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Smoked baby back ribsHow to Smoke Baby Back Ribs!
Fully illustrated, easy and great tasting!

smokerSo it's your turn to grill or cook for the Fourth of July, Labor Day, Memorial Day, Guy Fawkes Day or just a summer cookout or Barby? Following these directions ANYONE can cook perfect smoked, tender, moist baby back ribs dinner! These direction with ANY type of smoker, The Big Green Egg, Weber, Brinkmann, Masterpiece, whatever type of grill/smoker you have.

Ingredients and Equipment

  • Baby back ribs - These are typically sold in packs of 3 racks at Costco, Sam's Club, etc.  Thypically the cost about $3 per pound. If you didn't know, they are pork ribs, and tend to be more tender than other cuts. You can easily get them in North America and Germany, but they are still fairly rare in the UK.  But your UK butcher can order them from Germany (I've done this several times).  You can of course, use other cuts of ribs, such as short ribs, or even beef brisket,  Old Bay Seasoning
  • Seasoning or herbs: Any dry BBQ season is fine, I use Old Bay seasoning.
  • Smoking wood - about 10 lbs.   I prefer hickory, Texans like Mesquite, for a light flavor use apple, cherry or peach. Costco sells pellets which are convenient and easy to refill in the smoker.
  • Meat thermometer.  I prefer a remote instant digital thermometer, since you do note need to open the lid (which lets out heat) and you can stay inside your house and monitor progress!
  • Smoker - these cylindrical smokers are usually available Home depot, Lowes, and WalMart for under $30. Come brands are Weber, Brinkman and The Big Green Egg.
  • Water to fill the water pan.
  • Fuel: I place my smoker over a Bayou brand propane fryer base, so I can control the heat exactly and never need to refuel while cooking. Some people use an electric base. Others swear by charcoal, which I find to be messy and more difficult to maintain an even temperature.   Whichever, you'll need enough fuel to last 4 to 6 hours.
  • Heavy duty meat forks and oven mitt or gloves. 
  • Roasting pan or a huge pot or bowl to carry the cooked baby back ribs back into the house.

Step 1- Gather the smoker and other equipment

Get all the parts out and be sure to work on a fireproof surface, away from the house and anything flammable.

Step 2 - Soak the wood

Now is a good time to get your smoking wood soaking in water. But which wood?  I prefer hickory, the traditional standard, but Texans often like Mesquite and there are others like apple, pecan and cherry.  The last three woods have a very mild flavor though, and I find I get best taste with hickory. Whichever you use, you want to soak it in water  for a few hours so that it smokes rather than simply burns!

Rinsing the ribsStep 3 - Rinse the baby back ribs

Remove any neck and giblets that were stuffed inside the baby back ribs - be sure to look in BOTH ends - often they put a gravy packet under the neck skin flap, and the giblets are inside the bird. You can save these and smoke them, too, if you wish.  I'll pass...

Thoroughly wash the baby back ribs inside and out with cold water (nothing else) and drain it.  Note: this is a good time to get the oven warming - set it for 325 F (and make sure there is nothing inside the oven first!)

Old Bay SeasoningRemember that uncooked poultry usually have bacteria like salmonella, so thoroughly wash your hands, and pots, tools, or surfaces that come in contact with the uncooked baby back ribs.  Use hot soapy water and rinse a lot on nonfood items (your hands, pots, etc.).

Step 4 - Gather the seasonings

The seasonings are easy: I just use Old Bay.  But you can use any BBQ seasonings, typically, salt, pepper, cayenne pepper, etc. .

Parboiling the baby back ribsStep 5 - Parboil the the baby back ribs?

Parboiling, which means cooking the ribs in water that is steaming but not quite boiling is an important step.  Not only does it infuse the ribs with seasoning, it also ensure they will be very moist.

Just lay the racks of ribs in a large pot, and fill with water so the ribs are covered. Then add your seasoning (about 1/4 to 1/2 cup of Old Bay. Bring to a boil, then turn the heat down so it is just steaming but not boiling. Let it parboil like this for 1 hour. Then drain and discard the water.

smoker and all its parts

 

Step 6 - Clean and prepare the smokerSmoker - CharBroil

Here's a picture of a simple Weber / Brinkman smoker.  Smokers typically come in 3 varieties: charcoal, electric and propane. I take the basic inexpensive ($40) Brinkman or Weber charcoal smoker and place it over a turkey fryer base, which makes it a propane fryer.  The advantages of propane or electric over charcoal are that you can control the heat precisely, you don't need to keep adding charcoal, and they operate cleaner, with no dust or carcinogens from the charcoal.  But whatever your choice, clean it out with a scrub brush and garden hose. I clean the grates inside with sdial thermometer in lidteel wool, as that is the only part that will come in contact with the baby back ribs.

The photo at above right shows all the parts; clock wise, starting with the 2 metal grates, then the wood pan which goes in the very bottom right above the heat source, then the water pan, the propane burner base, the propane tank, the smoker cylindrical body and the lid. You'll notice I drilled a hole in the lid and added a precise dial type thermometer (available from Home depot or Lowes) as the built in dial (warm - ideal - hot) seems too imprecise to me.generic thermometer

CharBroil and door-type smokers

I switched to using an upright rectangular Char-Broil (the rectangular smoker at right) that had its own propane source.  The advantage is, the door allows you easy access while cooking.  The Brinkmann required you to remove meats to get to those on lower racks.

But I found it produced too little heat to use in the winter, so I removed the legs and set it over the turkey fryer base.  Works great now, summer or winter.

Step 7 - Assemble and start the smoker

Assembly is easy:

  1. Simply put the cylinder over the heat source base (charcoal, gas or electric),
  2. Put the wood pan or tray in, place a few chunks of wood in the pan,
  3. Then put the water pan in (empty).  After the water pan is installed, fill it with water, up to about 1.5 to 2 inches from the top.  You may need to top it up with more water later.  The water pan must always be ABOVE both the tray of wood and the heat source,
  4. Place a grate or rack on the bottom shelf, usually right on the water pan.  Next put the lid or cover on the smoker and fire it up.  You can wait until after you put the baby back ribs in, but this may save 10 or 15 minutes, and it doesn't get hot so quickly that you would have trouble putting the baby back ribs in. anatomyofasmokjer

 

Heat sources, again:

As I said, I prefer using a propane turkey fryer base,
(like the Bayou brand in on the Amazon box at right) set under
Brinkman charcoal smoker (which you can often find on sale at WalMart or Home Depot), with the charcoal base removed.
It burns clean, the heat can be controlled precisely,
one full 20lb propane can burn for 10 hours or more, and is safer,
particularly if you use a braided steel hose to connect.

And in the years since I started doing this, the manufacturers have started making propane-powered smokers. The Pit Boss, for example, gets very good reviews and is all you need.

But, some people use electric smokers, which aside from the potential risk
of using it on a rainy day, are also safer than charcoal.  I've found
electric smokers to be slower to heat up, and the elements will eventually
fail.

Charcoal... I just don't like it.  
There is the risk of cancer associated
with the soot, starting with lighter
fluids can be dangerous and you
must continually add more charcoal
over the 4 to 7 hours while you
are using the smoker. But, again,
it is your choice, and charcoal has
the cheapest initial cost.

Smoker with raw meat in itStep 8 - Put the baby back ribs in the smoker

Once you have the smoker assembled, remove the lid and set the baby back ribs place on the rack. 

Notice you CAN mix and match meats.  In the photo at right I have baby back ribs above a turkey breast. Obviously, the ribs, being a thinner cut of meat and parboiled will be done hours before the turkey.  You can smoke turkey, ribs, beef brisket, beef shortribs, a pork roast, chicken or other meats. The order doesn't really matter, although I will say I've found the smoker is hotter at the top than right above the pan of water.  Since water boils at 212 F, the steam coming off it is... 212F.  The heat that goes around the pan of water can be a bit above that., Overall, the smoker stays between 185 - 210 F if you have things working right.

 

Step 9 - Season the baby back ribs!

Sprinkle more of the seasonings over the baby back ribs!

Don't forget wood for the smoker! I prefer Hickory for the traditional smokey flavor, others like mesquite!

Next insert the meat thermometer into the the meat.

Smoker smoking the ribsStep 10 - Smoke the ribs for 3 to 6 hours

As the baby back ribs cook, you will need to add more wood chips / chunks.  Usually I add 4 or 5 pieces ever 45 - 60 minutes.  You'll probably need about 10 lbs of wood altogether for 4 - 6 hours of smoking.  It's not an exact science, so it is better to have too much wood, rather than too little.  Just use the extra next time.generic thermometer

Obviously, you want to keep the smoker operating in the ideal temperature range. If you are using propane or electric, just periodically check that the flame or heat hasn't gone out, and that the smoker is operating in the ideal range (185 F to 210 F).  If the temperature rises much above 215, that may mean that you have either run out of water (DON'T let that happen) or your wood has caught fire.  If the latter, use a spray bottle of water to quench it without creating too much dust.

My preference is to keep the smoker at 200 F.

If you need add more water to the water pan, just take the lid off, and carefully fill the pan from above, to one side of the baby back ribs.

 

smoker in operation

 

Baby back ribs are done when the meat thermometer reaches the following temperatures:

165 degrees F

Most authorities are now saying that once all parts of the baby back ribs reach 165 degrees F, it is safe to eat. 

NOTE: The parboiling pretty much cooks the ribs, so the smoker is mostly just for the flavor! I let them smoke for about 4 to 6 hours.  Do NOT let the heat ride above 210 F in the smoker!  Do not let the pan of water run low or out of water!

Step 11 - Remove the cooked baby back ribs

Anytime after the temperature of the meat thermometer reaches 165 F , the ribs are safe to eat.  But I would say you need to give them at least 3 hours of smoking for a good flavor! Don't be surprised if the baby back ribs are a dark brown, or even almost black - you SMOKED it!  It will still be moist and juicy, as long as you didn't let the water pan run dry and you kept the temperature in the smoker between 185F and 210F!Ribs done

 

Within two hours after roasting, store in refrigerator or freezer.

Refrigerator Storage: Use within three days.

Freezer Storage: Wrap in heavy foil or freezer wrap or place in freezer container. For optimum taste, use stuffing within one month and baby back ribs within two months.