Next to a grill my second preferred cooking vessel has to be the smoker. There is something magical about a smoker slowly chugging away with wispy streams of smoke coming out of the smokestack and filling up the neighborhood with the wonderful smells of hickory, fruit wood, and slowly cooking meat. I have also noticed the only time my neighbors ever talk to me is when the smoker is chugging away in the driveway.
Today we are going to talk all about BBQ ribs. There are two major cuts of ribs, spare and baby back.
Spare ribs are cut from the belly and breast bone area and are usually 11-13 bones in length. They also contain the skirt and rib tips. Spare ribs are meatier and fattier than baby back ribs.
Baby back ribs (for some reason the annoying Chilis’ baby back ribs song always pops in my head when I hear this even though right now I have loud annoying music blasting in my ears) are cut from the top of the rib cage between the spine and the spare rib and below the loin muscle. The ribs are smaller and tender than spare ribs.
If you take a slab of spare ribs and trim off the breast bone and skirt you will have St. Louis style spare ribs. Make sure to save the scraps that are trimmed off because they work great in baked beans or tossed with a some rub and placed on the smoker for a couple hours as a cook’s snack.
Which rib cut, spare or baby back, makes a better rib for smoking? This is a matter of preference. I love the meatiness and fattiness of a good slab of St. Louis style spare ribs. If you prefer baby back ribs they will cook quicker than a slab of spare ribs so adjust for that.
It would not be a ribs post without the dreaded membrane discussion which is probably one of the most debated subjects in BBQ history only closely followed by brisket fat cap up or down. If you do not know the membrane is on the bone side of the ribs and a thin clear layer. Some people swear by removing it and others swear it causes no harm being there. Those for removal claim it allows for more smoke penetration and those against removal claim it is harmless.
If I have time I will remove it. Removing the membrane is easy and just take a pair of pliers and slowly pull it up. The membrane can be slippery and has caused me to yell a few choice words at a slab before it finally came off.
I like to use a combination of hickory and apple wood for smoking pork. Whatever wood you use always remember wispy barely visible smoke is perfect. If you have nuclear reactor style you could impart a very bitter taste to the meat because the smoke is not getting out of the chamber fast enough.
One final point and that is dry rub only or BBQ sauce. I prefer dry rub ribs with the BBQ sauce on the side and a little rub tossed on them at service. This way guests can add some BBQ sauce if they would like. Only apply sauce to the ribs about 30 minutes before you pull the ribs off the smoker so the sugars in the sauce do not burn.
For this recipe you will need:
- 1/4 cup brown sugar
- 1/4 cup papriaka (I used a Hungarian)
- 1 teaspoon kosher salt
- 1 teaspoon black pepper
- 1 tablespoon pure ground chili (I used a mixture of ancho, guajillo, and chipotle peppers).
- 2 teaspoon garlic powder
- 2 teaspoon onion powder
- 1 teaspoon cumin
- 1 teaspoon coriander
- 1/2 teaspoon dried oregano
- Cayenne pepper to taste (mix everything first and then add in the cayenne if needed)
- Yellow mustard
Combine all the dry ingredients and shake well to combine. Apply to the ribs a thin layer of mustard and then shake the rub all over the ribs.
Place the ribs on a 200-225 degree smoker and let them slow cook till they are done. With smoking there are general guidelines of how long an item will take however, these are not hard set in stone rules. For example, these ribs only took about five hours to finish where I have ribs that took over six hours to finish. The way I check to see if they are done is take a toothpick and stick it in the ribs. If the toothpick moves through with no resistance they are done.
Serve and enjoy!