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Published June 21, 2019. This post may contain affiliate links. Please read my disclosure policy.
Nothing better than a delicious rack of smoked St. Louis style spare ribs that are cooked slow and low for the ultimate BBQ flavor.
I believe that bbq requires two things, smoke and time. With that being said there are several ways to prepare these, and everyone has their own way of doing it and if you listen long enough theirs is the only way and the best way. Of course, it is…
If you’ve never smoked any food before, it’s definitely an art form that requires some practice. As many famous BBQ chefs say, it takes a whole lot of making bad BBQ to finally make good BBQ. The most important thing to smoking ribs as well the fact that you will need a smoker or grill that you can smoke out of.
You can absolutely use a standard charcoal grill to smoke food in, and if you like to grill and smoke then take a look at pellet grills like Traeger or even a stone style grill, the Big Green Egg.
What Are the Best Ribs For Smoking
This question is a little bit controversial and will depend upon where you live in the US. If you live in St. Louis, Kansas City or Austin you will most likely believe that spare ribs are the best for smoking. However, if you live in Memphis then you are going to be all about baby back ribs.
In the end, choosing which ribs are best for smoking is going to be up to you.
St. Louis Style Vs Baby Back Ribs
The difference between spare ribs and baby back ribs is where the at the rib they are cut. St. Louis style spare ribs are cut at the bottom part of the rib cage closer to the belly, while baby back ribs are cut higher towards the back. Get it, baby BACK ribs?
Baby back ribs are also known as loin ribs, just in case you hear someone call it that.
St. Louis style ribs are longer and tend to be meatier and a bit fattier which in the end can mean more flavor, since fat does equal flavor. However, baby back ribs are shorter but are extremely tender.
If you know about cuts of meat, the thing about the most tender cut on an animal. If you guessed the tenderloin, then you would be right. The baby back ribs are cut back in that similar spot which doesn’t get moved around or worked out that often, which is why they’re so tender. Again, in the end, the choice is yours on what to choose.
As an FYI St. Louis style takes about 1 to 2 hours longer to cook because they are bigger. If you are stretched on time, then I would recommend smoking baby backs.
Best Wood For Smoking
When it comes to selecting wood for smoking ribs, you should oftentimes think of fruit. After all, pork and fruit go fantastic together so be sure to keep that in mind. In addition, the wood used for smoking will depend upon where in the US you live. For example, Texas is often known for pecan or oak while hickory is synonymous with Memphis BBQ.
- Alder Wood
- Cherry Wood
- Apple Wood
- Peach Wood
- Maple Wood
- Mesquite Wood
While these woods are great for smoking ribs, chicken, or pork shoulder, but don’t let this list limit you. If you are already love smoking with a wood that is not on this list than I implore you to use it when making this ribs recipe.
How Long Do St. Louis Style Ribs Take to Smoke
St. Louis style takes roughly 6 hours to smoke and about 30-45 minutes to rest, so all in all plan your day well because with prep time you’re looking at about a total of 8 hours. I know, that’s long but I promise it will be worth it.
Baby back ribs take about 4 hours of smoking time plus 30-45 minutes of rest time.
The 3-2-1 Method
The ever-popular 3-2-1 method of smoking ribs really works great and is pretty much full proof. You simply smoke for 3 hours, wrap in foil and smoke for 2 hours, then finally unwrap and smoke for 1 hour. It is really that simple and the smoking temperature throughout pretty much stays the same.
What Temperature Are They Done At
It’s incredibly hard to probe ribs because of the thin cut of meat and bones so close in between, however, they are done at 190° to 203°. With that being said it is better to test the doneness by eye and feel.
- If you pick up the ribs in the center do, they droop down into a U-shape and slightly start to split
- On the backside of the ribs is the meat pulling away from the bone.
- When gently moving the ribs, the top skin should slightly crack.
Learning these tricks come with time and reps for smoking ribs. The safest way is definitely by temperature.
Membrane On or Off
Believe it or not, this part doesn’t matter. I know that this is contrary to popular belief but the membrane isn’t thick enough to stop the rub, sauce or spritzer from getting through. I actually kind of like it on because it can help seal in juices and help keep the ribs shape intact.
Should Smoked Ribs Fall Off The Bone
I’ve been cooking for a long time and if there’s one thing I’ve learned, it’s that you like what you like. With that being said, properly smoked ribs should never fall off the bone. They should easily pull away from the bone when taking a bite. This procedure or texture in them can also be known as competition ribs.
If you pick up the meat and the bones fall out, you’ve cooked them way too long.
The Best Rib Rub
I definitely recommend using a dry rub when it comes to smoking ribs. Here is the rub that I used:
- sea salt
- black pepper
- garlic granules
- onion granules
Yes, this is an incredibly simple rub but to me is the perfect savory and zesty combination for them since I like sweeter BBQ sauces and a spritzer to help balance out the overall flavor.
You can absolutely use your favorite rub for this recipe, or you can even add additional ingredients such as sugar, brown sugar, cumin, chili powder, or anything else you love and want to put in it. Get creative!
Spritzing is simply spraying whatever it is you’re smoking every 30-45 minutes with some sort of liquid, usually vinegar, juice, beer or water, out of a spray bottle to help keep the ribs moist as well as flavor them. Remember things like vinegar, a.k.a. acid, help breakdown to tenderize and season food. Here’s what I used.
- 1/3 apple juice
- 1/3 apple cider vinegar
- 1/3 water
This can also be enhanced with other ingredients such as pineapple juice, wine, apple cider or even beer. Avoid using BBQ sauce because there is so much sugar in it that it can cause them to burn.
Do You Need to Wrap Ribs
Ribs definitely do not need to be wrapped when smoking, however, it is recommended. Wrapping them in either peach paper or aluminum foil helps to break down the fat and protein while tenderizing it because it is essentially steaming in the foil.
This process will help provide a ton of flavor, tenderness and definitely juiciness to your rib’s recipe. I am smoking for 3 hours unwrapped and then 3 hours wrapped for this spare ribs recipe.
What BBQ Sauce to Use
As I mentioned earlier, it’s not recommended to use BBQ sauce while smoking because it can burn. However, it is ok to use some of the sauce and then cut it with some sort of liquid. I’m not going to add any sauce until it is time to wrap the spare ribs. Here is what I do for the sauce.
- 1 cup Favorite BBQ Sauce
- 1 cup of the spritzer mixture
- 1 stick of melted unsalted butter
Once this is combined, use a bit of this mixture and rub it into the ribs on both sides and put a little bit on the foil before wrapping.
How To Smoke St. Louis Style Ribs
- 1. Preheat your smoker using your favorite flavored wood to 240° to 250°.
- 2. Remove any sinew, small chunks of fat, and the skirt on the backside of the spare ribs it hasn’t already been removed by the butcher. Set aside.
- 3. Make your dry rub and set aside.
- 4. Using a small amount of either yellow or Dijon mustard spread a thin layer of it on both sides of the ribs.
- 5.: Evenly sprinkle your rub all over the rubs ensuring to completely cover it. Season, do not cake the rub on it. It should not be a thickly coated rub.
- 6. Place them bone side down evenly onto the smoker. Sort of scrunch the ribs together once on the smoker to sort of compact them. This will help seal in juices similar to that of trussing.
- 7. Smoke for 1 hour and then spritz 8-10 sprays on the ribs. Repeat this process every 30 minutes for the next 90 minutes.
- 8. After a total of 3 hours of smoking, remove the ribs from the smoker. Pour about ½ cup of the mixed BBQ sauce all over the ribs and rub it in.
- 9. Add about ¼ cup of the mixed BBQ sauce onto the center of a large sheet of the heavy-duty foil where the ribs are going to go
- 10. add the ribs bone side up to the top of the sauce on the foil and wrap them extremely tight by folding over and covering up the ribs. Place the ribs back on the smoker bone side up and cook for 2 ½ to 3 hours or until done.
- 11. Remove the ribs from the smoker and let rest in the foil for 30 to 45 minutes before slicing and serving.
I like to serve the BBQ sauce on the side instead of saucing them myself before serving.
Thanks, everyone so much for tuning into this recipe, I know it’s a lot. Just remember that it takes a while to get good at smoking food so fail fast and have so much fun during the process. Don’t forget that making and eating bad BBQ beats a day in the office any day of the week!
Try serving up these up with my amazing Vinegar Coleslaw Recipe!
Storing and Freezing
Store them in a plastic container and keep in the refrigerator for up to 4 days. The ribs also freeze well in a plastic container and can be reheated at low temperatures in the oven with a small amount of liquid and covered in foil.
More Amazing BBQ Recipes
- Smoked Pork Shoulder
- Smoked Country Style Ribs with Mustard BBQ Sauce
- Kalbi Korean Short Ribs
- Smoked Chicken Recipe
- Fall Off the Bone Ribs
Smoked St. Louis Style Ribs Recipe
For the Rub:
- 2 tablespoons sea salt
- 2 tablespoons black pepper
- 1 tablespoon garlic granules
- 1 tablespoon onion granules
- 2 tablespoons paprika
For the Spritzer and Sauce:
- 1 cup apple juice
- 1 cup apple cider vinegar
- 1 cup water
- 1 cup your favorite BBQ sauce
- 1 stick melted unsalted butter
For the Ribs:
- 2 3 to 3 ½ pound spare ribs, trimmed
- 4 tablespoons of yellow or Dijon mustard
- Preheat the smoker to 240° to 250°.
- Rub: Combine all of the ingredients and set aside.
- Spritzer: Add the apple juice, cider, and water to a spray bottle and shake. Set aside.
- Sauce: In a small saucepot add in the BBQ sauce, butter and 1 cup of the spitzer mix. Keep warm.
- Rub the mustard all over both sides of the ribs creating a thin layer.
- Next, generously season the ribs on both sides with the rub. See Notes.
- Add the ribs to the smoker and cook for 1 hour. Spray the ribs with 8-10 sprays of the spritzer.
- Repeat this process for the next 90 minutes then cook for 30 more minutes.
- After 3 hours total of smoking time, remove the ribs.
- 1Pour about a ½ cup of the mixed sauce over the ribs and rub it in on all sides.
- 1Add about ¼ cup of the mixed BBQ sauce onto the center of a large sheet of the heavy-duty foil where the ribs are going to go and place ribs bone side up to the top of the sauce on the foil and wrap them extremely tight by folding over and covering up the ribs.
- 1Place the ribs back on the smoker bone side up and cook for 3 hours or until they are done. See Notes.
- 1Remove the ribs from the smoker and let rest in the foil for 30-45 minutes before slicing and serving.
- 1Serve ribs with BBQ sauce on the side.
• If you pick up the ribs in the center do, they droop down into a u shape and slightly start to split
• On the back side of the ribs is the meat pulling away from the bone.
• When gently moving the ribs, the top skin should slightly crack.