Perfect BBQ Tips: How To Smoke Pork Ribs
Posted on March 31st, 2008 by James
I’m not a “master” BBQ-er… at least not yet.
However, one of the first things I learned how to barbeque was a rack of ribs. So if nothing else, my ribs have more experience than anything else I smoke. In other words – they are good. Good is an under statement. Consistently mouthwatering, tear-off the bone, primo smoked, patient, entertaining, flavor-filled, smile inducing, can’t take your eyes off, no sides please – I am saving the room for ribs… good. Yeah that does it a bit more justice.
Please find my recipe and techniques to barbeque ribs below. I have included pictures to help walk everyone through how I make my soon to be championship ribs. The biggest thing I must stress is that you need practice but expect if you follow my instructions to barbeque pork ribs… you will produce some of the best ribs you have ever smoked (if you are an honest novice). Be sure to have fun and trade your tips after reading in the comments. People love sharing recipes & BBQ tips, it is part of the love we all have in regards to BBQ.
The first part of every BBQ is a no-brainer. Beer . haha Only kidding… sort of. No, it is selecting the right cut(s) of meat and making sure you start your barbeque off on the right foot. By selecting a prime cut of meat, you ensure that the steps you take in smoking aren’t in vain. All too often barbequers end up with a not 100% accurate piece of BBQ (as far as their skill level) simply because they didn’t start with the best meat possible. Now when I say best meat possible, I mean in the normal place you buy your meat. If it is a local butcher, so be it. If it is at your grocery store, or if it is your grandparent’s freezer… what I mean is picking the best slab of ribs from your available options.
I know what you’re thinking…
“Dude, this isn’t steak – just grab a rack of ribs already.”
Wait… that might be my wife that says that. So what. What I’m trying to say is that there are big differences in slabs even between the meat offered at one store. If you have time, next time you are there or if you are picking up ribs of course look then. But next time you are there, glance at the rib section and notice just how many differences there are. Some are highly marbled, some showing a lot more meat than others. You have “baby back” ribs to choose from or “loin back ribs”. Some seem frozen while others seem a bit fresher. Lots of differences. If you’re still thinking it is all the same and it won’t matter after 4 hours of smoking and BBQ sauce and a six-pack of beer… you are wrong. That is why you are here reading my post about “how to smoke pork ribs”, and why I’m not at your blog reading your post on “how to smoke pork ribs”. So quit doubtin’ my skill-set son.
Let us break down the two types of pork ribs first, so that we don’t get confused moving forward.
Types of Pork Ribs
Spare Ribs – by definition, spare ribs comes from the belly of the pig, or hog. This is where we get the coolest meat of all from… bacon. This means of course that these type of ribs (spare ribs) are fattier, more flavorful and end up being cheaper than their fellow pork ribs – the loin back ribs. These come in slabs that range from 2 pound slabs to 4 pound slabs. Just for your science, nerdy barbequers (like me) the spare rib is the section of rib that is closest to the sternum. Just in case you wanted to envision the poor pig that you are soon to be slathering BBQ sauce on later.
Loin Back Ribs – these ribs come from the loin of the piggie (who would have thought? “loin” back ribs come from the “loin”). Also the place that we get the runner-up to the coolest cut of pork, the “pork chop”. The slabs are less fatty, less meat in general however the more tender of the two types. More expensive and per pound-wise, the most expensive cut of pork at the butcher’s block. Weight is considerably smaller than “spare ribs” with cuts usually staying below 2 and 1/4 pounds. Some call these little gems, “baby back ribs” which were made popular by the chain restaurant, Chili’s with that DAMN SONG. The common misconception in regards to the term “baby back ribs” is that any loin back ribs are “baby back ribs”. This is not true though. “Baby back ribs” is any loin back rib slab weighing less than 1 and 3/4 pounds. Another one of those nerd things to know and throw down in the backyard when your friends come over.
So now that you know the two types, you have to understand the minor differences in the two so that you can better choose a slab. The main thing you will notice when picking out ribs is the fat or the marbling of the meat itself. This of course depends highly on the type of slab you choose: spare ribs or loin back. The loin back will be less fatty by nature – so depending on your preference you can choose a rib type by that alone. On top of that when you have narrowed down from the two types you can look at the fat content of each and choose the less fatty for that type of ribs. The less trimming the better if you ask me .
You will also notice in most markets & grocery stores that they offer “St. Louis Style” spare ribs. Loin back only come in one style, if you don’t count baby back being a style (since it is commonly misused in packaging) – which you shouldn’t. However, spare ribs can come whole or in a “St. Louis Style” cut. This refers to the way the ribs are cut prior to purchase. The whole slab of spare ribs has the sternum intact along with a strip of meat, cartilage running the edge and a small skirt of meat attached to the bone side of the slab. A “St. Louis Style” cut is where the sternum, skirt & cartilage are cut giving the spare ribs a nice clean cut & consistent look. Most butchers or wholesale meat markets can do either, normally they sell the whole slab.
Once you choose the type & style of the ribs, you must be sure to look for freshness. In most meat markets & butcher blocks, you will not have an issue – but at grocery stores you need to look around. Lots of the time these ribs have been frozen and re-frozen and have lost lots of flavor. On some occasions, they may have even gone bad. If you are shopping at a grocery store that has a meat market inside (which most do), choose the store brand packages. These will be fresher than any of the others usually – since they are cut & packaged on location. If it is cost effective, just have the butcher at the store wrap you up a slab from the butcher block itself. Try to find the ribs with the most meat; you do not want any large masses of fat. Once again, the less trimming the better. Stick with ribs that have good color, no discoloration should be visible.
Finally – you should have selected a rack of ribs at this point. My personal favorite is loin back ribs. Once again it comes back to consistency. If you cannot count on your ribs being/acting the same each time, then you will not produce quality barbeque ribs each and every time . More than anything, if I can create the same ribs each time I give it a try; then I can tweak my techniques and change my flavors until I have a solid plate of smoked ribs. I like the normal loin back ribs, not the baby back (true baby backs – less than 1 & 3/4 lbs) simply because it can feed more people. I want more meat on there so that people can enjoy it longer than a few bites before having to go grab some more.
I already know the next question…“How do I prepare my pork ribs before I BBQ?” I hope I got that right, it might have been… “When do we start drinking beer?” or “How long is this how-to going to last?” Both are fine questions, however let’s answer the preparation question first. Ok, after we open our first beer.
Now I choose to drink Miller Lite when I BBQ, but to each their own. Remember this is a long day of smokin’ meat… no homo. Don’t choose a beer that has a higher percent of alcohol than the percent of brain cells you will need to smoke some pork ribs. That is not a good combination and you will lose friends that way. If you invite some friends over for ribs and they get there and you’re passed out in your Nascar chair and the fire is out (and has been out for the past hour), they may not be your friends very long. I have had my fair share of drunken barbeques – but remember, I’m the one dishing out how-to’s. Not reading them. My drunken-ass barbeque is better than your fully sober, drinking coffee while waiting barbeque; so until you have experience under your belt… keep your drunk dialing to a minimum.
Of course you don’t have to drink to smoke pork ribs, but you don’t have to get that GPS, sunroof or twin DVD players in your gas guzzler either – but you do. Why? Because it is fun and you have to pass 4-6 hours and what better way to do it than with an adult beverage or those DVD players. Like I have told several people…
“Barbeque is the only job that I can drink beer for 8 hours and not get fired from.”
Fringe benefit I guess. I will take what I can get.
With thirst out of the way we can jump right into preparation. This is pretty important so I have done my best to make it as simple as possible and as you learn a bit more about BBQ you can expand on this process and grow as a BBQ-teer. Did I just coin a word? Preparation is vital to having tasty ribs, so if you are a skimmer, don’t skim through this section. SKIMMER! JIMMY SKIMMEL-ER! I bet your drink “skim” milk. If you were an out of work child star, you would be that chick that played Kimmy Gibbler from Full House (my wife just high fived herself because I talked about Full House, she just googled it and is watching the show as we speak), except your name would have been “Skimmy” Gibbler. Read the whole article dude, what else do you have to do.
Sorry, that was a bit much. Let’s get back on track already.
Preparation starts with opening the package to reveal your ribs finally. Expect a foul smell to hit you rather quickly, don’t be alarmed. This is normal, and it should go away rather quickly. You can wash off the ribs under water to shorten the amount of time you have to smell “the smell”. If you notice that “the smell” hasn’t subsided in 5 – 10 minutes… you might have some bad ribs. If this is the case you can take them back for a new slab. It happens, what can you do?! Pull off a large piece of heavy duty (heavy weight) foil and this will be your work surface. Now if you need to do some heavy trimming or anything you can use your cutting board or whatever – but if your meat is already trimmed out – you will need the foil next.
The foil is where we will lay the ribs so they can come up to room temperature so we can apply our rub. Go ahead and lay the ribs down on the foil and we will remove the membrane from the bone side of the ribs. This is a big mistake that some people forget when smoking ribs . I remember leaving the membrane on the first few times and finally one day I saw it on Good Eats and ever since I have fixed the problem. The membrane is the found on the bone-side of a slab of ribs. Loin back ribs have a thicker membrane since they are closest to the backbone of the hog. The membrane gets thicker the closer it is to the backbone, so spare ribs have a thinner membrane than “baby back” ribs. The easiest way to remove the membrane is to use a butter knife or I like to use a screwdriver (for the sake of this how-to though, I kept it refined). If you use insert the random foreign object
just next to the bone you will find you can get behind the membrane pretty easily. Try near the top of the ribs for best results. You then pry against the ribs to allow for you to get enough of a grip on it with your head.
You will see in the picture above that the membrane is separated from the ribs. If you start in the middle you can pull and let the membrane separated from the ribs whichever way has the least resistance. After one side separates completely to the end, you can get a good grip to help remove the other end of membrane from the ribs. It can be slippery and a bit barbaric, but once removed you can ensure all the flavor and smoke can penetrate all the way into the meat. When the membrane is still on the ribs it serves as a barrier to flavor. We must break down these barriers!
You can trim off any fat you see on the meat side of the ribs, but no need to get too crazy with the knife – fat will give the ribs more flavor. At this point you need to grab your favorite rib rub (or if you have made your own, use that of course).
What?! No Rub? What did you use to do to it? Marinate? Nah man… nah. Put that beer up, you have been cut off.
Rib Rub is a vital point to smoking pork ribs . Ask anyone that knows barbeque, and they will tell you that it is all about the rub. Choosing a rib rub that suites your needs is essential. There is not a magic rib rub that covers all taste buds, so you need to decide the level of spice or salt that you enjoy. One thing I suggest is grabbing a generic, run of the mill rib rub that you can spice up any way you please. I find most rib rubs have a lot of the same ingredients, so let someone else do the tough work and you can concentrate on everything else. I can say that Stubb’s makes a nice rib rub with some heat, if you like spicy ribs – try Stubb’s. Beyond that small endorsement – I suggest to just try a few out and you will find one you like.
Next you have to get those ribs rubbed down. This is where people tend to miss the point of rib rub. I have seen people sprinkle rib rub on pork ribs like it was salt and pepper at breakfast time. This stuff is called rib RUB for a reason. You have to rub that stuff man! Be sure to get hands in there and actually rub those ribs. Be sure to get those ribs coated with rib rub all over them, like the picture below.
After covering the ribs with rub, you will need to work in one side, flip the ribs over and rub the other side to match. You should end up with the meat being a orange-y color and the entire slab of ribs covered with rib rub. Your hands should be a matching orange-y color as well by now. I like to go ahead and put another layer of rub on top of the actual rubbed in rib rub. Afterwards I like to take the foil (with all the rib rub it has caught in the process) and wrap the ribs in it.
You can set your ribs on ice, or you can set them in the fridge for a bit. This will allow for the rub to continue its migration into the meat and by the time you get everything else ready – they will be ready to go.
While your ribs are absorbing the rib rub, you need to setup your fire for smoking. Now I will not go into great detail in this post about building the perfect barbeque fire – since I have written an entire how-to on that specific topic. So instead of being redundant, I will just link to the post.
That was easy. You should have opted for the smoking method of fire building. Meaning that you should have a pan of water under your ribs, a fire that runs about 200 degrees or so and have wood chips for smoking ready and soaked. I bet you didn’t know this was going to be so much work huh? Too late now, your already committed. Grab another beer; it will make it worth it.
Once you have started your fire, you probably should set your meat out of the ice chest or fridge. You never want to throw cold meat on a hot fire, it will send the meat into shock – and that is the last thing we want . So set the slab(s) out and allow them to come up to room temperature. While you are waiting, you can ready some bacon-wrapped & cheese stuffed jalapenos, or get some other items ready to smoke. Oh wait… we haven’t went over any of those, so I guess you will have to just sit and drink beer.
Damn the luck.
One of my latest BBQ additions is my rib racks. These guys can be bought online or at most regular stores where you can purchase BBQ supplies. These rib racks keep the racks straight up and down, instead of lying on the grill itself. This is good for a few reasons. Lots of times you have to constantly work on the temperature when you BBQ and this means that sometimes it will get hot and sometimes it will cool off. In those hot times is when your ribs can really get some unwanted charring on them due to laying directly on the grill itself. Many of the larger smokers and what not are usually setup where you have a shelf and so it keeps the meat off the “grill” portion for the most part. However if you work on a smaller setup then you will want to either keep your ribs as far away from the fire as possible or invest in some rib racks. I suggest the rib racks – they are easy and give you more space on the grill for other items if you are fat like me.
Check out some of my ribs in the pit on the rib racks in the picture below.
You can’t see it all that well, but below that rib rack I have a pan of water to help keep moist heat going while we smoke. We never want to dry out the ribs, just tenderize them and smoke them. The pan of water keeps the heat in the pit moist and in turn keeps the ribs moist also. You can also see how you can fit more racks of ribs going at once with rib racks. Expect a nice an even finish on all the ribs and you can turn them all in one spin of the rack. Of course you do still have to flip them individually, but come on… are you that lazy?
You probably also noticed my chicken legs dangling in delight on the other side. I had already smoked my ribs for about 3 hours at this point and so I decided to throw some chicken legs on as well. I have them directly over the fire and I am using my new chicken leg holder (for lack of a better name). I am all about contraptions to help my quest for the perfect BBQ. As you can see though, you are able to really load up your pit with a few mods like these. Of course you have the Miller Lite rockin’ it down at the end. Another contraption that I must have handy.
After about 4-5 hours of smoking you should be able to pick up the ribs by the end (the last 3 ribs) and they will bend down to the point of nearly breaking. If they tear off – they are done, in fact probably a bit over done. Fall off the bone ribs are good, but you want to pull them just before so that all your moisture isn’t gone. The key is timing and depending on your conditions, heat, pit and everything else – you will learn when to do this. Each circumstance is different and it will take time to learn exactly when the right time is. Don’t sweat it, the worst thing is you have the second best ribs that you have ever made – it takes a while before you master it enough to crank out the best ribs each time.
There are a few more things you can consider doing before marking the end of your BBQ pork ribs. There are a few different schools on this, but you can decide which makes more sense to you. If you are one of those people that like BBQ sauce, then you probably have your favorite or make your own by now. After a long smoke on the pork ribs you can pull them off and put them in foil and wait to serve them to your friends. The flavor from the smoke & rub will be more than enough to have people gnawing on bones for the rest of the day. However, you can pull them off (cover them in foil) and then fire up your grill with some nice flames and heat again.
When you have a nice grilling fire going, you can pull your ribs out of the foil and hit them with some BBQ sauce (you should have a nice brush to paint them on with) and let them sear over the flames. You will need to flip them quickly, hitting them with more and more BBQ sauce making layer after layer of flavor . You can do this as much or as little as you like – but it can produce a nice texture & flavor that will put your ribs over the top. This is a tip that is left out of most BBQ pork ribs recipes, so after you master this – you will be on your way to producing some championship pork ribs.
What is left? The fun stuff of course. Eating the pork ribs. Your ribs should be tender enough that you can just tear them off the bone with your teeth. They should rip off in your mouth, if they fall apart you have over-cooked them a bit and should remember the time you spent, techniques so you can change it next time. The flavor will be something that is unmatched unless you spend the time needed to replicate the process. It is hard to beat a good rack of ribs when they are done right and I hope that this how-to has done a good job in putting you in the right direction.
Now go cook some ribs! Print this article and get to work!
Update: Looks like this article is getting a lot of attention online and offline. That is a good thing! We have seen people searching for “Double Danger Smoked Ribs” or “Smoking Ribs with Double Danger”. What that tells us is that people are talking and the barbeque techniques we are showinig everyone online are spreading. Smoking pork ribs takes time, a great recipe and most importantly… you have to have fun. Go ahead and re-read the Double Danger Perfect Smoked Pork Ribs Walk Through above and share any tips you might have with us in the comments area. To make sure you are getting the latest barbeque tips and techniques from Double Danger – you can sign up for our RSS feed by clicking this link .
335 Responses to “Perfect BBQ Tips: How To Smoke Pork Ribs”
[. ] you barbeque, whether it be ribs, chicken, brisket or whatever… you have to have sides to go along with it. I say sides, [. ]
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[. ] tried this tip: Here’s the best setup for a gas grill Some more sites: BBQ Ribs on a Weber How To Smoke Pork Ribs – Walk Through, BBQ Tips, Perfect Pork Ribs | Double Danger How to BBQ Ribs
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[. ] Ribs are a staple at our BBQs, so we want to make sure to do the math on that first. I like to bring it down to 2 ribs per person in this case, so use the equation above and modify it accordingly. This should get that figured out quickly. Then depending on your other items you can figure it up. [. ]
[. ] a diet lately, so he is ready to have a good meal. Sausage is one of his favs… he also is a big fan of ribs, but only the bones. Here are a few BBQ tips for you to get started on that [. ]