Smoking 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.
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.
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!