The BEST Smoked Ribs – Better Than 3-2-1

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Do you want to learn how to make perfect smoked ribs? You’ve come to the right place. Tender, juicy, fall-off-the-bone ribs are easy to achieve, even if you’re a beginner. This barbecue recipe is easy enough for a beginner but is packed with expert tips.

Don’t forget your favorite BBQ sides like baked beans, classic potato salad, and Hawaiian mac salad.

smoked ribs recipe served with homemade bbq sauce

Choosing Ribs

There are a few choices when smoking ribs. While all of them are delicious, here are a few things to consider when choosing what ribs you will buy.

  • Baby back ribs – baby back ribs are cut from the top (back) portion of the ribs. They are lean and meaty and always a crowd favorite.
  • Spare ribs – spare ribs are cut from the bottom portion of the ribs (closer to the belly). They typically have longer bones and less meat but are loved for their rich meaty flavor.
  • St. Louis style ribs – St. Louis style ribs are a spare rib cut with the rib tips removed.
  • Country-style ribs – country style ribs are cut from the shoulder portion located in front of the baby back ribs. This cut is the meatiest cut of ribs but is technically not a rib cut.
baby back ribs on a cutting board

Smoked Ribs Recipe – Let’s get started!!

Making perfect smoked ribs starts with prepping them. So let’s get started. You’ll want to start prepping ribs the night before you plan on smoking them.

Remove the membrane

Let’s talk about the membrane. On the back side of the rack of ribs is a membrane. You might also hear this referred to as the silver skin. You want to remove this membrane before cooking.

Removing the membrane is easy. Simply find a corner and start to peel it back. It can be a little slippery to grab with bare fingers, but you can easily get a grip on it with a piece of paper towel or a lint-free kitchen towel.

Pull the membrane off the back of the ribs and discard it.

Dry Rub

A dry rub is the best way to add flavor to your ribs. Generously rub the ribs with your favorite rub, set them on a baking sheet, and let them sit in the fridge overnight.

You can use a store-bought or homemade barbecue rub. I use my recipe. I find that some storebought rubs can be way too salty for my taste.

homemade bbq rub in a gneiss spice jar

Refrigerate Overnight

A dry brining method (with a rub) works by utilizing osmosis. The salt and sugar in the dry rub are dissolved during the dry brine as water is pulled out of the meat.

Once the water comes to the surface, it dissolves the sugar and salt, and then to equalize the water, the moisture moves back into the meat and pulls all the flavor in the rub with it.

Check out the science of brineing in my article on how to brine.

Setting Up The Smoker

I typically smoke ribs on my Kamado Joe smoker. You can also use a pellet grill, like the Traeger, if you have one. Or, of course, a regular old barrel smoker.

  • Set up the Kamado for indirect cooking by installing the charcoal divider and filling one side with lump charcoal. Never use charcoal briquets in a ceramic smoker.
  • I also use the slow roll insert to slow the smoke during the cook further.
  • Pick a hardwood to add flavor to your smoke. I usually use pecan or apple wood when smoking baby back ribs.
  • Vent settings – the bottom vent will be open about 1 finger width. The top vent will sit just slightly past the first line. Remember that airflow is how you will control the temperature. Less air = less heat. More air = more heat.
kamado joe ceramic oven set up for indirect cooking

Temp To Smoke Ribs

The ideal temperature for smoking ribs is in the range of 225-275℉ (107 – 135℃).

Many people die-hard swear by a 225℉ degree cooking temperature. However, I feel like a little higher temperature is also fine. I’ve smoked many ribs and found that the key is to cook them low and slow, but if you end up having a slightly higher temperature on your cook, don’t panic, it will still be fine.

I sometimes raise the temperature during the last 30 to 45 minutes to help get the ribs past the stall, which could hold for hours. To raise the temperature open up the bottom vent about 1 centimeter.

Wrapping The Ribs

Why wrap the ribs? When smoking meat, you start by allowing the smoke to penetrate the meat while it is fully exposed.

Wrapping the meat serves a few purposes.

  1. Wrapping shields the meat from more smoking so that it doesn’t get too dark.
  2. Wrapping the meat also keeps the surface moist so the bark doesn’t become too tough on the outside.

Deciding when to wrap the ribs is determined by the color and texture of the ribs. When the ribs reach about 160-170℉, they have absorbed all the smoke that they can.

If the ribs are a nice rich color and have a good bark, you can wrap the ribs to keep the bark from getting too tough and too dark.

ribs on the smoker fitted with a foil boat to protect the bottom from overcooking

Foil or paper?

There are several different methods of wrapping during smoking. No method is wrong. Most pitmasters have their favorite method. After you start experimenting with your smoker, you will also find your favorite method.

  • Foil – You can wrap the ribs in foil for the last part of the cooking process. The foil allows the ribs to steam during the last part of the cooking, keeping them tender. Keep in mind that the steam will soften the bark. Remove the foil about 30 minutes before the ribs are completely done so that you can mop the ribs several times during the last part of cooking.
  • Foil Boat – A foil boat covers the bottom of the ribs while exposing the top. This method keeps the bottom of the ribs from overcooking or developing too much bark while allowing the top to continue to take on more flavor and color.
  • Butcher Paper – Pink paper is commonly used to wrap the meat. Butcher’s paper allows the meat to breathe more than the foil wrapping. Butcher’s paper protects the ribs from getting too dark and keeps the bark from steaming and getting soft.

How To Tell When Ribs Are Done

Undoubtedly you’ve heard of the 3-2-1 method of smoking ribs. This method works fine and is good for beginners. However, this method can sometimes leave you with overcooked or over-steamed ribs, which means rib meat that is too mushy.

How long should ribs be smoked?

The real answer is…it depends. It could be anywhere from 4 to 7 hours, depending on the thickness of the ribs, the temperature of your smoke, and outside conditions.

There are a lot of opinions about making the best ribs and how to tell when they are done. Ribs are done when the temperature is high enough to break the collagen bonds and allow the ribs to fall easily away from the bone. (203℉)

Cook them too long, and your ribs will be mushy, not long enough, and they’ll be tough.

Here are a few things to check for.

Smoked Ribs Temperature

Checking smoked ribs’ internal temp is the most accurate way to tell if ribs are done. The ideal internal temperature for ribs is between 190-203℉ (88-95℃). At this temperature, the connective tissues are broken down, which gives the ribs that fall off the bone tenderness.

checking the temperature of smoked ribs with a probe thermometer

The Bend Test

Using barbecue tongs, grab the ribs in the center and lift them. If the ribs are done, they will be flexible enough to bend, and you will see cracks at the surface.

Pull Back & The Twist Test

When the ribs are done, they pull back from the edges near the bone. Carefully grasp one of the bones, being careful not to burn yourself. If you can feel the bone pull loose from the meat, then the ribs are done.

Be gentle when you’re doing this; you don’t want to force the bone loose. You want the meat to be tender enough for the bone to come loose with gentle tension.

ribs with homemade bbq sauce

Mopping The Ribs

Mopping the ribs in the last 45 minutes to an hour of cooking helps to keep them moist and adds a little caramelization to the outside of your ribs.

A 50/50 mix of barbecue sauce + apple cider vinegar is perfect for mopping ribs. You can also use apple juice for a sweeter mop sauce.

Try essential BBQ recipes like BBQ Rub, Peach Bourbon BBQ Sauce, or mix it with Hawaiian Huli Huli Sauce.

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smoked ribs recipe sliced and served with homemade barbecue sauce

Smoked Ribs

by: Laura Reigel
Do you want to learn how to make perfect smoked ribs? You've come to the right place. Tender, juicy, fall-off-the-bone ribs are easy to achieve even if you're a beginner.
Prep Time 1 day
Cook Time 5 hours
Course Main
Cuisine American
Servings 4
Calories 318 kcal


  • smoker
  • lump charcoal
  • hardwood chunks Pecan or Apple
  • probe thermometer


  • 1 rack Baby Back Ribs
  • 2 – 3 BBQ Rub
  • BBQ Sauce
  • Apple Cider Vinegar


Rib Prep (1 day before smoking)

  • Prep the ribs by removing the membrane from the bone side of the ribs.
    1 rack Baby Back Ribs
  • Rinse the ribs in cool water and pat dry.
  • Rub with a dry rub and let the ribs sit in the fridge overnight. I leave them uncovered.
    2 – 3 BBQ Rub

Cook Day

  • Set up the smoker for indirect cooking. Set up a drip pan under the grates.
  • Light the charcoal allowing the fire to get started for about 5 minutes. Close the dome and bring the grill temp up to 225°F. Make sure the dome feels warm to the touch.
  • Add the wood to the preheated charcoal. As the wood catches fire and starts to burn you will get a cloud of smoke, and then the smoke will start to burn clean.
    Once the smoke is burning clean and steady the fire is ready to add the meat.
  • Add the ribs to the grill.
  • Smoke the ribs for 2 hours. (175℉ or 79℃)
  • Check the ribs. If the ribs have good color and a good bark, add a foil boat or wrap the ribs in pink butcher paper and continue to smoke the ribs for another hour.
  • You can start mopping the ribs for the last 30 – to 45 minutes every 15 minutes. Use a 1:1 mixture of bbq sauce and apple cider vinegar)
    BBQ Sauce, Apple Cider Vinegar
  • Continue to smoke the ribs until they reach 190°F – 203°F.
Keyword barbecue, bbq, grilling, smoked ribs

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    1. These are more like tender enough to bite easily off the bone. Fall off the bone might have been a strong descriptor. I think you’ll find that this method doesn’t leave you with over-steamed mushy ribs like the 321 method can.

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