My sister Melinda has asked me for “detailed instructions” on how I smoke ribs. While I am the sort of cook who rarely does exactly the same thing twice, there are a few core details that I have found work for me. I’ll try and get them down here in a manner that is hopefully useful. I’m sure there are many other ways, methods and means that are just as good or even better…
Sometimes I smoke baby-back ribs, sometimes I smoke the bigger pork ribs. I’ve never smoked any beef ribs. If I have my act together, I ask my butcher to get me some nice, locally raised meat. It is more expensive, tends to be not leaner, but fatted in a different way, and has some very nice, subtle nuances, flavor wise. The racks are also are trimmed and have the inner membrane removed, and are pretty much ready to go as soon as I get them home.
But I am just as likely to get the factory farmed, plastic wrapped, fluid packed grocery store ribs (Hormel or similar) and they come out just fine after you do a bit of work on them. First, open them up in the sink and rinse all of that nasty fluid away with plenty of clean cold water. Then pat them dry with paper towels. Usually, they need a trim to get rid of any big chunks of fat and any raggedy edges. (I save that stuff for a dinner treat for the dogs.) Most importantly, you need to remove the membrane on the under side of the rib rack. It is a thin, translucent layer of tissue that blocks smoke penetration. It is slippery, and takes a bit of effort to remove, but it is worth doing. Lastly, cut up the racks, as little as necessary, to fit inside your smoker.
I don’t really measure, and I am always using different things in my rub, but typically I start with a good amount of cumin. It is my base flavor. Other things I often add in are turmeric, coriander, white pepper, garlic and onion (either finely minced fresh or powder,) maybe cayenne pepper or paprika, or a bit of dry mustard. Then add as much brown sugar as all of the other ingredients. Mix it well. You want enough total to rub all the ribs on all sides and have a good handful left over for your mop sauce.
Apply the rub to all surfaces of the ribs. Don’t just sprinkle it on, rub it in. Put the ribs on a platter, stack them right up on top of each other and cover them with plastic. Stick them in the fridge over night.
You want to get started fairly early the next day. First, take the ribs out of the fridge, uncover and unstack them, and let them dry a bit. The rub (which will be all wet from meat juices it has drawn out) needs to get sticky and the ribs need to warm up from the fridge temperature towards room temperature. Also, take your left over rub and dilute it in either cider vinegar or malt vinegar to make your mop sauce.
Prepare your smoker. Get the charcoal going, soak your wood chips in water. You also need to have a deflector between the ribs and the fire, if you don’t have a side box smoker; otherwise, the radiant heat from the fire will be too much and ruin the bottom of the ribs, cause them to dry out, etc. a metal pie pan, on a rack between the fire and the smoking rack will do. When your fire is ready, damp it down to maintain around 225 F in the smoker, add the wet chips (you will get a drop in temperature initially, that’s ok, even good. The longer it takes to get back up to 225 or so, the better.) Place the ribs on the smoker rack, inside down and not too crowded. Close it up and make sure it doesn’t get too hot. A nice, wet smoke should fill the smoker at first, as you keep smoking it will dry up a bit. Brush the ribs with the mop sauce every fifteen or twenty minutes or so. After about an hour and three quarters or two hours, the ribs should be developing a nice bark. Remember, don’t let the temperature climb. At this point, the meat will have absorbed all of the smoke it can, so now keeping the ribs from drying out is the focus. Take them out of the smoker and wrap them well in aluminum foil. Put them back in the smoker (or in your oven) at 250 F for another few hours.Then take them out, keeping them in foil, and let them rest for a while. When you are ready to eat, cut the ribs into two or three bone sections, paint with bbq sauce (my recipe is below, but store sauce is fine, too,) and put them on a hot grill to glaze the sauce and make them tasty.
BBQ sauce recipe
chop up an onion and a few cloves of garlic and saute them in a sauce pan til soft. add around a half cup of cider or malt vinegar, almost as much worcestershire sauce, some yellow mustard and a bunch of the things you put into your rub. simmer for a bit. If you want a red bbq sauce, mix in a bit of ketchup.
Happy New Year and Enjoy!