But, first a short bit about baby back ribs so you know what you’re dealing with. Also known simply as back ribs or loin ribs, baby back ribs are located on the top (the back) of the rib cage between the spine and the spare ribs. The have meat both between the bones and on top, are shorter, more curved, and often meatier than spare ribs.
Ready to do this thing? Let’s get to it. Here’s what you’ll need.
- One 2 lb rack of Baby Back Ribs (aka Back Ribs, aka Loin Ribs)
- Olive Oil, Hot Sauce, or Mustard
- Your Favorite Pork Dry Rub
- 1 cup of Apple Juice
- 1 Offset Smoker, Pellet Grill, Ceramic Grill, or Charcoal Grill
- Heavy Duty Aluminum Foil
Trim the Baby Back Ribs
Unlike other cuts of meat that require moderate-to-intense trimming and prep before they are seasoned and cooked, your baby back ribs will likely come from grocery or butcher shop already in pretty good condition. That being said, there is one detail you shouldn’t overlook before you cook – the membrane.
After removing your ribs from their packaging and giving them a quick rinse and pat dry, flip them over so you’re looking at the underside of the ribs. You’ll see a shiny, translucent-white layer of tissue that covers the majority of this side of the ribs. It’s important to remove this membrane if you can, as it won’t break down and become as tender as the rest of the meat during the cook. This could result in some less-than-ideal bites.
Using a sharp knife, start at one of the corners and begin to separate the membrane from the meat underneath it. Once you have a decent-sized flap pulled away, use a paper towel to grip the membrane (it’s pretty slick) and peel the entire layer back from the rack of ribs. Alternatively, a dully butter knife works well to get the membrane started without slicing through it. Generally, it’s not too difficult to get the whole membrane in one pull.
BBQ Prep Knives
Note: there have been times where for whatever reason, this membrane just won’t cooperate and I’m unable to remove it in one piece without hacking up my ribs. If that happens to you, don’t sweat it. I’ve cooked ribs with the membrane on that have turned out just fine. That said, I would highly suggest removing it if you can, as that definitely produces the best fall-off-the-bone results.
The only other thing to note is simply to remove any loose or dangling pieces of meat. These are likely to get burned or dried out during the cook.
Rub the Baby Back Ribs
Now that you’re looking at some clean, membrane-free ribs, it’s time to rub them down. Feel free to get creative with your rubs and spice blends, as well as what binder you use (binder: light coat of liquid or oil to help the dry seasoning adhere to the meat). For me lately, I’ve really been digging just a no-frills BBQ rub stuck to the ribs with yellow mustard. I’d suggest using a relatively fine-ground rub (vs. a more coarse rub). This ensures a more even distribution and a finished product with a smooth surface. Coat both the top and bottom sides of the ribs for maximum flavor.
Great Baby Back Rib Dry Rubs
The 3-2-1 Method for Baby Back Ribs
Pretty straightforward objective for this stage – we’re cooking at low temp for maximum smoke for 3 hours. This is our opportunity to infuse as much smoke flavor into the meat as possible. It’s also where we’ll be forming a beautiful smoke ring. Keep your smoker somewhere between 200 and 225 and keep the lid closed as much as possible (if you’re lookin’, you ain’t cookin’).
The ribs will start to look dry on top during this stage, and that’s ok. If you feel like they are looking too dry, spray them with a little apple juice to provide some moisture.
You should also start to see the meat pull away from the bones during the back half of the smoke stage.
Speaking of smoke, apple wood always tends to compliment pork nicely. Feel free to experiment (mesquite has been just fine for me).
Phase 2 is all about really cooking the ribs and breaking down connective tissue to achieve fall-off-the-bone status. After 3 hours of smoke, remove the ribs from your smoker and using a large piece of heavy-duty aluminum foil wrap them up in individual pouches. The easiest technique I’ve found is to lay the rack in the center of the strip of foil, long ways. Fold up each long edge to connect with each other over the top of the ribs, and then crimp them together to form a foil tube of sorts.
Next, fold up one end of the pouch but leave the other open. Pour about a third cup of apple juice into the open end, and then also fold it up to completely seal the pouch.
Note, that folks often take this opportunity to layer in additional flavor before the pouch is sealed up. Again, feel free to experiment here but I’ve been partial to crumbled brown sugar and a drizzle of honey.
Put the rib pouches back on your BBQ and keep the temperature about the same as the Smoke stage. They are going to hang out there for about 2 more hours, so sit back and crack a cold one.
After about 2 hours wrapped, remove the pouches from your BBQ and adjust the temp up to about 250. Carefully unwrap the ribs (there will be steam) and place them on a cutting board. Apply a coat of your favorite sauce and get the ribs back on the BBQ. This last phase is really to just let the sauce set and start to get a bit tacky. This can take anywhere from 30 minutes to an hour. Keep an eye on them, and when the sauce coat looks more solid and sticky, they’re done.
Awesome Baby Back Rib Sauces
Carefully slice the ribs (they might be falling apart) and enjoy!
For more information please see the list of Smoking baby back ribs on pellet grill