Easy Smoked BBQ Pork Ribs
Of all the BBQ arts, ribs are perhaps the most ubiquitously loved and feared item on the menu. Nothing is quite so fine as the perfectly smoked rib, patiently pampered, and delicately seasoned. Tender, and complete in it’s flavor profile. While in the same breath, few things that come off a grill are as miserable as a poorly cooked rack of ribs, tougher than shoe leather, and not all that much better in taste. Ribs are a litmus test of your grilling prowess, and for that reason alone, they are a revered subject in the BBQ community. So for those who have not yet attempted a rack of ribs on the smoker, here is how to bring your game to the next level.
Insert a butter knife between a bone and the membrane on the back side, and near the end of the rack of ribs. Pry up the membrane there enough to get a hold of it with your hand. These things are as slippery as a bar of soap in the bath tub, but if you grip it with a paper towel, you can aptly tame the beast. Grab tight and pull, peeling it off down the length of the rack. The membrane is on there tighter than a tick to a hound dog, but if you do it right, it comes off in one, easy, stroke. If you do it wrong, you’ll live I guess. Anyways,the reason you have to peel it off is two fold: firstly, it’s a son of a gun to chew on, and secondly, by removing it, you increase your ribs capacity for smoke absorption and rub penetration, as neither can breach the membrane. So do your very best to remove it. If you just can’t make it happen, the old pit master trick of scoring it in a checker board pattern will loosen things up enough to eat it. It’s not the BBQ ideal, but we can turn our heads if we must.
Next, some pit masters like to wipe it down in vinegar at this point, to open the pores of the meat. While others will slather the rack in mustard, to form sort of an adhesive agent for the rub. Rubs, like most things BBQ, are an art. There is no right or wrong thing here, just go with your grill master gut. I used to do the mustard thing for quite some time, and despite what newbies tend to think, you cannot taste the mustard. It’s job is purely to hold the rub. Lately here tho, I’ve been forgoing the mustard idea altogether, and just slapping on the rub on right away, and that works too. But the main idea here is to get your favorite rub on the ribs. Dash it all over, and don’t skimp. This is the single biggest influence of flavor for your end product. Do it right.
While doing all this prep, the smoker should be warming up and stabilizing. For this instructional, you should dial in your cooker for the smoking ideal, 225 to 250 degrees. This is your magic temperature range for the low and slow gospel approach to true southern BBQ. I believe in it, and sing it’s lofty praises. As for a water pan or not, I have done it both ways, and have come to the conclusion that it matters not for the moisture of the ribs in this application. The water pan may be useful however in acting as a heat sink, to help you lower the temperature in your cooker. Every smoker is different, and it’s your duty as it’s pit master to learn how to run your grill efficiently. At any rate, once you get it up to temp, go head and toss on your smoke wood of choice. Here too it is art, so follow your inklings. We love apple or hickory wood, but since maple trees are abundant around here, we tend to favor their aroma from time to time too.
Once your smoker has stabilized, or in other words holding your desired temperature, and the bellowing smoke has settled down into something of a thinner affair, it is then time to lay your rubbed up rack gently in the smoker, bone-side down. Put on the cover. The hardest part is done now. Now, and at last, you are liberated to do as you wish. These are the moments BBQ people live for. For the next 2 1/2 hours, you are free to saunter about the house, doing what ever it is you do in your house when meat is cooking quietly. I would suggest taking up residence in your big leather man chair, with a lovely beverage at hand, and a Stallone movie on play. Either that or tranquil nap pit-side, smoke wafting, with the Black Capped Chickadees flirting at your bird feeder, and the warm sunbeams melting over your rose bushes. These are the poetic moments of the smoke, and the binders of your memories whence the food is gone, and the coal is out. This is why, by choice, you go low and slow. Simply to extend the beauty of the moment, for the moment’s sake. What a joy it is to take your foot off the accelerator pedal of life, and coast amid it’s treasured ambiance. This is your time to revel in the cook, and glory in the smoke patron to the scenic path. This is why we do what we do.
After 2 1/2 hours, then begins the Texas cheat. Say what you will about foiling your meat, it works. Yes, it’s more macho I suppose to do it without foil, but the success rate of ribs foiled is too staggering to ignore. So cheat. Then end result is quality BBQ ribs, which after all is what we are after in the first place. Wrap your ribs in foil with a good splash of apple juice for good measure, and place it back on the smoker for another 2 hours. This is where the magic happens, and where the fate of boot leather ribs is thwarted. What happens is a steam bath of sorts. It’s like sending your ribs to the spa for a good pampering. Steaming in apple juice, or what ever drink you have on hand really, will loosen the meat, moisten the meat, and flavor the meat all at once. It is your secret weapon for perfect ribs.
Finally, after a couple hours, go ahead and remove them from the foil, pouring it’s drippings back over the meat. Let them continue their journey to excellence back where they started, on the grate. For the next half hour, liberally baste them in your choice BBQ sauce. Or if your feeling daring, let your rub speak for itself. Let them firm up a little. Let them gain their composure. And then, whence your slobbers can stand no more, plate them up, and take them to your people. And watch their heads turn, and their tongues fall out. The aroma of victory will follow you. And the cheers of your people will wash over you as they sample your spoils. And you will have successfully, with out any doubt, passed your BBQ litmus test. Amen.