Selecting the Ribs:
There are two basic cuts of ribs: baby back
ribs and loin (spare) ribs. The baby back ribs
are, as the name implies, close to the
backbone, and the spare ribs are closer to the
stomach area. The baby back ribs are a bit leaner and have a milder flavor, but spare ribs get my vote as being
even tastier, and with a lower price tag. St. Louis style ribs are trimmed spare ribs removing the extra flap and
the small end with no rib bones. These days, the big superstores all carry vacuum sealed rib cuts that are ready
to cook. Always purchase ribs with no water or solutions added! To further help you out check out
some recipe videos while waiting for the meat to cook.
Preparing for the Fire:
Before you cook the ribs, flip them bone side up and with a sharp knife, score the membrane between each rib
section. This will make them easy to separate after cooking. For extra tender ribs, remove the entire
membrane. Competition cooks never skip this step, but it really is an optional step, unless you are trying to
win a competition.
Be sure and spice up your ribs with a good BBQ rub. You can do this with a commercial BBQ rub or make your
own secret recipe. The rub gives your ribs a distinctive flavor, so don't expect to get Bubba's prize-winning
BBQ rib rub recipe. The rub will give your ribs their spice and signature flavor, so experiment with a few
different kinds. Take a store-bought rub and add a secret ingredient to create your own BBQ rub. The
important part is the eating of the ribs, but the secrets kept between cooks are a big part of the fun of BBQ
Place the ribs bone side down on a preheated smoker. The fire will need to be somewhere between 200 to
250 degrees. This is important so watch the heat to keep the cooking temp right around 225 degrees if
possible. You will have to learn the characteristics of your smoker, since the temperature gauge is not really
measuring the temperature right at grill level. Even the outside temperature will affect the cooking time.
There is some margin for the heat range, but keep the temperature inside the smoker as close to 225 degrees
as you can.
Add some wood for smoking to the fire. Not too much, since you don't need extra heat; just enough smoke to
polish the flavor of the meat. My preference is hickory since it is naturally spicy and adds to the spicy flavor
from the rub, but any good hardwood will work well. The smoke from the wood chips during cooking should
be steady, but only enough smoke to add flavor.
Check the ribs once or twice during cooking, but avoid too much peeking, since the heat will escape every time
you lift the lid. Use indirect heat on one side of the grill and use foil as a buffer between the rib racks and the
fire. A side fire-box helps to control heat and smoke without disturbing the main cooking area.
Once the ribs are cooked, they will pull back at the ends of the ribs. The time spent cooking is going to vary but
around 3 to 4 hours is pretty typical for ribs. Don't cook too fast, but by all means keep cooking if they are not
perfect and tender. If it takes 6 hours, the results are all that counts. Cook the ribs "dry" and add sauce, if you
want sauce, 20 minutes before taking off the grill. The sauce will be slightly cooked but not blackened or
burnt. Enjoy those ribs!