipe and advise for this?

     

    thanks 

  15. I brined them overnight. Used Cajun injector electric smoker. 221 method but they took 8 hrs at 225. Best ribs I’ve done so far!  

  16. I love my Bradley Smoker and I love this recipe!  The convenience of the Bradley is amazing.  I think our other 2 smokers are going to go to smoker-heaven.  Regarding this recipe, we brined overnight (worked fine) and then put them on the Bradley at 240 degres for 3 1/2 hours (pecan wood).  Then 1 1/2 hrs in a 300 degree oven, wrapped in foil with 1 C. apple juice added to the packet.  A total of 5 hours cook time.  We removed them from the oven at a meat temperature of 195.  There was about 3/4″ of bone exposed when we peeled back the foil.  The meat held onto the bone (barely) and was amazingly tender.  We barely discerned any coffee flavor, even though I had added 2 T. ground espresso to the rub.  But in any event, there was great depth of flavor and we had a mound of clean bones 1/2 hour later!  Thanks Jeff, for a great recipe and even more valuable instructions and photos.  Your detail is why we follow your site and buy your products – you are a great tester!

  17. Tomorrow I will try them, if this one turns out like the ones in your book then WOW. THank you Jeff for all the help you have given me. I am purely a novice. I could almost kick myself for not buying a smoker thirty years ago.

     

    Don