The 12 Secrets of Cooking Smoked BBQ Ribs

One of life’s greatest pleasures is a rack of perfectly smoked barbecue ribs. Whether you like pork or beef, dry rib rubs or wet, the secret is perfecting time and temperature. When competitive BBQ teams smoke rib they concentrate on cooking to a temperature and are not as worried about how long it takes to cook (as long as they don’t miss judging).

Secret #1 - Cook your ribs until the thickest part is at least 160º F.

Secret #2 - Competitive BBQ teams smoke their ribs dry (no barbeque sauce is used during the cooking process).

Secret # 3 - Now just because they don’t use a sauce during the smoking process does not mean that they don’t want them to be kept moist! Use a mop sauce during cooking to keep your ribs moist. A super simple mop is to add 2 tablespoons of your dry rub to one cup of apple cider vinegar or beer. Then using a small brush you can “mop” this on the ribs during cooking or you can even just use a clean spray bottle and just spray it on during cooking.  
For the perfect rack of ribs, follow these simple steps and you’ll have perfection every time!

Secret # 4 - Go to your local butcher and pick up a rack of ribs that is pink in color, and has not been frozen. I like the St. Louis style ribs, which are pre-trimmed of excess fat. I would not pick these up more than a day or two before you planning on smoking them.

Secret # 5 - The night before you are planning on smoking your ribs, remove the membrane off the back side of the ribs. There is some debate as to whether you need to remove this but most competitive BBQ teams swear by this technique.

Secret # 6 - Slather your ribs. This is a thin coating (the key here is THIN) of olive oil, mustard, vinegar, honey or Worcestershire that is applied before smoking and acts as a bonding agent that better holds the dry rub to the ribs. More rub gives your ribs more flavor.

Secret # 7 - Liberally season your slathered ribs with a dry rib rub. I like to use 2 tablespoons per lb. of meat. Shake the dry rub onto the ribs and then with your hands rub it into the meat, evenly coating both sides.

Secret # 8 - Put the ribs in the refrigerator overnight.

Secret # 9 - Remove the ribs from the refrigerator at least 1 hour before you are going to start smoking them. Place on the counter and let them warm to room temperature by cooking time.

Secret # 10 - Pre-heat your smoker to 255 degrees F. Don’t just rely on the thermometer on the smoker as these tend to read hotter than the actual temperature that the ribs are cooking at. Use an oven thermometer for a more accurate read and place it right on the rack that the ribs will be cooking on.

Secret # 11 - Bring the wood. Traditionally smoke woods are dictated by the region you live in. In the south hickory tends to be the favorite, mesquite in the southwest and alder in the west and northwest. But with that said you can get just about any popular type online. Competitive BBQ teams use a wide selection and here are some of the most popular:

  • Hickory
  • Mesquite
  • Oak
  • Alder
  • Apple
  • Pecan
  • Maple

  • Secret # 12 - Your ribs should take 5-6 hours to smoke, be sure to apply your mop every 45 minutes. Remember Secret #1 – the thickest part of the rack of ribs should be at least 160-170 degrees F. For the last 30 minutes, wrap your ribs in heavy duty aluminum foil, apply your mop, and place them back on the smoker. Wrapping them in foil will make them very tender. Another helpful hint – be sure your exhaust damper is wide open, trapping smoke in your smoker produces ribs with a very bitter taste.

    That’s it, follow these 12 secret steps and you’ll be smoking ribs like a pro.

    Related Posts

    The Anatomy of a Rib Rub
    How to Choose Smoking Wood Chips, Pieces, Sticks and Chunks
    All About Pulled Pork
    How to Make the Perfect Homemade BBQ Sauce

    Customer Reviews
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    1. on 7/21/2016, said:
    I smoked my ribs for the 4th of July. Used mesquite wood. My first shot at smoking ribs on a charcoal smoker. The ribs were fabulous. They take some watching to maintain the heat at 250 but everyone raved about them. Just follow the instructions given here. You will be very happy.
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    2. on 7/12/2016, said:
    Excellent advice, excellent results­čŹľ
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    3. on 7/5/2016, said:
    Thanks a bunch can say enough about these detail steps just got done smoking three st Louis ris and three tritips all came out perfectly cooked. This will be my go to bible from now on.
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    4. on 7/1/2016, said:
    Mesquite is known to give off some nasty toxins when burned, so that's rarely used anymore. Cherry is used a lot these days along with Hickory, Apple and Pecan when smoking pork. Maple, Hickory, Oak and Apple is really good for brisket.
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    5. on 6/8/2016, said:
    Wherever you get your ribs, take them out of the packaging and wash the blood off them. Then remove the membrane. Then, sprinkle non-iodized salt over them, and leave them in the refrigerator overnight or longer. No covering, you want the salt to do its thing, then dry. Before cooking, warm ribs to at least room temperature. Coat the ribs with oil, yellow mustard or ketchup, then add the rub. Again, no covering, you don't want the rub to stick to anything. Have your smoker up to temperature and smoking before you add the meat. The meat will drop the temperature of the smoker as it is. Don't lift the lid before the first three hours, no higher than 250, that just lets smoke and heat out. It does no good to add a mop to ribs that are still cool (because they aren't evaporating any moisture anyway), it isn't doing anything. Don't ever wrap ribs in foil, unless you wrap in plastic wrap first. Aluminum foil dissolves into the meat and your body absorbs it, and NEVER gets rid of it.
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