Time spent smoking ribs should be fun and worry free. Fun because hanging out around the meat smoker as the ribs cook is a great reason for a get-together. And worry free because the rib smoking procedure you use should guarantee great smoked ribs every time.
The ribs first need to be prepared for the smoker. Depending on what you buy, you may need to trim the slab of ribs. A whole sparerib slab can be smoked as-is, but cooks more evenly and looks nicer if trimmed. You can skip the trimming step if you buy already trimmed slabs. Babyback slabs and St. Louis style slabs make the job much easier.
Give the slab a quick rinse in cold water and pat dry with paper towels. Now add some flavor. A good dry rub is the most common and easiest means of seasoning the rib slab. Marinades add flavor too, but will usually require an overnight soak in the fridge. If you really want flavor, you can give the ribs a double whammy of flavor by first marinating them, then coating them with dry rub before being smoked.
Now that the ribs have been prepared, they're ready to smoke.
Prepare the Smoker - Whichever type you have, it needs to be turned on or lit, and partially preheated. It's actually better if your smoker is below the ideal temperature when the ribs go in. The reason for that is that smoke penetrates meat more easily when the temperature is lower. Once the meat begins cooking, the smoke flavor won't penetrate as deeply.
If you have a charcoal smoker, light the briquettes in a charcoal chimney. Place the burning coals into your smoker, add a couple chunks of smoking wood, then put the ribs on the grate. As the smoker comes up to temperature, the ribs will get a nice smokey flavor.
If you have a gas or electric smoker, turn it on, add smoke wood, and add the ribs. Again, the smoker will eventually reach it's ideal temperature.
Add more wood to the smoker as needed. There doesn't have to be constant smoke rolling out of your smoker. Two or thee additions may be all you need. With experience you'll figure out just how much wood it takes to satisfy your personal taste.
The ideal temperature for smoking ribs is in the range between 225-250 degrees Fahrenheit. Try to maintain a steady temperature within this range. Once the ribs start smoking, try to keep yourself from opening the smoker up every 10 minutes "just to check the ribs". Heat is lost when the smoker is opened, and that can increase the amount of time needed to smoke the ribs dramatically.
After 2 to 3 hours of smoking, the ribs can be treated a couple different ways. They can be wrapped in a double layer of aluminum foil and placed back in the smoker. The foil holds in moisture and speeds up the cooking process. If you wrap them in foil, there's no need to use any more smoke wood, either. After 1 to 2 hours of cooking wrapped in foil, remove the foil and let them cook until the surface is somewhat dried.
Alternatively you can leave them unwrapped and begin basting them every 20 to 30 minutes. You can use something simple, like beer and water, or a complex mixture of herbs, spices and other flavorings in a liquid. It's best if the basting liquid is slightly acidic. Fruit juices, wine and beer, and vinegar mixed with water are all good choices. Don't start basting too soon, or the dry rub seasonings will be washed from the ribs.
Ribs can take anywhere from 3 to 6 hours to smoke. Variables such as smoker temperature, type of smoker used, outdoor temperature, wind conditions, and the temperature of the ribs when they go in the smoker will all affect smoking time.
The best way to determine when the ribs are done is to test the texture and consistency of the rib meat. There are three or four different ways to do this.
Smoking ribs isn't that hard to do well. It just takes some practice and experience. Everything will fall together and you'll consistently make great ribs.
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