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.
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:
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.
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.
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.
I can hear you now: "BUT DYLAN - the ribs aren't over the char-basket!"
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.
If you've never prepared ribs before, doing so is fairly straightforward.
You will need:
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.
In my opinion, the membrane or silver skin should be removed from the backs of the ribs because it improves the eating experience.
Removing the membrane is fairly straightforward.
You will need:
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.
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.
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.
For this recipe I used*:
*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.
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.
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.
There is only one intake vent to adjust on the PBC and it's opened based on your elevation.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
If the ribs are a nice mahogany color, I'll typically wrap. Usually after 2 hours, ribs have taken on more than enough smoke.
The goals of wrapping are to do a few things:
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.
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:
Once wrapped, place back on the PBC, meat side down.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.