Introduction: Authentic BBQ Ribs - Low and Slow

This instructable is for delicious smoked spare ribs that have been cut down to a St Louis cut.  You can easily use the same recipe for loin back ribs if that is your preference.  Just remember that this is BBQ and there are no set cooking times.  Your BBQ is done when it's done.  Usually plan on about 5-6 hours of cooking time when cooking at 225F.  The ambient temperature, humidity, wind, and size of your racks of ribs will all influence your cooking time so make sure to keep an eye on them and have fun, it's BBQ!  

Step 1: Select Your Ribs

I chose to buy full spareribs.  These just happened to be on sale.  Get what you have access to.  Loin back and spareribs that have already been cut down to a St Louis cut tend to cost a bit more.  The key is to select a good quality meat.  Look for good marbling within the meat.  You want the fat to be spaced evenly throughout the meat.  This will render during the cook and help keep your meat moist.  Large hunks of fat will not render so keep that in mind when selecting your ribs.

Step 2: Clean Your Ribs

Open up your ribs and give them a rinse under some cold water.  Rub your hands over them to check for any loose pieces of bone and remove them.  Next, flip them over.  You will notice a silvery membrane.  Use a butter knife to loosen the membrane on one of the ends.  Insert the knife just under the membrane and slowly work it up.

Step 3: Remove the Membrane

Once you get one of the ends of the membrane loose, use a paper towel to grab a hold of it and pull firmly to remove the membrane. This can usually be done in one motion but sometimes you will have to fuss with it a bit more.  The rub will not stick to the membrane and smoke will not penetrate it so you really do want to remove it completely.  

Step 4: Cut Your Ribs to Size

If you are cooking spareribs like me, you may want to trim them down to what is called a St Louis cut.  This involves locating the longest bone in the rack and squaring them off.  A lot of people throw away the piece that is cut off but this is often some of the best meat so I make them in to rib tips.  It's great for snacking or making a sandwich.

Step 5: Remove Any Excess Fat

Remove any excess fat from the ribs since it won't render.  If you put your hand under the ribs and let them curl over, it is really easy to go in with a knife and trim off the unwanted fat.

Step 6: Trimmed Ribs

Your trimmed ribs should look similar to this.  Notice the large areas of fat have been removed and the edges squared up.

Step 7: Make Your Rub

Now is time to make your rub.  You can easily do this beforehand or purchase one from the grocery store.  There are really a lot of great rubs out there.  Just remember that sugar burns and that the more sugar you have in your rub, the darker your ribs will get. The ideal color should be a rich mahogany.  Too often I see people cook ribs that are charred and are almost black.  

Here is my basic rub recipe.  You can easily add additional ingredients but start out in moderation. The last thing you want is to invite a bunch of people over for ribs and have a product that is inedible.  

1/4 cup kosher salt
1/4 cup sugar
1/4 cup smoked paprika
2 tablespoon black pepper
1 tablespoon garlic powder
1 tablespoon onion powder
1/2 teaspoon cayenne pepper

Step 8: Rub Your Ribs

Start with the back of your ribs and liberally coat them with rub.  Flip them over and do the same with the top.  Don't forget to get the sides of the ribs as well.  Now let your ribs sit for at least 30 minutes before putting them on your smoker.  You never want to throw cold meat on your smoker or grill.  You could do all of these steps the night before if you wish, just wrap them up in saran wrap and remember to take them out of the fridge 45 minutes to an hour before you plan to put them on the smoker.

Step 9: Prep Your Cooker for Low and Slow

Prep your cooker for indirect heat.  I like to cook ribs around 230F but anywhere from 225F-250F will work.  I am using a Weber Smokey Mountain which is a vertical water cooker.  You can use an offset smoker, a pellet grill, a gas grill, or even your oven, just make sure your meat is away from the open flames and you are cooking around 230F.  The addition of a small water pan will help you keep your food moist.  

I am using the minion method for my charcoal.  This allows me to cook for long periods of time without having to add more charcoal.  Here I filled the charcoal chamber with charcoal and placed some wood chunks throughout.  I like a mild smoke flavor so Cherry and Apple are my favorite woods to use.  If you like a stronger more pungent smoke flavor you could certainly go with a hardwood like Hickory instead of a fruit wood. If you are cooking indoors, eliminate the addition of the wood chunks.

For the minion method I used a chimney starter to light about 15 coals and once they all got a nice white ash on them, I poured them in the center of the charcoal chamber.  This allows the other charcoal to light slowly and will sustain even temperatures in the smoker for 5-6 hours.  This might not be the best set up for your particular cooker so you will have to adjust your technique accordingly. 

Finally, assemble your cooker and get it to your targeted temperature, in my case, 230F.

Step 10: Add Your Meat

Once your smoker gets up to temp, add your meat.  Here I have the racks of ribs and the pieces we cut off for rib tips.  If you haven't already, add your wood to hot coals.  

Step 11: Maintain Your Temperature

Close the lid of your smoker and let them smoke for about 45 minutes to an hour at approximately 230F without opening it.  You should see a thin blue smoke coming from your smoker.  

After 45 minutes to an hour, open your cooker.  At this point I like to spritz or mop the ribs with apple juice.  You can either use a mop to paint the apple juice on or use a spray bottle.  The spray bottle is my preference.  Continue to spritz or mop every 15 to 20 minutes to keep the ribs moist and develop a nice color.  

Step 12: Pull the Ribs Once You Get the Color Where You Want

After the ribs reach the color you desire, pull them off the smoker so that we can wrap them.  You are looking for a dark red, almost mahogany color.  I usually reach this point after 2-2.5 hours of cook time. 

Step 13: Add Some Honey

Place your ribs on a couple sheets of foil.  Add a drizzle of honey to the tops of the ribs.  

Step 14: Add Brown Sugar

Sprinkle some brown sugar over the top of the ribs.  Next, flip them meat side down and add honey and brown sugar to the bottom. This helps add another layer of flavor to the ribs.  If you think this might be too sweet for you, you can spritz both sides with apple juice instead.  The sweetness really does compliment the spice of the rub so I encourage you to give it a try, you won't regret it!

Step 15: Return Your Wrapped Ribs to the Smoker

After tightly wrapping your ribs, return them to the smoker meat side down.  Leave them for an additional 1.5 hours at 230F before returning to check on them.  

Step 16: Check for Tenderness

After the ribs have been wrapped for 1.5 hours, pull them from the smoker to check for tenderness.  You are looking for the meat to shrink about 1/2" from the bones.  Try twisting a bone slightly and if the meat feels like it is going to break free from the bone, they are done.  If they still feel a little tough, re-wrap them and return them to the smoker for a bit and continue to check on them until they reach your desired tenderness.

After you get your ribs to your desired tenderness, leave them unwrapped for about 10-15 minutes before moving them.  This will allow for the meat to firm up enough so that the ribs don't fall apart.  

Step 17: Sauce Your Ribs

Now is the time to sauce your ribs.  I sauce the bottoms of the ribs while they are still in the foil and then flip them on to these baking racks.  This limits the amount of times I have to move the ribs and reduces the risk of them falling apart.  If you don't have any of these baking racks, your can go straight back to the smoker with them.  Now you can sauce the tops of your ribs.  The sauce you choose is totally up to you.  You can go with either a sweet or spicy sauce.  I am from the Midwest so we typically go for the sweeter sauce. This also helps compliment the spice in the rub.

Step 18: Set Your Sauce

Put your ribs back on your smoker at 230F for about another 30 minutes to set your sauce.  Sauces typically have a lot of sugar so make sure to watch so that the ribs do not burn.  

Step 19: Pull Your Ribs

After about 30 minutes, pull your ribs from the smoker and let them rest for about 10 minutes.  

Step 20: Cut Your Ribs

After the ribs have rested a bit, turn them meat side down on a cutting board and cut between the bones.  Flipping them over just makes it a bit easier to see where to cut.  Don't worry about disrupting your sauce, it will have set up enough that it should't come off.  

Step 21: Smoke Ring

Check out how moist and juicy your ribs are and look at that beautiful smoke ring.  

Step 22: Time to Eat!

Add your ribs to a platter if they haven't been ambushed by hungry onlookers and watch them disappear! 

Step 23: Rib Tips

For those of you that cooked your rib tips with your spares, sauce them up the same way as your ribs and cut them in to cubes. These are little cubes of heaven!  

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