How To Make Good Smoked Baby Back Ribs: A Simple Guide

How To Make Good Smoked Baby Back Ribs: A Simple Guide

With summer fast approaching, it’s time to pull out your tongs and get cracking on some ribs. Want to host a backyard BBQ that will satisfy your guest’s appetite? Consider smoked baby back ribs for your main entree. While this might seem challenging, you will have the ins and outs of smoking ribs down after reading this.

We most often cook ribs as a rack or a slab, not individually. Baby back ribs are thus named as such as they are smaller than spare ribs. They tend to be leaner and more tender and are cut from the back of the pig rather than the belly. One of the best ways to achieve even cooking and smoky flavor with baby back ribs is to use, yes, a smoker.  

But wait, what if I want to use my smoker year-round? Well, you can. In fact, many stores sell a sort of smoker blanket to insulate your smoker in those cold months of the year. Be on the lookout for other fun smoker accessories; you would be surprised at what is out there.

Get Ready to Smoke

To achieve the best flavor, smoking requires you to choose a slab of meat that has equal ratios of meat and fat. This results in even cooking, so aim for about 80/20 fat. The fat renders, and the juices from said fat prevent drying. You want your meat moist and tender after a long smoke.  

A step that beginners might miss is to remove the membrane or skin, often referred to as silver skin. If you leave this on, it will be chewy and will prevent full smoke penetration. This takes practice, so grab a knife and some paper towels. The paper towels will help you to hang on to the membrane, as it is slippery.

large barbecue smoker

Low and Slow

When it comes to smoking baby back ribs, the key is to keep it low and slow. Smoking ribs does not require flipping, and there is no direct or indirect heat involved. The first task you need to accomplish is to choose what type of wood chips or pellets you would like to choose.  

There are numerous options available, and you will want to choose one that fits the flavor for which you’re aiming. Some common flavors include hickory or mesquite. You can also choose some other flavors like cherry, apple, peach, oak, or pecan. 

Make sure to read the directions on the chips or pellets. In some cases preparing the wood to smoke may involve soaking them in water, sometimes overnight. Also, consider the type of meat you are smoking. In this case, that would be pork.  

Rub and Marinate?

The next step is to start your smoker and keep it on the smoke setting for five to ten minutes.  Then you want to set your smoker at 225°. Then get to rubbing the ribs. You will either make your own or purchase a premade rub from the store. The choice is up to you. This is the first level of flavor, so make sure to do this step.  

You want to leave them to sit for a while as this will give time for the water-soluble ingredients in the rub to dissolve. You should see a glaze-like liquid form as it penetrates the meat. The more time you give to this, the more the rub will penetrate the meat.

ribs in marinade

To marinate or not to marinate? Technically, you don’t have to, but it does break down some of the fat and muscle. If you choose to marinate, make sure that it contains oil, acid, vinegar, soy sauce, and herbs. When you do marinate, make sure you place the ribs in a container where they are completely submerged. Then seal the container and let them sit refrigerated for at least eight hours. 

321 Method

When you have set your smoker to 225° and you have followed all of the steps above to prepare the meat, you are ready to smoke your baby back ribs. You might want to consider what texture you want your ribs to be when they are done smoking. Do you want them falling off the bone or a little more chewy, similar to the texture of steak?  

If you choose the fall off the bone texture, you may want to follow the common 321 method. This method is probably one of the most common, especially for beginners. Basically, there are three steps in this process, a smoking time, a wrapping cooking time, and a basting time.  

As a side note, this method is not one followed by those in smoking competitions. Why? In these competitions, judges look for the meat to be tender and pull cleanly off the bone when you bite into it.  

However, the 321 method is great for fall-off-the-bone baby back ribs, which is what, at large, what everyday rib lovers are looking for. To follow this method, as stated above, set your smoke to the correct temperature. Set the ribs, bone side down on one of the racks inside, and close the lid.  

Bone Side Down

While you can smoke the ribs either bone side up or down, there is a reason to choose the side down option. First, the smoke will penetrate on both sides. Positioning the ribs bone side up will result in the bones’ juices pooling in the concave center. While this is great for keeping the meat moist, the juices’ pools will also act as a smoke barrier.  

This barrier prevents the smoke from penetrating the meat. If you want that full-on flavor (which is why you’re using the smoker in the first place), make sure you put your slab bone side down.  

You must only open to steam the meat as the ribs are smoked. This will let the heat out. Keep your eye on the smoker so that you know there is always adequate wood for the time frame.   

For a newbie meat smoker, it is wise to spray the meat every hour for the three you smoke. You can choose to spray with any liquid like broth or your mixture of ingredients. Be aware that spraying might prevent fully formed bark. But, beginners should use this method to ensure the meat is moist. As you gain more experience, you can experiment with not spraying.  

Steam and Sauce 

Steam It Up

As said, you will smoke the ribs for a total of three hours. After the three hours pass, remove the ribs and wrap them in foil with a small amount of liquid. Some great recommendations are a beer or apple juice. Then, put the ribs back on the rack and smoke for another two hours at the same temperature. This ensures that steaming occurs.

Be aware that some smokers can also function as an oven. If you own such a smoker, you can choose to turn the smoke off in the second stage of this method. However, you will want to turn the smoker back on in the third step as explained below.  

Steaming will help to break down the meat, cartilage, and fat. The steam will create the fall-off texture you are looking to achieve. The final step is to remove the slap, unwrap it, and put it back in for no longer than one hour. If you want to use BBQ sauce, which you can make or purchase, apply it about 15 minutes before the final removal so that the sauce caramelizes.  

Sauce and More Sauce

Make sure to coat both sides of the ribs. You can also technically use the oven for step three. But, the smoker will infuse the BBQ sauce with said flavor. Therefore, you will acquire the smoky flavor in both the meat and the sauce.  

bbq sauce on smoked ribs

You will judge when the ribs are done by their look and feel. Technically, the smoked baby back ribs are done when the internal temperature reaches 160°. Fats and collagen melt starting at 190°. You can judge if the ribs are done first by feel.  

Take your temperature probe and stick it into the ribs. If it slides out easily with no effort, the ribs are done. Next, check the color. Is the sauce caramelized? If it is, you’re good on that front. Lastly, take your tongs and pick up the rack in the middle. Are the ribs still stiff? If so, smoke until they give when you pick them up.  

You can actually “smoke” ribs in the oven or on the grill, but a smoker is a far better choice. A smoker allows for a more even cooking.  Also, your baby back ribs will be more tender and full of flavor.  

Final Thoughts

Smoking baby back ribs is not as tough as you thought, right? While there are several methods for smoking ribs, the 321 process is easy to follow. For beginners, smoking baby back ribs will be sure to impress your family or guests. Enjoy the process year-round, not just the summertime BBQ!

D.D. Boyd

Hello, I'm D.D. Boyd, one of the contributors to this site.

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