Pork ribs are a staple of any low and slow barbecue affair. Here is my go to method for succulent tender pork ribs.
Alot of questions on barbecue forums will always throw up the phrase “time and temp” and given ribs are a must-do for an amateur barbecuer this happens frequently for pork ribs.
As with all BBQ there are different cuts and styles to consider, Pork ribs are no different where you want to select your style of rib to suit your cook.
In NZ we come across 3 styles of rib cut.
Baby Back Ribs - as the name suggests the rib section taken from the points closest to the backone of the pig. These are smaller, require less cooking but from the right animal are juicy and flavorsome.
St. Louis - This cut is taken from in between the baby backs and the rib tips. They are generally butchered to be a nice rectangular cut with a good side of meat on them. These are my favorite style and the cut used most on the competition BBQ circuits, as they cook well, shape up nicely in a turn in box, and taste great!
Spare rib - In NZ I find the term spare rib with most butchers relates to ribs that include the rib tips as well as the St Louis cut.
The below method for smoking pork ribs is best for st louis style ribs
There are 3 basic steps to my rib cook.
Set the colour & bring the smoke.
Wrap for tenderness but save the bite
Bring the glaze
Pork ribs, like beef ribs, have a membrane that runs across the back of the ribs, on the bone side. This membrane is extremely tough, and will not break down over the cook so this should always be removed before you get started,
Ribs typically won’t have a lot of prep as there is no fat to remove. I typically just trim to create nice clean square sides.
Final prep stage pat the ribs down with a paper towel.
Set the colour & Bring the smoke
First up we want to ensure we are starting on the right foot with a good base rub. Pork rubs are generally going to be paprika based as this brings in a subtle smokey sweetness while providing a beautiful rich red color. I started out making my own rubs based on Meathead Goldwins Memphis Dust, but eventually found there are many truly excellent commercial pork rib rubs around that each bring their own personality to a meal. My go to rubs that you will see featured heavily across my channels are the Hardcore Carnivore Red, The Four Saucemen Pork Rib Rub and Rum & Que Soft Coq.
Before laying down the rub i apply a light covering of american mustard to the ribs. This helps act as a binder for the rub to stick to. experiment with and without this step though as you can find some ribs and rubs won’t have trouble adhering. Keep your BBQ as simple as possible.
Apply a small coating of the rub across the bone side and a heavier coating over the top.
Next up, once we have our smoker cruising at 250F we want to bring the smoke. When we say smoke we aren’t talking the puffy white stuff, but nice clean, nearly invisible, blue smoke. This type of smoke is produced from a clean burning hot fire and ensures we avoid those overly acrid smoke flavors that can leech into meat from white smoke. For my pork smokes I focus on Applewood as its a nice clean burning wood that lends a gentle sweetness to the meat. Keep this clean smoke rolling throughout this initial step.
This step takes from 1.5-2.5 hours for your usual rack of ribs. Over this time the rub will melt leaving you with a beautiful rich red rack of pork ribs. However, like all cooking, it all depends on the size, thickness and quality of the meat you’re working with so at this pint focus on how the ribs look. At each 45min interval I will gently spray the ribs with water, known as a spritzing.
Wrap for tenderness, save the bite
Too many times you can go to a restaurant, order ribs and be served what is essentially mushed pork with bones laying underneath. Overcooked mushy ribs covered in a litre of sauce are not a joy to eat.
We want to create tenderness without creating a mess. We want the ribs to hold shape when picked up and when bitten, for the meat to stay in tact on either side of a bite mark
To do this I use a Texas crutch method, which is the second step inner process, whereby the ribs are wrapped in heavy duty aluminium foil with some accompanying sauces and spices. To do this lay 2 sheets of foil on a table which are big enough to completely wrap your ribs. Lay down a small amount of barbecue sauce, and a few shavings of butter and any other flavours you want to impart on the ribs. One of my essential crutch ingredients is Hardcore Carnivore Amplify. Remove your smoked ribs, lay them meat side down onto the sauce, butter and amplify then wrap tightly in the foil before returning them to the smoker.
This process allows the ribs to continue their cook to reach peak tenderness without the risk of drying out, while adding some flavour boosting ingredients to amplify the flavour.
The crutch process will take anywhere from 30mins to 1.5 hours, again depending on your meat, smoker temp etc etc. Time is not the measure in this step as this can go bad very quickly if this step is left for longer than necessary. You want to be able to pick the ribs up and feel them bend and flex in your hands, but not too much. Pick the ribs up at each end and if they flex in the middle then consider removing them from the wrap. I check on my ribs every 30 mins to see how they feel.
Bring the glaze
Once you’re happy with the feel and the ribs are unwrapped you’ll be left with sticky moist ribs that need some love. Lay them out on the smoker. If you didn’t apply any sauce during the crutch add apply some of your favourite BBQ sauce or glaze every 15 minutes until they are ready. it's important to leave any sugar-heavy or thick glazes until the final minutes, as if added too early they can burn and take on a bitter taste. My go to sauces are the Meat Mitch Whomp competition BBQ sauce and Heavenly hell championship glaze
This last step is all about completing the cook and setting the glaze on the ribs while drying the meat out a fraction after the crutch process.
To slice and serve using a sharp knife cut between each bone. You may find that turning the ribs bone side up can help you see the bone to guide your slice.