How To Smoke Ribs: Cracking The Code Once And For All

Smoke ribs

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Smoked ribs. That single phrase is enough to invoke a Pavlovian mouth-watering response. Now imagine if you knew how to smoke ribs yourself. You could eat them every day. Never again would you need to suffer the frustration of trying to choose your dinner. Or, if you chose to vary your diet from time to time, you would at least rest well at night knowing that you held the key to great smoked ribs in your head.

But learning how to smoke ribs isn’t easy. It takes practice and a lot of patience. There are many different ways to smoke ribs; some better than others. Ribs take a long time to cook no matter what process you’re using, and smoking them is no different. However, once you learn how to smoke ribs perfectly every time, you’ll become a legend among your friends and family. When you’re not around, people will tell others about their cousin or friend (or whoever you are) that makes the best darn smoked ribs this side of the Mississippi.

Are you ready to take on such a responsibility?

How to Smoke Ribs the Right Way

Man grilling pork ribs

image source: via Jaden Hatch

First, there are many ways to smoke ribs. You can use a charcoal smoker, a pellet grill, a gas smoker, or an electric smoker. Knowing what kind of smoker you’ll be using is the first step in learning how to smoke ribs. They all have their pros and cons. We are partial to charcoal smokers, but electric smokers are awesome for getting the heat just right every time. You really can’t go wrong with any of these choices.

Second, you’ll want to season your ribs the right way. If you don’t have a gold-medal-winning rib sauce tucked up your sleeve, then you’ll want to invest some time in learning how to make one. Remember, you want your ribs to be great every time, which means your seasoning needs to be the same every time. We are partial to sweet smoked ribs.

How you smoke your ribs and how you season them is completely up to you.

Why Smoke Ribs?

If you’re wondering why you should bother with smoked ribs, then we can assure you that this is the single greatest way to eat them yet created. Sure, barbecued ribs are decent, and in a pinch, you can bake them in the oven. Also, slow cookers tend to do an awesome job with ribs. Of course, after cooking your ribs in a Crock Pot for six hours, you’ll still need to bake them in an oven for another hour or so. However, slow-cooked ribs fall off the bone better than anything you’ll get in a restaurant.

But none of those hold a candle to smoked ribs. When it comes to pure fall-off-the-bone deliciousness, knowing how to smoke ribs is the greatest skill you can have.

What Different Methods Are There?

As we mentioned, there are several different ways to smoke ribs. While we prefer charcoal, everyone has their favorite. There is no wrong way to do it, so long as you know how to smoke ribs.

-Charcoal Smokers

Charcoal smokers come in several different shapes and sizes. There is the classic barrel and drum smoker, which is a steel drum with a water pan and a charcoal pan. You usually hang your ribs inside and set it smoking. There’s also a bullet smoker, which is called thus because it looks like a big bullet. They have a water pan between the meat and the charcoal, but they’re a lot more finicky to use due to poor air flow. Also, there’s an offset barrel smoker type of charcoal smoker. Basically, it’s a barbecue with a tiny drum off to one side where you burn the charcoal. These are more difficult to use, and you lose a lot of heat in the process.

-Pellet Grill

According to the Hearth, Patio and Barbecue Association, wood pellet grills are the hottest trend in barbecuing right now. The pellet grill resembles an offset barrel smoker, except that you fill the barrel with cylindrical wood pellets instead of charcoal. Also, a pellet grill is electrical. It uses an electric current to create heat and high pressure. The wood smolders, creating hot smoke. This cooks the food on the grill. You can barbecue anything this way.

-Gas Smoker

Although gas smokers have a vintage look about them, they’re actually not that old. They use propane or liquid natural gas, have thin metal sides, and they regulate temperature extremely well. Most of them come with a water pan, which is a must if you want great smoked ribs. Also, you’ll find that gas smokers are generally more affordable than other types of smokers. You just need to make sure you have the room for one.

-Electric Smoker

Finally, there are electric smokers. These use electric coils to create heat and an artificial smoke flavor. Unlike the other smokers you can choose from, electric smokers are smaller, more affordable, and best of all, they are nearly automatic. You can put your ribs inside and forget about them. That comes with a downside, of course. You don’t get a real smokey flavor as you do with charcoal or wood, thanks to the lack of combustion that takes place.

Smoked Ribs are an American Legend

Grilled barbecue pork ribs in a white plate

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Pork ribs are quintessentially American. Columbus had pigs on all three of his voyages, but the first pigs didn’t set foot on North American soil until 1539. That’s when Hernando de Soto landed with 13 of them in Tampa Bay. Most of them went wild, and the flock grew to over 700 within a few years.

Of course, it was the native Americans who were using the first smokehouses. It usually consisted of a roof of sticks covered in animal hides, with fish and game hanging above the charcoal in a pit below. When invasive European pigs met traditional native American smokehouses, the greatest culinary invention in the history of fusion food was born. Today you can nearly taste the history of smoked ribs with every bite.

Step by Step Instructions

Grilled juicy pork ribs

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So now it’s time to learn how to smoke ribs. Regardless of which method you’re using, we always recommend the three-two-one system. That basically means you’ll smoke your ribs for three hours, then add something to them, then smoke them for another two hours before adding something else, and then smoking them for a further hour. You’ll find that this method is on par with cooking them in a slow cooker time-wise, and so much more delicious.

Step 1: Season The ribs

The first thing you’ll want to do is remove all the membrane from the ribs. This is a key step to achieving super-moist, flavorful fall-off-the-bone ribs. After, season the ribs with whichever seasoning you opted for. Rub your seasoning into the meat all around. Don’t leave any spots without seasoning, so make sure you have enough to cover all your ribs.

Here’s where you can get really creative. We find that apple and smoke go together extremely well with ribs. You’ll make an apple glaze using apple jelly, brown sugar, garlic, cayenne pepper, and honey. Then you’ll rub it all over the ribs. Or, if you want something spicier, try this Doctor Pepper Spicy Smoked Ribs recipe from Hey Grill Hey. It’s unlike anything you’ve ever imagined. Of course, you can always keep it simple with some garlic powder and Worcestershire sauce.

Put your seasoned ribs in the fridge for a little bit to marinate.

Step 2: Preheat The Smoker

While your ribs are marinating, get your smoker preheated. Most smokers need a temperature of 250 degrees Fahrenheit for the three-two-one method. Your electric smoker may need to be adjusted a little lower, say around 225 degrees.

It’s now that you’ll also want to fill the water pan and place it in the smoker. This will help create the humidity needed for a good moist smoked meat.

Step 3: Smoke The Ribs For 3 Hours

Once your smoker reaches its target temperature, put your marinated ribs in, bone side down, and close it up. You’re going to let them smoke for three hours. You’ll want to monitor the temperature during this process, making sure it stays around 300 degrees. If you see it’s dipping, you need to add more wood or charcoal, depending on what method you’re using.

Step 4: Braise The Ribs For 2 Hours

After 3 hours have passed, remove the ribs from the smoker (but keep the smoker at 250 degrees). Now you’re going to wrap them in tinfoil and place them back in the smoker for another two hours. This braises the meat, trapping all that moisture and melting fat inside and creating that fall-off-the-bone meat that will have people raving about your ribs. Don’t be surprised if your neighbors, whom barely say hello to you, suddenly start wanting to be your best friends.

Step 5: Smoke The Ribs For 1 Hour

When you know how to smoke ribs, you know how to make them fun to eat. When two hours have passed, remove the ribs once again, and remove all the tinfoil. Rub some barbecue sauce all over them. Anything will do, so long as it’s delicious and sweet. Then, place the ribs back in the smoker, bone-side down, and smoke them again for another hour. That’s how you get that sticky, finger-licking goodness. The barbecue sauce will solidify slightly, creating a gorgeous coating over all the ribs. This is how to smoke ribs the right way.

Step 6: Serve And Eat

If the hour is up, your ribs are ready to be served. Make sure you have plenty of wet naps around for people. Or you can try our favorite, which is to have tiny bowls of water with a lemon slice in it for each diner. However, as word of your amazing ribs spread, you’ll quickly run out of bowls. Eventually, you’ll need packs of wet naps or just a large trough where all your satisfied guests can splash their hands.

Parting Thoughts

Smoke ribs

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The three-two-one method isn’t the only way you can smoke ribs. There is also the two-two-one method, and the low-and-slow method, to name a few. We find that the three-two-one method produces the greatest combination of smokey flavor and fall-off-the-bone tenderness, but you may be partial to a different way. Also, if you’re using an electric smoker, you may find that this method isn’t necessary. Because electric smokers are great at regulating temperature, you don’t need to blast your ribs for four hours. However, it comes at the cost of real smokey flavor, but it’s up to you.

Knowing how to smoke ribs will make you a local hero. After every barbecue, you’ll be the talk of your social circle. Your spouse will look at you with adoring eyes as they slurp sticky barbecue sauce off their fingers. Your kids will demand more. And the neighborhood dogs will be howling to go and investigate the delicious aroma wafting up from your backyard. Are you ready for this lifestyle?

If so, let us know what you think in the comments!

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