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Smoking Ribs for the Beginning Genius

post #1 of 35
Thread Starter 


Spares or Baby Backs?

There are two basic kinds of pork ribs: spare ribs and “baby backs.” They come from different parts of the animal. Spare ribs come from the belly side of the animal. Baby back ribs (a k a BBs) come from the – wait for it – back. BBs are also known as loin backs and loin ribs. It may ease some worries to know that BBs do not come from baby pigs.

Baby backs have a higher percentage of meat to bone, are easier to prepare and easier to eat. Spare ribs involve a lot more. Human perversity being both innate and perverse, the more you know about ribs, and the better you learn to prepare them, the more you’ll prefer spares. Naturally, your guests, rogue and peasant knaves all, will prefer BBs. Go figure.

Purchasing the Ribs

If you know something about ribs in general, and know how a particular slab is trimmed, the type of animal from which it was taken, etc., etc., you can tell a lot by size and weight. However, you never know those things, so they’re not going to help much, are they?

This means there isn’t that much I can tell you without going into so many contingencies I’d pass out from self-boredom. So... With spares, look for slabs which don’t carry too much fat and which seem to show plenty of meat between the bones. Avoid slabs which seem absurdly large or small. Baby backs are from a part of the pig which doesn’t carry much fat anyway, so large fat deposits aren’t a concern. Again, look for meat between the bones.

Removing the membrane

Removing the membrane allows you to season both sides of the ribs, and removes tissue that is tasteless, tough, and has a tendency to get caught between diners' teeth. Full-service butcher shops with butchers who know what they’re doing are becoming as rare as hen’s teeth. If you’re lucky enough to buy your ribs from one, ask her to remove the membrane for you. If, like most, you’re unlucky in butchers, here’s how:

There are two membranes on the back of the ribs. The top membrane, is thin and transparent, and for most preparations, should be removed during the trimming. If you do no other trimming, pull it off before seasoning. The other “membrane” is heavy, thick, fatty and is actually not a membrane but the bone pockets. Leave it alone.

Taking off the membrane is usually the last part of the trimming process. To remove it, lift a corner with a butter knife, the handle of the spoon, any dull tool or a finger; then grab that corner with a dry paper towel and peel back the membrane. The paper towel will give you an excellent grip on the otherwise slippery membrane.

Another way to remove the membrane is by finishing the slabs of ribs over direct heat on a grill, and charring it off. This is very useful for catering situations; but a pit of a pain at home. Despite the extra trouble, eventually you should try a grill finish to see if you think it's worth the extra trouble.

The Beginner’s Best Strategy

Experienced pitmasters get the "falling off the bone" question a lot from newbies. Very few experienced barbecuers like their rib meat that tender. Once we've bowed to the pressure from our Significant Others, and met the challenge of getting it that soft, we find the exercise was in vain and we prefer a little "pull" to our ribs

The best spare rib preparation for beginners is 3, 2, 1. For baby backs, it's 2, 1, 1. What do these numbers mean? The first number is time in the chamber at 225 - 235, unfoiled. The second number is time in the chamber at the same temperature, wrapped in a foil packet with a little moisutre. The third number is time in the chamber at the same temperature, with the foil opened, and occasional basting.

The result is a fairly tender (bordering on too tender) rib. The method is fairly certain, works well with less than excellent meat, is largely based on time cues (easier for beginners than touch and appearance); and is emotionally easier on most beginners than keeping the door closed for 6 hour or so.

The more experience you have with smoking in general and ribs in particular, the more likely you are to prefer your ribs cooked without foiling.

Trimming Spares.

Depending on where and when you bought your spares, some or all of the trimming may already have been done. Lay your slab flat, back up. That is, with the curve of the bones facing so the top of the cup is up (U).

• The meat may extend beyond the bones and onto a complex system of cartilage. The cartilaginous part is called the “rib tip.” Tips are messy eating and somewhat fatty. Naturally, some folks think they’re the best part of the slab. They are usually removed for restaurant service and competitions. When they are removed, the remaining ribs are usually referred to as “St. Louis,” or “Kansas City” style.

• On the end with the longer ribs, there may be a spongy bone separated from the ribs by cartilage. The bone is part of the sternum and called the “chine.” (Chine, by the way is a generic term for a straight bone attached to a number of ribs. It can be chest or back.)

• Running more or less the length of the back may be a flap of meat. Happily, it’s called the flap.

• On the end with the shorter-length ribs may be a triangular flap of meat. It’s sometimes called the brisket (although the same term is sometimes used to refer to meat at the chine). Also, the very shortest ribs may not run straight, and appear tangled.

The chine, flap, brisket, and splayed ribs are, more or less, undesirable. Remove the chine bone completely by cutting through the cartilage near the top or the ribs with a heavy knife or cleaver. Rest your free hand on the knife’s spine and rock it through. Remove the brisket up to where the bones are not tangled. Remove the flap by bending it back and cutting parallel to the slab. Try and leave a little bit, about 1/2" of flap attached. It presents a great appearance, and it’s a nice, contrasting texture on the finished rib. Reserve any piece with meat on it.

I prefer tips on, to tips off. But if you want to trim to "St Louis," hold the rib ends with one hand, grab the tip ends with the other and flex the slab back and forth until you get an idea of where the bones end and the cartilage ends. Then lay the ribs flat on your board and lightly score the line you think you’ll want to cut along. Test again to make sure you’re close to the top of the bone by flexing, then cut through the cartilage with a heavy knife or cleaver.

If you’re leaving the ribs whole, there’s a finishing cut you may want to make. There’s a cartilage system in the tips which runs perpendicular to the ribs themselves. If the ribs are served as pairs or partial slabs, this cartilage will be difficult for the diner to cut through. Cutting through this, between the cartilaginous tips is not easy because the tips run at an angle off the bone-end. To make the trim, turn the ribs so the tips face you. Put your index finger between the tops of the two longest bones and press slightly as you draw your finger towards your body, angling the line slightly towards the small ends. Now try and run a knife point between the tips. Once you’ve got the idea of how the cartilage runs, try and make a short cut from the end of the top to the top of the bone. These cuts will make the top of the slab look something like toes.

If this sounds too technical, forget it. Instead, after the ribs are cooked, cut the slab into individual ribs for service. What’s difficult to do on a plate, is easy on your board.


Remove the ribs from the fridge. Use a "slather" to create a base for the dry rub. Most people use plain yellow aka ballpark mustard (You won't taste it on the final product, it's mostly vinegar and turmeric). I prefer a slather with a little taste. Consider: 1/2 mayo, 1/2 Dijon plus a tbs or two or Worcestershire and a little chipotle hot sauce. Or, follow your fancy.


Season the ribs well, on both sides, with a dry rub, the largest component of which is brown sugar. For instance: 8 tbs brown sugar, 3 tbs Morton kosher salt, 1 tbs paprika, 1 tbs fresh cracked black pepper, 1/2 tbs granulated garlic, 1/2 tbs granulated onion, 1/2 tbs dry ginger, 1 tsp "five spice" powder, 1/2 tsp thyme. Also slather and rub the reserved trimmings such as the flap and (if they were separated) tips.

You can cook immediately, or return the ribs to the fridge for a little marination. A few years ago, a dry marinade was very popular. Now, not so much. It’s generally agreed that dry (and slathered) spices get maximum penetration within half an hour.


Allow the ribs to come to room temperature, about 45 minutes. Prep the smoker to run at 225 - 235. Use a water pan!

Place the ribs on the grate, bone side down. Lay on the trimmings as well. If your smoker runs evenly from side to side, walk away for three hours. If not, rotate the ribs at the one and a half hour point. Stay out of the cook chamber. Do only what you have to do to keep the temperature steady.

At the three hour point remove the ribs from the cook chamber and close the chamber door. Wrap the slabs in foil packets (you can put two whole slabs in a packet -- bone to bone -- if you've got a space problem, and add a little liquid before you seal the packet up. Beer is an excellent choice. So are juices and/or barbecue sauce.

Return the packets to the cook chamber, and lay them bone side up if one slab to the pack, and close the chamber. You don't need a water pan for this part of the process. Nor do you need to burn chip or chunk for smoke. At the one hour point, rotate the meat if your smoker runs unevenly. Otherwise, keep the chamber door closed. Tend the fire when you must, but keep the firebox door(s) closed as much as possible too.

After two hours in foil, turn the slabs bone side down and open the foil so the meat is exposed. You do not have to remove the foil from the chamber, you can fold the edges to make little pans, but you can remove it if you want. Sauce the ribs with a thin coat of your finishing sauce. Close the chamber, and cook for half an hour, and apply more sauce. After fifteen minutes more, begin testing for doneness and applying sauce every fifteen minutes.

To test for doneness: A clock does not test for doneness in barbecue. Pick up a slab of ribs with a pair of tongs, by holding the slab at one of the middle ribs. If the ends of the slab point straight down (an upside down U) the ribs are tender. Serve, or (better) remove them, wrap them and hold them for as long as several hours and reheat just before serving in a hot smoker, medium home oven (300), or (best) directly over a low fire on the grill .

To cook baby backs, adjust the times so that instead of 3, 2, 1, they are 2, 1, 1.

To cook to "fall off the bone," cook 3 hours out of foil and 3 hours in (or 2, 2 for baby backs), and allow only 15 minutes or so to finish the ribs un-foiled. The longer braising period will tenderize the meat to where even your outlaws are happy.

Hope this helps,
post #2 of 35
Good post. One style not mentioned is dry. No sauce at all, maybe a final shake of rub. 6 slabs I did today had minimal trimming, membrane removed, heavy coat of rub on both sides and into the pit. I foiled at first with the SnPP but with the Klose it isn't needed. I just have to flip the ribs over every hour to keep them cooking even, the tuning plates in my small Klose are only 2 inches under the grates so quite a bit of radiant heat. The fat dripping on them and vaporizing adds a lot of flavor in my opinion.
post #3 of 35
Thread Starter 

Yes there are other ways. I don't cook like this myself, either.

It's a method for beginners who don't have a Klose or a Lang or a Backwoods or anything comparable. It's a recipe that keeps things as simple and successful as possible, and gives some experience in getting ribs into and out of the smoker. Once a pitmaster gets the hang of things like good fire control, not using too much chili in the rub, keeping the chamber door closed, etc., a lot of other things become doable. But until then it's nice to get some successes under their belts. The 3,2,1 and 2,2,1 are as close to bulletproof as any rib method gets.


post #4 of 35
Boar, thanks for taking the time to make your post. It's much appreciated. I've checked back at your other thread,"Smoking Ribs for the Soon To Be Expert ", a few time and noticed that it looks like a dead link.

I certainly wouldn't call myself a pitmaster...but I do enjoy smoking and get good results. I smoke at home and at work on the same type of smoker, a Brinkman horizontal smoker. At this point...I could smoke for the entire day with pretty consitent tepmperatures.

I really started to get the handle on smoking this past year, once we got a smoker at work. I've had good/consitant results with shoulders, BB ribs, brisket, ham and sausage but I'm looking to find out a bit more. Which is what led me to check back on your other thread, "Smoking Ribs for the Soon To Be Expert." But the link doesn't connect to a thread.

I'd love to hear any advice you can offer on...what's next?


smokingmeatforums, so far this is probably the most helpful forum I've found for smoking meats. Do you know of any other good ones?
post #5 of 35
Thread Starter 
It is a dead link. Server problems wouldn't let me post the instructions (same as here). Server problems wouldn't let me take down the link either. Then, I just forgot.

Like it or don't, you're the pitmaster. There are a lot of Brinkmanns, which one? The Smokin' Pit Pro?

Good, consistent results with brisket isn't easy. I congratulate you. If you have specific questions, I'll be glad to answer them. If you're looking for the next step up -- with butt, it's probably injecting; with brisket, it's probably a combination of better meat and injecting; ribs, better meat and rub; birds and fish, brining. Speaking of brining, you can do some interesting things with ribs, too.

Of course, there are always sides, rubs and sauces to keep things interesting.

Well I started this thread to try and get some conversation going on smoking. Unfortunately, the only taker until you has been Mary B. I'm not sure I have much to offer her. In terms of smoking, I'm hoping to get some people that work with small offsets and WSMs and are fairly new to the game.

It's nice to find a group of people who use a similar cooker to yours. The equipment in smoking is very idiosyncratic and different smokers place very different demands on the cook. So, it's a good thing to work with people who have some insight into your processes. You might want to take a look at the National Barbeque News forum: National Barbecue News Forums There are quite a few people there with medium-small and small offsets, as well as a few people who really know how to smoke. There are also a few a-holes. I don't participate there as a result of friction with a couple of them which led to me getting kicked off for awhile. I never went back. Still, most of the participants are good. There's also a good forum at BBQ-4-U.com but only a few small offset users.

post #6 of 35
The day I quit learning you better bury me :roll:I am always open to new ideas and techniques. Just because I can crank out food thats not half bad doesn't mean I know it all! :lol:
post #7 of 35
Mary, have you ever visit the creamcheese.com (kraft) site? they have an entertaining recipe widget that has bbqing suggestions but a lot of recipe ideas for gatherings/events.
post #8 of 35
Never been there so I will take a peek. Kraft and BBQ in the same sentence scares me though :smiles:
post #9 of 35
Hey BDL!!!!! I'm still trying to get through reading the starter:rolleyes::roll::look:

Actually it's been mighty hectic here and I am just getting around to the post. I do enjoy a good talk on "Q".

After I have a chance to catch up on things I'll stick my foot in my mouth so:bounce:.....until later:beer:
post #10 of 35
Thread Starter 

hasta la proxima,
post #11 of 35
Mary, the entertaining recipe widget on the site also has a variety of dips, appetizers, etc.
post #12 of 35

smoking websites

I own a WSM and am a member of a competition BBQ team (award winning).

I use the mustard slather BDL described but I might try his mayo slather sometime, I think the dijon would be interesting.

There are 2 websites I like, The Virtual Weber Bullet - For the Weber Smokey Mountain Cooker Smoker enthusiast and The Smoke Ring- All you need to know about barbecue

The first has pictures of the spares to St. Louis style BDL describes. Both have tons of information for beginners and others including competitive teams. Lots of pictures too.

MaryB, are you a restauranteur or caterer?

post #13 of 35
How about for the guy who doesn't have a "real" smoker, only a fancy weber grill with one of those "smoke" boxes (little cast iron jobs)


Or should I just get dads old smoker, he just got a new Bradly Electric job with the little hockey puck things.
post #14 of 35
Thank you for all this knowledge
post #15 of 35
I wanted to address BDL's points one by one but in the interest of a shorter reply I will just cover RP's question in this post.

It's always nice to have a smoker of any type. box you mention is, IMHPO, only good for adding flavor while cooking not for the smoking process. Getting your Dad's old smoker if you can would be perfect but in a less than perfect world.....There is a method that some restaurants use that might help.

(Disclaimer: In some respects I'm a purist about things so I'd have to say I don;t like this method from a true BBQ sense. It's not one that I would go out of my way to use but I'm also a realist and know of as well as have been in situations that call for alternative solutions. Improvise, adapt and overcome, when in a pinch, is sometimes the only other option.)

The first thing you do is prepare the ribs as BDL has mentioned but you need to marinate the rids for at least a hour in a mixture of 1part Liquid smoke,1/4 part lime Juice and 1 part water.

Next, go ahead and use your rub normally but no slather is required since the ribs are we from the marinade. The process make it more difficult to use one but not impossible. If you are intent on using a slather you'll have to wait.

Place the ribs on a sheet pan (typically I use half size) 2 per pan. Add 1 cup of water and then wrap the pans first with parchment paper, next with plastic wrap and fianlly with foil. Make usre you have a tight seal around the edge.

Place the ribs in a 225 degree oven for 1hr 45min. Unwrap ribs after that time, drain off water and now apply your slather and finish in a 350 degree oven for 30 minutes.

Cut ribs into two rib portions and proceede to the grill. Take what ever the final sauce will be and thin to 2:1 sauce to water and depending on the rub, you can also add this to the slather.

Grill the ribs until the sauce starts to carmalize turning frequently and brushing slather after each turn.

Like I said in the beginning this is just an option for those that don't have a smoker and no matter what.....happy grilling! :beer:
post #16 of 35
Used to cater almost every weekend until I got hurt(work injury, no more heavy lifting etc.). Now I just cook for friends and family. I vac bag cooked ribs etc then they pick them up. I make a few extra $$$ a summer that way (SSDI isn't much to live on). I only do one big cook a year now as my annual BBQ. By the time I am done its hit the pain meds for the next couple days.
post #17 of 35
A lot of folks like a lot of sugar in their rubs, I tend to limit it. Here's what I used the last time I smoked some spares:

2 T dark brown sugar ( color isn't THAT important)
2 T kosher salt
2 T sweet paprika
1 T onion powder
1 T ground cumin
1 T dry mustard powder
1 T granulated garlic ( granulated really is better than powder here )
1 T dried basil
3 t ground allspice
3 t ground black pepper
2 t cayenne

Man, I gotta get my hoosierq.com website updated with more recipes and such! And some folks would be simply aghast at allspice in a rub, but I think it lends a bit of Jamaicain jerk flavor, which I happen to like. Another thing I like is spicy stuff, but you'll notice there's only 2 teaspoons of cayenne in the rub, no other hot chili powders at all. I prefer to add my heat from a zesty, robust dipping sauce at serving time.

Weather report for Salt Lake City is claiming a warm and sunny weekend. Think I'll be shopping for some ribs friday...

Food nourishes my body.  Cooking nourishes my soul.
Food nourishes my body.  Cooking nourishes my soul.
post #18 of 35
Thanks for all the info everyone has provided. Since I haven't really cooked Spare Ribs on the smokers I think I'll start with that. I may be eating a lot of spare ribs this summer :)

I'm not sure of the model of the smokers that I use at work...I've got a few days off...so I'll have to check once I get back to work.


post #19 of 35
If the Weber (I am guessing gas?) has 3 burners that are far enough apart just use the 2 outer ones. leave enough room over one burner to put a foil pan of wood chunks(dry) on top of the burner. Adjust heat to about 250 at grate level(never trust the built in thermometer, they are notoriously inaccurate). Keep adding wood chunks as needed and maybe keep the temp down on that burner to avoid spikes from the smoldering/burning wood. I have done this at my brother in laws house when they decided I was going to cook ribs without advance notice so I didn't tow my big pit up.
post #20 of 35
For some reason when I hear Weber, I think only of the Kettle and not the Genesis series. Keep forgetting they have that one and totally missed the "fancy" implication.:blush::D
post #21 of 35
Thread Starter 
So far the only Weber under discussion is the Weber Smokey Mountain aka WSM. The WSM is a small "bullet" type smoker. It is, without a doubt, the best smoker of its size at anywhere near the price, the easiest to learn on. The WSM runs on charcoal, may be used with or without water in the water pan, can be set up as a rather dandy little grill, and his highly portable. A WSM can run at 250F for about 10 hours on one load of charcoal on a summers night. The drawbacks to the WSM are its size -- too small to lay a slab of ribs out (although there are workarounds), and it's a bit of a PITA to clean. Cost -- around $250, but you can occasionally find them for less.

You can do "low and slow" with a gas grill, more or less as Mary described; but most gas grills -- including all the Webers are VERY drafty. The pitmaster must go to some pains to keep old air in and new air out. In my experience, only one burner is necessary to sustain slow cooking and smoking temperatures. However, I recommend cooking the ribs to nearly done with a low temp, indirect heat; then finishing them over higher direct heat. This avoids some drying -- which is hard to prevent in a gas grill (the draftiness, remember?), and puts a nice texure on the ribs. If you do cook this way, cook only until the first signs of scorch. Cook beyond that point and the sugar in the rub and/or sauce will burn and become bitter.

post #22 of 35

Weber Smokey Mountain

As BDL implies, the WSM is a great little smoker. I have one, it's easy to manipulate and holds temperature very well. It has two racks and water pan elevated above the firering. It runs on charcoal and hardwood, and you can add the smokewood of your choice, or flavored pellets. I love to use a combination of pecan and hickory, or sometimes cherry or apple for pork. the website at The Virtual Weber Bullet - For the Weber Smokey Mountain Cooker Smoker enthusiast explains the whole shebang about WSM's. At every bbq competition I've been to I've seen WSM's. It does awesome ribs, brisket, butt, and wait till you try smoked meatloaf.
I can fit up to 3 racks of ribs (bb or st louis) on one rack, and people have got way more than that by using rib racks and a lot of creative rib solutions.
The WSM is hard to find at retail stores (ACE carries them sometimes), but can be found at Amazon. com for $199 (no shipping or tax).
post #23 of 35
thats where I thought a gas grill might be in use.
post #24 of 35
Thread Starter 
That would do it. [egg on face: smilie]

post #25 of 35
My wife is quite pleased that I'm going to be practicing this summer with spare ribs. I've got to keep trying until I get some good consistent results :) It's been years and years since I've had spare ribs and my first batch turned out pretty good. Man are these things tasty! It's got a nice deep complex roasted flavor in the meat. The ribs turned out just a touch over done...still moist and flavorful. But just a touch on the tender side. But all in all...I didn't really have much time to give the fire attention...things turned out really good!

thanks to everyone posting!

post #26 of 35
Just another one with an offset Brinkman checking in. I also have a gas grill and have used it to smoke, got great results but it is drafty. The more I do my own Q' the less I like to eat out at a 'Q joint. Psst...smoked pineapple slices are very good...sshh don't tell anyone how easy they are:D

Web sources like wwwthesmokering.com and The Official Web Site for the BBQ Mail List are resources. The porch is a very old site and has many great recipes for sauses and rubs.

Low and slow is the only way...
post #27 of 35
Hi again :)

Ok...I'm looking for a bit more to try. Can you offer a suggestion for injecting a butt, brining some ribs...a good rub and one good side?

thanks a bunch!
post #28 of 35
Fab P is used often for injecting pork, there are tons of good rubs being sold by top KCBS teams. I don't like brining ribs, makes them taste to much like ham and thats not the flavor profile I like. Try experimenting with different woods like fruit woods etc. Some don't mop but I like to use a mop thats 50/50 olive oil cider vinegar. Use a good quality vinegar, it can really make a flavor difference in the bark. For olive oil I use the WalMart brand, to much of it ends up in the bottom of the pit to use expensive oil.
post #29 of 35
Thanks for the tips. I've been making some more ribs...yum! I'm having good results using different rubs (they're all good!) and using a mop. I'm also taking a liking to using hickory as the major wood and slipping in a little bit of cherry wood as the temp gets up around 150f or so.

I usually use the foil method with exception of the last time I made ribs. I had real good results continuing to mop once an hour and finishing the ribs without foiling. The flavor, texture, moisture and bark turned out really good. Have you got any thoughts on foiling Vs not foiling?

Also...I've got my brothers smoker that I sometimes use at his house and at my house. I've also got a smoker that I use at work, which I get to use quite often. Both are Brinkman offset smokers, although the one at work seems to look like a heavy-duty version having a thicker gauge steel.

Now I'm thinking about getting a smoker of my own. I find myself preferring an offset smoker and using small logs. I've actually looked at the Brinkman at work with a Bullard thermal-imager to see what the temperature variations look like as the smoker is working. I was surprised that it wasn't as bad as I thought it would be. (The imager is pretty decent in quality and can detect very small heat differences in real time. It is so sensitive that it can detect your handprint or footprint on the wall or floor after you have walked away).

But this got me thinking about modifications to the smoker and how effective they may be. I was wondering how well modifying the entrance into the smoker are from the fire box would help...and also lowering the discharge chimney from near the top of the smoker to lower more in-line with the cooking grates.

Of course even if these modifications are effective in getting better temperature control can the firebox handle using logs for fuel as opposed to smaller chips or chunks. I really don't want to spend alot of money...but I don't want to buy something that won't cook the way I want it to. What to do?:look:


post #30 of 35
SnPP (Smoke N Pit Pro) mods are adding a baffle to cut down on the direct heat from the firebox and as you said, lower the stack to grate level. Many just roll up a piece of flashing and stuff it in the bottom of the stack. When Ihad mine I cut it off and moved it to the end below grate level. These mods are all on the internet if you do a google search. Look at the horizon BBQ pits if you want an offset thats a little more serious.
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