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Ass-Kickin BBQ Ribs

From Start to Finish!

Cooking ribs is not rocket science. All it takes is a little patience, a rack of ribs, some rub, and a 225 degree smoker.


The instructions below apply to Spareribs, but can be easily adjusted for baby back ribs. Simply shorten the time on the cooker for baby backs. If you are unsure the difference between baby backs and spareribs, the short answer is: They come from different sections of the rib on the pig. Baby backs are leaner, smaller, and more expensive. They are also a little less forgiving if not cooked properly. I like them both equally, however, I tend to cook baby back ribs more for home consumption simply because they are less fatty.


rack of ribs

Open up your package of ribs and flip over so that you are looking at the bone side of the rack.


Spareribs usually have a "brisket flap" hanging over the bones. Whether or not you leave this on is up to you. Most folks lift this up and trim it off for aesthetic reasons. This meat tends to be a little tougher after cooking. I usually trim it off and throw it on the smoker next to the ribs, then chop it up afterward to put in other recipes.


Lift up the brisket flap and use a sharp knife to separate it from the rack of ribs.

trimming the ribs


Next we remove the membrane from the underside (bone side) of the rack of ribs.Removing the membrane is not necessary, some places/people don't do it at all. But doing so, ensures your bbq rub will penetrate both sides of the meat. Besides, if you leave the membrane on, it remains on after cooking, and is not as pleasant to look at or eat. (note: the pic below is actually a rack of baby backs, where all the others are spares. But the process is the same)

Turn the rack of ribs over so you are looking at the underside, at the bones.
Starting at the short bone end of the ribs slide a butter knife, silverware knife, or flathead screwdriver under the membrane and gently lift it up. Do this on a couple of bones in a row, until you can get your fingers under the membrane to lift it off.

Using a paper towel, grasp the membrane and lift straight up, pulling it off of the remaining bones.

remove rib membrane


If you want to cut your ribs to "St. Louis Ribs" then perform the next step.

Fold the fleshy top of the ribs up so you can see where the actual rib bones stop and the little chine bones begin. Your goal is to cut right in this bend where the bones end. You can insert your knife right on top of the first bone and just run it right down the rack staying right on top of the bones.

St Louis style ribs


Apply your favorite bbq rub liberally over both sides of the rack. Be sure to cover every portion of the meat. Top, bottom and sides.
I typically apply bbq rub 8 to 24 hours ahead of time to give the rub time to penetrate the meat. However, if you don't have time to rub in advance, just apply anytime prior to cooking.

bbq rub ribs

Wrap the rubbed ribs in plastic wrap, foil, or container big enough to hold them and refrigerate until ready to cook.


Get the fire going on your smoker, and get it to the appropriate temperature. 225 degrees is the magic number for bbq. You want to keep your temp as close to 225 as possible for the entire cook. I'm perfectly comfortable as long as my temps stay between 215 and 250.


If you are using charcoal, put a couple of fist sized chunks of wood on the smoker and wait until smoke is no longer billowing from the smoker. THIS IS IMPORTANT!! A common misconception is that more smoke is better. Nothing could be further from the truth. When smoke is billowing in great clouds, it will build up a layer of creosote (like what's in your fireplace chimney) on your meat, giving it a horrible flavor.

What you want to see is a thin blue haze of smoke rizing from your smoker. When you remove the lid, you will likely get a flareup of smoke, as you are letting a bunch of air into the fire. It should disperse quickly. Remember, your meat will be on the cooker for hours and hours, so that small amount of smoke is plenty to provide that smoky goodness.


When you cooker is ready, put the ribs on, and if you have a thermometer to measure smoker temperature, put it next to the ribs. I like to push my thermo probe through a wine cork that's been trimmed down to fit in the grate. Another often used method is to just put the thermometer through one of the top vents so it hangs down close to the meat.

ribs on the smoker


Put the cover back on your smoker, and watch the temperature closely for the next half hour or so. If it begins to climb rapidly, you can close the bottom vents (or the fire vents) to slow or stop the climb. This takes a little practice to dial in and hold the right temp, but once you've done a few cooks, it will all come together. Avoid closing the top vents. You want the smoke to be able to escape from the cooker to avoid creosote buildup.


There is a formula for cookng spareribs that works very very well.

It's call 3-2-1.

It means, 3 hours on the cooker, then wrap the ribs in foil with a little liquid of your choice and place back on cooker for 2 hours. After 2 hours in foil, remove the ribs from the foil and put back on the cooker for one more hour. During this last hour is the time to apply bbq sauce if you would like. This will give the sugars in the sauce time to caramelize without being in there too long to burn.

If you are cooking baby back ribs, you can use the same formula but adjust it 2-2-1. 2 hours on the smoker, 2 hours in foil and up to an hour with no foil.


When are your ribs done? This is where experience comes in to play, but essentially, you want to see the meat pulled back about 1/4 to 1/2" from the bottom of the bone. After a few cooks, you will be able to pick up the rack of ribs and feel how it "bends" to know its done.

Most people prefer the meat to "fall off the bone" which is just fine. It tastes great and is incredibly tender. However, technically, this is a little overcooked. A properly cooked rib will have a little bit of "tug". Which means the meat doesn't fall off the bone, but will need a mild tug or bite to pull free of the bone. However, the meat should come cleanly off the bone.

At this point, your ribs are done, but it's best, as with most meats, to let them "rest" for at least 5 minutes to allow the juices to redistribute throughout the meat.

smoked bbq ribs


Enjoy that sweet pork goodness!






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