How To Smoke Ribs - Step By Step Guide
Learn How To Smoke Ribs Like Pit Masters
Smoking ribs is an art, but an easy one to master. There isn't anything that comes close to smell of smoking meat or the taste and texture of good smoked ribs, so get a quality smoker if you don't have one and let's learn how to BBQ.
There are a couple of things which are important to know- cheap smokers can ruin meat by over-cooking (burning), or under-cooking by failing to maintain temperature... they can take the fun out of it! Next, a good rib rub will make all the difference in the world.
We're going to go through the basic and essential steps to preparing the meat and the smoker, and finally to smoking the ultimate ribs that will impress anyone lucky enough to get a bite. I'll also recommend to you my top pick of reasonably priced smokers and explain why there really isn't another choice if you're serious about smoking meat that your friends and family will envy. I'm also going to share with you the best Kansas City Rub you've ever tasted, and finally my ultimate BBQ Sauce that you'll make at home (toss out the store brands with all their preservatives and junk).
Everyone wants to know how to smoke ribs, so please share this with a Tweet, Pin, or on Facebook. Your support is appreciated.
This picture was taken this morning when I started, and at the end I'll show my ribs after a long, low-temp smoking
Step 1 - How To Smoke Ribs
Prepare Your Meat And Coat It With Rub
Besides buying the meat, the BBQ rub you use will be one of the most important things you do when smoking meat. I should say that I've gotten really good results with ribs bought at Sam's and Dillon's so I think in general you can save some money here and not go crazy with the most expensive meat you can find; my smoked meats are always exceptional.
The rub I'm about to share with you is the one I use on beef and pork cuts of all kinds and I haven't found one better (and I've tried a lot). My BBQ rub is a Kansas City style which means its thick (not powdery) and relatively sweet (the meat won't be sweet; the flavor is subtle once the fat cooks off the ribs and the meat smokes). If you prefer you can search for a Memphis or Southwestern rub, but try this one first; I'm sure you'll agree with me that it's the best BBQ rub you've tasted. Myron Mixon may be the master but he wishes he had my rub!
Because this rub uses sugar you should not use it when grilling or otherwise cooking hot because the rub (sugar) will burn. This is specifically designed to be used in a smoker, which always uses low temps in the 220 - 250 range.
Here's all you need:
- 1/2 cup brown sugar
- 1/4 cup paprika
- 1 tablespoon chili powder
- 1 tablespoon garlic powder
- 1 tablespoon black pepper
- 1 tablespoon onion powder
- 1 tablespoon salt
- 1 teaspoon cayenne pepper
Mix the ingredients well and then store the rub in an airtight container for 3 months or so and use as needed. I will usually double or even triple these amounts since I go through it so much.
A couple of notes. When preparing the ribs there is a thin membrane on the inside (boney side) of the ribs. This membrane isn't porous and so smoke and flavor don't penetrate well with it on. Simply use a knife at one corner to lift it up and then use a paper towel to grasp on to the membrane and it should pull right off. Apply the BBQ rub generously all over both sides of the meat and let it sit at room temperature for 20 minutes or so; this will allow the moisture from the meat to bind with the barbecue rub so that when you put it in the smoker it creates a nice layer that won't flake off as easy.
Essential How-To Guide To Smoking
Step 2 - How To Smoke Ribs
Prepare The Smoker, Light The Coals, Choose Your Wood
While the meat and rub are sitting at room temperature I begin to get the smoker ready. I'm going to assume that you're using a Weber Smokey Mountain (which I'll talk about in a minute), but if not the same steps will apply to almost any coal smoker. I use a chimney starter to get the charcoal going. This is one of those things that you can save some money on and pick up at Wal-Mart or somewhere similar to save a few bucks. A chimney starter is a tall tube that you pour coals into, and that has a grate that sits about 3 - 4 inches from where the coals rest, and beneath that is an opening to place wadded up newspapers in.
Simply place the newspaper underneath the bottom section, set it down in a fire-safe place and load the top with charcoal. Then light the newspaper and the charcoal will slowly catch on; when the charcoal on top starts to have a grayish tint around the edges it's ready (10 - 15 minutes or so).
While that is heating up I prep the smoker. The Weber Smokey Mountain has a water reservoir for two reasons- it helps to maintain the temperature of the smoking meat due to water's boiling temp and it helps to keep the meat moist. I line the bottom of the water pan with heavy duty aluminum foil to make clean up easier and then fill the pan about halfway with warm or hot water (no point in taking up cooking time waiting for the water to heat up).
Don't fill the water reservoir more than half way or so... the last thing you want is boiling water splashing over the edges and onto your hot cooking coals, and I've never ran out of water with it half full
With the Weber, which has three main sections, take the top and middle section off and add charcoal and your wood chunks of choice to the bottom section (I like applewood for it's mild flavor, but experiment with mesquite, hickory or other woods to see which one you prefer); fill with charcoal about 1/2 or 3/4 to the top of the charcoal band, leaving room for the hot coals you'll add in a minute. I place 2 - 3 biscuit sized chunks of wood into the coal pit, and then scatter about 1/2 cup or so of smaller chunks throughout the coals. Use whatever you have... just don't go overboard with the wood or you'll ruin the flavor of the meat.
When the Chimney Starter is ready bring them to the smoker and carefully pour into the bottom section, over the coals and wood chips you've prepared. Then place the middle section (with the water pan already filled and in it) on top of the bottom charcoal section. Make sure your grill plates are in place and put the top section (lid) on.
Weber Smokey Mountain is Legendary!
With an Amazon user rating of 4.7 out of 5 stars, read what one reviewer wrote:
"As a competition cook that got rid of a trailer mounted offset to go with a couple of these, I gotta tell you how happy I am. Once I got the temp settled in, I didn't touch them (I got two) until the pork butts were done 11 hours later. I HIGHLY recommend this cooker for experienced smokers and especially for those that are just starting..."
Even The Pros Use This Weber At Home!
Step 3 - How To Smoke Ribs - Place The Meat Into Smoker - Watch Temperature Adjust The Vents As Needed
Always start with the top and bottom vents wide open until you get to temperature which we'll cover in a minute. Grab the meat that you've prepped already and if you're smoking ribs I recommend a rib rack to keep them standing on end for better smoking and for more room.
Place the meat on the smoker rack (top and bottom rack if you have that much meat to smoke, otherwise just use the top rack). When you put the lid back on you'll need to keep an eye on the temperature for the first 20 minutes or so (if you DO NOT have a Weber Smokey Mountain then plan on watching the temp a LOT). The Weber has an "accurate" thermometer built in to the lid so this is pretty easy. If the temperature is too hot you'll ruin the meat (burn it) and if it's too low, well, it won't cook.
When smoking meats of any kind I aim for a smoking temperature of about 220 - 225 and when that happens close the bottom vents from wide open to about 3/4 open, and watch the temp. If it rises to more than 225 close the bottom (not the top, they always stay open) vents a little more (like from 3/4 open to 3/5 open... small adjustments at this point). Once you've seen the smoker maintain a temperature you like for about 10 minutes you can essentially forget about it for 5 or 6 hours.... at least I do (again, ONLY if you're using a Weber or other quality smoker). If you smoke a large brisket I would let it smoke for 7, 8 or 9 hours even, as long as it's low temp... the meat will fall apart after slow and low cook like that.
If I happen to have time I'll check the temp from time to time, but I have never once had a problem; I often leave town for a few hours while the meat is smoking and the Weber stays on temp once I have it set. Things like wind and outside temperature can have an impact on temperature control, but in general once you do it a time or two you'll figure that out.
I smoke my ribs for a minimum of 5 - 6 hours, but if I have time 7 hours gives the most tender, fall off the bone meat. Again, this is the part that ties in directly to the heat. If you can maintain that low 220 degree temp then 5 - 7 hours is a good rule of thumb. If you're smoking at a higher temp, say 250 (don't go any higher, ever, when smoking) then watch the meat, it'll likely be ready to pull out after 4 - 5 hours or so. You don't want to burn them. If you need to (something comes up, rain, etc...) you can remove the meat after 3 - 4 hours, wrap them in aluminum foil and place in a low temp oven to keep them cooking but prevent it from burning.
I like to smoke because the fat simply melts off and you're left with unbelievably soft, moist and delicious meaty mouthfuls!
Note: You can smoke ribs AND other meats, say a brisket, by using the lower rack, too. Just be sure you don't have rib juices dripping all over the brisket... set them up so that the lower meats aren't sitting directly below the ribs on top. Also, depending on the meat you're cooking, after about 4 hours of cooking I like to start rubbing some BBQ sauce on to the meat (I don't do it sooner because the sauce tends to burn, and I want the smoke to set in to the meat). If it's a brisket I don't put sauce on the meat, only the rub. But you'll discover your own favorite ways.
Kansas City or Memphis Style
Which type of flavor do you prefer, the zesty rush of a nice Memphis rub or the sweet and heat of Kansas City style?
Why Should I Buy A Weber Smoker?
Because You LOVE Smoking Meat and Hate Hassles
For reference here's a picture of the charcoal and wood chips added to the bottom of the smoker. I have friends who've bought a generic store brand smoker (despite my opposition) and they found out what I already knew- it's very hard to maintain a good temperature in a cheap smoker, so the meat comes out either under-cooked when you're ready to eat, or black and burnt when you come back to retrieve it. You may save a few bucks up front buying cheaper smokers, but you may well regret it for a long time.
Unlike cheaper bullet smokers, or any cheap smoker, the Webers are well built and maintain their temperature. I am all about saving money but this is one of those time tested and proven cases when you really get what you pay for. I have not had a single bad experience smoking ribs with this smoker. I've smoked fish, turkey, chicken, beef and pork (and a slew of veggies) and every time the results are awesome. Of course there are some other good alternatives; I almost bought a Green Egg when I first started looking for a smoker, but in the end I couldn't justify spending $400 - $500 for a small one. The Weber is lightweight and so I usually leave it on my front porch while using, in case it rains or the winds pick up.
Got BBQ Sauce?
You've spent some time and money fixing an awesome meal on your smoker and preparing dinner, so tell me you're not plopping that store-bought bottle of barbecue sauce on the table, too. It takes only a short time to make a sauce that you'll be both proud of and happy to eat. So let's get to it. Here are the things you'll need for the 6 cup recipe (yes, you'll have plenty to store, use and share):
- 2 tablespoons chili powder
- 1 teaspoon ground black pepper
- 1 teaspoon table salt
- 2 cups ketchup
- 1 cup brown sugar
- 1/2 cup yellow mustard (the liquid hotdog kind)
- 1/3 cup Worcestershire sauce
- 1/3 cup cider vinegar
- 1/4 cup dark molasses
- 1/4 cup lemon juice
- 1/4 cup honey
- 1/4 cup steak sauce (whatever brand you use)
- 2 tablespoons tamarind paste
- 1 teaspoon hot sauce (your preferred flavor)
- 3 tablespoons vegetable oil or butter
- 1 medium onion
- finely chopped
- 4 medium cloves of garlic
- crushed or minced
- Note: I buy the Tamarind Paste from Amazon since I can't find it locally, you can cook without it if you must (or just feel like it). Tamarind is derived from the fruit of the Tamarind tree, and is used in a lot of Indian and Asian dishes and gives a unique flavor to your sauce. If you're a foody then you can buy the Tamarind fruit and make it fresh for more flavor... I just don't find the time to fiddle with it.
- 1) In a separate small bowl stir the first 3 ingredients together (the chili powder, ground black pepper and table salt). In a larger bowl you'll now mix together the ketchup, brown sugar, cider vinegar, yellow mustard, Worcestershire sauce, dark molasses, lemon juice, honey, steak sauce, tamarind paste, and hot sauce.
- 2) Over medium heat warm the vegetable oil in a large pan. Add and sautÃ© the onions for 4 or 5 minutes. Crush and add the garlic then cook for another minute. Add the dry spices (first three ingredients) and stir for about 2 minutes to extract their oil-soluble flavors. Add the wet ingredients and simmer over medium heat for 15 - 20 minutes with the lid off.
- 2) You can use it right away but it gets better as it ages and the flavors merge properly. Divide into portions of your liking and store in the refrigerator for a month or two (I've used mine up to 3 months later but I'll stick with safety for the sake of this article.
Final Step - Enjoy Your Juicy And Tender Ribs - Time To Dig In - Now You Know How To Smoke Ribs
Trust me when I say that smoking ribs is really simple and anyone, young or old, can easily smoke meat; this is especially true if you're using a Weber Smokey Mountain (or bullet smoker as they're called due to their shape). If you're thinking about getting a smoker you can safely get off the fence and trust the Weber choice. If you are thinking about a gift for someone who wants to smoke meat or is interested in how to BBQ then this is the perfect gift.
It is very high quality, and if you do some independent research you'll see what I'm saying; this smoker has unbelievably high reviews and a cult-like following. In fact if you go to smoking competition's you'll find the top pros have these as their backup smoker in case their commercial one fails. There's even a dedicated, massive online community all about this smoker called The Virtual Weber Bullet! It's loaded with recipes and advice.
I hope this was informative and helpful to you. I would love to hear your comments and feedback. I know that smoking meat is one of the forbidden topics (like politics and religion) amongst hardcore smokers because everyone has their own techniques, rubs and sauces. I hope I haven't offended anyone. :)
Enjoy and please leave some feedback. Thanks.
A Walk-Through Of Using The Weber Smokey Mountain
No one likes to buy things online when they can't touch and see them, so here's a good introduction by someone who also smokes professionally. I think you'll find it helpful in deciding if the Weber is right for you. As someone who has used a Weber a LOT, I would say that you should get the temperature down to the best range of 200 - 220 degrees BEFORE you put the ribs on the rack and you won't have such a blackened outer layer as the guy in the video, however that's a minor issue and as you'll see the meat falls apart and is still juicy.
My guess is that he placed the hot starter coals in the smoker and left it for a while (too long) with the vents wide open (all of them) and so the smoker got too hot, and then of course it takes time to lower the temp when the coals are so hot. Instead, once you place the starter colas in, put the lid on (have all vents wide open) and then every 4 or 5 minutes check the temp... when it reaches 220 close the three bottom vents to 3/4 open (leave the top vents wide open all the time). Put the meat in the smoker. Then after 4 or 5 minutes check the temp again and open or close the bottom vents as needed to keep the 220 temperature range.
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