Tricks for Tender and Flavorful Smoked Ribs

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I’ve been sharing tips and tricks this year on how we cook the best rack of ribs, four different ways! Ribs are our hobby, and I giggle every time I say that, but it’s the truth! We love ribs, but I was always afraid to cook them if they weren’t boneless and in my slow cooker, in the way that I always did growing up. Those ribs were always delicious, and we actually had them for family dinner at my parent’s house this past weekend, but a few years ago, we decided to branch out and learn how to grill ribs for date night a few years ago. After we realized how easy they were, we decided to start perfecting our recipe and our technique on the grill, in the oven, in the slow cooker and in the smoker.

ribs in the smoker

Until this summer, our smoker has been less than ideal. The one we had wasn’t electric and didn’t keep a consistent temperature the entire time we were cooking, so we were’t able to get those perfect, tender, fall off the bone ribs that we wanted. This year we invested in a better smoker, this is the brand that we own, and it has been amazing! We especially love that there is so much space in the smoker, so we can make enough for a party.

If you’ve ever wanted to try smoking ribs, this is your chance! I’m going to share everything that we do to make the perfect rack of ribs. We are still working with our new smoker to maintain a consistent temperature, because we know that is key, and we know that this recipe and the other smoker specific techniques will help you find success in smoking your first rack of ribs! The specific rib rub and glaze that we use is amazing as well!

smoked ribs

Prepping Your Ribs for the Smoker

We like to prep our ribs at least eight hours before we plan on putting them on the smoker. If your ribs are frozen, which ours often are, make sure to pull them out of the freezer 48 hours before you need to start your prep, so that they’ll be thawed and easier to work with. When you’re ready, pull out a large sheet pan and cover it in foil, then lay a long sheet of foil over the top of the pan. You’ll use that second sheet of foil to wrap your ribs after you’ve done your prep work.

The next thing you’ll do is remove the membrane from the back of the rack of ribs. I always hated this part and used to skip it and use a knife to make slices across the back of the ribs to help it absorb the flavor instead. Then someone taught me a trick, and I remove the membrane every time without any issues! Use a butter knife and slide it between the membrane and a bone. Using a paper towel, to help with your grip, peel the membrane away from the ribs, across the entire rack. You may have to do this a couple of times to get the entire membrane, but I promise it works!

After the membrane is gone, you’re ready for rib rub. We really love this rib rub and won’t ever use anything else. We were introduced to it by a local butcher after trying a variety of other rubs, and we’ve never gone back. Make sure you coat both side and the edges of your rack of ribs with the rib rub, and use your hand to rub it into the meat. Then we add a layer of brown sugar, which adds the sweet flavor and a little crunch to the outside of our meat and it’s amazing! I throw a few spoonfuls on top of my ribs and rub it into the meat like I did with the rib rub. Again, make sure you get both the front and back and all of the sides covered.

Now you wait! I wrap my ribs up in foil and then use another sheet to cover the entire pan again, so that my fridge isn’t engulfed in rib rub scent. Put the pan on the bottom shelf of your fridge and let them sit for up to 12 hours. When you start heating up your smoker, pull the ribs out of the fridge and set them on the counter so they aren’t quite as cold when you start cooking them.

how to make ribs in the smoker

Preparing the Smoker to Cook Your Rack of Ribs

You will need to start prepping your smoker about an hour before you want to start cooking your ribs. We have an electric smoker, so our prep is a lot easier than when we had a charcoal smoker. Do whatever your smoker requires you to do to start heating up in preparation for cooking. You want to get your smoker temperature to 200°F before you put the ribs inside.

The other thing that we do is fill our water pan so we’re not trying to fill it when it’s hot. If you don’t have a water pan in your smoker, I’d suggest grabbing a few disposable tins like these that you can fill and place on one side of the rack of your smoker. The water inside the smoker will create steam and add moisture to the cooking process helping keep your ribs extra tender.

You’ll also want to make sure that you have your wood chips ready to go. In the past, we’ve always used hickory chips, but this last time, we decided to use applewood and I don’t think we’ll ever go back! This is the brand that we use. Because our rib glaze recipe is apple juice based, we thought that carrying the apple flavor over into the smoke would be a good option. I really loved the sweetness of the smoke while they were cooking and they tasted amazing as well!

How to Cook Ribs in a Smoker

When your smoker reaches 200°F, you’re ready to cook your ribs! Take your rack of ribs, still wrapped in its tin foil, off the tray and place it on the rack in your smoker. If you have a meat thermometer built into your smoker, you can poke a hole through the foil where you know the thickest section of meat is and try to position the thermometer in the center. You may need to open the foil just a bit to help you see what you’re doing so your reading is accurate.

Keep an eye on the temperature of your ribs as they cook. To check the temperature of our ribs while they’re cooking, I like to rely on the built in meat thermometer, because then I don’t have to open and close the door as often, messing with the temperature of the smoker. When we’re about halfway through cooking, I’ll grab my very favorite kitchen thermometer and use it to check the temperature, to verify that my smoker thermometer is placed correctly, and then I’ll move the built in thermometer as needed to get a more accurate reading.

You’ll also want to continually check that the smoker is still hovering within five degrees of 200°F, and that you have smoke coming from the chimney of the smoker. If the cooking temperature of your smoker drops or raises too much, you’ll want to adjust that quickly. The key to those fall of the bone ribs is a consistent cooking temperature. We’ve had issues in the past where our machine turns off because kids pushed buttons or we accidentally bumped the cord, so we keep a close eye on things. If you stop seeing smoke, you’ll want to add more chips. We try to add just a small handful every time we do because too many wood chips will create a lot of smoke and your smoke flavor might be a lot stronger than you wanted.

applewood smoked ribs

When the internal temperature of our ribs hits about 140°F, we start to prep the glaze (recipe below). I don’t really know if glaze is the right word for it, but it’s the only one I’ve been able to come up with so far to describe it. The thing we love about this particular recipe is that it isn’t a sauce so our ribs aren’t quite as messy, but they’re still flavorful and tender, just the way we want them to be. When we’re smoking ribs, we use a spray bottle to spray the ribs with glaze every half hour or so until they reach an internal temperature of 165°F. After we’ve mixed the glaze up, we’ll quickly remove the ribs from the foil and place them back into the smoker directly on the rack.

Sweet and Sassy Smoked Ribs - Glaze

1 cup apple juice
1 Tbls mustard
1/4 cup vinegar (opt. apple cider vinegar)

Whisk glaze ingredients together. Pour into a spray bottle. Thoroughly coat ribs by spraying them with glaze every half hour until cooked thoroughly. Give one last spray and let caramelize before removing ribs from smoker.

recipe for smoked ribs

Serving Your Ribs from the Smoker

While your ribs are finishing up in the smoker, line a pan with tin foil or pull out a large cutting board, big enough to fit the entire rack of ribs. We’ve found that it takes around four hours to cook one rack of ribs at the temperature suggested. Once your ribs have reached the desired internal temperature of 165°F, indicating they are done, pull them out and place them on the prepared surface. We’ve found that it takes around four hours to cook one rack of ribs at the temperature suggested. I like to use high temperature oven mitts like these ones to help pull the rack out of our smoker enough to get the ribs out, then one of us holds the pan/cutting board, while the other uses strong grilling tongs like these ones to lift the ribs out of the smoker.

This next part is important! I know you’ll be eager to cut into those ribs and taste them right away. Just typing this post and adding the pictures has my mouth watering, and I don’t have that delicious smell in front of me to resist. But before you dive in, you need to let your rack of ribs rest. This ensures that all of the juices will stay in the meat when you cut into them, rather than spilling out onto your plate. You’ll have more tender, flavorful and delicious ribs this way. We put our ribs on the surface we’d prepared and tent it with another piece of tin foil. Let your ribs rest for at least 15 minutes. It’ll be hard to do, but I promise it’s worth it!

smoked rib meal

Now you’re ready to enjoy! Use a large knife to cut each rib between the bone. Then hope that people aren’t hungry so you can enjoy the entire rack by yourself! We like to serve our smoked ribs with picnic classics like baked beans, potato salad, fruit salad, macaroni salad, etc.

Tips and tricks to make the perfect rack of ribs in the smoker.