Introduction: Oven Smoked Ribs

About: I've worked for Instructables off and on since 2006 building and documenting just about everything I enjoy doing. I am now the Creative Programs founder and manager for Autodesk and just finished building out…

Even though these ribs are cooked in the oven, they still have a kiss of smokey flavor.  That's right, ribs can be "oven-smoked" indoors, right in your very own kitchen using wet wood chips and a smoking tent made of heavy duty tinfoil.

Just because it might be wintertime where you live doesn't mean that you have to give up your favorite smoked meats.  Sure, they're not exactly like real smoker-smoked ribs, but since I like ribs almost as much as I like pizza, it's at least something I can do to please the Rib Gods during the colder months.

This recipe is based upon Mark Bittman's article and recipe "For a Smoky Taste in Oven Ribs" that appeared in the The New York Times on 12/9/09.

Step 1: Prep Smoking Chips

You can pick up smoking chips at your local hardware or specialty foods store.  My local ACE hardware carried Weber Cherry Wood Chunks, so I got those. 

Smoking experts have favorite types of woods for imparting specific flavors upon their meat - apple for a light sweetness, mesquite for a deep penetrating flavor, aromatic alder for a more subtle smoke on fish and seafood, and so on, and so on, but since this is already a bastardized indoor smoking operation I think any type of wood you can find will do just fine.

There isn't anything particularly special about pre-packaged smoking chips - if you live outside of a city and can access some nature that hasn't seen any pesticides, chances are you can collect some wood chips from the world right around you.

Break down the chunks of wood into small chips using a hammer and chisel or a hatchet.  If you don't want to mess around with this added step, make sure to get small smoking chips and not wood chunks.

Line the bottom of a heavy roasting pan with the chips and cover them with a rack so that the meat will be suspended above the smoky bed of chips.  Then, pour enough water into the bottom of the pan to moisten the chips, but not so much that you cover them.  Ideally, soak the chips in the water ahead of time and add in even less water into the bottom of the roasting pan.

Step 2: Prep Ribs

Go to the store and pick up a rack or two of your favorite type of ribs.  I prefer pork ribs to the dinosaur-bone style beef ribs, so that means either the St. Louis style ribs, or the fall off the bone tender baby back ribs.  The nicely marbled ribs that appear below are of the St. Louis persuasion.

The ribs themselves only need a little bit of attention. 

Flip them onto their backs and remove the thin membrane that stretches across the bones.  This isn't absolutely necessary, but it's a nice thing to do so that when you eat the ribs down to nothing but the bone, you don't have that persistent membrane hanging around waiting for you. 

Peel the membrane back using the tip of a knife or your fingernail, and then carefully yank the rest off with your hands.  It's easy to do this like you peel off an unwanted bumper sticker - slow and steady, and in one sheet if possible.

Step 3: Mix Rub

I follow the industry standard and rub my ribs with a mixture of spices and sugar before cooking them.  The longer the rub sits on the ribs, the better - overnight is best. 

Adjust the amounts of these different spices to your liking and quantity of ribs.  Every time I make up the rub, I'm sure it's a little different then the last.  Here's a good place to start if you're going to rub down one or two full racks...
  • 1/3 cup brown sugar
  • 2 tablespoon salt
  • 1 tablespoon black pepper
  • 3 tablespoons paprika
  • 1 tablespoon chili powder
  • 1 teaspoon cayenne
  • 1 teaspoon cumin
  • 1 teaspoon fennel seeds
  • 1 tablespoon mustard powder
  • 1 tablespoon onion powder
  • 1 tablespoon garlic granules
Mix thoroughly.

Step 4: Rub the Ribs Down

Apply copious amounts of the rub covering the ribs on both the front and the back.  Work as much of the rub into the ribs with your hands as possible, then shake off the excess. 

Store the ribs in large ziplock bags, or in a covered dish if you're going to let them sit overnight in the rub in the fridge (they'll get a bit moist as the sugar draws some of the water out of the meat).

If you don't have time, the ribs can also be cooked straight away at this point, the flavor just won't penetrate the meat as deeply.

Step 5: Make the "oven-smoker"

Place the ribs onto the rack in the roasting pan and proceed to wrap the entire package like a present in tin foil.  The idea is to create a closed system that will prevent the smoke/steam mixture from escaping.  The tighter and more sealed your tent, the stronger the smoke flavor. 

I went around the bottom of the pan and looped over the top in a few different directions just to be sure I had a tight seal.  See the photo progression below.

Step 6: Bake

Bake the ribs in the oven at 250 for 3 hours.  Even if they're tightly packaged in there, after an hour or two, the kitchen should begin to fill with their wonderfully sweet and savory aroma.

Step 7: Break the Seal

After 3 hours, break the seal on the ribs and unwrap all of the foil.  If all went to plan, smokey steam should rise from the tent as your first break open the seal.  Be careful - it's hot in there.

Now, you've got to make one of two choices - dry or wet ribs. I'm a sauce man, and as such, I chose to make wet ribs, but many people who I know and respect like a dry rib, including this recipe's creator, Mark Bittman. 

To walk the dry path, simply turn on the broiler and broil the ribs for a few minutes to crisp them up a bit. 

For the wet path proceed on to the next step.

Step 8: Sauce and Finish

Grab or make your favorite BBQ/rib sauce and paint the ribs on both sides with a thin coat. 

My favorite store bought sauce happens to be Bone Suckin' Sauce, and when making just a rack or two, I opt for convenience over customization.

Then, turn the oven up a bit to 425 F, move up to the top rack and bake 'em for a final 15-20 minutes.  During this time the sauce should start to get sticky, the edges of the rack should start to crisp and the whole rack should turn from a pale brown to a deep enticing red. 

Once they've crisped to your liking, remove them from the oven, chop them up into half racks or individual racks, and devour.

I hope you enjoy this recipe.  As I said before, it doesn't really hold a candle to real smoker-smoked ribs, but having baked ribs in the oven many times, I think the addition of the chips is a worthwhile, fun and creative addition.