Whether you start with the 3-2-1 or 2-2-1 method, you have to start somewhere. Pork Ribs are my second favorite meat, just behind nature’s candy (BACON!!). I’ve made them with a dry rub, slathered in sauce, and with a honey/maple glaze. I love all three methods, but the glaze is by far my favorite. Just look at that picture! If I had to choose, next would be the dry rub because I can pick my own sauces for each rib bone.
Cuts of Ribs
First, let’s talk about the types of ribs you can buy. There are Spare Ribs, St. Louis Style and Back Loin ribs (known as baby back). The back loins are a portion of the pork rib closest to the back and the pork loin. They are considered more tender than the spare ribs, however I don’t feel they are quite as flavorful as a spare rib. Back loins use the 2-2-1 method, which is 2 hours of smoke, 2 hours of wrap and then 1 final hour of smoke/grilling.
Spare ribs are made up of the flap, middle-to-lower rib section, the rib tips and sternum. You can cook spare ribs whole with a 3-2-1 process, or you can separate the pieces as shown in the diagram below. The St. Louis Style or St. Louis Cut is very common, and can usually be found in major retailers.
So after you decide what type of rib cut you want to cook, the next step is finding a high quality rib from your local store or butcher. The one and only rule is to read the package! Anything packed with additives such as water to make the meat “tender” is a waste. This brine process from the store is generally more expensive and waters down the meat. However, I agree that most meats like poultry, shellfish and pork/beef roasts should have a marinade or brine process, I never do this for ribs. You might as well boiled them!
Next, look at the meat itself. Does it have good marbleization? Is there a lot of fat to trim? Experience in cooking ribs will easily help you find the right one.
- Remove the ribs from the package, rinse them and then pat dry.
- Flip the ribs so the meat side is down, with the skirt and membrane being visible. Using a paper towel between your fingers like a glove, grab one end of the membrane and pull it back to the other side so that the membrane pulls away from the bones (I find that starting on the longer bone side and pulling to the shorter end is easier). Discard the membrane and paper towel.
- Using the Rub This! Pork Rub, liberally apply the rub to all sides of the ribs.
- Apply a thin layer of brown sugar on top the meat side of the ribs and then lightly dust with the rub again.
- Heat the smoker to 225° using lump charcoal and 3-4 wood chunks of Red Oak and Cherry. You can substitute Apple, Crabapple, Hickory or Mesquite for the Red Oak.
- Place the ribs flat on the grill grate. If the smoker is too small to lay them flat, you can purchase a ceramic coated v-rack to stack the ribs vertically.
- Mix a 50/50 blend of apple juice and apple cider vinegar. If you don’t have apple juice, you can substitute other juices or soda (just don’t use diet!). After 1.5 hours in the smoker, lightly spray the ribs to moisten them. Do not over spray them or the spices will wash off. For spare ribs, spray them again at the 2.5 hour mark.
- At the 2 hour mark for back loin (3 hour for spare ribs), remove the ribs and wrap them in foil with 1 tablespoon of the juice blend. Your looking for a steam process, and not boiling it. Place the wrapped ribs back on the grill.
- Cook the ribs for up to 2 hours, but you’ll want to check them after 1.5 hours. The idea is to get the meat to tear away from the bones, but not fall off into pieces when you pick them up.
- Remove the ribs from the wrap and place them back on the grill. You can save the juices from the foil wrap and make up some St. Louis Style BBQ Sauce.
- As the ribs are cooking for the last hour, you need to decide how you would like to serve them up. The most common options are dry, slathered and glazed. For a dry rib, just spray one more time with the 50/50 blend. For slathered, apply your favorite BBQ sauce to all the sides but monitor the ribs closely in the final hour so that you don’t burn the sauce to the meat. Lastly, is the glaze option, which a simple recipe is below.
1 Tablespoon of Honey
3 Tablespoons of Real Maple Syrup
3-4 Tablespoons of Water
- Mix all the ingredients with a wire whisk. Brush two coats on the ribs while cooking in the last hour of the 3-2-1 or 2-2-1 process.