Other than perhaps the hot dog, is there anything less American than BBQ ribs? I don’t think so either. I took an unofficial online poll over this past Memorial Day Weekend asking what everyone was grilling and sure enough, ribs were number 1 (hot dogs #2). Read on for my take on a popular smoking method (2-2-1) for Smoked Baby Back Ribs.
I referred above to a “2-2-1” method for smoked baby back ribs. In a nut-shell this stands for 2 hours of smoking directly on your grill grate, then 2 hours wrapped in foil and placed back on the grill grates and finally 1 hour more unwrapped. This method is revised from the “3-2-1” method for smoking spare ribs which are a little larger than baby back and require an additional hour up front to obtain the desired taste and tenderness. I will explain each phase in detail. This method has been around forever, and like most, I’ve tweaked it to my tastes and made it as easy as possible for any novice to grill master to follow.
There are only a few things that must be done prior to the actual smoking of the ribs, simple but in my opinion crucial. First, remove the ribs from the store packaging (they freeze great so pick them up whenever they are on sale) and wash with cold water, pat dry with paper towel. Next, remove the silver-ish membrane from the bottom side of each rack. I like to remove the membrane, but there are certainly many recipes that say you don’t need to. In my opinion, since I use a dry rub on both the top and the bottom of the rack, I think by removing the membrane it allows for more of the dry rub seasoning (along with smoke from the grill) to penetrate the meat. Most of the time it’s a simple process and will become very easy after you prepare this recipe a few times. I typically start using a butter knife in a few different spots. Once you can get a good grip on the membrane just pull it off and move onto the next rack.
Next, coat all sides of each rack with a yellow mustard. Don’t worry as the mustard only acts as a sticking agent for your dry rub, there will be no mustard taste in the end.
Pour the mustard on and then rub all sides, top, and bottom with your hands to entirely coat the rack. Next, simply apply your favorite dry rub. It was this recipe where I first developed my “Soon to be Famous” Weekend Grilling Dry Rub and I hope you consider purchasing the recipe and making it yourself. You could spend $4.99 on a lot worse! I start with coating the bottom side of the rack first, waiting about ten minutes, then turning the rack over and applying my rub to the top and side and then letting it rest once again. The rub will soak into the thin layer of mustard and eventually seat into the meat as it smokes. There is no need to do this step the night before or even hours before. In general, I start up my smoker and while it gets to temp I prepare the ribs. Some recipes will have you apply the rub and wrap in plastic overnight; I do not think this is necessary at all and you lose a lot of your rub on the plastic when you remove it.
Once the rub is applied I placed the racks on this goofy looking cookie sheet. It only has one side raised which makes for an easy way to slide the racks on and off the grill grates. Believe me, one of these cookie sheets comes in very handy especially when you remove them off the grill when they are done. I’ve dropped more ribs than I care to say when taking them off when they are done, remember these are “fall off the bone” tender so picking them up with tongs on only one end is a disaster waiting to happen.
First Phase (the first “2” in the 2-2-1 method)
Place the racks directly on your grill grates on your grill or smoker. If you are grilling, then grill them indirectly (this method may also throw the times off just a bit). I use my smoker and simply dial up the setting of 225° which seems to be the universal go-to smoking temperature. Smoke, bone side down (actually you keep the bone side down throughout the entire process) for 2 hours. Again, the only difference I have found when doing larger spare ribs than smoked baby back ribs is size, so if you are doing spare ribs you may leave them on the grill for up to another hour. At about the one-hour mark I spritz the top of each rack just to keep them a little “wet”. Don’t worry about spritzing them before this since you will still have the mustard layer on and risk actually spraying off some of your rubs. I spritz one more time at the 1-hour 45-minute mark as well. As with many of my recipes when I call for “spritz” it’s basically a mixture of apple juice and a few tablespoons of Worcestershire sauce, plus I also add a little of my dry rub in for good measure as well.
Second Phase ( the second “2” in the 2-2-1 method)
Pull off twice the number of racks you have of heavy duty aluminum foil large enough to wrap each rack entirely. You will be wrapping each rack twice, so if you have four racks, tear off eight sheets. On the first sheet of foil, make a boat (lift up all four edges to hold liquid) and place some light brown sugar, onions and a few tabs of butter. Next place the rack of ribs onto the sugar/onion/butter mixture and pour in some of the apple juice/Worcestershire spritz you used in the first stage. This is my go-to foil seasoning mix. As you can see below on this particular day I did not use the apple juice but went instead with a dark Sam Adams beer that I just happen to have handy. It’s fun an interesting to change up this go-to recipe from time to time, it all depends on how often you have ribs. If you have them every other weekend or so, then you certainly should change things up a bit. If you only have them a few times per year, then stick to the main recipe as you can’t go wrong with it!
When I prepare my foil (close by my smoker in the backyard on a picnic table), I like to use my Orange Gloves as they are very good in not allowing the ribs to slip out of your hands as if you were using a pair of tongs or the like.
This (click on the ad box below) is where I purchased my gloves and I can’t say enough about them! They let you handle hot foods easily, much cleaner than using your bare hands or slippery utensils and easy to clean by simply washing your hands, with the gloves on, under hot water. One trick I will let you in on is I would have some difficulty taking them off by myself. If you take a piece of paper towel and pull them off using that towel, you will get a much better grip and they will come off very easily.
In any event, place the rack directly on top of the sugar/onions and wrap up the foil tightly. I then take the second sheet and wrap them up again. I like to wrap up twice as I have found over the years that the foil rips pretty easy even by laying the foiled meat onto the grill grates. The last thing you want is to unwrap a dried out piece of meat – you won’t be able to do anything about it. Now for the second “2”; simply place the wrapped racks back on the grill or smoker and continue using the same 225° settings as before.
Third Phase (the “1” in the 2-2-1 method)
After smoking your ribs wrapped in foil, next simply unwrap them and place them back directly on the grill grates. They will be very tender so I don’t risk taking them off the grill removing the foil, then bringing them back on (unless I’m using my fancy no-edge cookie sheet I mentioned earlier). At this point, if we are using any BBQ sauce I will apply it now so it gets a chance to get some smoke flavor as well. My rub, I feel, is good enough not to use any BBQ sauce, but a mild sauce such as the Sweet Baby Ray’s Original sauce is a good one. An overpowering BBQ sauce will do nothing but cover up the natural and desired taste of the smoked baby back ribs. Use BBQ sauce to cover up your mistakes or cheap cuts of meat, not for this recipe.
Let the ribs continue to smoke, still at 225°, for about 45 minutes to an hour. This last phase calls for an hour, but I never let them go that long as I like to pull the racks off when the internal temp reaches at least 170°. As with many types of meat try not to cut ’em up right away, if they can rest for 10 to 15 minutes they will cook a little more but most importantly they will re-distribute some of the juices throughout the meat. On this particular night, it was really dark out and I didn’t realize just how much BBQ sauce I used, way too thick on that front one 🙂
As you can see we like to serve up the ribs to our guests with my Easy Mac and Cheese Recipe which is a great go-with to a half or third rack of ribs! I love fall-off-the-bone ribs. I know there should be a little “tug” or “bite” if you listen to the competition judges, but I like what I like and hope you like this recipe as well!
The above was done on a pellet grill, but certainly can be done on ANY grill or smoker. Looking for an electric smoker? Check out this blog! Electric Smoker Guy