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How to Smoke Ribs

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.

Smoked ribs with BBQ sauce on them.
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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

  1. Light your charcoal (see below).  While you are waiting for the charcoal to be ready, prepare your meat.
  2. Trim your ribs and pull the membrane off from the underside (See picture below).
  3. Brush your ribs with the slather (vinegar and mustard)
  4. Spread the dry rub on, using your fingers to caress the meat.
  5. Dump the charcoal into the fire chamber, add your wood.
  6. Close the firedoor, chamber door, make sure both the chimney and venting door are wide open.
  7. Wait ten minutes, the fire will burn hot and your grates will heat up.
  8. Scrub your grates with a BBQ cleaning brush, oil the grates with a paper towel and tongs.
  9. Add a pan of water.  You can use a tin pie plate or aluminum pan.
  10. Place your ribs, meat side up and close doors.  Set the chimney and venting door to half open.
  11. 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.
  12. 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.
  13. Remove aluminum foil and brush BBQ sauce on and cook uncovered for 30 minutes at 275F.
  14. Remove ribs and let rest for 15 minutes to allow the juices to re-distribute.

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BBQ FAQ’s

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.

A chimney starter.
Easy Texas Style Smoked Brisket
Easy Texas Style Smoked Brisket
Easy Texas Style Smoked Brisket

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.

Cutting the membrane.
Pulling back the membrane.

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.

Brushing the ribs with sauce.

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.

Patting the rub into the meat.

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.

Cleaning the hot grill with a wire brush.
Smearing cooking oil on the hot grates.
Placing ribs on the grill.
The firebox with charcoal and firewood.

Dry rub for smoking ribs.

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.

A bowl of spices.

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

Smoked ribs with BBQ sauce on them.

How to Smoke Ribs

Yield: 1 rack
Prep Time: 45 minutes
Cook Time: 4 hours
Total Time: 4 hours 45 minutes

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.

Ingredients

Slather Ratio

  • 1/4 cup of mustard
  • 1/4 cup apple cider vinegar

Rub Ratio

  • 1/4 cup black pepper
  • 1/8 cup kosher salt
  • 1/2 Tbs cumin
  • 1/2 Tbs paprika
  • 1/2 Tbs onion powder
  • 1/2 Tbs garlic powder

Wood 

  • Any variety from hickory, apple, oak, pecan, cherry, peach, mesquite (when blended with other wood, don't use alone).
  • 12 pork ribs

Instructions

  1. Light your charcoal.  While you are waiting for the charcoal to be ready, prepare your meat.
  2. Trim your ribs and pull the membrane off from the underside.
  3. Brush your ribs with the slather (vinegar and mustard)
  4. Spread the dry rub on, using your fingers to caress the meat.
  5. Dump the charcoal into the fire chamber, add your wood.
  6. Close the firedoor, chamber door, make sure both the chimney and venting door are wide open.
  7. Wait ten minutes, the fire will burn hot and your grates will heat up.
  8. Scrub your grates with a BBQ cleaning brush, oil the grates with a paper towel and tongs.
  9. Add a pan of water, either an aluminum pie plate or pan.  Place it between the fire chamber and the meat.
  10. Place your ribs, meat side up and close doors.  Set the chimney and venting door to half open.
  11. 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.
  12. 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.
  13. Remove aluminum foil and brush BBQ sauce on and cook uncovered for 30 minutes at 275F.
  14. Remove ribs and let rest for 15 minutes to allow the juices to re-distribute.

Nutrition Information:
Yield: 6 Serving Size: 2 ribs
Amount Per Serving: Calories: 309Total Fat: 23gSaturated Fat: 7gTrans Fat: 0gUnsaturated Fat: 10gCholesterol: 74mgSodium: 2446mgCarbohydrates: 12gFiber: 3gSugar: 6gProtein: 16g

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Smoked ribs with BBQ sauce on them.

Some people look at me and see a certain ‘swagger’,  which in Texas is called ‘walking’. – George W. Bush

Miss ya Barb – June 8, 1925-April 17, 1918

Seriously, I heart y’all…

Natalie

Sunday 29th of July 2018

Such a great tutorial and informative tips. I love smoked ribs and never made it before!

Jill

Sunday 29th of July 2018

I agree - I think pork ribs are the way to go. This is such an informative post. You obviously know how to smoke some really terrific ribs!

shelby

Sunday 29th of July 2018

This is such an informative post! I really want to start smoking - and its on my list of things to do in the near future. I will be saving your post so I have some great instructions to come back to!

Tina

Sunday 29th of July 2018

Smoking is quite addictive. I highly recommend Franklin's book. Good luck Shelby!

Caroline

Sunday 29th of July 2018

Those ribs look great, and love all the tips and step by step photos.

Jaclyn Anne

Sunday 29th of July 2018

We have never smoked ribs before so I truly appreciate the step by step walkthrough. I feel as if I now am an expert smoker thanks to you!

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