Pit Barrel Cooker Ribs: Recipe and How-to Guide

By Dylan Clay
Last Updated 
June 8, 2022

Whenever it's time to smoke ribs at my house, I will almost always default to my Pit Barrel Cooker (PBC).

If you're new to the PBC world, a lot of people call the PBC a Rib Machine; Simply because it puts out wonderful ribs in less time than other types of smokers with basically no difference in quality.

While the PBC is fairly straight-forward to use, after smoking hundreds of racks of ribs on it at this point, it does have some nuances to be aware of.

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The Type of Rib You Use Matters

When most folks hear "ribs" are on the menu, they likely think you're referring to Pork ribs. The two main types of pork ribs that you'll smoke on the PBC are baby backs or spares.

pork ribs location

The reason the type of rib you use matters is because they'll finish at different speeds - especially with the Pit Barrel Cooker.

For example, in the PBC:

  • Baby back ribs will finish in about 2-3 hours.
  • Spare ribs will finish in about 3-4 hours.

This is another reason I hate the 3-2-1 method. If you were to 321 ribs or even 221 ribs on the PBC, the bark on your ribs would be charred and the meat would be overcooked. Smoking meat according to time rarely, if ever, makes sense.

Truly, you're better off just buying a pork butt or picnic to pull with because that's how your meat is going to be.

Personally, I like Baby backs more than I like spare ribs but my father likes spares more than back ribs; I was cooking for him so I made spare ribs for this recipe.

If you're interested in smoking baby back ribs on the PBC - here's my guide.

How the PBC Cooks or Smokes Food

The folks that make the Pit Barrel Cooker refer to the way the PBC cooks as "beyond convection." The meat is hung and is in the center of the convection which allows all parts of the meat to be cooked at the same time.

When the meat is hung, the meat's rendered fat, water, and spices will drip onto the coals which cools the meat and prevents it from entirely burning.

However, as someone who has used this cooker on hundreds of racks of ribs, I can tell you that if you're only smoking one rack, the ribs can and will burn on the edges.

I've heard some folks in videos, on forums, and in articles sort of brush it off and act like they like it - personally, I hate it.

If I'm smoking one or two racks of ribs (which is likely your case too) there are ways to combat this problem.

How to Combat the Charred Edges

In order to combat this problem I take the charcoal basket and push it to the back of the PBC - on the opposite side of the intake damper.

This leaves about a 6-8 inch gap between the sides of the barrel and the char-basket. When it comes time to hang the meat - I put the meat over this gap.

pit barrel cooker gap

I can hear you now: "BUT DYLAN - the ribs aren't over the char-basket!"

I know.

If you're smoking ONE or TWO full racks of ribs and you hang the meat over the fire, the edge closest to the fire is apt to burn, every. single. time.

This is likely because there is a lack of meat volume and subsequently less rendered fat/water/spices dripping on the coals, which would cool the fire. As you add more racks of ribs, there is obviously more juices dripping onto the coals, which cools the fire even more.

All I know is that if I'm smoking one or two racks of ribs, and I do the above, it fixes the problem and makes perfect ribs.

Prepping the Ribs

If you've never prepared ribs before, doing so is fairly straightforward.

You will need:

  • Pork ribs
  • Paper towels
  • Sharp knife
  • Cutting board

Start by using your knife to open the ribs from the cryovac/vacuum packaging. Pull the ribs out and place on a cutting board

Do not dump the purge (the mixture of myoglobin and water inside the vacuum packaging) in the sink and simply discard it in the trash. Dumping it in the sink can contaminate your sink, work surfaces, clothing, etc.

The same could be said for the ribs themselves; Do not rinse them off in the sink.

Use your paper towels to pat dry the meat side and bone side of the ribs.

I personally don't believe in using a binder for pork ribs. However, if you do, popular options include mustard, olive oil, hot sauce, etc.

Removing the Rib Membrane

In my opinion, the membrane or silver skin should be removed from the backs of the ribs because it improves the eating experience.

pork rib membrane

Removing the membrane is fairly straightforward.

You will need:

  • Paper towels
  • Butter knife
  • Spoon or tablespoon/teaspoon

Below is a video that shows this exact process with beef back ribs. However, the process is the exact same for pork ribs.

1. Start by lifting the silverskin with your butter knife. The goal is lift enough to get your spoon or tablespoon/teaspoon under the membrane.

2. Once lifted, use the underside of the spoon to further lift the membrane.

3. Once you've reached the other side, you can take your paper towel and rip the membrane off.

4. Discard the membrane in the trash.

If the membrane tears, use your paper towel to grip and rip the rest of the membrane off.

pork ribs membrane removed
Membrane removed from pork ribs

If there are small bits of membrane still on, you can use your knife to score the membrane so that it shrinks when smoked; This makes it very easy to remove after smoking.

Dry Rub for Pork Ribs

Personally, I'm a big fan of actually tasting my meat. A lot of other recipes online will treat you like a barbecue competitor and have you use different types of paprika, sugars, spices, etc.

Unlike a barbecue competition, you're actually going to eat all of the ribs.

For Backyard Barbecue, I just like salt, pepper, and sometimes granulated garlic.

dry rub ribs

For this recipe I used*:

  • 1 Tablespoon of ground black pepper
  • 1/2 Tablespoon of kosher salt
  • 1 Tablespoon of granulated garlic

*The above are rough estimates as I typically just shake from the bottle.

I then applied the rub to the front and back of the ribs. The above is more than enough for both sides.

dry rubbed pork ribs

I will say, there is nothing wrong with using a commercial barbecue rub. One of my personal favorites of the ones I've tested is Jay Durbin's Mojo BBQ rub. However, use whatever you like with your ribs.

After applying the rub I simply put them in my fridge to sweat until the PBC is ready.

Setting Up the PBC

The Pit Barrel Cooker works based on the minion method. The basis of the minion method is using a small amount of lit charcoal to passively ignite unlit charcoal.

I simply dumped my Jealous Devil Lump charcoal into the char-basket until it was essentially half-way full. Since ribs are a short cook, you don't need to entirely fill the char-basket.

I then used my charcoal chimney to light a small amount of lump charcoal.

Once lit, add a few hot coals to the center and place the char-basket in the Pit Barrel Cooker.

Intake Damper Adjustment

There is only one intake vent to adjust on the PBC and it's opened based on your elevation.

pbc damper

A number of websites exist to check your elevation but Whatismyelevation.com is super straight forward; I'm from New Hampshire and my elevation is 620 ft.

Meaning, my intake damper is 1/4 open.

Hanging the Ribs in the PBC and Adding Wood

Before you hang your ribs, you need to put the meat hooks into the ribs.

Whenever I hang the meat, I want the thickest end closest to the fire; This also further prevents the thin side from burning.

From the thinner end, I count two ribs and then put the meat hook in between the 2nd and 3rd rib. This way the meat is even higher above the fire.

pork ribs meat hook

Once the meat hook is in the ribs, you can hang it from the rebar.

Even if you're only hanging one rack of ribs, you should still setup both sets of rebar. The reason being, these holes act as your exhaust damper.

If you only had one set of rebar setup, you would create more of a draft which would cause the temperature to spike.

Adding Wood

During this time is when I add my wood chunks. I typically add 1 large chunk of hardwood at the start and again after the first hour. In my opinion, cherry wood works best for pork ribs. However, any fruit wood does well - peach is my other go-to if I'm out of cherry.

If you don't have any fruitwoods, post oak also works quite well.

Spraying with Water After an Hour

After an hour on the smoker, I'll take the ribs out of the smoker and start to see how they're coming along.

If you opted to keep it simple and use my rub, it has likely set.

I then opt to spray with water. The reason for doing this is to prevent the bark from drying out and to encourage more smoke particles to stick to the meat. The wetter the surface of the meat, the more smoke will adhere to it.

spritzing pork ribs

You can opt to spray with whatever you like. Apple juice or a 50/50 mixture of apple cider vinegar and water are also popular.

In my opinion, water works just fine.

Before putting back on the PBC, place another chunk of hardwood on the fire.

Checking for Color After Two Hours

Since I'm smoking spare ribs, I know the typical finish time on the PBC is around 3-4 hours. Keep in mind though, this is a rough estimate. You should never cook according to time.

After hour two, all I'm looking at is color.

two hour rib color check

If the ribs are a nice mahogany color, I'll typically wrap. Usually after 2 hours, ribs have taken on more than enough smoke.

Wrapping Ribs

The goals of wrapping are to do a few things:

  • You effectively prevent the infiltration of smoke particles and also protect the meat from burning.
  • You're preserving color while also increasing moisture in order to speed cook time.

I've tested wrapping in aluminum foil - which is also called Texas Crutching - I've wrapped in butcher paper, and I've also opted to not wrap my ribs.

After testing all of these, my preference for ribs is butcher paper for pork ribs.

wrapped pork ribs

You essentially get the best of both worlds - you speed the cook time by trapping moisture, albeit, way less than aluminum foil. However, less moisture means you also preserve the bark - but to much less of an extent than no-wrapping would yield.

Wrapping ribs is fairly straightforward:

  • Lay out two sheets of butcher paper, overlapping in the middle by 4-6 inches.
  • Spray the surface with water
  • Lay the ribs meat side down on the paper.
  • Start wrapping the meat like you would a Christmas present - keep the seams tight.

Once wrapped, place back on the PBC, meat side down.

Checking for Tenderness

After 3 hours, you can start checking for tenderness.

There are a number of tests that you can use to determine when ribs are done, however, my personal preference are the bend and tear tests.

These can be hard to explain as they're more so visual queues but if you can tear near the edge of a rib bone and the meat will cleanly pull away from the bone, the ribs are nearing doneness.

spare rib tear test
Spare ribs nearly done

Another great test is the bend test. If the ribs can bend and start to tear near the center of the bones, they're likely done.

Once I've done that test, I'll use my meat thermometer to probe between the bones. If it slides through like hot butter, they're likely done.

If you're someone who likes to use temperature, ribs typically finish somewhere between 195 - 205F.

Saucing the Ribs

When the ribs are at tenderness, you can technically dig in and eat. Personally, I quite like to sauce my ribs with barbecue sauce - usually combined with a vinegar sauce.

For this recipe, I opted to use my favorite barbecue sauce, Sticky Fingers, Carolina Sweet. It tastes great (sweet with a slight heat) and is usually the cheapest sauce on the shelf.

I like to use a basting brush to paint on the rub.

A lot of people like to return the ribs to the smoker at this point in order to glaze the ribs. I'm not a big fan of doing so and don't really find it necessary.

Slicing the Ribs and Serving

Once sauced, you can slice between the bones and serve them to friends and family. This rack of ribs was rather small but spare ribs typically offer 3-4 servings per person (3 to 4 ribs).

When doing these recipes, I almost always forget to take a picture of the final product. Even in this case I had already eaten half the rack and managed to remember taking a picture of the bite I just took.

rib bite

Perfect tenderness for me.

The meat pulls cleanly off the bone when you bite it but doesn't fall off the bone when holding the rib.

pit barrel cooker ribs

Pit Barrel Cooker Ribs Recipe

Print Pin Rate
Course: Main Course
Cuisine: American
Keyword: pit barrel cooker ribs
Cook Time: 3 hours
Resting Time: 10 minutes
Total Time: 3 hours 10 minutes


  • Pit Barrel Cooker
  • Lump charcoal I used Jealous Devil lump charcoal
  • Charcoal chimney starter and firelighter
  • Butter knife, spoon and/or tablespoon/teaspoon
  • Sharp knife
  • Basting brush
  • Butcher paper
  • Cherry wood chunks


  • 1 rack Spare ribs

Dry Rub

  • 1/2 Tbsp Kosher salt
  • 1 Tbsp Granulated Garlic
  • 1 Tbsp Ground Black Pepper


  • 1/3 Cup Sticky Fingers Carolina Sweet Barbecue Sauce


  • Remove the spare ribs from the vacuum packaging and discard it in the trash.
    1 rack Spare ribs
  • Don't rinse the meat in the sink. Pat dry with paper towels.
  • Remove the membrane using a butter knife to lift and a spoon to further lift the membrane until you reach the other side. Then use your paper towel to grip and rip the membrane away from the bones.
  • Apply dry rub ingredients to both the meat side and the bone side of the spare ribs.
    1/2 Tbsp Kosher salt, 1 Tbsp Ground Black Pepper, 1 Tbsp Granulated Garlic
  • If smoking the same day, allow the ribs to sweat in the refrigerator until the smoker is ready. If smoking the next day, place in a container to dry brine overnight.

Getting the Pit Barrel Cooker Setup

  • Put some charcoal in the char basket. Ribs are a rather short cook and you only need roughly a half basket of unlit charcoal. With your charcoal chimney, light a small amount of the lump charcoal. Once lit, place a few lit coals in the center of the basket.
  • In order to prevent the charred edges (outlined above), push the char basket to the back of the away to create a 6-8 inch gap between the char basket and the intake damper.
  • Add your hardwood to the fire. I prefer cherry wood with pork ribs.
  • With the ribs, identify which side is thinnest and count 2 ribs towards the center. With your meat hook, put it between the 2nd and 3rd rib bone.
  • Bring the ribs outside and hang from the rebar. Again, ensure that the ribs hang over the gap you created between the intake damper and the charcoal basket.
  • After one hour of smoking, spritz the surface of the ribs with water. Put back on the smoker. At this point, every 30 minutes you should be spritzing with water until you reach a desired color. This process took me another hour.
  • At this point you can wrap the ribs. I prefer to use butcher paper in order to preserve the bark as much as possible. Lay out two sheets of butcher paper and overlap them in the center. Spritz the paper with water and put the ribs meat-side down on the paper. Put grill grates on the PBC. Put the ribs back on the smoker meat side down (facing the fire).
  • After 30 minutes start to check doneness. I usually use the twist/tear method with a center bone to see if the meat is pulling away from the bone.
    After another hour of smoking, the ribs were done.
  • Bring inside to rest for 10 minutes.

Saucing the Ribs

  • With your basting brush, sauce the ribs. You can be as liberal as you want with the sauce.
    1/3 Cup Sticky Fingers Carolina Sweet Barbecue Sauce
Dylan Clay
I've grilled and smoked meat for roughly half my life. While i'm not a professional Pitmaster, I've worked with nearly every cut of meat. Not everyone has a hands on guide to teach them BBQ. It's my hope that Barbecue FAQ can be that helping hand.

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