Sunday, July 6, 2014


As long as I've had a smoker, ribs have been my white whale.  I just haven't been able to get them right.  Initially they were too tough, then too mushy, then too spicy, then too sweet, then back to too mushy.  It's been a 4 year battle to get ribs with the correct doneness and flavor.  Today, I think I nailed it!

Today I was cooking St. Louis Style Spare Ribs.  I like Spare Ribs more than Baby Backs, or Loin Backs.  I think the Spares are meatier, more flavorful and more forgiving.  They are harder to eat than Back ribs, but I think that's okay.

The first thing you need to do with any ribs is rinse them off, and then remove the membrane on the back of the ribs.  There are lots of good videos on how to remove the membrane, so google those.  Youtube has entire channels devoted BBQ, and that's where I learn a lot of my tricks.  Simply put, you just need to get your finger under the membrane and pull.  Use a paper towel to get a better grip if needed.

Once the membrane is off, I always try to trim off any really big pieces of fat.  The fat won't render if it's too thick.  This will be a 5-6 hour cook, so not a ton of time to render really thick fat.

The next step is to rub the ribs.  The rub can be applied any time from 1 hour before cooking to as long as 24 hours before cooking.  I recommend my rub, but you can use whatever you want.  I always rub my ribs with olive oil before applying the rub.  Some people use yellow mustard, so it really doesn't matter.  You really just want something moist for the rub to stick to.  Apply the rub liberally, but not too thick, or the smoke won't penetrate the meat.  Cover the ribs and let them rest until you are ready to cook.

When you're ready to cook, preheat your smoker to 225 degrees.  I have the GMG pellet grill.  I used the GMG golden blend (hickory, maple and oak) for my wood.  If you aren't using a GMG pellet grill, then I recommend using hickory or cherry wood chunks for this.  I think those two woods have the best flavor.

When the smoker is preheated, put the ribs on and close the lid.  Let the ribs go, untouched for two hours.  Seriously...leave 'em alone!!!

After two hours, I start spritzing with a 50-50 blend of apple cider vinegar and water.  I spritz every hour until they are done.  This adds moisture to the ribs and to the cooking chamber, helping to keep the ribs moist.

After 3-4 hours, you will want to do the "bend test."  This is where you pick up the ribs with tongs and see if they bend.  You will want them to bend almost 90 degrees, but not break.  If they do this, they are done.  At 225, I expect the ribs to take 5-6 hours, but you want to check in case you get a scrawny rack with less meat.

Also at 3-4 hours, you have a decision to make.  To foil, or not to foil?  That is the question.  Many rib cooks swear by the 3-2-1 method.  Essentially, this method means that after 3 hours, you pull the ribs off the smoker, wrap them in foil, and return them to the smoker for another 2 hours.  Many cooks include brown sugar, honey, butter or all 3 in the foil wrap.  After 2 hours in foil, the ribs are unwrapped and cooked for 1 hour longer to firm up.  I am not a fan of the 3-2-1 method, as it gets the ribs too mushy for me.  I've worked to adapt it, but I haven't had much success.

For today's cook, I chose not to wrap at all.  I just continued to spritz with my cider vinegar and water mix.  I think this made for great ribs, easily the best I've done.  You'll have to get to know your smoker and decide if you want to wrap or not.  With a pellet smoker, I really don't see the point.  If you have a stick burner or charcoal smoker, you may want to wrap just to keep your ribs from getting over smoked and bitter.  But be careful...two hours in foil will get them really tender.

If you like wet ribs, you will want to glaze them in the last hour.  Some people baste with BBQ sauce, others use honey, or some combination of the two.  If you like dry ribs, no glaze necessary.  I like wet ribs, so I mixed up a rib glaze.  My glaze is pretty simple.  It's 1/3 cup of my BBQ sauce, 1/3 cup of cider vinegar and 1/4 cup of brown sugar.  I bring this to a boil, then reduce the heat and just keep it warm.  I apply the glaze with 15 minutes left in the cook to let it "set in."  This glaze is sweet and tangy.

After your ribs are done, normally in 5-6 hours, you want to let them rest for 10 minutes or so before slicing.  Slice them up in 1 or 2 bone segments, and serve with your favorite BBQ sauce.  For my ribs tonight, I didn't use any sauce.  The glaze, the rub and the smoke gave me all the flavor I wanted.  I got sweet and tangy from the glaze, along with the sweet, salty and peppery bite of my rub and the light smoky flavor from the wood pellets.  This combination made for a delicious, tender, juicy rib.

Just a note about cooking time.  Today I did a 5 hour cook.  This left a rib that was tender, but it did have some "tug" to it.  It definitely was not "fall off the bone," which I don't really like.  If you want "fall off the bone" ribs, you will need to cook closer to 6 hours, or foil.

Another note is to learn your pit.  Today I learned that the back of my cooking chamber is slightly warmer than the front of my cooking chamber.  So the rack in the back was slightly more tender than the rack in the front.  For my next rib cook, I will rotate the racks around half way through to ensure consistency.

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