- Prep Time: 1 hour
- Cook Time: 6 hours
- Smoker Temp: 225°F
- Meat Finish Temp: 185-190°F or very flexible and lots of bend.
- Recommended Wood: Hickory is good but pecan is one of my favorites.
- 2+ racks of pork spare ribs
- Yellow mustard
- Your favorite rub
- Brown sugar
- Salted butter
- Aluminum foil
Remove and rinse. Place on cutting board to trim. The large pork spare ribs are too big and have too much waste that I like to remove. We are going to make them into a St. Louis style rib.
Trimming – St. Louis style
This simply means you are cutting off the long brisket bone that runs along one side and you are squaring up the ends. This makes them look more like baby back ribs and is considered to be a more appealing way to prepare them.
To trim them St. Louis style, start by cutting off the big thick piece in the corner of the rack as shown. Use a very sharp knife and bare down to cut through the white cartilage.
You will then cut off the brisket bone that runs along the left side of the rack in the picture below. If you press down on the meat, you can feel where the actual ribs end and the brisket bone begins. Separate the two pieces with your knife.
Finish the St. Louis style trim by squaring up the end.
These are the cuts that you should have made.
Congratulation, you now have St. Louis style ribs.
Turn the ribs over to continue.
Remove the Membrane
There is a thick membrane attached to the bone side. Starting in the middle of the rack, loosen the membrane using a butter knife or other semi-sharp object like a spoon and then work your fingers under it.
Pull straight up on it while holding down the middle of the ribs with the other hand. The membrane will pull loose from both sides and come off.
I use a spoon to slide under and a napkin to hold on to the slippery membrane.
Remove the Flap
Usually, there’s a flap of meat that runs along the bone side of spare ribs. This should be cut-off close to the base of the meat to allow for more even cooking.
I like to use plain yellow mustard as the base to help the rub stick to the meat. The mustard cooks away and does not leave a “mustardy” taste.
Here is where I may differ from other pitmasters. I usually don’t add rub to both sides of the ribs. I find that most of it melts or falls off into the smoker/grill and can be dangerous if you use a sugar based rub. Most rubs should contain some sugar, so be careful and don’t allow it to light off or begin to burn inside your smoker. Do as you like, as I always say, you must make yourself happy with your cooking.
Leave it sitting for about 10 minutes if you have time. Or you can go ahead and turn it over. I like to leave it sitting whenever possible to allow the rub to absorb moisture from the ribs and the mustard causing less of it to fall off when it’s flipped over.
Flip the ribs over to meaty side up. Repeat the mustard/rub process on the meat side
Leave the ribs sitting until they absorb moisture from the ribs and the mustard and get that “wet” look. There was 10 minutes difference between the two pictures below.
Leave the ribs sitting on the cutting board or cabinet while you go get the smoker ready.
Get the Smoker Ready
You can get some really nice smoke flavor by using almost any wood, charcoal, gas or electric smoker in spite of what your local smoker snobs might tell you. Some smokers work better than others but only you know what works best for you in relation to where you live, how much time you have available to spend and how much time you want to spend tending the fire.
Use whatever smoking wood you have available and get your smoker to smokin’ away at 225 degrees.
During cold weather, your smoker/grill may require additional time to warm all that cold metal up. Keep the door closed as long as possible.
Adding the smoke
There are many processes to smoke ribs. I use one of the following two quite often.
- 3-2-1 Method.
- Bob’s Method (what I usually use)
This is a very easy and wonderful way to smoke ribs. It is based on time and not so much on temperature. I used to use this method often but have found it better for me to use the other method but this is how the 3-2-1 method works:
- Place the ribs on the smoker grate unwrapped bone side down and let them smoke for about 3 hours at 225°F.
- Wrap the ribs in foil or better yet, place them into a foil pan and cover with foil over the top. Place about 1/4 inch of apple juice or other liquid like water in the bottom just before closing them up. Place them back in the smoker and leave them this way for about 2 hours.
- Remove the foil from around the ribs or simply remove the foil from the top of the foil pan that holds the ribs. (it is fine to leave the ribs in the pan as long as the top is open). Continue to cook the ribs this way for about 1 hour with or without smoke depending on what type of smoker you have.
We say 3-2-1 method which indicates the number of hours but everyone has their own level of tenderness that they like. Step 2 is where the tenderizing happens and you can easily adjust this number to decrease the tenderness. If you remove say 30 minutes from step 2, simply add an extra 30 minutes to step 3.
I recommend you try it for the first time at 3-2-1 and then adjust once you see how you like it.
I use this most often but I like to know what temperature my ribs are throughout the cooking process. Both methods begin the same.
- Place the ribs on the smoker grate unwrapped bone side down and let them smoke until they reach an internal temperature of about 180 – 190 degrees. Maintaining a smoker temperature of between 225 and 250 degrees.
- Wrap the ribs as in the other method and put back on the heat for about 1 hour until the internal temperature reaches 198 -202 degrees.
During step one turn and move your ribs so not to get burned or blacked spots on them. I alway start bone side down and get the bone side cooked to a golden to dark brown before turning over repeating the moving process.
When wrapping ribs in foil, make sure they get wrapped without holes in the foil, you want to hold in the moisture and not let it steam out a hole.
Perform this wrapping operation on every rack of ribs that you have and place them back on the grate of the smoker.
Once you take them off the smoker, let them rest for about 10 minutes then slice them up.
Using a Meat Thermometer
When smoking ribs, you are looking for about 185-190°F for the ribs to be at the proper tenderness. Although this is a great guide to use, I like mine a little more done so the rib pulls out of the meat very easily. I will cook my ribs to around 200 degrees and have won competitions with my ribs cooked to 198 degrees. Most of us check the bend on the ribs or pull a couple ribs in opposite directions to see if they are done but you can use an internal meat thermometer like a thermapen to check the ribs if you want to be accurate.
Good luck and enjoy