These smoked pork spareribs are perfect for your next backyard barbecue or summer holiday. They're tender, juicy, and always a crowd favorite!
I love summer barbecues, but sometimes a 12 to 16 hour cooking time such as brisket or pulled pork won't fit in the schedule. For those days ribs are a great choice. They give you that great smokey, salty, and sweet barbecue flavor in around 6 hours!
Spareribs vs. Baby Back Ribs
There are two types of pork ribs; spareribs and baby backs. Both are delicious and this recipe will work for both, but there are a few differences you should know about when choosing your ribs.
Spareribs come from the underside of the pig after the belly (mmm...bacon!) has been removed. They are flatter, meatier, and a little more fatty that baby back ribs. You'll often see them called St. Louis style ribs.
That means they've been trimmed into a more rectangular shape by cutting off some of the cartilage and bone. I recommend looking for those over the larger, untrimmed spare ribs. The flatness and more uniform, rectangular shape, along with the extra fattiness helps make them easier to cook than baby backs.
Baby back ribs are shorter ribs that come from the upper part of the pig near the spine, where the loin is. Baby back ribs are tender and more lean, especially if they still have a good bit of the loin meat on top.
They are more irregular in shape and the bones are more curved. They are also usually a good bit more expensive and can be a little tougher to cook due to the shape and leaner meat.
I usually recommend going with the cheaper and more forgiving spareribs. If you do go with baby backs I would add some liquid during the wrapped cooking stage or spritz with apple juice occasionally to keep them moist.
Preparing the ribs
To prepare the ribs, first remove the membrane from the underside of the ribs. There is fierce debate in the bbq world about the membrane affecting the smoke penetration.
I've had them both with and without the membrane and don't feel there is much difference. I am not a big fan of the texture of the membrane after cooking, so I remove it for that reason.
To do this, use a knife to get it started by prying a corner away from the meat. Then use a paper towel to get a good grip and pull the membrane away from the ribs.
Seasoning the ribs
Next you'll liberally apply your favorite barbecue rub seasoning to the ribs on all sides. I like to do this the night before to allow the rub to penetrate the meat, like a dry brine. For this place the ribs on a foil lined sheet pan and season with your rub.
Then cover loosely with foil or plastic wrap and refrigerate overnight. Remove the ribs around 30 minutes before cooking and let them sit at room temperature. Just before cooking dust again with the rub.
Setting up your smoker
The set up will vary based on what kind of smoker you have. Pellet smokers like the Traeger are highly popular these days and are typically digitally controlled so you just set it and forget it.
I use the Weber Smokey Mountain smoker, which is a charcoal bullet smoker. That means it's a barrel-like cylinder with a domed lid where the fire is at the bottom. There is also a water pan between the meat and the heat source to insulate the meat from direct heat.
To set the Smokey Mountain for ribs, I fill the coal ring about half full of unlit coals, then top with chunks of apple and hickory wood. Then I add a chimney ¾ full of lit coals on top. This allows the lit coals to ignite the unlit coals at the bottom as they burn and gives you a long cook time without needing to add additional coals.
This method works great for long cooks, you just need to vary the amount of unlit coals based on how long you plan to cook. I've gotten up to 16 hours using this method without needing to add any additional fuel. For a really long cook, like a large pork butt, you may need to stir the coals if you see your temperature fluctuating up and down. A long metal spatula works great for that.
I highly recommend using a separate digital thermometer with a probe to monitor your cooker temperature and the meat. Thermometers built into most smokers are typically not very reliable and good temperature control is key to great barbecue. I use the Thermoworks Signals.
Leave the top vent fully open and start with the bottom vents fully open as well. After the smoker is preheated, turn the bottom vents to around halfway closed. Adjust the bottom vents as needed to control the temperature.
3-2-1 method for smoking ribs
You'll smoke the ribs at 225-235 degrees F for around 6 hours. Many barbecue cooks swear by the 3-2-1 method for cooking ribs. This is:
- 3 hours unwrapped with a heavy amount of smoke.
- 2 hours, wrapped tightly in foil or butcher paper, possibly with liquids added, such as around ¼ cup of apple juice or a coating of yellow mustard or butter and brown sugar.
- 1 last hour unwrapped, basting occasionally with sauce if desired.
The wrapping stage helps to speed up the cooking time by pushing the meat through the "stall" phase. This is where the fat begins to render and evaporate, causing the meat temperature to rise very slowly or stall. It also helps to braise the meat in it's own juices, making them super tender and giving you those "fall off the bone" ribs that many people love.
I personally like just a little more chew to the meat so I usually go for around 4 hours unwrapped, then wrap them for around 1 hour, and unwrap for the last hour. You can vary the wrap time to your liking and experiment with adding liquid to see what you like the best.
If you are serving the ribs sauced, baste them for the last hour of cooking with your favorite barbecue sauce. Or you can serve them dry. For dry ribs I spritz them with apple juice occasionally for the last hour so they don't dry out.
Finished temperature for ribs
The ribs are done at between 190 and 200°F. An instant read digital thermometer is the best way to check this. At that temperature much of the fat and collagen has rendered out and the meat will be tender and flavorful. Another indicator that your ribs are done is when the meat has pulled back from the bone around ¼ to ½ an inch.
Serving your ribs
After cooking let the ribs rest for around 15-20 minutes then slice them individually between the bones. That makes them much easier to eat instead of serving them as a rack or half rack. Slicing them is also great when serving a crowd so everyone can grab what they want.
Other great summer barbecue ideas
- Pulled Pork BBQ
- Grilled Asian Short Ribs
- Marinated Pork Chops
- Greek Chicken Souvlaki
- Baked Macaroni and Cheese
- Instant Pot Baked Beans
- 2 racks St. Louis style spareribs
- ½ cup barbecue dry rub
- 1 cup barbecue sauce
- Rinse the ribs and dry with paper towels. Remove the membrane on the underside of the ribs by loosening the end with a knife, then using a paper towel, pull the membrane away from the ribs.
- Season liberally with dry rub on all sides. Optionally, cover and refrigerate overnight. If refrigerating overnight allow the meat to sit at room temperature for around 30 minutes before cooking then dust again with your rub.
- Preheat your smoker to between 225-235°F then add the ribs. Cook for 3 to 4 hours, depending on preference (See note), then remove and wrap tightly in foil or butcher's paper and return to the smoker. If desired add liquid such as ¼ cup of apple juice when wrapping.
- After around 1 to 2 hours, again depending on preference (See note), remove the ribs and unwrap then return to the smoker.
- Cook for another hour, basting with sauce if desired, until the internal temperature is between 190-200°F. Remove and let rest for 15 to 20 minutes.
- Slice the ribs individually, between the each bone before serving.
* All nutrition information we provide are estimates based on third party calculators. We encourage you to calculate these on your own for accurate results.