Smoked Baby Back Ribs are a delightful experience where the succulent meat just falls off the bone and each mouthful bursts with flavors that dance on your palate. It’s the kind of meal that lingers in your memory long after the last bite.
In this post, we’ll unravel the art and science behind smoking baby back ribs. The sublime pleasure of perfectly smoked ribs doesn’t come by chance.
It’s a craft – one that combines the nuances of choosing the right meat, marinating it with a blend of flavors, maintaining the perfect temperature, and mastering the patience to slow-cook it to perfection.
Whether you’re a seasoned pitmaster or a smoking newbie, this guide is designed to unlock the secrets of smoking baby back ribs that would make any BBQ enthusiast proud.
What are Baby Back Ribs?
Baby back ribs, often just called “back ribs,” are cut from the top of the rib cage between the spine and the spare ribs, below the loin muscle. They get their name because they are shorter in comparison to the much larger spare ribs. Each rack is usually 6 to 8 inches long and weighs about 1.5 to 2 pounds, which feeds about two people.
Baby back ribs are prized for several reasons:
- Tenderness: Baby back ribs are leaner than spare ribs, and the meat in between and on top of the bones is very tender.
- Flavor: While they have less fat than spare ribs, baby back ribs are still packed with flavor. The bones themselves lend a significant amount of flavor to the meat.
- Quick to Cook: Because they’re smaller and leaner, baby back ribs don’t need to cook as long as spare ribs. This can make them a bit more forgiving for beginners learning to manage the heat on a smoker or grill.
- Easy to Handle: Their smaller size also means they’re easier to handle and maneuver on a grill or smoker compared to spare ribs.
Why Smoke Baby Back Ribs?
When it comes to smoking, baby back ribs are an excellent choice. Their natural tenderness and flavor can be enhanced with a smoky aroma, and the slow cooking process allows the smoke to permeate the meat, which further enhances the overall flavor. Plus, the exterior can develop a wonderful crust, or “bark,” that provides a great texture contrast to the tender interior.
Whether you prefer a classic BBQ rub or a more adventurous flavor combination, baby back ribs are like a blank canvas for smoke and seasoning. Their versatility and crowd-pleasing nature make them a popular choice for many BBQ enthusiasts.
Ingredients Needed to Make Baby Back Ribs
- Pork Ribs – Baby back ribs usually come in a rack that’s about 1 1/2 to 2 pounds. To feed 4 people, you’ll need 2 racks.
- Dry Rub – Your choice of premade or homemade dry rub (about 1/4 cup per rack)
- Braising Liquid – Apple juice, beer, or another liquid of your choice (1/4 cup per rack)
- Barbecue Sauce – Your favorite store-bought or homemade barbecue sauce (about 1 cup per rack)
- Smoker – I use a Z Grills 700 series smoker for most of my smoking, though I also have a Traeger grill. You can use whatever smoker you have – they all work the same.
- Wood pellets – There are many types of pellets available. If you’ve already got pellets in your smoker, use whatever you have. I really like Hickory pellets for chicken.
- Meat thermometer – Many smokers have a thermometer built in, but if yours doesn’t, get an instant-read thermometer. I love this Thermapen.
Thermapen ONE (read our review)
» Reading in one second or less
» Accuracy of ± 0.5°
» 5-year warranty
» Auto-rotate display; motion-sensing
» Insanely long battery life (2000 hrs)
How to Make Baby Back Ribs
Prepare the Ribs
First, remove the thin membrane on the back of the ribs. This will allow the meat to absorb the flavors of the rub and smoke more effectively.
Then, generously apply your choice of dry rub to both sides of the ribs. Let the ribs rest for at least 30 minutes to an hour, allowing the rub to penetrate the meat.
Smoke the Ribs
Preheat your smoker to 225°F (107°C) and add your favorite wood chips. Place the ribs on the smoker, bone-side down, and smoke for 2 hours. Ensure that you maintain a consistent temperature throughout the smoking process.
Don’t Want to Buy a Huge Pellet Smoker?
I recently tried smoking the ribs on my new Ninja Woodfire Outdoor Grill. I had to cut the ribs in half to fit them on the grill, but I’m always amazed at the amount of smoke flavor this thing imparts. You can have the ribs on this Woodfire Grill for only 2 hours and it will give twice as much smoke flavor as the pellet grill does.
The Ninja Woodfire Grill has an integrated smoke box that imparts smoke flavor faster and easier than the leading smoker and it only takes 1/2 cup of pellets. I’m not kidding when I say this thing can work some smoke magic on a rack of ribs. Whenever I’m making just one rack or ribs, I go with this method over my pellet grill.
Braise the Ribs
After 2 hours of smoking, remove the ribs from the smoker and wrap them tightly in aluminum foil. Before sealing the foil, add 1/4 cup of apple juice, beer, or any other liquid of your choice to create a moist environment for the ribs to braise. Return the wrapped ribs to the smoker at 225°F (107°C) for another 2 hours.
Grill the Ribs (optional)
Unwrap the ribs and discard the foil and any remaining liquid. Apply your favorite barbecue sauce to both sides of the ribs. For a smoky finish, turn up the smoker to 400°F and lightly char the ribs on both sides. If you really like sauce on your ribs, you can add some more during this process. It takes just about 5 minutes per side.
Rest and Serve
Let the ribs rest for about 10 minutes, allowing the juices to redistribute within the meat. Then, slice and serve your mouthwatering smoked pork ribs.
What Smokers We Use
Did you know that Traeger created the original wood-pellet grill? The Pro Series 22 is the one most people choose because it’s compact, yet has plenty of space for cooking. You can use any type of wood pellets you like. See the Traeger Series 22 Grill on Amazon.
What Pellets to Use for the Smoker?
You’ll also need pellets for your smoker, if you’ve got a pellet grill like we do. Pellets come in many different types that you can choose from. I like to use hickory wood, or cherry wood pellets for mine. They also have a bourbon wood pellet that’s very good. My friend Todd swears by the Jack Daniel’s Tennessee Whiskey pellets.
Frequently Asked Questions
What is the best wood to use for smoking baby back ribs?
We really believe that you should use the type of pellets you like the best. Sometimes it’s the pellets you had left over from the last smoking. Hickory, Mesquite, and Oak are great choices for beef.
How long does it take to smoke baby back ribs?
For 2 racks of ribs around 2 pounds each it will take 4-5 hours start to finish. It is well worth the work, trust me!
How do I know when my baby back ribs are done cooking?
The best way to tell when they are done is to check the internal temperature of the ribs with a meat thermometer. They should be around 190-202°F before you remove them.
What to Serve on the Side
For sides, there is an endless array of salads and veggies that would make a good choice. Here are a few of our favorites:
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Smoked Baby Back Ribs
- 2 racks of ribs 1.5 – 2lbs each
- 1/2 cup (35 g) dry rub 1/4 cup per rack
- 1/4 cup (59 ml) apple juice or beer
- 1/2 cup (143 g) BBQ sauce 1/4 cup per rack
- Remove the thin membrane on the back of the ribs. This will allow the meat to absorb the flavors of the rub and smoke more effectively.
- Generously apply your choice of dry rub to both sides of the ribs. Let the ribs rest for at least 30 minutes to an hour, allowing the rub to penetrate the meat.
- Preheat your smoker to 225°F (107°C) and add your favorite wood chips. Place the ribs on the smoker, bone-side down, and smoke for 2 hours.
- Remove the ribs and wrap them in boil. Pour the apple juice/beer into the packet and seal it well.
- Return the ribs in the foil to the smoker. Smoke for another 2 hours. Carefully peel back the foil and check the internal temperature of the ribs. They should be around 190-202°F before you remove them.
- Remove the ribs from the foil. Baste with BBQ sauce. You can serve them now, or char them on the grill first. To char, turn up the grill to 400°F. Cook the ribs for about 5 minutes per side.
- Rest for 5-10 minutes before serving.
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Laura is a passionate home cook and grill enthusiast who has spent years perfecting her culinary skills, with a particular focus on grilling techniques and flavor combinations. Her fascination with the grill, smoke, and the mouthwatering results they produce has led her on an exciting journey to discover the best methods for grilling delicious and unforgettable meals.