There’s nothing quite like smoking ribs. This style of cooking has been an American delicacy for centuries and in that time, many variations and special recipes have developed. Although there’s not one way to prepare smoked ribs, the best part of this meal is always the cooking experience so why not try them all.
The first thing any step in any pitmasters smoking process is deciding how to season the ribs. While most cooks develop a preference eventually, its great to try as many styles and flavors as possible when first starting out.
One of the most popular forms of seasoning is a dry rub. This involves massaging a flavorful mix of spices into the rack of ribs without using any sauces or liquids.
Dry rubs are popular because of how they enhance and absorb into the natural flavor of the meat without altering the texture. It is generally recommended to season the rack well before starting the grill in order to provide as much time as possible for the flavors soak in. Some rib enthusiasts recommend starting the rack in the oven on a low temperature setting to bring out more flavor as well as ensure it cooks evenly, however this practice is controversial among those who favor traditional smokers.
Seasoning with Sauce
If a rub only uses dry seasoning, how are wet racks prepared? If you’ve ever been to a rib joint or had them before, you likely got the answer all over your hands: it’s all about the sauce.
While dry rubs are popular for smoking, wet racks are often more common. This is because they can pack just as much flavor without requiring all the time or effort that it takes to prepare a dry rack.
The process is as simple as it sounds. Pick out your favorite BBQ sauce and then use it to lightly coat the outside of the rack, front and back. Many chefs who use this method will purchase brushes so they can ensure the seasoning is applied evenly and thoroughly across the entire surface.
Some pit masters again recommend starting off in an over set to a low temperature to help the sauce dry out a little and absurd before transferring to the smoker.
Wet and Muddy: the best of both worlds
For those who like to have it all, it is possible to combine a dry sub with a BBQ sauce. If you’re ordering at a restaurant, these will often be referred to as “Wet and Muddy“.
The nickname may sound less than appealing but these racks really do combine the best of both styles. Start out with the rub, following the same process and allowing time for the seasoning to absorb. Then, apply the BBQ sauce in the same way you would to a wet rack.
The result will not disappoint. Wet and Muddy seasoning produces a flavorful rack of ribs that doesn’t dry out thanks to the liquid coating. For those who prefer a less moist rack but still want to experiment with this style, try cooking for longer at a lower temperature.
Prepping the Grill
Once the seasoning is finished, its time to prep the grill. If there’s a group, have someone start the fire while the other gets the rack ready to save a little time.
The next step also happens to be one of the most contentious among serious pitmasters. The disagreement comes down to whether or not to use charcoal when starting the fire. Some view this as an innocent way to get the flames going and speed up the process while other look on the practice as pure heresy.
Charcoal is the common fuel source in many grills. It’s great at producing heat but charcoal does not give off any of the flavor required for smoking a rack of ribs. This comes from wood. When these chips are burned, a chemical reaction between the smoke and the meat is responsible for the rich flavor produced by this style of cooking. You may also want to check the best charcoal grills buying guide we have made in order to help you purchase your favorite grilling tool.
Another downside of charcoal is that it can often be hard to regulate the amount of heat the burning cubes are giving off. Wood chips burn more evenly throughout the cooking process but it is often helpful to use a few pieces of charcoal in order to get the wood smoking. Importantly, its recommended to soak the chips in water for at least 20 minutes before lighting or combining with charcoal in order to produce more smoke.
Finally, whether you’re using charcoal or wood chips, a chimney will make getting the fire going a lot easier. These are large circular tubes where the kindling can get going before being transferred to a larger grill. They only cost around twenty dollars and can be found wherever grills or supplies are sold so make your life easier and pick one up before the next cook out.
The Waiting Game
Once the smoke is going and heat stabilized around 170 degrees, its time to start cooking. It is generally advisable to wrap the rack in heavy duty aluminum foil before moving to the burners but be sure not to still leave room for smoke to infiltrate.
A standard rack of ribs will generally take between five and six hours to properly smoke, so don’t start when you’re hungry. Remember smoking is about the experience as well as the food.
Different style racks also require alternate techniques while cooking. Dry racks generally do not require anything once they start smoking but wet or muddy seasoning will need to be reapplied periodically. Use the same brush, or “mop” as experienced pitmasters call it, to add a little more seasoning every forty five minutes to an hour.
The final step in learning how to prepare smoked ribs is determining when they are finished. While everyone will differ slightly, generally, the rack should be slightly crispy on the outside and the meat should easily come of the bone. For those who like it a little crispier and savory, leave the rack on for a little extra.
After taking it off the grill, let the rack cool for five to ten minutes before cutting and serving. Then, at long last, its time to eat!