How to Prep & Smoke Ribs

Smoke and fire are primal. For eons people have been gathering family and community around a crackling fire and warming embers. And you will too! With this step-by-step guide to charcoal smoking, you’ll dominate the smoker with an ever-popular menu that’s certain to impress not only yourself, but anyone lucky enough to be invited to your party.


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Whether you're new to using a smoker, or you haven’t dusted it off in a while, or ever, this article will guide you through the process of smoking ribs from start to finish. That means identifying the sections of a smoker, how to set it up, and how to maintain the smoke to cook perfectly tender ribs. Then, once you get the hang of smoking ribs, you can branch out to other cuts of meat.

The Anatomy of a Smoker

THE SMOKER, also called a bullet, water, or vertical smoker, is comprised of three sections that fit tightly together to set up, then come apart afterwards for quick cleaning and compact storage.

THE LID is domed to circulate smoke and regulate temperature. Article-How-to-Prep-Smoke-Ribs-Anatomy1

THE BASE holds the grill racks and water pan, plus provides access to the water pan and fire box. Article-How-to-Prep-Smoke-Ribs-Anatomy2

THE FIRE BOX holds the smoldering charcoal and wood chunks. Article-How-to-Prep-Smoke-Ribs-Anatomy3

How to Prep Ribs

BABY BACK RIBS are from the very top of a hog’s rib cage — literally high on the hog. Though these small, lean ribs can be pricey, they require little trimming, unlike spareribs or country-style ribs. Plus, since “extra meaty” baby backs are now available, they’re overall a better value. Look for all natural ribs, not saline injected — you’re just paying for the extra weight.

Article-How-to-Prep-Smoke-Ribs-Ribprep1 The membrane on the underside of the ribs must be removed before smoking or grilling to prevent the ribs from being rubbery and tough.

Article-How-to-Prep-Smoke-Ribs-Ribprep2 To help the marinade better penetrate the meat, pierce the ribs by inserting a fork several times into the meat between each bone.

How to Smoke Ribs

Article-How-to-Prep-Smoke-Ribs-Howto Hickory, mesquite, and oak chunks are great for smoking, and since water doesn’t penetrate chunks effectively, there’s no reason to soak them. A chimney starter is indispensable for getting your wood chunks going.

Article-How-to-Prep-Smoke-Ribs-Howto2 Fill the water pan nearly full from either the top or side. Water keeps the heat low, and the pan catches drippings, which prevents flare-ups.

Article-How-to-Prep-Smoke-Ribs-Howto3 Using a rib rack to start allows smoke to circulate the entire surface of the ribs, while creating more space on the grate for smoking other foods.

Article-How-to-Prep-Smoke-Ribs-Howto4 Toward the end of cooking, transfer the ribs from the rack to the grill grate to lightly char them, then start basting them with glaze.

How do I know when my ribs are done?

Article-How-to-Prep-Smoke-Ribs-Ribdone Though technically ribs are cooked through at 145°, smoking them to 170–190° will yield the most tender meat. You can, of course, use an instant-read thermometer to check the temperature, but what we’ve found to be the most reliable test for doneness is to pick up the ribs with a pair of tongs and give them a gentle shake. If the ribs droop, and crack slightly, then they’re good to go.

Now you can try your smoking skills out on our Mezcal Ribs with margarita glaze.

Tags: Grilling, Article

Equipment/Special Ingredients Needed

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