How to BBQ Spare Ribs / by MEAT ME

Finally I am going to show you how to BBQ your own spare ribs at home. I have seen tons of professional bbq teams from Big Poppa Smokers to Slap Yo' Daddy do ribs up in various different ways. Each person does it his or her own way, but this way seems to be the easiest while still get them to taste just like the pros do it. I don't have the best smoker in the world, Smoke'N Pit Charcoal Smoker & Grill by Brinkmann, but great tools don't make a great cook. Knowing how to use what tools you have available is what makes you a great cook. They no longer make this model so you don't have to worry about finding it, but this particular style of smoking can translate to almost any grill or smoker. Now the big difference between BBQ and Grilling is the SMOKE. Grilling is cooking over an open flame at high heat and BBQ is done with wood at low temperatures over a long period of time. Low and slow as they always say. For this meal I am cooking up spare ribs and cutting them St. Louis style. At the bottom is a list off all of the ingredients and supplies you'll need for this cook. 

Here are all of the supplies that I used. You want to get apple juice to keep the ribs moist. You'll need the Agave Nectar (which can be replaced with honey), Parkay and brown sugar for when you wrap the ribs. If you want to be clever and use real butter instead of Parkay don't because butter burns at a much lower temperature. I got Stubb's BBQ sauce for the very end. I used Big Poppa Smoker's Little Louie's and Sweet Money for the rub. I chose Happy Ending for my finish. I am using Kingsford charcoal as my fuel source and a combination of apple and cherry wood chips for a sweet smokey flavor.

I got the meat at Smart and Final where I bought most of the supplies. The rubs you can buy online at Big Poppa's website. The charcoal and wood you can get at Home Depot or local supermarket. It all depends on what your location carries. I prefer spareribs because they have a lot more meat than baby backs. Farmer John sells this 2 pack that can range anywhere from $18 to $25 dollars. On a side note "All Natural" means nothing on packaging. There are no requirements for that label so unless it has the USDA ORGANIC logo on it, it's just regular meat.

First off I rinse off the ribs under running water, place them in a pan and then damp them dry with a paper towel before I cut them. Take one rack and lay them ribs down bone side up and look for the piece of skin that lays diagonally across the ribs. You want to cut that off, it has various names from "the alien flap" to the "mud flap" so call it what you want just cut it off an throw it away (or use it to make stock for a pork butt injection). Next is either removing the membrane or trimming the ribs, it is up to you. I like to count down about 11 or 12 ribs and then cut a straight line parallel to the rest of the ribs from top to bottom. Then you'll feel for the top for the very first rib where the cartilage meets the edge of the breast bone and cut in between from there straight across the top of the ribs in a strait line. You should end up with a nice rectangle. You'll have your rack of ribs and your rib tips.

Now you are going to remove the membrane, sometimes this is easy and sometimes this is a pain is the fucking ass. What you want to do is go to the very edge of the bottom of the rib and use your finger nail to separate the membrane from the bone fat. Some people will stick the end of a spoon under it and drive it right up the bone. Then you'll grab a paper towel for grip and pull the membrane right off (it can be slippery). There will be 2 distinct layers you only want to pull the very top layer off. If you pull off both, the bone will literally fall out of the rib when you pick it up. There are 2 reasons to pull the membrane off 1. is to let the smoke get through to the under side of the meat. 2. It's a mother fucker to chew off when you're eating it.

Once the membrane is gone flip the ribs over and cut off any access fat that is hanging off the meat this will also prevent the smoke flavor from getting to the meat. Now that's done you are going to season your ribs. I have Big Popp's Sweet Money which I like for the sweet flavor and Little Louie's for it's salty/peppery flavor.

You will evenly spread the seasoning to both sides and give it a pat with your hand to make sure it's on there. That's one pat, there is no reason to molest the meat. Once that's done set it aside and let it rest for at least 60 minutes so the meat will absorb the rubs.

Once the ribs are rubbed I will apply the same technique to the rib tips. I will place the ribs and tips in a pan in the fridge I will pull them out 45 minutes prior to putting them on the smoker so that way they are room temperature and not cold. The idea is that the meat will take longer to get to perfect temperature if it is cold in the middle. There is less of a chance of undercooked meat below the surface. Technically it will take just over an hour to come to room temp being in the fridge, but if you want to go crazy you can place the meat in the oven at 225º to 350º for 15 minutes which will take the meat to 72º, the same as being at room temp for 1 hour and you don't have to worry about the meat going bad.

With the meat rubbed I used my fire starter with 10 to 12 coals and a piece of paper towel soaked in olive oil to get my fire started. Never use liter fluid it will make your food stink like chemicals. I then took 2 of the bowls from my vertical smoker (you can use metal bowls) filled them with water and placed them in the bottom of my smoker. This will help keep the ribs moist because the smoker will act like a humidifier as it starts to evaporate from the heat.

Once the coals are red I placed them on top of the pile of coals I had in the side box chamber of my smoker. I did a few different methods for the wood. Here I placed apple and cherry wood chips in a piece of foil. I then placed another piece of foil on top, rolled up the edges, and then poked holes on top and bottom. This should last about 30 to 40 minutes in the smoker. This foil technique also works well if you wanted to smoke on a grill. Just place this off to the side and it should smoke nicely.

It took me about an hour to get all that set up and going. The ideal temperature for this smoker is between 180º to 225º you can even go all the way up to 275º. It all depends on how long you want to smoke the meat for. As you can see with the ribs all of the rubs have been absorbed into the meat.

I have laid out all of the meat, bone side down and I made sure to keep some space between all of the pieces so that they all get some smoke. Once laid out, close the lid so the smoker can get back up to temperature.

After about 20 minutes my temp went all the way up to 275º. For me that's a little high for just smoking so I closed up the air vents half way to bring the temp back down. Remember for the next 3 to 4 hours we are just using the smoke to create a flavor bark around the meat. Once the bark is set we'll wrap the meat, raise the temp and start to cook it.

It has been an hour and here is where the apple juice comes to play. You're going to fill a spray bottle with apple juice and start to spray the meat every 30 minutes to keep it nice and moist. Do this very quickly because you let all of the smoke and heat out once you open the lid. I have also thrown more wood chips directly onto the fire to bring the smoke back up.

Here you can see the bark slowly set on the ribs every hour. The smoke will start to bond with the rub and the meat to form a nice crusty layer on the ribs. This is exactly what you are looking for. Each time you smoke ribs it will be different. The temperature on this smoker is a mother fucker to control. Some times it's windy or cold. Some times the wood burns super quick. Some times I have to add a wood chunk every 20 to 30 minutes cause they burn out. Usually a pretty sizable pile of charcoal should last the whole cook but if its windy and it's been running hot you might have to add more. There are a lot of variables to manage but it can be done. 

It's been about 3:30 minutes of smoking averaging 190º. They way you can tell if the bark is set is by trying to pick off the crust like a scab on your skin. If it wont come off and it looks to be a light brown color it's done. But if you can pick it off it could probably should go a little longer.

Now it is time to wrap the ribs so I have pre set up each wrap on a table ready to go that way the ribs don't lose temp as I am wrapping them. I use the extra wide foil. If you have heavy duty foil use that instead. If it's the thin stuff use 2 sheets about 3 feet long. Sprinkle down some brown sugar, a nice hand full should do. Zig zag the Parkay and Agave about 4 to 5 times.

First I started with the ribs tips in one wrap. I laid them all meat side down so you can see the grill marks facing up. I then added another hand full of brown sugar on top with 4 to 5 zig zags of parkay and agave. Wrap them up and place them in the middle of the smoker. The point of wrapping the ribs is to boil them inside in their own juices. The foil prevents the meat from burning and keeps all the moist wet juiciness on the inside.

Lay the ribs meat side down right onto the strip of sugar, parkay, and agave. Grab the sugar, agave, and parkay and repeat the previous step again. When finished grab the edge of the foil nearest to you and then the opposing side and bring them together. Then fold them over in one inch increments until you have about a 1 inch space between the foil and the ribs. Take the ends and fold them in as well. Place them back on the smoker and close it. Open and close the smoker for each rack that you wrap so the least amount of smoke and heat escape.

Now I have looked at my temp and its sitting around 170º, but I need it back up at 275º to cook the ribs that I have just wrapped, so I have added more charcoal. I added a good 30 pieces because I need to keep the temp up for at least another 2 hours.

It's been about 20 minutes and I have only been able to get the temp up to 225º and that was with the vents wide open. So now I have spread the charcoal briquets out with a pair of tongs and opened the side door to the wood burning compartment. With in 10 minutes the temperature was back up to 275º. Some times all you need is more oxygen to bring heat to a fire.

I take a metal skewer and I poke at the ribs every 30 minutes until it slides right through the meatiest part of the ribs, just like butter. That's when you know it's ready. You want to see a little pull back on the meat from the bones since meat shrinks when it is cooked. Now I have never fucked ribs up before but this time I did. I made the mistake of placing the ribs right next to the wood fire box by the end of the barrel and when that sucker hit 275º it burned the shit out of the ribs and this is exactly what they looked like below.

The brown sugar turned black and the layer of bark got stuck to the inside of the foil. The meat was very clumpy and there was a thin layer of black crust across the top, this is exactly what you don't to do. I rushed it thinking that it was going to take to longer to cook with the temperature so low. I tried to compensate by turning up the temp and after 2 hours they were burned.

After about an hour and a half between 250º and 275º this is exactly what they should look like. Now as you can see I did loose a little bit of the bark that had formed while they were smoking, technically I could have smoked them just a little bit longer. I can easily cover that up at the end by adding a little extra rub.

It's time to add the sauce. I poured the bottle into a pan just before I pulled the ribs out and brought it to a boil. I let the ribs rest for about 5 to 10 minutes. You don't want to put cold BBQ sauce on the ribs it makes them cold right before you eat them.

Here are the ribs right after they have been sauced. This is when I should have added Big Poppa's Happy Ending rub, but I forgot.

You can cut these ribs right down the middle or you can follow the edge of the bone like I do. Now these ribs were a little tough. I probably should have left them wrapped for another 30 minutes just to get a little more pull back. I think it is safe to say I won't be using this smoker again it's just too hard to keep the temp up when I have the ribs wrapped.

If you ever have this issue the safest way to save them is by throwing them in the oven, wrapped for an hour at 400º. It will save you every time.

These were ribs I cooked up about a year ago. As you can see they have a nice crusty bark on the outside, and the meat looks super juicy on the inside. Nothing is completely black.

For this cook you will need:
1 Smoker of your choice
1 Bag of Cherry Wood (chunks or chips)
1 Bag of Apple Wood (chunks or chips)
1 Bottle of Apple Juice (with a spray bottle)
1 Agave Nectar (or Honey)
1 Parkay
1 Stubb's BBQ Sauce
1 Bag of Brown Sugar
1 Big Poppa's Little Louie's
1 Big Poppa's Sweet Money
1 Big Poppa's Happy Ending
1 Wide Spool of Foil

I wish you all good luck and Happy Ribs,
Sean Rice