Introduction: Best Smoked BBQ Pork Ribs
Who doesn't like BBQ ribs, super easy and a real popular food for summer events! I'm going to show you how to make the best BBQ pork ribs ever. I've made and tried many different styles of BBQ. My favorite kind of BBQ is not relying on too much on spices or rubs and let the taste of the smoke come through naturally.
In my opinion ribs have the best combination of fat and meat that when cooked low and slow produce awesome BBQ goodness.
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Step 1: The Meat and Ingredients
We're making BBQ, so meat is gonna be the main ingredient. So a few things about choosing the cut of pork ribs. There are two types of ribs based on how the pig is cut up:
- Side ribs, also called spared ribs
- Baby back ribs
Side ribs are from the lower part of the pig and sometimes come with cartilage and extra "flappy" parts of meat. Depending how the ribs are cut and what you find at the store, you want to get the full side rib, that includes all the cartilage and extra meat. This gives a nice amount of meat that can cook over a long period of time without getting dry. Side ribs have a nice combination of meat and fat, remember fat is flavor!
Baby back ribs are from top of the pig's rib cage close to the spine, they tend to have more meat and less fat but this is just a generalization from my experience. They are still a tough cut of meat but not as tough as side ribs and often you see them on menus at restaurants because they cook faster and they look real impressive when served as they have a more uniform look to them compared to side ribs, unless serving just the middle few side ribs.
My preference is to use side ribs as they have more fat and meat but both types will make awesome BBQ.
Other ingredients used:
- Ground black pepper
- Onion powder
- Garlic powder
- Your favorite BBQ sauce
- Smoking wood
Step 2: Equipment
Lets take a moment to talk about equipment used for smoking meat. Not everyone has a dedicated smoker but that's ok, you can still smoke in a charcoal or propane grill. As long as it's large enough that you can cook over indirect heat.
So what is indirect heat, well it's exactly as it sounds, cooking food away from the source of the fire. Think of it like cooking in your oven. Whereas cooking with direct heat is cooking food directly over the fire, this is what you do when grilling steaks.
I'm smoking in a vertical smoker that I built myself, the way I can cook over indirect heat is I'm using a large bowl of water to shield the meat from the direct heat of the fire and I add fuel as needed. I burn wood in my smoker so my smoker is constantly generating smoke from the wood burning.
If you only have a propane grill, the way to smoke is to turn on one burner and leave the other burners off and place the meat on the top rack or on the main rack but away from the burner that is on. Place a wood chip box filled with wood chips over the burner that is on, this will produce the smoke. Refill the box with wood as needed.
If you are using a charcoal grill place the hot charcoal on one side or on both sides and place the meat off to the other side or in the middle. You might have to play with the placement of charcoal depending on the size and shape of your grill. To generate smoke add wood chunks as needed.
Also you can get fully automated electric smokers but my preference is to burn wood instead of pressed wood pucks that provides the smoke for these types of smokers. They work great and give consistent results and are a set and forget it where as cooking with the other methods are more tedious but very rewarding.
I've also used kamado cookers (e.g. Green Egg) but I find they hold heat too well to make good smokers. These types of cookers are super efficient and save fuel but because of these properties they don't make the best smokers, the wood tends to smoulder and produces smoke that isn't "clean", creosote is often a by product of incomplete combustion from smouldering wood. Which is bad and makes the meat taste off.
Step 3: Choice of Wood and Fuel
So when I was first learning how to smoke meat, I tried many different types of wood. My preference is to smoke with sugar maple wood, it's easy to get for me as it grows locally. Hickory is probably my other favorite smoking wood except it's hard to get locally.
Oak is another wood I really like as it gives a nice mellow taste to the meat and produces nice coals. Fruit woods are also a good choice, I've used pecan and apple woods, apple imparts light taste to the meat.
The only wood to avoid in my opinion is mesquite, I tried smoking meat with that, before realizing that it imparts an over powering taste to the meat. Maybe using it in small amounts is ok but to do a full many hour cook is not good at all.
My suggestion is to use woods that are available to you locally and see what you like. Avoid softwoods that are resinous and stick to hardwoods as a general rule.
Step 4: Video
I made a video to show how I smoke the side ribs, it give you an idea of the methods I use. The rest of the steps in this Instructable have the complete written theory and directions.
Step 5: Preparing the Meat
First prepare your rub, I like keeping it simple, mix and place in a shaker container with large holes:
- 50% Ground black pepper
- 50% Salt
- Add some ground garlic powder
- Add some ground onion powder
For the garlic and onion powder maybe 1/4 the amount of the combined black pepper and salt, doesn't have to be exact.
To prepare the meat is very easy. Trim the ribs to remove any loose hanging pieces, all these will do is burn up doing the cook. There is a thin membrane on the back of the ribs covering the rib cage, this is called the peritoneum or silver skin, I like to remove this membrane. Using a small knife, peel the membrane from the corner of the ribs, grab a hold of the membrane and pull, it should pull off. It's optional to remove this but I find it makes the ribs slightly more enjoyable as it doesn't cook down very well.
Next cut the ribs to fit your smoker if you can't fit the full rack. But avoid cutting them too small, you need them large enough so they can stay moist and over a long cook.
If the ribs seem dry coat with some vegetable oil before applying the rub, I typically just apply the spice rub directly to the meat. Using the combined spice mix, sprinkle from a high distance the mix over the meat. Apply an even coat to the ribs on both sides, using your hand pat the rub into the meat. The reason for doing this from a high distance as it helps the rub coat the meat evenly.
Step 6: The Cook
Here is my favorite part of making ribs besides eating them. The cook will take several hours so be prepare to check the fire and tend the meat, which I enjoy. There is something primal when cooking meat with fire.
So how you cook will depend on the type of smoker or cooking equipment you are using, I'll provide instruction on how I do it and you can tailor it for your equipment.
Since my smoker has the fire directly below the meat, I use a water pan to shield the meat from the direct fire. Remember we want to cook over indirect heat as mentioned in the previous steps around equipment.
The water pan serves a few purposes, it protects the meat from direct heat, moderates the temperature of the smoker and acts as a heat sink to help maintain the temperature when opening and closing the door and lastly it provides humidity to help prevent the meat from drying out too quickly.
I start some charcoal with a charcoal chimney, I avoid using any chemical starters. I'm using charcoal briquettes for this cook, just to get the fire going. I've used lump charcoal as well, really doesn't matter which one to use as I'm going to get the smoke flavor from the wood. As a note: briquettes makes a lot of ash and doesn't burn as hot whereas lump burns clean with little ash, hot and fast.
Once the fire is going and a nice bed of coals have been established I switch to burning wood for the rest of the cook which will be about 5-6 hours total of smoking time before the ribs are wrapped in foil and cooked several hours more.
I place the meat in the smoker and only open the smoker when necessary, avoid opening it too often as it takes time for the smoker to heat back up and will increase the length of time to cook.
The temperature to maintain the smoker is 250-275 F, anything lower will take the meat forever to cook and anything over that risks cooking the meat too fast and drying it out.
Wood was added to the smoker every 20 minute to 1/2 an hour or so, I use smaller pieces of wood so they start fast and burn intense and clean. Using larger chunks works too but sometimes I find it harder to control the temperature if it gets too hot, it's easier to heat the cooker up by adding more wood than to try and cool it down.
I kept a steady supply of smoke and heat with this method and I find it produces superior BBQ in my opinion. The smoke from the chimney should be white and blueish in color, almost clear, if you are getting gray or black smoke, it means the fire is not burning properly, you need to open up the vents and get some airflow going. Don't choke off the fire and produce smoke by smouldering the wood, all you will get is creosote build up and your meat will taste off.
Check the meat after 2 hours and see how much color they have taken on, it should just be starting to take on some color. Continue smoking for another 1 hour and check, by now the ribs should have a nice reddish brown color. Sprite the meat with some water, apple juice or cider vinegar to keep the meat moist. Close up the smoker and maintain temperature for another 2 hours.
After about 5-6 hours it's time to wrap the ribs, the ribs should have taken on some real nice brown color by now, if not and the meat seems undercook, smoke longer, really you will have to gauge this depending on how far along your meat is. My pictures should give you an idea what the ribs should look like.
Place the ribs on two pieces of foil, spritz and wrap the ribs in the foil. Place back in the smoker or place in an oven set to 275F. This is called a Texas crutch, (wrapping in foil), it's possible to cook the ribs until finished unwrapped but really the meat will not take on any more smoke if it's left unwrapped and wrapping helps speed up cooking. I usually just switch to putting the meat in my oven at this point as then I don't have a fire to maintain and cooking with live fire at this point has no real benefit unless you don't have access to an oven.
Cook in the oven for 3 more hours.
Step 7: Finishing and Serving
After three hours, the ribs should be fork tender and are ready to be enjoyed. You could eat them as is, add BBQ sauce and bake them for 10-15 minutes to cook on the BBQ sauce or do what I'm recommending:
To finish the ribs, slather the ribs with your favorite BBQ sauce I make my own using Frankin's BBQ Chicken sauce recipe (Google it for the recipe). If you want to use a store bought BBQ sauce, I like Diane's Chicken and Rib sauce that can be found in most grocery stores.
I heated up my grill with a bed of lump charcoal. The ribs were grilled directly over the hot coals, they should only take 30 seconds or so to grill on each side. Don't leave the ribs unattended as the sugar in the BBQ sauce will burn very quickly. This last step adds a nice caramelized glaze over the ribs, that give them an awesome sticky gooey goodness.
If the ribs have been prepared ahead of time and have cooled, warmed the ribs either in the oven or on the grill with indirect heat until warmed, then cover with BBQ sauce before grilling over direct heat.
Serve the ribs immediately, they will be fall off the bone tender with a nice smoky and sweet flavor. It's hard to describe so you will just have to make them!
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