How Long to Smoke Ribs in a Charcoal Smoker

How Long to Smoke Ribs in a Charcoal Smoker
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The most critical question in our world is to know how long to smoke ribs in a charcoal smoker? To achieve a tasty rack of ribs, you should plan on smoking them for four hours.

Having a solid knowledge of the foundation of barbeque will help to understand why four hours is the appropriate amount of time. But beyond that, if you want to impress someone and make the best ribs ever, there is going to be a few tips and pointers to help you along the way.

So many factors come into play when smoking anything, especially when it comes to smoking meats with bones in them. Depending on the weight, size, type of meat, quality of meat, type of wood, heat temperature, and humidity levels will be able to tell you how long to smoke ribs in a charcoal smoker.

In this article, we will cover all of that and a few extra tips that some people may consider cheating. But all is fair in love, war, and barbeque!

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Regional Style

Everyone around the world barbeques and they all have their way of doing things, which is fine. There is no wrong or right way to smoke anything because there are so many different routes to take.

However, as far as America’s barbeque, there are only a handful of select regions that have been recognized by just about every organization in the barbeque world, and people like to stick to those rules.

This doesn’t always mean that the smoking process or meat is still different. What could set one region apart from another could be the type of sauce used or how that region prepares a side dish like vinegar or mayonnaise in a coleslaw.

Texas- Texas is known for doing beef brisket and beef ribs well. They use a tomato-based sauce and a rich and dense wood for smoking.

Kansas City- they do everything but are more known for the burnt end, which is a 1-inch cube of the fatty end of brisket that is smoked twice. They also have a tomato-based sauce with hickory wood for smoking.

Memphis- Memphis like to smoke pork products exclusively and they are good at it. Usually with dry rubs or sticky sauces.

The Carolinas- They are all over the place honestly, and each region has its way of doing things. But for the most part, they are big on smoking whole hogs and using a vinegar-based sauce known as mop or dip that is used to baste the pig while it is smoking in the smoker. The barbeque sauce is also very similar to the mop sauce.

Smoked Barbecue Pork Ribs with Sauce
Smoked Barbecue Pork Ribs with Sauce

Meat Selection

The type of meat you use will also determine how long to smoke ribs in a charcoal smoker. You can smoke anything, but when it comes to ribs, its pork or beef. There are a few types of ribs for each, but mainly two types for each are used.

Beef- Beef ribs and beef short ribs are the most common. However, beef ribs do not have a lot of meat on them when compared to any other rib, so generally speaking, they should take less time when compared to pork ribs.

Short ribs have a lot more meat and fat content and will take much longer in the smoker. Some people like to pressure cook them or broil them first then put them in the smoker. That usually speeds up the process.

Pork- Pork spare ribs and baby back ribs, or sometimes called St. Louis style ribs are the main two types used. Spare ribs are going to be much larger, meatier, and fattier. They will need the longest amount of time to cook.

Baby back ribs are much smaller and usually cost about twice the amount. Either way, pork will take longer and eventually be juicier because of the high-fat content.

Preparation

There are hundreds of ways to prepare the ribs so that we will go over the basics. Once you have the ribs at home, nine times out of ten, they are usually trimmed and ready to go on the smoker. For pork, make sure the silver skin that is all along the underside of the ribs has been removed.

Before placing the ribs in the smoker, you need to flavor them with something. There are a few ways to get more flavor, whether it is during the smoking process or in the fridge the night before.

Marinating- marinating will be able to penetrate the meat with intense flavors. The process usually involves soaking your ribs overnight in a spicy, sweet, or salty liquid mixture. Before smoking, the rub is either pat dry or wet when going in.

Dry rub- is a mixture of spices and seasonings that covers the slabs of ribs. When the ribs are smoked a dark flavorful bark forms on the outside of the ribs. Sometimes people will lather the ribs up with mustard or honey first before placing the rub on the ribs, to give more depth of flavor and help the mixture adhere to the meat.

Mop Sauce or Basting- this action is done just like you would when baking a turkey and basting it in its juices. A mixture of vinegar-based sauces is mopped or brushed on the meat as it smokes every 20 to 30 minutes. However, this is our least favorite method as it releases smoke and heat when you open the smoker.

Sauce Caramelizing- once the ribs have finished smoking, some like to cover the ribs in tomato-based barbeque sauce and crank up the heat on the grill or smoker. This creates a sticky and charred exterior to the ribs. We recommend this step no matter how you start your ribs.

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The Smoking Process

As far as the smoking process goes, it’s all the same. Most like to use rich, heavy smoke for smoking ribs like oak, hickory, or mesquite. Sometimes with pork, it’s nice to mix a combo of fruitwoods in too like apple or cherry.

Click here to read our article How to Match Your Smoking Wood to Your Meat?

When it comes to the type of wood when using a charcoal smoker, it’s better to use chunks over chips. Chips will dissipate and burn up very fast, leaving an ashy and burnt taste to the meat. Chunks will smolder slow and low as long as you maintain a stable temperature of 225 degrees.

The best way to tell when ribs will be done in the smoker is to try and pull a bone from the rack. If the bone slides right on out clean, then the ribs are done. A good rule of thumb is about 30 minutes at 225 degrees for every pound, give or take. So, measure roundabouts that much.

Keep your smoke levels dense and thick and maintain the stable 225 temperature, and everything should be fine. If you wanted to speed up the process, then you could always cook the ribs another way first.

Alternate methods

  1. One of the best ways is to boil them in water (or beer) for an hour. Then rubs or mop them while they smoke. The advantage is they will take only a couple hours to be done from start to finish, but the downside is that the smoky flavor will not be as present if you just smoked them.
  2. Cut your rack into three sections. Apply your dry rub to each section. Wrap each section tightly in restaurant-grade plastic wrap and place it on a sheet pan. Bake your ribs for 4 hours at 225 degrees, then sauce and grill on high for 2 minutes on each side.

Conclusion

Either way, you decide to go with, it’s going to be awesome as long as you follow the rules. Knowing how long to smoke ribs in a charcoal smoker will come to you over time by practicing and maintaining temperatures allow and low.

Remember, when in doubt, pull a bone out! If it comes clean out, the ribs are done!

Click here for our article on the best charcoal grill/smoker