When to Put Barbecue Sauce on Ribs?

By Dylan Clay
Last Updated 
September 15, 2022

When smoking ribs, some folks might be lead to believe that the barbecue sauce is applied at the start of the smoking process; However, the opposite is true.

Barbecue sauce is best applied at the end of the cook when the ribs have reached tenderness.

With that said, there are a few nuances that are important to bring up.

For instance:

  • Are you liquid wrapping? Some folks like to wrap with barbecue sauce.
  • How do you prefer your sauce? Some folks like the sauce wet where-as others like it tacky or glazed.

When to Put Barbecue Sauce on Ribs

While I've smoked thousands of racks of ribs over the years - something that rarely changes is when I choose to put barbecue sauce on my ribs.

Every time I smoke ribs the barbecue sauce is applied after the ribs have reached tenderness - meaning when they're done.

when to put barbecue sauce on ribs

In order to build bark on your ribs, you use dry rub/spices and smoke from hardwood. Applying sauce to the ribs at the start of the smoking process may impede smoke penetration and also have a detrimental effect on the bark.

Why I Don't Use BBQ Sauce in My Wrap

Personally, I don't add barbecue sauce to my wrap. I also don't really follow suit with what a lot of people do in Videos, Forums, Articles, etc.

With that said, I have done it before, I just don't find it super necessary - especially since you can just sauce after you wrap.

Note: All I add to my tinfoil wrap is a quick mist of water to help increase thermal conductivity so that I can speed cook time.

In most cases, the People telling you to liquid wrap with aluminum foil are Barbecue competitors.

These folks use things like:

  • Barbecue sauce
  • Butter or margarine
  • White or dark brown sugar
  • Agave nectar
  • Syrups
  • Apple juice or apple cider vinegar
  • The dry rub they use for their ribs
  • etc.

While I don't think there is anything wrong with competition ribs, there is a huge difference between backyard barbecue and competition.

In a competition, these people are doing everything they can to pack a singular bite with massive amounts of flavor.

To me, it's almost to the point where you can barely taste pork. Their goal is to hit as many taste buds as possible to create a symphony in your mouth.

As someone who has smoked competition style ribs - you also can't eat many of them as you borderline need to take a nap after. To me, Backyard barbecue ribs are about creating flavor that makes you want to eat more.

This is done via the rub, the smoke, and the sauce.

sauce on ribs

In your rub you might use something as simple as kosher salt, pepper, garlic powder, etc. for savory components as well as using some form of sugar to caramelize the surface of the ribs.

You're introducing smoke flavor via hardwood and then a barbecue sauce which contains elements like tang from vinegar, heat from chili, sweet from molasses, etc.

All of these flavors enhance the pork without completely overwhelming your palate to the point where you don't taste pork.

Wet Ribs vs Glazed Ribs

There are two main ideas when it comes to saucing ribs:

  • Wet
  • Tacky

Wet style ribs are super simple. You simply apply barbecue sauce after the ribs have finished smoking. I typically sauce my ribs while they're resting for 10-15 minutes. The surface of the ribs is best described as "wet" with barbecue sauce.

Here's a picture of "wet ribs":

wet ribs

A tacky rib has the sauce so that it's glazed onto the surface of the rib; The surface is best described as "tacky."

While I prefer wet ribs, getting your sauce tacky is fairly simple:

Once your ribs have reached tenderness, take the ribs off the smoker.

If you're using a thinner barbecue sauce you can use a basting brush to paint the surface of the ribs.

However, if your sauce is thicker or "paste-like" you can combine in a bowl:

  • 1 cup of your barbecue sauce
  • 1/4 cup of either distilled vinegar or apple cider vinegar.

The reason for doing this is because you don't want random globules on the surface of the rib. Most store bought barbecue sauces are vinegar-based and the vinegar helps to thin the sauce out.

Once you've painted the surface of the ribs with your sauce, return to your smoker for 15 minutes; The sauce should now be "tacky" on ribs.

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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