I’ll make you the envy of every guy and gal in your neighborhood or campsite. What follows is the way to smoke the best ribs you or anyone you know have ever tasted. Follow my instructions and give it a try. People at your party/cookout/campsite will tell you that they’re the best ribs they’ve ever had, and I will let you take all the credit.
Step 1. Get some ribs. I actually really like Costco’s pack. They have both St. Louis and Baby Back. They are the same ribs but cut in half down the sides. St. Louis style is the ‘front’ of the ribs closest to the stomach, and ‘Baby back’ is the part of the ribs where is connects to the backbone. I like them both, so here you see I got one pack of each. About 3 racks to a pack. So, these two packs for $25 each will feed about 16-20 of my guests. So around 3 bucks a person is a pretty good deal for the best ribs you’ll ever have.
Step 2. Prep the ribs the night before you’re going to smoke. You need to trim them to fit your smoker racks, and also take off the membrane and add your rub. Then cover and set in fridge overnight. Here’s how to take off the membrane, which will not break down with heat and smoke like the rest of the meat, so must be removed. Use a butter knife to work in some ways between the membrane and the white bone. Just enough to make room for your finger. Try really hard not to poke through the membrane, you want to keep it whole.
See how my gloved fingers can now start to lift up and pull off the membrane? This is what you are trying to do. It’s awesome when the whole thing can come off at once. This one is going great, maybe the best one I’ve ever done. Sometimes, it falls apart and doesn't come off in one nice piece. I hate when that happens.
Now, add your rub and pat it down once into the meat with your other hand. My rub is not secret. You can find my rub recipe in my earlier blog entry. Place it all in a bowl, mix well, and then add to a shaker like you see here. You can get a shaker with medium sized holes on it at any restaurant supply store or Smart & Final. The kind you see at pizza places for their red pepper flakes works best.
Step 3. Now cover and place in fridge overnight.
Step 4. The next day. Ok, I’m ready to go. Get your stuff together. You will need your smoker, some good foil, a can of peach nectar, a bottle of Agave syrup, and a package of brown sugar. You will need this stuff later. I also use a clean spray bottle, and apple juice.
Make your fire, or turn on your electric smoker. In this example I’m using my big, permanent charcoal smoker. I also have a fantastic portable charcoal smoker, the Weber Smokey Mountain. I use that one for camping and competitions. You can get it for less than $300. Trust me, your food DOES NOT KNOW how expensive your smoker is. Someone who tells you that you need to spend a bunch of money on a smoker is an idiot. No, I am not going to make fun of people with electric smokers. Anything that brings someone into the world of smoking is a good thing. I won’t use one, as they’re not allowed in competitions, but they work just fine. Don’t listen to BBQ snobs.
Here is what my fire-bowl looks like on the portable one. I leave a space in the middle open, and place cold charcoal and wood chucks in a circle going outwards. This makes it so when I dump the hot coals down the middle, they will slowly burn outwards, hitting different wood chucks at different times, allowing me to go 4-5 hours without having to even touch my fire. For ribs, I use apple and pecan wood. Pecan works for anything except fish. Apple or any fruit wood is excellent for pork.
My larger smoker uses a larger firebox that allows me to regulate the burn and gives me 8 hours without having to touch it. So larger, more expensive smokers can usually regulate the temp and smoke easier. That’s the only reason to pay more for a smoker. Don’t pay for hype.
So now I make my hot charcoal with a chimney only about half-full. I found a great use for that side-burner on my grill. It makes a fantastic chimney starter. You never use fluids of any kind, nor ever use that stupid charcoal that has lighter fluid built into it. Never, ever, ever.
Step 6. Smoke. Add your ribs in the racks and stack them up in your smoker. I have a digital thermometer on a probe that I use to keep track of the temp in the smoker. I just lay the probe on the top rack and shut the lid. The cheaper smokers are a little harder to maintain the right temperature of around 225 F, so I do have to keep my eye on it more than my more expensive one. That's half the fun, however. More air makes it hotter. So play with your vents until you find the right spots to keep your internal temp close to 225 F. You will learn your vents as you smoke. After a few times, you will understand the airflow of your smoker. If it gets too hot, just close some vents and let it regulate. Do NOT open the lid!!! Rookie mistake. That will make it HOTTER, not cool it down.
Note that I have internal oven thermometers inside my smoke chamber. Never trust any thermometer that comes built-in on your smoker. They all suck. Always. Get some cheap oven ones, they cost about a buck. If I have more than 3 rib racks, then I remove my middle rack, and place vertical rib racks on my remaining two shelves. This lets me smoke 8 rib racks at the same time. In this photo, I'm only doing 3. It's hard to see, but there's also a disposable foil tray down below my racks. I filled this tray 1/2 full of water. Most smokers have a water tray. Get some cheap disposable foil pans and use them in your trays for much easier clean up. Put some water and/or apple juice in these trays and they not only help regulate the temp, but also add moisture to your smoke. This is especially important on vertical smokers like the aforementioned WSM, where the heat is directly beneath the meat. My big one here is offset, so the foil tray is much more for clean up than for temp regulation.
Step 7. Spray. Every hour, spray apple juice all over your ribs using that spray bottle. After about 3 hours, you should have a very good crust (called the Bark) on your ribs. Once you have the Bark where you want it, carefully remove your ribs and place them in a tray.
Step 8. The wrap.
Once you have the bark that you like (3 to 4 hours), then we want to wrap the ribs. Smoke touching them no longer matters. What we need to do now is slowly cook them in their own juices to get them nice and tender. They are not tender yet.
Remove them from your smoker and put them in a big foil tray.
Get a large piece of heavy foil (or pink butcher paper) and place one rib section on it. Splash some of the peach nectar on it, and then a drizzle of the Agave syrup. Then, use your gloved hand to pack on some brown sugar. Do this on BOTH sides, and then completely wrap it up TIGHT in the foil.
Do this for each rib section, and then place all the wrapped sections back into the smoker for another 4 to 6 hours.
This is where the meat will get tender and flavorful. The first three hours is only to make the smoke bark. You don’t need smoke anymore, since the ribs are wrapped, you only need to keep the heat around 225 for the next 4-6 hours. Obviously you don’t spray anymore. Just time and slow heat. Be patient. It’s actually really hard to overdo it unless you're at a competition. You can let them go longer, and all that will happen is they will get even MORE tender!!! If you take them out too soon, they will be tough.
How do you know? Take out one package (use long tongs) and open it up. If you grab a bone with your tongs and it just falls apart and breaks away from the rest of the meat, you are done!!! Enjoy!!!
Now, for competition, it's different. In the backyard, a lot of folks like when it falls of the bone. That is a huge no-no for professional judges, however. So if you want it to be tender, but still stay on the bone, you need to be careful and take them off a bit sooner. When you pick them up with some tongs, they should bend, but not break apart. It takes a while to learn how to get it exactly to this stage. My family likes them more tender, so at home we just go all the way, which is easy.
There will be plenty of juice inside the foil, so be very careful when opening, and save that juice in a foil pan. Put it in a bowl for folks who wish to pour it on their ribs, or any other meat you have. Some people will put it all in a saucepan and simmer for a bit to reduce and thicken it up.
Step 9. Eat