How to Smoke Ribs in a Pellet Smoker

how to smoke ribs in a pellet smoker
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When it comes to smoked meats, ribs usually reign supreme. Aside from your regular barbeque joints, you can find barbeque pork or beef ribs on many other restaurants menu’s that don’t serve other types of smoked meats. There are so many different ways to smoke ribs, but smoking ribs in a pellet smoker is one of the easiest ways to get taste results.

Anyone who is anyone will tell you that their way is better than anyone else’s. While some of that may be true, there is no wrong way to smoke your ribs. But if you want to get an excellent end product, then there are a few select methods and steps to follow.

The following is a detailed guide to show you how to prepare, treat, and smoke ribs effectively every time in your pellet smoker.

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Beef ribs vs. pork ribs

There are plenty of different types of rib selections out there, but when it comes to good ole American barbeque, pork and beef ribs are the main choices.

There is a huge difference between the two in many different aspects. For instance, Pork ribs come in two different forms: spare ribs and baby back ribs or St. Louis style ribs for another name. The spare ribs are going to be much larger than the baby back ribs and may need a little more attention during the smoking process. Beef ribs also have two different types: short ribs and beef back ribs. Short ribs are generally not smoked, but that doesn’t mean you can’t smoke them. Beef back ribs are going to be the popular choice.

Pork ribs are also going to have a higher fat content than beef ribs which gives them a much more flavorful profile over the beef ribs, but that also doesn’t mean they will be better. The pork products are also going to be cheaper than beef products.

But really what it comes down to is a choice a preference. Many will say that pork ribs are the best because of their price point, fat content, and size, while southerners will start a fight over beef ribs being the king in the barbeque family.

There is no right answer to which is better. The smoking process will generally be the same, but the preparation process will differ from person to person.

Barbecue St. Louis Style Pork Ribs with Sauce

Getting Started

Supplies you will need

You are going to want to make sure you have everything you need before you start smoking your ribs. The last thing you want is to run out of something or not have it during the cooking process.

Ribs- Choose between beef ribs and pork ribs. If you are having trouble deciding, then go with pork spare ribs. They are going to be the cheapest cut when compared to others. They will also be the easiest to cook due to their high-fat content. 

Pellet Smoker- make sure you have a smoker that you are comfortable using to start. You will be able to smoke ribs in any smoker as long as you are applying indirect heat.

Fuel Source- make sure you have plenty of fuel before starting the smoking process. You don’t want to run out of wood, pellets, charcoal, or propane during the smoking process.

Thermometer- the best type of thermometer to use when smoking ribs is going to be an instant-read thermometer. A thermometer is not always necessary when smoking ribs. You can tell if ribs are done when they are falling off of the bone.

Click here to see our list of Top Pellet Smokers

Rubs and Marinades

No matter what you do, you always want to season your meat somehow. The best way to do this is with a marinade or a dry rub. Many people like to use marinades to soak the ribs overnight, so they pick up extra flavors, but this is not always that common when smoking ribs.

If you plan on using a marinade and a dry rub, then it is best to season the marinade with the dry rub you intend on using just so no conflicting flavors are battling it out.  The main factor of flavor is going to be in the dry rub.

The difference between pork and beef ribs recipes is going to be vastly different as well. Due to their stringent flavor profiles. Here are a couple of simple recipes to help you get started with the prep work.

Basic Beef Ribs Dry Rub

Ingredients

  • ¼ cup brown sugar
  • ¼ cup coarse ground black pepper
  • 2 tbsp. Kosher salt
  • 1 tbsp. Cumin
  • 2 tbsp. Garlic powder
  • 1 tbsp. Onion powder
  • 1 tsp. Chili powder
  • ½ tsp. Cayenne pepper
  • 1 tsp. White pepper

Directions

In a large bowl, combine all ingredients and mix well. Before smoking the ribs, coat them completely with a generous helping of the dry rub. Make sure there are no open areas or parts not covered in the rub. Also, to go further, you can rub the seasoning into the meat and recoat again.

Baby back ribs

Basic Pork Ribs Dry Rub

Ingredients

  • ½ cup brown sugar
  • ¼ cup ground paprika
  • 2 tbsp. Kosher salt
  • 2 tbsp. Garlic powder
  • 1 tbsp. Onion powder
  • 1 tsp. Chili powder
  • 1 tbsp. Black pepper

Directions

In a large bowl, combine all ingredients and mix well. Before smoking the ribs, coat them completely with a generous helping of the dry rub. Make sure there are no open areas or parts not covered in the rub. Also, to go further, you can rub the seasoning into the meat and recoat again.

Basic Marinade for Ribs

Ingredients

  • ½ cup beef broth
  • 4 tbsp. Extra virgin olive oil
  • 2 tbsp. Worcestershire
  • 1 tbsp. Soy sauce
  • 1 tsp. Tabasco
  • 2 tbsp. Apple cider vinegar
  • 5 garlic cloves, minced
  • A few sprigs of thyme
  • ¼ cup dry rub seasoning

Directions

In a large bowl, combine all ingredients and mix well. Place the ribs, uncut, in a shallow container and pour the marinade over the ribs. You can also do this in a large Ziplock bag. Place the ribs in the fridge for at least 6 hours or overnight.

When you are ready to smoke the ribs, remove them from the container and wipe clean any marinade before placing them in the smoker or rubbing down with a dry rub.

Type Wood pellets to Choose

There are many different types of wood pellets to choose from, and each type will add a different flavor profile to your ribs. Wood pellets will be offered in a wide range of different wood flavors that you can never go wrong.

Hickory- this is going to be one of the best woods to choose from when smoking ribs and is probably the most popular because of its rich flavor and subtle barbeque notes. This wood will not be too overpowering or underwhelming as well.

Fruit (cherry, apple, peach)- these types of wood will, of course, add fruity flavors to your ribs. They will also be very subtle and, at times, underwhelming, which is why you may want to use a different wood and mix this type in with it to give it a hint of fruitiness.

Mesquite- This wood will be the strongest of them all in terms of smoke density and flavor. In other words, a little bit goes a long way. 

Alder- this type of wood is very subtle but is usually harder to find than most. If you can find it, try it out.

Click here to see Smokehouse Products Wood Pellets Assortment on Amazon.com.

The Smoking Process

The actual smoking process is just like any other. It’s pretty simple if you have smoked meats before. All you need to concentrate on is maintaining the correct temperature, making sure the wood does not flare up and make sure the smoke levels are maintained.

  1. Preheat your pellet smoker to the desired temperature. The best area to shoot for is somewhere between 245 and 255 degrees.
  2. Place the ribs in the smoker and maintain the same temperature for several hours.
  3. Ribs will take around at least 6 hours to fully smoke and become cooked, but it can all depend on the shape and weight of the ribs and how much other food is in the smoker. Also, how big the internal space is will play a factor. So, after about 4 hours, keep checking on them to see if they are done.
  4. The best way to tell if the ribs are done is not with a thermometer. If you want to use a thermometer, the meat must be at least 165 degrees or more. But the best way is to tug on a bone, and if it comes out clean, then the ribs are done.
  5. Once you have removed them from the smoker, allow them to rest at room temperature for about 20 minutes before cutting into them. Once cooled, separate them with a knife in between the bones and serve!

Tips and tricks for making ribs

  1. Cut against the grain to break up the meat and reduce chewiness
  2. Protect your rack by covering it in aluminum foil. This saves it from any excess, leaking juices. And you won’t have to clean later.
  3. Do not use too many wood pellets because it can add bitterness to the meat if you over smoke your ribs.
  4. You can boil your ribs for an hour before smoking them to speed up the smoking process and break down the fat and meat. This is basically cheating, but it works like a dream, and the ribs come out awesome!
  5. Consider grilling your ribs. After your ribs are done sauce them up with your favorite BBQ sauce then sear them for a minute on each side to char the sauce.

Conclusion

When you get right down to it, the process of how to smoke ribs in a pellet smoker is really simple. People like to over complicate the smoking process, but as long as you have all the right tools and know-how, just about anyone can do it. Just make sure always to be watching and checking the meat, and you will be fine. Now get out there and start smokin’!

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