These easy step-by-step instructions on how to smoke ribs will make anyone a pit master, almost as good as Aaron Franklin. This tutorial explains each step and takes the mystery out of BBQ. Whether you have an offset or electric smoker or just your kitchen oven, you can easily make Texas-style BBQ at home.
Table of contents
- How To Smoke Ribs In A Smoker?
- How To Check For Doneness?
- How Long To Smoke Ribs In A Smoker?
- What Is The 3-2-1 Method Of Smoking Ribs?
- What Is The Best Temperature To Smoke Ribs?
- What Is The Best Way To Ignite Charcoal?
- How To Remove The Membrane From Baby Back Ribs?
- Prepping Your Ribs
- Dry Rub
- Smoked Baby Back Ribs Recipe
Baby back ribs, pork or beef? We like pork. I’m sure beef has its merits, honestly it has been so long I can’t remember what they taste like. Sorry beef lovers.
Just had to get that off my chest.
Texas-style barbecue holds a tender place in my heart.
We moved to Northern Utah from Austin, Texas 3 years ago.
I miss a lot of the subtle charms of Austin; namely the deeply resonating vibrations announcing that the cicadas have emerged from their seventeen year party underground, chickens bawking, fireflies illuminating at dusk, Darius Rucker wafting in the humid Texas Summer air and the signature smoke that sings Texas barbecue.
Missing that signature style BBQ, I got an Oklahoma Joe offset smoker. The fire chamber is at one end and the smoke stack at the opposite.
When I first started experimenting, I mostly had success and a few failures, I’m looking at you turkey. One of my early successes however was Texas Style Smoked Brisket.
This year I wanted to get serious so I ordered Franklin Barbecue: A Meat-Smoking Manifesto written by Aaron Franklin from Franklin’s BBQ in Austin, Texas.
His manifesto really hit home for me.
My wish is that this article will hit home for you too. There are step-by-step instructions below as well as frequently asked question about smoking ribs. Helpful tips? Yep, that too.
Enjoy my friends.
How to smoke ribs in a smoker
- Light your charcoal (see below). While you are waiting for the charcoal to be ready, prepare your meat.
- Trim your ribs and pull the membrane off from the underside (See picture below).
- Brush your ribs with the slather (vinegar and mustard)
- Spread the dry rub on, using your fingers to caress the meat.
- Dump the charcoal into the fire chamber, add your wood.
- Close the firedoor, chamber door, make sure both the chimney and venting door are wide open.
- Wait ten minutes, the fire will burn hot and your grates will heat up.
- Scrub your grates with a BBQ cleaning brush, oil the grates with a paper towel and tongs.
- Add a pan of water. You can use a tin pie plate or aluminum pan.
- Place your ribs, meat side up and close doors. Set the chimney and venting door to half open.
- Maintain your heat between 225F-300F, with the ideal temperature 275F. To increase the heat, add more wood and/or open chimney and venting door wide open. Don’t add more charcoal unless you ignite it first, otherwise your meat will turn black.
- After 2 hours, brush or spray pineapple juice on the ribs and wrap well in aluminum foil, cook for 90 minutes at 275F. At this point you may finish in your kitchen oven. You can just set the oven at 275F and set your timer. You won’t have to tend a fire anymore and you’ll save wood. After you wrap the ribs, it won’t absorb anymore smoke.
- Remove aluminum foil and brush BBQ sauce on and cook uncovered for 30 minutes at 275F.
- Remove ribs and let rest for 15 minutes to allow the juices to re-distribute.
How to check for doneness?
With pork babyback ribs, pick up the rack about a third of the way longwise with tongs. Fully cooked ribs should bend almost 90 degrees. This happens because enough of the collagen has broken down.
How long does it take to smoke ribs in a smoker?
The longest meat will likely absorb smoke is three hours. It takes about 4 hours to fully cook ribs between 225F-275F. Most pit masters will wrap ribs in foil part way through the cooking process to allow them to fully cook without drying out. It’s entirely up to you when you want to wrap them.
I have been copying Aaron Franklin’s method from Franklin’s BBQ in Austin, Texas. He brushes on BBQ sauce and wraps them at about two hours and cooks them at 275F for two more hours.
There is one tiny thing I do differently though. I like to add fruit juice when I wrap them. This method adds sugar to the surface and helps steam them. I continue to cook for 90 more minutes, then uncover, baste with BBQ sauce and them finish them unwrapped, about another 30 minutes or so.
Aaron is careful about sugar and he doesn’t add any. It can burn and turn the taste bitter under high heat. To protect against that, I add fruit juice at the middle of cooking when I wrap them.
I don’t put sugar in my rub for the same reason. The sugar has the most chance of burning if you add it in the beginning of cooking and if it’s exposed, at least that’s my theory. So far, no bitter taste. I also finish them in a pre-heated oven at 275F. Since the meat can no longer absorb smoke after you wrap them, I save on wood and don’t need to tend a fire.
What is the 3-2-1 method of smoking ribs?
The 3-2-1 method of cooking ribs is 3 hours uncovered, 2 hours wrapped in foil, 1 hour slathered with BBQ sauce and finished uncovered. Six hours is a long time for ribs, if you do this method, cook at 225F and check for doneness. If you over cook them, they will lose their moisture and be tough. If rib meat falls off the bone, it’s actually overcooked. When meat is over cooked, not only did all the water evaporate but too much fat and collagen rendered off and you are left with a leathery disappointment.
What is the best temperature to smoke ribs?
Between 225F-275F, depending on how many hours you are aiming to smoke for. See the 3-2-1 method above.
I like to smoke at 275F and use the 2 hour – 90 minutes – 30 minutes method (I think I actually made that up).
What is the best way to ignite charcoal?
With a chimney starter, matches and newspaper.
If you use lighter fluid, in my opinion it taints the meat. I’m somewhat of a purist that way. If I only used wood, then I really would be a BBQ purist. Instead, I start with charcoal and end with wood, but definitely no lighter fluid. I have threatened to dispose of it if my husband ever brings any home.
Pour the charcoal in the chimney starter and wad some newspapers to stick underneath. Light from the side with a match. After the initial newspaper burns, you will have to repeat the newspaper stuffing until the bottom coals are ignited, they will turn red. I peak from the holes on the side to see if that has happened. The better quality charcoal, the less newspaper you will need.
Charcoal is one of those things where you get what you pay for. You will actually use more charcoal if you buy the cheaper stuff and may end up spending more money than if you bought a higher end brand.
Once that happens, wait about 10-15 minutes. The bottom charcoals will light the top charcoals. You will see a bunch of smoke come out the top. When you can barely see some flames come to the top, you are definitely ready. Now you are ready to dump those charcoals either in your fire chamber or on one side of your grill if you are using a conventional BBQ.
How to remove the membrane from baby back ribs?
Start a cut with a boning knife on the bone side of the ribs, just enough to be able to get your hands on it. Use paper towels to help with traction and pull the membrane slowly. If you are lucky, it will come off in one piece.
Prepping your ribs.
Brush on your ‘slather’, I like to use half apple cider vinegar and half mustard. The slather is an opportunity for another layer of flavor but the main reason for it is for the dry rub to stick on the meat better.
Now add your dry rub, pressing into the meat.
The dry rub has many purposes. First it adds flavor to the finished product. Second, it has a texture that smoke likes to cling to. Third, it acts like a dry brine, bringing moisture to the surface where the proteins change shape and then reabsorb back into the meat, carrying the briny solution with it, flavoring the meat deeper.
Although there is a lot of science to BBQ, you don’t need a fancy science degree or anything. I will help you.
Prepping the grill.
After the fire has been going for a little while, I like to clean the grill with a brush and then oil it before putting my food on there.
My method is for a 2:1 ratio of black pepper to kosher salt. I then add cumin, paprika, garlic powder and onion powder. I used to add brown sugar but have since learned from reading Franklin Barbecue: A Meat-Smoking Manifesto that I risk the sugar burning and imparting a bitter taste to the meat. Now I leave it out but I add pineapple juice when I wrap the ribs in foil. I just like that sweet taste y’all.
More BBQ and Smoking Resources
How do you cook baby back ribs in an oven?
Sharon at Grits and Pinecones has the best method for cooking baby back ribs in an oven. She uses step-by-step pictures with instructions too.
How to smoke ribs on a charcoal grill?
Raptor grilling has a short video on how to smoke ribs on a charcoal grill.
Smoking ribs in an electric smoker.
Erin from Kitchen of Eatin has an eight minute video on how to smoke ribs in a Masterbuilt Electric Smoker. She has easy to follow step-by-step instructions and some tips for easy clean up.
It is my hope that this article has been helpful in your quest to learn how to smoke ribs.
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Smoked Baby Back Ribs Recipe
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