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A Step-By-Step Guide to Smoking Ribs

Updated on September 9, 2017
Yep, it tastes that good.
Yep, it tastes that good.

Learn How to Smoke Ribs Like Pit Masters

Smoking ribs is an art, but an easy one to master. There isn't anything that comes close to smell of smoking meat or the taste and texture of good smoked ribs, so get a quality smoker if you don't have one and let's learn how to BBQ.

Before You Get Started

There are a couple of things that are important to know:

  • Avoid Cheap Smokers: Cheap smokers can ruin meat by over-cooking (burning) it or under-cooking it by failing to maintain the right temperature. They can take the fun out of it! I'll recommend to you my top reasonably priced smokers and explain why there really isn't another choice if you're serious about smoking the kind of meat that your friends and family will envy. I prefer the

    Weber Smokey Mountain Cooker because the temperature stays remarkably steady. I can set it up, walk away, and come back to perfectly smoked meat. More on this in detail at the bottom of the article.

  • You Need a Good Rub: Next, a good rib rub will make all the difference in the world. I'm going to share with you the best Kansas City rub you've ever tasted, and finally my ultimate BBQ sauce that you can make at home (toss out the store brands with all their preservatives and junk).

We're going to go through the basic and essential steps to preparing the meat and the smoker, and finally to smoking the ultimate ribs that will impress anyone lucky enough to get a bite. Let's get started!

What You'll Need

Materials:

  • Smoker
  • Coals
  • A coal chimney
  • Tongs
  • Wood chips

Ingredients:

  • Whatever kind of meat or veggie you want to smoke

If you want to make a rub:

  • 1/2 cup brown sugar
  • 1/4 cup paprika
  • 1 tablespoon chili powder
  • 1 tablespoon garlic powder
  • 1 tablespoon black pepper
  • 1 tablespoon onion powder
  • 1 tablespoon salt
  • 1 teaspoon cayenne pepper

If you want BBQ sauce:

  • 2 tablespoons chili powder
  • 1 teaspoon ground black pepper
  • 1 teaspoon table salt
  • 2 cups ketchup
  • 1 cup brown sugar
  • 1/2 cup yellow mustard (the liquid hotdog kind)
  • 1/3 cup Worcestershire sauce
  • 1/3 cup cider vinegar
  • 1/4 cup dark molasses
  • 1/4 cup lemon juice
  • 1/4 cup honey
  • 1/4 cup steak sauce (whatever brand you use)
  • 2 tablespoons tamarind paste
  • 1 teaspoon hot sauce (your preferred flavor)
  • 3 tablespoons vegetable oil or butter
  • 1 medium onion
  • finely chopped
  • 4 medium cloves of garlic
  • crushed or minced

Instructions at a Glance

  1. Prepare your rub/marinade.
  2. Get your coals started, and set your smoker up.
  3. Put the meat in, keep an eye on the temperature, and adjust vents as needed.
  4. Enjoy!

Here's How They Looked in the Beginning

This picture was taken this morning when I started, and at the end I'll show my ribs after a long, low-temp smoking.
This picture was taken this morning when I started, and at the end I'll show my ribs after a long, low-temp smoking.

What Kind of Meat Should I Buy?

I should say that I've gotten really good results with ribs bought at Sam's and Dillon's, so I think, in general, you can save some money here and not go crazy with the most expensive meat you can find; my smoked meats are always exceptional.

Step 1: Preparing the Rub/Marinade

Besides buying the meat, the BBQ rub you use will be one of the most important aspects of making spectacular ribs.

The rub I'm about to share with you is the one I use on beef and pork cuts of all kinds, and I haven't found one better (and I've tried a lot). My BBQ rub is a Kansas City-style, which means it's thick (not powdery) and relatively sweet (the meat won't be sweet; the flavor is subtle once the fat cooks off the ribs and the meat smokes). If you prefer, you can search for a Memphis or Southwestern rub, but try this one first; I'm sure you'll agree with me that it's the best BBQ rub you've tasted. Myron Mixon may be the master, but he wishes he had my rub!

Because this rub uses sugar, you should not use it when grilling or otherwise cooking hot because the rub (sugar) will burn. This is specifically designed to be used in a smoker, which always uses low temps in the 220 - 250 range.

Here's all you need:

  • 1/2 cup brown sugar
  • 1/4 cup paprika
  • 1 tablespoon chili powder
  • 1 tablespoon garlic powder
  • 1 tablespoon black pepper
  • 1 tablespoon onion powder
  • 1 tablespoon salt
  • 1 teaspoon cayenne pepper

Instructions

  1. Mix the ingredients well, and then store the rub in an airtight container for 3 months or so. Use as needed. I will usually double or even triple these amounts since I go through it so much.

Some Notes on the Rub

  • Cut the Film Off: When preparing the ribs, there is a thin membrane on the inside (boney side) of the ribs. This membrane isn't porous ,and so smoke and flavor don't penetrate well with it on. Simply use a knife at one corner to lift it up, use a paper towel to grasp on to the membrane, and it should pull right off.
  • Give It Time to Marinate: Apply the BBQ rub generously all over both sides of the meat, and let it sit at room temperature for 20 minutes or so; this will allow the moisture from the meat to bind with the rub so that when you put it in the smoker it creates a nice layer that won't flake off as easy.

Make Your Own BBQ Sauce

You've spent some time and money fixing an awesome meal on your smoker and preparing dinner, so tell me you're not plopping that store-bought bottle of barbecue sauce on the table, too. It takes only a short time to make a sauce that you'll be both proud of and happy to eat. So let's get to it. Here are the things you'll need for the 6 cup recipe (yes, you'll have plenty to store, use, and share):

Ingredients

  • 2 tablespoons chili powder
  • 1 teaspoon ground black pepper
  • 1 teaspoon table salt
  • 2 cups ketchup
  • 1 cup brown sugar
  • 1/2 cup yellow mustard (the liquid hotdog kind)
  • 1/3 cup Worcestershire sauce
  • 1/3 cup cider vinegar
  • 1/4 cup dark molasses
  • 1/4 cup lemon juice
  • 1/4 cup honey
  • 1/4 cup steak sauce (whatever brand you use)
  • 2 tablespoons tamarind paste
  • 1 teaspoon hot sauce (your preferred flavor)
  • 3 tablespoons vegetable oil or butter
  • 1 medium onion
  • finely chopped
  • 4 medium cloves of garlic
  • crushed or minced

Instructions

  1. In a separate small bowl, stir the first three ingredients together (the chili powder, ground black pepper, and table salt). In a larger bowl, you'll now mix together the ketchup, brown sugar, cider vinegar, yellow mustard, Worcestershire sauce, dark molasses, lemon juice, honey, steak sauce, tamarind paste, and hot sauce.
  2. Over medium heat, warm the vegetable oil in a large pan. Add and sauté the onions for four or five minutes. Crush and add the garlic; then cook for another minute. Add the dry spices (first three ingredients), and stir for about two minutes to extract their oil-soluble flavors. Add the wet ingredients, and simmer over medium heat for 15-20 minutes with the lid off.
  3. You can use it right away, but it gets better as it ages and the flavors merge properly. Divide it into portions of your liking, and store in the refrigerator for a month or two (I've used mine up to three months later, but I'll stick with safety for the sake of this article).

Step 2: Preparing Your Coals and Smoker

Prepare Your Coals While the Meat Marinates

While the meat and rub are sitting at room temperature, I begin to get the smoker ready. I'm going to assume that you're using a Weber Smokey Mountain (which I'll talk about in a minute). But if not, the same steps will apply to almost any coal smoker.

  1. I use a chimney starter to get the charcoal going. This is one of those things that you can save some money on and pick up at Wal-Mart or somewhere similar to save a few bucks. A chimney starter is a tall tube that you pour coals into, and that has a grate that sits about 3 - 4 inches from where the coals rest, and beneath that is an opening to place wadded up newspapers in.
  2. Simply place the newspaper underneath the bottom section, set it down in a fire-safe place, and load the top with charcoal.
  3. Then light the newspaper, and the charcoal will slowly catch on.
  4. When the charcoal on top starts to have a grayish tint around the edges, it's ready (10 - 15 minutes or so).

Get Your Smoker Ready While the Coals Heat Up

While that is heating up, I prep the smoker. The Weber Smokey Mountain has a water reservoir for two reasons: one, it helps to maintain the temperature of the smoking meat due to water's boiling temp, and two, it helps to keep the meat moist.

  1. I line the bottom of the water pan with heavy-duty aluminum foil to make clean up easier, and then fill the pan about halfway with warm or hot water (no point in taking up cooking time waiting for the water to heat up). Don't fill the water reservoir more than half way or so. The last thing you want is boiling water splashing over the edges and onto your hot cooking coals. I've never ran out of water with it half full.
  2. With the Weber, which has three main sections, take the top and middle section off.
  3. Add charcoal and your wood chunks of choice to the bottom section (I like applewood for its mild flavor, but experiment with mesquite, hickory, or other woods to see which one you prefer).
  4. Fill with charcoal about 1/2 or 3/4 to the top of the charcoal band, leaving room for the hot coals you'll add in a minute.
  5. I place 2 - 3 biscuit-sized chunks of wood into the coal pit, and then scatter about 1/2 cup or so of smaller chunks throughout the coals. Use whatever you have... just don't go overboard with the wood or you'll ruin the flavor of the meat.
  6. When the chimney starter is ready, bring them to the smoker and carefully pour it into the bottom section over the coals and wood chips you've prepared.
  7. Then place the middle section (with the water pan already filled and in it) on top of the bottom charcoal section. Make sure your grill plates are in place and put the top section (lid) on.

Step 3: Placing the Meat in the Smoker, Watching the Temperature, and Adjusting the Vents as Needed

Tip

Always start with the top and bottom vents wide open until you get to the right temperature, which we'll cover in a minute.

  1. Grab the meat that you've prepped already, and if you're smoking ribs, I recommend a rib rack to keep them standing on end for better smoking and for more room.
  2. Place the meat on the smoker rack (top and bottom rack if you have that much meat to smoke; otherwise, just use the top rack).
  3. When you put the lid back on, you'll need to keep an eye on the temperature for the first 20 minutes or so (if you DO NOT have a Weber Smokey Mountain, then plan on watching the temp a LOT). The Weber has an "accurate" thermometer built in to the lid so this is pretty easy. If the temperature is too hot, you'll ruin the meat (burn it), and if it's too low, well, it won't cook.

Keeping the Temperature Correct

  • Aim for 220-225: When smoking meats of any kind I aim for a smoking temperature of about 220 - 225, and when that happens, close the bottom vents from wide open to about 3/4 open.
  • Keep an Eye on It: Watch the temp. If it rises to more than 225, close the bottom (not the top, they always stay open) vents a little more (like from 3/4 open to 3/5 open... small adjustments at this point).
  • Maintain the Desired Temp: Once you've seen the smoker maintain a temperature you like for about 10 minutes, you can essentially forget about it for 5 or 6 hours.... at least I do (again, ONLY if you're using a Weber or other quality smoker). If you smoke a large brisket, I would let it smoke for 7, 8, or 9 hours even, as long as it's low temp... the meat will fall apart after slow-and-low cook like that.
  • Let It Be: If I happen to have time, I'll check the temp from time to time, but I have never once had a problem. I often leave town for a few hours while the meat is smoking, and the Weber stays on temp once I have it set. Things like wind and outside temperature can have an impact on temperature control, but in general, once you do it a time or two, you'll figure that out.

How Long Should I Smoke My Ribs For?

I smoke my ribs for a minimum of 5-6 hours, but if I have time, 7 hours gives me the most tender, fall-off-the-bone meat. Again, this is the part that ties in directly to the heat. If you can maintain that low 220-degree temp, then 5-7 hours is a good rule of thumb. If you're smoking at a higher temp, say 250 (don't go any higher, ever, when smoking), then watch the meat. It'll likely be ready to pull out after 4-5 hours or so. You don't want to burn them. If you need to (something comes up, rain, etc...), you can remove the meat after 3-4 hours, wrap them in aluminum foil, and place in a low-temp oven to keep them cooking but prevent it from burning.

I like to smoke because the fat simply melts off, and you're left with unbelievably soft, moist, and delicious meaty mouthfuls!

Note: You can smoke ribs AND other meats, say a brisket, by using the lower rack, too. Just be sure you don't have rib juices dripping all over the brisket... set them up so that the lower meats aren't sitting directly below the ribs on top. Also, depending on the meat you're cooking, after about 4 hours of cooking, I like to start rubbing some BBQ sauce on to the meat (I don't do it sooner because the sauce tends to burn, and I want the smoke to set in to the meat). If it's a brisket, I don't put sauce on the meat; I use a rub. But you'll discover what your favorite ways are.

Kansas City or Memphis Style

Which type of flavor do you prefer, the zesty rush of a nice Memphis rub or the sweet and heat of Kansas City style?

See results

Get a quality smoker because it means your meat will be evenly cooked. A cheap smoker won't do that.

Note:

I buy the tamarind paste from Amazon since I can't find it locally. You can cook without it if you must (or just feel like it). Tamarind is derived from the fruit of the tamarind tree, is used in a lot of Indian and Asian dishes, and gives a unique flavor to your sauce. If you're a foody then you can buy the Tamarind fruit and make it fresh for more flavor... I just don't find the time to fiddle with it.

5 stars from 1 rating of KC BBQ Recipe For Smoked Meats

Final Step: Dig In

Yep, it tastes that good.
Yep, it tastes that good.

Why Should I Buy A Weber Smoker?

The short answer: Because you LOVE smoking meat and hate hassles.

I have friends who've bought a generic store-brand smoker (despite my opposition), and they found out what I already knew: it's very hard to maintain a good temperature in a cheap smoker. The meat comes out either under-cooked when you're ready to eat, or black and burnt when you come back to retrieve it. You may save a few bucks up front buying cheaper smokers, but you may well regret it for a long time.

Unlike cheaper bullet smokers, or any cheap smoker, the Webers are well-built and maintain their temperature. I am all about saving money, but this is one of those time-tested and proven cases when you really get what you pay for. I have not had a single bad experience smoking ribs with my Weber Smokey Mountain. I've smoked fish, turkey, chicken, beef, pork, and a slew of veggies on this, and every time the results are awesome. Of course, there are some other good alternatives. I almost bought a Green Egg when I first started looking for a smoker, but in the end, I couldn't justify spending $400 - $500 for a small one. The Weber is lightweight, and so I usually leave it on my front porch while using, in case it rains or the winds pick up.

A Walk-Through Of Using The Weber Smokey Mountain

No one likes to buy things online when they can't touch and see them, so here's a good introduction by someone who also smokes professionally. I think you'll find it helpful when deciding if the Weber is right for you. As someone who has used this exact cooker a LOT, I would say that you should get the temperature down to the best range of 200-220 degrees BEFORE you put the ribs on the rack. That way you won't have such a blackened outer layer like the guy in the video; however, that's a minor issue, and as you'll see, the meat falls apart and is still juicy.

My guess is that he placed the hot starter coals in the smoker and left it for a while (too long) with the vents wide open (all of them), so the smoker got too hot, and then, of course, it takes time to lower the temp when the coals are so hot.

Instead, once you place the starter coals in, put the lid on (have all vents wide open), and then every four or five minutes check the temp... when it reaches 220, close the three bottom vents to 3/4 open (leave the top vents wide open all the time). Put the meat in the smoker. Then after four or five more minutes, check the temp again and open or close the bottom vents as needed to keep the 220 temperature range.

Trust me when I say that smoking ribs is really simple and anyone, young or old, can easily smoke meat; this is especially true if you're using a Weber Smokey Mountain (or bullet smoker as they're called due to their shape). If you're thinking about getting a smoker, you can safely get off the fence and trust the Weber choice. If you are thinking about a gift for someone who wants to smoke meat or is interested in how to BBQ, then this is the perfect gift.

It is very high quality, and if you do some independent research, you'll see what I'm saying; this smoker has unbelievably high reviews and a cult-like following. In fact, if you go to smoking competitions, you'll find the top pros have these as their backup smoker in case their commercial one fails. There's even a dedicated, massive online community all about this smoker called The Virtual Weber Bullet! It's loaded with recipes and advice.

I hope this was informative and helpful to you. I would love to hear your comments and feedback. I know that smoking meat is one of the forbidden topics (like politics and religion) amongst hardcore smokers because everyone has their own techniques, rubs, and sauces. I hope I haven't offended anyone. :)

Enjoy, and please leave some feedback. Thanks.

What do you think? Did you enjoy this lens? - Do you already smoke meat or are you planning to start?

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    • profile image

      ajp71555 3 years ago

      I love to smoke meats and fish. I'm definitely going to incorporate some of your tips and techniques into my own smoking. There's nothing like the taste of smoked foods!

    • safereview profile image
      Author

      Bob 4 years ago from Kansas City

      @anonymous: Thanks for stopping by, hope you found it helpful.

    • profile image

      anonymous 4 years ago

      We sooooo need to try this.

    • KerryVor profile image

      Kerry Voronoff 4 years ago from Sydney, Australia

      yum, I am bookmarking this page

    • profile image

      ChroniclesofaWa 4 years ago

      This looks delicious! :)

    • Carashops profile image

      Cara 4 years ago

      Great lens.

    • safereview profile image
      Author

      Bob 4 years ago from Kansas City

      @aesta1: Quality smokers are awesome, especially for cottages and lake homes where you may not have electricity or where you don't want to be fussing all day with cooking. Now I just need to get a cottage! :) Thanks for stopping by and blessing my lens, much appreciated Mary.

    • aesta1 profile image

      Mary Norton 4 years ago from Ontario, Canada

      This makes me think of having one at the cottage.

    • VictoriaKelley profile image

      VictoriaKelley 4 years ago

      BBQ is my all time favorite food. I loved this lens!

    • Dickstucki1 profile image

      Dickstucki1 5 years ago

      Good job this lens. Thanks.

    • kathysart profile image

      kathysart 5 years ago

      I used to have an old refrigerator that was made into a smoker. One year I did about 5 turkeys and there was not enough smoke and it all spoiled.. ohh it was terrible! I like YOUR ideas for smoking meat better. Angel blessed.

    • profile image

      getmoreinfo 5 years ago

      I have to admit that I really like crispy bacon.

    • Blackspaniel1 profile image

      Blackspaniel1 5 years ago

      Nice lens.

    • profile image

      getmoreinfo 5 years ago

      I have to admit that I really like crispy bacon.

    • Dragon 40 profile image

      Ken McVay 5 years ago from Nanaimo, British Columbia

      Delighted to see work from another Bullet fan! Nice work - Blessed for content and presentation.

    • Craftymarie profile image

      Marie 5 years ago

      This is exactly what I want to do next year - I want to build a BBQ outside that we can use. Your lens made me really hungry!

    • profile image

      julieannbrady 5 years ago

      Gosh ... I seriously wish that I was smoking some meat right about now!! Happy New Year.

    • profile image

      anonymous 5 years ago

      I'd love to take a full rack of these indeed, thank you for the lens!

    • safereview profile image
      Author

      Bob 5 years ago from Kansas City

      Thank you all for your comments, I really appreciate it. Happy holidays to you and all Squids!

    • Scotties-Rock profile image

      Clairissa 5 years ago from OREFIELD, PA

      Oh man.... your lens has made me hungry. :) Have a great holiday!

    • GoAceNate LM profile image

      GoAceNate LM 5 years ago

      Oh my god I'm so hungry now. Sweet lens.

    • profile image

      JoshK47 5 years ago

      Mmmm... I do certainly love some good barbeque.

    • CruiseReady profile image

      CruiseReady 5 years ago from East Central Florida

      We LOVE to smoke a turkey for Thanksgiving. Yummy!

    • profile image

      anonymous 6 years ago

      My mouth is watering! Yummy!

    • Ronlove LM profile image

      Ronlove LM 6 years ago

      Awesome Lens Great pictures.

    • MungoChutney profile image

      MungoChutney 6 years ago

      Great lens. I love smoking meat myself - but those ribs in the last picture look fantastic.

    • safereview profile image
      Author

      Bob 6 years ago from Kansas City

      Hehe - Thank you all.

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      reallifeforrealpeople 6 years ago

      Wow! These pictures are making my mouth water too! Great lens!

    • SusanDeppner profile image

      Susan Deppner 6 years ago from Arkansas USA

      My mouth is watering! Great instructions and pictures!

    • safereview profile image
      Author

      Bob 6 years ago from Kansas City

      @KellydeBorda: Thanks Kelly!

    • KellydeBorda profile image

      KellydeBorda 6 years ago

      Great lens on smoking meat - very thorough! The sauce recipe looks delicious. Blessed by the BBQ Angel!