Home > BBQ > How to BBQ Ribs

How to BBQ Ribs

Lament not this dreary Monday morning, but remember the gorgeous weekend that was. Here’s a little something to help jog your memory:

From the man who brought you the Prime Rib How-To, comes the How-To on BBQ ribs after the jump.

My quintessential summer meal: a rack of ribs, an ice cold beer, and corn on the cob. I love ribs b/c they’re cheap ($2-$3/lb), don’t take as long to smoke as say brisket or pork butt, taste awesome, and there’s something satisfying about tearing animal flesh off of a bone. I love beer b/c, well do you really need a reason to love beer? And I love corn b/c it’s sweet and helps the ribs to move through your system more smoothly.

I figure you can handle the beer and corn, so here’s how to do the ribs.

First, you’re going to need a smoker. Here’s mine:

Weber 2820 Smokey Mountain Cooker/Smoker

Can you use a charcoal grill by putting the coals on one side and a drip pan on the other? Could you use a gas grill and smoke using pellets wrapped in foil and indirect heat? Yes, and yes. But ribs take up quite a bit of real estate, and each of those methods can yield 2 to 3 racks tops, and you’ll probably get the best results just smoking one. What a waste of charcoal and wood. On average, guests will consume 4 ribs each, depending on their size and your sides. A rack of ribs usually has 13-14 bones, so you can feed 3.25 people per rack. Not a high yield for anywhere from 2-6 hours of cooking. Weber now has two new models: the 18.5″ and 22.5″. Not cheap by any means, but can you really put a price on teaching your child what a rib properly smoked with oak and hickory tastes like?

There are also electric smokers, which look similar to their charcoal brethren, but use an electric heating element to smoke the wood. My friend has one and has gotten excellent results, but for obvious reasons, such as death, you shouldn’t use them in the rain. There are also models that look like little refrigerators, which are incredibly easy to use. So in all likelihood, there’s a smoker out there that will fit your needs and budget. Unless you live in an apartment or condo with strict rules against smoke emanating from your unit (which is all of them I presume?). If that’s the case, you’re stuck with using an oven and liquid smoke.


I’ve tried different ribs over the years: from grocery stores, from Whole Foods, from butcher shops, etc…but I love Sam’s Club and Costco ribs for their quality and price.


At Sam’s, you get 3 racks per cryo-pack, so you can have a rack/person at less than $10 each! All my fatties say YEAH!

I usually prefer spare ribs ($1.97/lb), as they are meatier, but today, I’m grilling loin back ribs ($2.97/lb). Here’s Wikipedia’s primer on the different types of ribs.


You should begin preparations about 7 hours before your guests arrive. Some people like to let the ribs sit in rub for 4-8 hours; I’ve found 2 hours prior to cooking to be more than sufficient. Unpack the ribs. You can rinse the blood off if that makes you feel better, but I think it’s a waste of time. Don’t be in such a rush; stop to smell the ribs. Marvel at the beauty.


The first thing to do is to remove the membranes. Channel your inner zombie and say it w/ me now:


If you’ve ever had ribs and noticed a *snap* when you bite near the bottom of the bone, that was a membrane left intact. Use a butter knife to remove the membrane. Here are some YouTubes videos showing you how.

After removing the membranes, get the ribs ready for some sweet, sweet rubbin.

Ready for some sweet, sweet rubbin'

Notice that I had to cut one of the racks in half as I ran out of long aluminum trays and we only have one large baking sheet in our house.

Now comes a point of great contention among BBQ lovers: the rub. Personally, I like to use a dry rub and then baste during cooking.

Pop’s Rub (scaled for 3 racks)

1/4C brown sugar
1/4C chili powder
1/4C paprika
1TBS kosher salt
1TBS garlic powder
1TBS coarse ground black pepper
2tsp onion powder
2tsp ground mustard
1.5tsp ground cumin
0-3tsp of cayenne pepper – depending on how much heat you like

Put all of that into a bowl and mix it well. Unlike baking, where precision with ingredients is key, BBQ has plenty of room for error and adjustments. If you like your ribs sweet, use more sugar. If you don’t like paprika or have no idea what it does, don’t use it.

Put a nice even coating on all sides of the ribs. I like to use a gentle pat to ensure the rub has adhered to the meat. Either there was no more light in my kitchen or I couldn’t hold still due to excitement, b/c I couldn’t get a decent shot of the ribs after rubbing. Ah well.

While that sits for 1-2 hours, time to get your smoker and your basting sauce ready.

The Smoker

Prepare a full chimney starter. If you’re in a rush, use two. Once the coals are ready, dump them in the smoker and then dump a chimney starter full of unlit coals on top of the lit ones (if you were in a rush, dump the lit coals on and you’re ready to go). Place a few chunks of smoke wood on the top of the coals – I used oak. Once everything has ashed over, you’re ready to go.

The Sauce

You can baste with a store-bought sauce, a spray bottle filled with apple cider vinegar, or you can make your own mop sauce. On this day, I was in an onion-y mood, so I made a mop sauce with the following:

1 onion chopped
6 cloves of garlic chopped – this is best suited for garlic lovers and people who don’t plan on kissing anyone for the rest of the day
2 C of ketchup
1/2C apple cider vinegar
1/4C brown sugar
1/4C molasses
1TBS salt
2tsp coarse ground black pepper

Throw all that in a sauce pan and boil on medium heat. Then cover it–otherwise the ketchup will splatter everywhere–and simmer for 15-20 minutes.

Onion-y Sauce

At this point, I wish the Internet had something similar to scratch and sniff or SmellOVision b/c this sauce was heavenly.

Let the sauce cool a little and then toss it into a food processor.

Food Ready to Be Processed

Let that sucker go until the sauce is nice and blended – I think I pulsed it 40 times b/c it’s fun to push buttons.



There are so many variables when it comes to smoking, so I’ll just give you an idea of what I did on Saturday.

Assemble your cooker per the instructions and place the ribs onto the grates. I decided to use only the top grate so I used a metal skewer to help the 2 racks stand. You can also buy a rib rack or you can roll the ribs like this. If you’re rolling, try not to let the ribs overlap, as those portions won’t get any smoke.

Place a fresh chunk or two of smoke wood on top of the coals. I used hickory:

Hickory after 3 hours of smoking

At the start, I like to close all the bottom vents and let the smoker go for about 3 hours before turning and basting. After that, I usually open the vents 50% and let the cooker go until the ribs are done. The best way to tell is 1) check to see that the ribs have pulled away from the bone and 2) grab two adjacent bones near the middle of the rack, and pull try to pull them apart. If there’s initial resistance followed by easy tearing, your meat is fall-off-the-bone tender. If there’s initial resistance followed by a tougher tear, your meat is going to require more work and gnawing – which I love. On Saturday, there was no wind, sun was on the smoker for most of the cooking time and the high temperature nearly reached 80, and the ribs took about 5 hours of cooking to reach my desired tenderness. To get fall-off-the-bone, I would’ve needed to go about an hour or so longer.

At this point, this blog post is going to become a series of food porn pics. I apologize in advance for making you so hungry so far in advance of lunch time.

After 3 hours

I could look at this all day

...and I just might

After turning and basting


Ready to go for another 2 hours


Meat has pulled away from the bone

So hungry now...and all I have for lunch is a salad. 😦

  1. March 22, 2010 at 10:14 am

    Ribs!! Love!! Looks great!!

  2. the buck
    March 22, 2010 at 11:10 am

    I always imagined you’d be a dry rib guy

    • Pop
      March 22, 2010 at 11:17 am

      Dry. Wet. I love ’em all.

      • the buck
        March 22, 2010 at 11:28 am

        By the way, I really hate these pictures. Because of them, I’m missing all three of my hands. Additionally, I am now missing both feet after reading the actual words. My family thanks you.

      • Pop
        March 22, 2010 at 11:31 am

        My apologies. That refund check I sent you for $0.00 should help.

  3. March 22, 2010 at 3:27 pm

    whoa! i didn’t know you had a smoker. i do love that special sauce.

    • Pop
      March 22, 2010 at 3:32 pm

      Yup! Bought it around the same time as the grill. Your husband didn’t know I had one until this past Saturday either.

  4. Ina
    March 22, 2010 at 3:40 pm

    Wow, Pop. You don’t mess around when it comes to BBQ! What a great way to take advantage of the weekend. I can’t believe there aren’t more posts about constipation with all this meat… 🙂

    • Pop
      March 22, 2010 at 3:41 pm

      That’s what the corn is for. 🙂

  5. March 23, 2010 at 3:53 pm

    Wow that looks so good! I’m going to pop some out of the freezer tonight to make tomorrow. Thanks for the dinner inspiration!

  6. Carl D'Agostino
    June 16, 2010 at 10:52 am

    Upon my word. If they have liquid smoke do the also have smokey liquid for people with alternative life styles which is really a clever ruse for being just plain contrary? I can see Mr. Pop that you must be a young fellow because this Friday, the 18th) I enter my seventh decade turning 61 years old and if I do all this for the party I will be 65 before I get to eat any of it and the cardiologists says I will have another heart attack just looking at the meat and won’t make it to 61 and 1/2 and now I will have to take an extra Welbutrin pill because of this anxiety I have for reading your otherwise pleasant and informative blog. Upon my word.

  1. March 24, 2010 at 9:23 am
  2. May 12, 2010 at 9:11 am
  3. May 13, 2010 at 10:04 am
  4. June 2, 2010 at 10:46 am

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