Smoked Ribs Recipe PLUS Beginner Tips for the Most Amazing Pork Ribs
Smoked rib recipes are a dime a million. YouTube and Google are jam packed with information on how to smoke ribs. Unfortunately, most of the recipes out there don’t make it easy to master the timing of a smoked rib, and a beginner would never realize the learning curve that’s involved in mastering amazing ribs.
No doubt about it, pork ribs can be quite tricky to master. If you’re not careful, one time your ribs might be the most amazing ribs you could dream of eating; other times they will be over smoked and dry—or undercooked with the thickest parts still clinging hard to the bone.
In this article, I reveal my tips for getting consistent results, along with step-by-step instructions and mouth-watering photos to get you on the right track and cooking some of the world’s best ribs this weekend!
3 Elements of Amazing Barbecue
There are three main parts to creating great barbecue: 1) environment: consistent heat and smoke, 2) ingredients: meat and flavor profile of the rub and sauce, and 3) timing.
For this recipe, I used my Meadow Creek SQ36 offset stick burner, but any smoker will work if you can control the environment.
I’m going to focus mostly on the other two elements of a great rib—ingredients and timing. While I can give you specific ingredients to use, I don’t think there is a magic time formula that works across the board. Instead of hard fast rules such as the popular 3-2-1 timing, I’ve chosen to share some guiding principles that will help you quickly master amazing ribs.
Rib racks are quite thin, which means they are easier to mess up than a pork butt or other big hunks of meat. Besides, parts of the racks can be 25% bigger than others. In a perfect world, each rack would cook uniformly from one end to the other and all the racks would finish at the same time, but it doesn’t always work that way.
As long as you are aware of what’s happening, you can make adjustments as needed, such as leaving some of them on longer or putting them in a different part of the smoker. Just be aware that if you treat them all the same, you might end up with some ribs on the table that are perfect and others that are still a bit bouncy. Not dangerous to eat, but a true disappointment. Some of this can’t be fixed by reading an article on the internet; it’s part of the skill of cooking amazing barbecue.
In this recipe, we will foil the ribs for part of the cook. There is a debate over wrapping ribs in foil, but I think there are a couple distinct advantages of wrapping, especially for beginners. First, especially on a charcoal/wood fired smoker, it’s easy to over smoke the ribs and dry out the ends. If you follow my suggestions in this article, these challenges will not be an issue. Second, foiling speeds up the cooking and helps those thicker racks get done quicker—helpful for avoiding bouncy ribs. Skipping the wrap is fine, but be prepared for a rack to take an extra 30 minutes because it’s thicker or just plain stubborn. It never happens in the recipe, but it happens in real life.
Without further ado, let’s get right into it!
1. Some of the baby backs I get have extra layers of meat and fat in certain places. If necessary, trim them up a bit to keep them a more consistent thickness and to remove any loose flaps of meat or fat.
2. Remove the membrane on the back of the ribs. I use a catfish skinner but you can also use a butter knife to loosen it and then a paper towel to grip and pull it off. It probably won’t come off as easily as some people make it sound, but it will make a better rib if you remove it.
3. With a shaker, sprinkle the entire surface (including edges) of the ribs with my homemade rib rub. One batch of the rub should be enough for three racks of baby backs. Let them sit a few minutes until the rub turns into a wet glaze.
4. Get your smoker running at 225–250 degrees F. I fire my Meadow Creek SQ36 Smoker with about 8 pounds of charcoal briquettes and a chunk or two of wood. The firebox vents are open about 1.5 inches and the stack is about halfway open. On Meadow Creek’s larger smokers, you’d want to keep the stack open while cooking, but the SQ36 maintains a more consistent temperature with it only halfway open.
5. Put the ribs in the smoker meat side up. Leave them there until they turn dark from the smoke. It will probably take 3 to 3.5 hours. This will depend on how much smoke your smoker makes.
The SQ36 holds up to 6 racks of baby back ribs on the main grate, but that’s pushing it. The second tier grate will hold another 6 racks in a pinch. You might have to trim the ends off depending on the size of the racks, and then rotate their position in the smoker as they’re cooking if you make it this full because of restricted air flow.
6. Individually wrap the ribs in aluminum foil. Add some brown sugar and barbecue sauce to the top side of the ribs before closing them.
7. Set them back in the smoker until the meat is tender. (No smoke is required for this stage.) This will take about two hours depending how long you smoked them before wrapping, how hot your smoker is, and how much meat the butcher left on the ribs. Each rack might not even get done at the same time. You’ll have to open the foil pouch and determine whether they are ready.
Warning: This is the most tricky part. Sometimes the bend test won’t work with baby back ribs because of how thick they are. One easy way to tell they are done is by pulling on a bone as shown above. Or poke into the meat with a knife to see if it’s loose on the bone. Usually the meat pulls back on the bone and about 1/4” of the bone ends will be showing.
A lot of people feel pressured to cook competition style, thinking that fall off the bones ribs are a moral issue. But who are we cooking for anyhow? If you want your ribs to fall off the bone, that’s completely fine. Foiling will steam and tenderize the ribs, so just remove the foil once they are tender enough for you. I personally like to cook them in the foil until the meat can easily be peeled off the bone, but while it’s still tight enough to support its own weight when picked up.
8. Remove the ribs from the foil and put them back in the smoke for 20 minutes to let things tighten up. This would be a good time to slather more sauce on the ribs.
9. Remove the racks from the smoker and lay them on a cutting board bone side up. Slice them between the bones and serve.
10. Take a moment to admire your work, then dig in!
Try this recipe the next time you’re smoking ribs and let me know how it goes. Leave a comment below or email me with your questions or feedback.
PS. Looking for a smoker to cook all those tasty ribs? Meadow Creek has an excellent line of charcoal/wood fired smokers for backyard parties and hungry crowds. Explore the Meadow Creek Smokers in our online catalog.