How to Smoke Barbecue Pork Ribs

  • 01 of 08

    Making Barbecue Pork Ribs

    Barbeque Ribs
    Lara Hata/Photodisc/Getty Images

    There are many right ways to prepare barbecue pork ribs. This tutorial will show several variations using a smoker to get the barbecue ribs you will love the most.

    What You Will Need for Barbecue Ribs

    • Racks of ribs
    • Smoker
    • Rib rub
    • Fuel for your smoker (charcoal or whatever your smoker burns)
    • Wood chunks
    • Reliable meat thermometer
    • Heavy duty aluminum foil (if you intend to wrap your ribs)
    • Barbecue sauce (if you intend to sauce your barbecue ribs)
    • Large knife

    This method is for a traditional barbecue meat...MORE smoker. If you don't have a smoker, try these methods for:

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  • 02 of 08

    Preparing the Smoker

    Preparing Smoker for BBQ Ribs
    Regarding BBQ Inc.

    These instructions are for using a smoker for low and slow smoking. You can adjust the process for a grill if you must. Set up your smoker to hold a temperature around 225 F (110 C) for about 6 hours. You will want a strong smoke source at the beginning of the cooking time and again towards the end of the cooking time if you intend to add sauce to the ribs while they are on the smoker. This is best done by adding wood chunks to the fire when you first put the ribs on the smoker to cook.

    Make sure...MORE you have plenty of fuel and a good strong fire going with your smoker adjusted to hold the right temperature and we'll get started on preparing the barbecue ribs.

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  • 03 of 08

    Preparing the Pork Ribs

    Preparing pork BBQ Ribs for the smoker
    Regarding BBQ Inc.

    There are a number of ways to prepare a rack of ribs for smoking. The trouble is that most of this preparation takes place before you can get your hands on them. What you want to look for is a good, full rack of ribs that is even in thickness throughout. If the rack is thin on one side and thick on the other it won't cook evenly. Of course, the nature of ribs is that they have a meaty side, so you can't get a perfect evenness. Just look for a rack of ribs that isn't too lopsided.

    Good...MORE trimmed spare ribs won't have anything hanging off. Make sure you cut away any loose pieces of meat or fat, as these would dry out while cooking.

    Removing the membrane is the most important trimming task for a good rack of smoked ribs. The membrane is a layer of skin on the bone side of the rack. This tough material blocks flavor and smoke from reaching the meat  When cooked at low temperatures the membrane will remain tough and will detract from the eating experience.

    It's easy to remove the membrane if you do it correctly. Start at one end of the rack and with a blunt knife and work your way under the membrane along the surface of the last bone. Using a paper towel, grab hold of the membrane and peel it off. Sometimes you can get it in one grab and sometimes the rack is just stubborn and it might take a few tries to get the majority of the membrane off.

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  • 04 of 08

    Pork Rib Rub

    BBQ Rib Rub
    Regarding BBQ Inc.

    The rub is your best source for flavoring your barbecue ribs. The rub goes on before the ribs go into the smoker. The flavors of the spice mixture have the whole cooking time to sink into the meat and give the ribs a lot of extra flavor. You can pick a sweet rub, a spicy rub, or a savory rib rub. The choice is yours. Remember that hot spices will mellow during the cooking time, so if you want your ribs spicy hot you will have to make the rub very spicy.

    With your ribs trimmed and your smoker hot,...MORE it's time to put on the rub. If you apply the rub too early your ribs will get a "hammy" flavor. By applying the rub closer to the cooking time, you will get all the flavor without the texture of the meat being changed by the salt and spices you find in rubs.

    The rub should be applied to the whole surface of the rack of ribs, thick enough to heavily coat the meat. Only so much spice will stick to the ribs and that's how much you want, as much as will adhere to the meat.

    From this point forward you want to be careful how you handle the rack of ribs. The more you handle the ribs the more rub will fall off.

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  • 05 of 08

    Placing Pork Ribs on the Smoker

    BBQ Ribs Placed on the Smoker
    Regarding BBQ Inc.

    Knowing your smoker is vital to producing good barbecue. You want to make sure that your barbecue ribs get exposed to even heat. If you know there is a hot spot in your smoker, make sure you are prepared to deal with it. When placing your ribs in the smoker, do not block the flow of air. An even airflow all around the ribs (and through the smoker) is very important. Place the ribs in the center of the cooking area where the smoke can move evenly around all sides of the rack.

    If your smoker...MORE doesn't have a lot of space, you might consider buying a rib rack. A rib rack accessory allows you to stack the ribs on their sides so that you can fit more racks of ribs on your smoker than if they were laying flat.

    Do not stretch out the rack of ribs. Stretching out the rack can increase the toughness of the meat when fully cooked. Meat shrinks as it cooks and you don't want to limit that action. Once you place the rack on the smoker, push it together gently from the ends. This will let the meat (and fat) contract evenly as it cooks.

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  • 06 of 08

    Wrapping the Ribs

    Wrapping BBQ Ribs
    Regarding BBQ Inc.

    You can just let your barbecue ribs smoke as they are, but many people swear by what is known as the 3-2-1 method.

    Follow these steps:

    • 3 hours unwrapped on the smoker
    • 2 hours wrapped tightly (airtight) in heavy-duty foil on the smoker
    • 1 hour unwrapped on the smoker.

    This process allows the ribs to be exposed to smoke for four hours (three hours at first, then the final hour), while they steam in their own juices for the middle two hours. This makes the ribs more tender but can cause them to become a...MORE little too tender. If you want the rib meat to stick to the bone, you might want to skip the wrapping. If, however, you prefer fall off the bone ribs, then you should definitely wrap them for the two hours.

    A full rack of spare ribs should be smoked for roughly six hours. During the first few hours is when the meat absorbs the most smoke flavor. Make sure that you are producing a good supply of smoke during this time.

    If you are using baby back ribs then the cooking time should be about five hours. If you want to wrap your baby backs reduce the first phase to two hours.

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  • 07 of 08

    Barbecue Sauce

    Putting BBQ Sauce on BBQ Ribs
    Regarding BBQ Inc.

    Once your ribs are getting close to being done (look for an internal temperature around 170 F/75 C) it is time to think about how you want to ribs to be served.

    The first question is about the surface of the meat. Smoked ribs are tender from end to end. Some people, however, like their ribs to be a little crispy on the surface. To do this, take the ribs out from the smoker and place them over a high, direct heat. This can be done over the fire in your firebox if your smoker has one or on a gas...MORE grill. The trick is to put the rack of ribs on the high heat for about two minutes a side. This will crisp up the surface and give the ribs a crunch. If you take this direction you do not want sauce on the ribs before they hit the heat. Sugar, which is a primary ingredient to most sauces, burns at 265 F. If the rack has sauce on it, the sauce will burn over this high heat.

    If you crisp the ribs you can apply your sauce after they come off the high heat. Put on the barbecue sauce and return the ribs to the smoker for a while to help the sauce sink in. However, don't leave the ribs on too long. The combination of the low and slow heat and the barbecue sauce is going to soften up the surface of the ribs again and you will lose that crispy surface. You can simply apply the sauce, cut and serve if you so prefer.

    If you are not crisping the surface of the ribs, then start applying the sauce toward the tail end of the cooking time. If you wrapped the ribs, start applying the sauce as soon as the foil comes off. By putting the sauce on and continuing to smoke the ribs, you will get more smoke into the sauce. The barbecue sauce will cook onto the surface making the ribs sticky, but not dripping in sauce (if you want them dripping keep adding sauce). If you want the extra smoke flavor, put in more wood.

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  • 08 of 08

    Cutting Barbecue Pork Ribs and Serving

    Cutting Spareribs
    Regarding BBQ Inc.

    Like any meat, you cook it is important to let it rest before you carve and serve. This evens out the heat and lets the natural juices flow back towards the surface of the meat. For a rack of ribs, you should let the meat rest for about 10 minutes when you take it out of the smoker. Once this period is over it is time to cut the ribs and serve. Try not to let your ribs sit around too long or the meat will dry out.

    To cut the ribs, take a good sharp meat knife in one hand and the rack of ribs in...MORE the other. It is easiest to carve ribs by setting them standing up on the meaty side. (bones should be sticking out a little on the top side). Now you can simply slide the knife down through the rack between the bones. If you guide it down directly between the bones you should be able to pass the knife through easily.

    If your ribs are "fall off the bone" tender then you want to lay the ribs down, bone side up, and cut them the best you can. If the ribs are very tender the meat will tear apart more easily than it will cut. Be careful or you will lose the shape of the ribs and simply end up with a pile of rib meat.

    The last part is to take note of your ribs. Too tender? Not tender enough? Too sweet? Too spicy? If you record your process, the next time you smoke a rack of ribs you will be able to make the necessary adjustments to the process.