There’s nothing better than serving up a platter of smoked ribs to impress your family and friends. Pellet grills make the process a whole lot easier, but there’s still a few techniques you need to master. There are 7 types of different pork ribs, I researched some techniques used by competition smokers and broke down the rib smoking process into simple steps that you can follow and use on your Traeger, PitBoss or pellet grill.
It takes about 5 to 6 hours to smoke pork ribs on a pellet grill using the 3-2-1 method. Apply a generous layer of rub and seasoning to the ribs. Set the temperature of your pellet grill to 250°F and use a wood that blends well with pork such as apple, cherry or hickory. Smoke the ribs for 3 hours uncovered, spritzing every hour. Wrap the ribs in foil and smoke for another 2-hours. Remove the ribs and perform a tenderness test. Unwrap the ribs and brush a barbecue sauce onto the ribs. Place ribs back in the smoker unwrapped for 15 to 20- minutes to set glaze, then remove, rest and slice.
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- 1 rack of pork spare ribs (you can use the same method for baby back ribs)
- Barbecue sauce.
- Paprika – ½ Cup
- Salt – ½ Cup
- Brown Sugar – ½ Cup
- Garlic Powder – ½ Cup
- Onion Powder – ¼ Cup
- Chilli Powder – ¼ Cup
- Cumin – ¼ Cup
- Black Pepper – 2 Tablespoons
1. Trim the Ribs. Before you do anything, remove the membrane from the ribs. If you leave this on, the ribs will be too chewy and it will prevent the flavours from penetrating the meat between the ribs. The membrane is easy to remove with your fingers, just make an incision and then try get your finger underneath and pull. Also, trim any excess fat from the ribs.
2. Apply The Rub. Combine the rub ingredients, or use a pre-made and add a good layer on the front and back, giving both sides both sides a decent coating of rub and spice. Once you have applied the seasoning, leave the meat about 30-minutes to 1 hour to let the rub work its way into the meat and draw out some moisture.
3. Wood Pellets. You can use whatever wood pellets you like; hickory, apple, cherry or pecan work well with pork ribs, but wood choice comes down to preference.
4. Light Your Pellet Grill. Fire Up Your Pellet Grill, setting the temperature to 250°F
5. Cook for 3 hours. Lay the ribs on the grill uncovered and close the lid. Let the ribs soak up the smoke for 3 hours. This is the "3" in the 3-2-1 method.
6. Spritz. During the first 3-hours, spritz the ribs every hour using apple juice or apple cider vinegar.
7. Wrap. Once the ribs have turned into a dark mahogany color, remove the ribs from the pellet grill and double wrap them in thick, heavy-duty aluminium foil. Give the ribs one last spritz before sealing the foil.
8. Cook For 2 More Hours. Place the wrapped ribs back in the pellet grill and smoke them for another 2 hours. This step is the "2" in the 3-2-1 method.
10. Remove and Unwrap. Remove the ribs from the pellet grill. Unwrap the foil, then place the ribs back onto the grill for 1 hour unwrapped, (apply the glaze in last 20 minutes).
11. Apply The Glaze. In the last 20 minutes of the cook, remove the ribs from the pellet grill and brush barbecue sauce onto both sides on the ribs. Place the ribs back onto the grill for 20 minutes until the glaze is set.
12. Rest. Remove the ribs from the pellet grill and let them rest for about 10-minutes.
13. Slice. Take a knife and slice the ribs between the bones.
Serving Size:240g (half rack or 6 ribs)
Amount Per Serving: Calories: 762Total Fat: 516gSaturated Fat: 17gCholesterol: 194mgSodium: 737mg
How Many Types of Pork Ribs Are There?
There are 7 common types of pork ribs, and they are all suitable for smoking on a pellet grill. Spare ribs are common and affordable, and mostly contain bone and cartilage. If you want meaty ribs, baby backs and St Louis ribs have a lot of meat between the bones. Baby Backs are from the top section of the rib cage contain 8-13 ribs and have a nice amount of loin meat between the bones. St Louis style ribs are taken from the pork belly and have the cartilage removed and served in a barbecue sauce. Similar to the St Louis ribs are the Kansas City ribs, which are similar except they are served with a tomato sauce. There are other types of ribs that you can buy from your butcher, or prepare yourself.
The 7 Different Types of Pork Ribs
|Pork Ribs||Location||Ribs Per Rack||Meat||Description|
|Baby Backs||Pork Loin||8 to 13||Large amount of high-quality meat from the loin||Baby Back ribs are attached to the pork loin, where we get pork loin chops.|
|Spare Ribs||Pork Belly||11 to 13||Moderate level of meat||High in fat and bone cartilage. Lots of flavor.|
|St. Louis Style Ribs||Pork Belly||12 to 13||Moderate level of meat||These ribs are taken from the spare ribs, but with the sternum, rib tips and cartilage removed. Normally served with a thick barbecue sauce.|
|Kansas City Style Ribs||Pork Belly||12-13||Moderate||Kansas City style ribs are cut similar to St.Lous ribs, although the cartilage is left in place and |
served with a tomato sauce.
|Rib tips||Pork Belly||4 to 6 (2 inch ribs)||Moderate||Small cuts of cartilage taken from the spare ribs with no bones. Served with a sticky Asian or barbecue sauce. |
|Riblets||Pork Belly||22 to 26 (half-sized ribs)||Moderate||To make riblets, a butcher will cut a rack of spare ribs down the middle, then slice into single ribs. Usually served with a sticky Asian or barbecue sauce.|
|Country Ribs||Pork Shoulder||8 ribs per shoulder||Extremely meaty||These ribs appear more like a pork forequarter chop and contain more meat than bone. Located near the Baby Back ribs, these ribs are removed from the shoulder.|
What is the The 3-2-1 Method?
The 3-2-1 method is the most common way of smoking pork ribs in a smoker or pellet grill. This method involves smoking the ribs is three stages:
- Smoke the ribs for 3 hours unwrapped.
- Wrap the ribs in foil and cook for 2 more hours.
- Unwrap the ribs, apply a sauce, then place back on the grill for 1 hour.
Spare Ribs- The 3-2-1 Method
Spare ribs are probably the most common type of ribs that you will find. These ribs are taken from the pork belly and contain a lot of fat and bone cartilage–which is why they are so flavorful. The 3-2-1 method is the most common way of smoking spare ribs. You can use a similar method for other types of ribs such as baby backs, St.Louis Ribs, Kansas City Ribs, even beef ribs.
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Step 1 – Prepare The Ribs
Before you do anything, remove the membrane from the ribs. If you leave this on, the ribs will be too chewy and it will prevent the flavours from penetrating the meat between the ribs. The membrane is easy to remove with your fingers, just make an incision and then try get your finger underneath and pull. Also, trim any excess fat from the ribs.
Step 2 – The Rub
Once you have trimmed the ribs and removed the membrane, season the ribs with your favorite rub. Sweet rubs blend well with pork. Add a good layer on the front and back. If you like spicy, then this is when you would apply a layer of a hot rub or paprika. Make sure you flip the ribs to give both sides a decent coating of rub and spice. Once you have applied the seasoning, leave the meat about 30-minutes to 1 hour to let the rub work its way into the meat and draw out some moisture.
Homemade Rub Recipe For Pork Ribs
If you want a good barbecue rub recipe that works well with pork, beef, chicken and fish, below is a standard rub recipe that you can use on all meat.
- - ½ Cup Paprika
- - ½ Cup Salt
- - ½ Cup Sugar
- - ½ Cup Granulated Garlic
- - ¼ Cup Granulated Onion
- - ¼ Cup Chili
- - ¼ Cup Cumin
- - 2 Tablespoons Black Pepper
- - 2 Tablespoons Dry Mustard
- - 1 Tablespoon Cayenne Pepper
- Combine all the spices together in a large mixing bowl
- Store rub in rub shakers
Step 3 – Fire Up Your Pellet Smoker
Fire up your Traeger, PitBoss or pellet grill to 250°F. You can use whatever wood pellets you like; hickory, apple, cherry or pecan work well with pork ribs, but wood choice comes down to preference. Lay the ribs on the grill uncovered and close the hood. Let the ribs soak up the smoke for about 1-hour.
Step 4 – Spritz
Keeping the ribs moist by spritzing is an important part of the process in the first 3 hours while the ribs are unwrapped. We don’t want them to dry out, so we have to apply a spritz every hour for the first 3-hours until we wrap the ribs in foil. Spritz the ribs at the one, two and three-hour mark of the cook.
After about 1- 1.5 hours, the ribs should have soaked up some smoke and will have dried out. Apply a spritz with a spray bottle, with any combination of liquid. You can use apple cider vinegar, apple juice, beer, broth, or a popular sprite for ribs is Jack Daniels and Coke.
Step 5 – Wrap
Once the ribs have turned into a dark mahogany color, it’s time to wrap the ribs in foil. Remove the ribs from the pellet grill and double wrap them in thick, heavy-duty aluminium foil. It’s important to make sure the ribs a wrapped well because ribs pierce the foil and you will lose moisture. Before you wrap the ribs, make sure you give them another spritz to add some extra moisture. Place the wrapped ribs back in the pellet grill and smoke them for about 1.5 hours.
Step 6 – The Tenderness Test
Remove the ribs from the pellet grill and open the foil. The best way to know if ribs are done is by feel and sight. At this stage, the ribs will nearly be done and the bones should have some pull back. You can get a temperature with an instant-read thermometer, and you are looking for around a 200°F meat temp. Most people don’t bother using thermometers with ribs because they are difficult to probe.
Step 7 – Glaze
The last stage is to apply a glaze and finish the ribs in the pellet smoker unwrapped. Unwrap the ribs and remove them from the foil and brush both sides of the ribs with your favorite glaze for pork ribs. Once you have coated the ribs with a sauce/glaze, place them back in the smoker uncovered. Close the lid of your pellet smoker and let the ribs cook in the smoke for about another 15-20 minutes. All you want to do in this last stage of the cook is let the glaze set and caramelize, so careful not to overcook the ribs and don’t let the sauce/glaze burn.
The Best Glaze For Pork Ribs
For the glaze, you can make your own or use a pre-made BBQ sauce:
- Barbecue sauce
- Plum sauce
- Hoisin sauce
- Satay Sauce
Step 8 – Rest
Remove the ribs from the pellet grill and let them rest for about 10-minutes. Take a knife and slice the ribs between the bones. The secret to cooking ribs is to ensure the meat is still attached to the bones. You don’t want the ribs so tender or overcooked where they fall off the bone. Part of the rib eating experience is eating the meat off the bone. The perfect smoked rib should almost fall off the bone, but not quite. If you’ve smoked the ribs right, there should be a nice smoke ring lining the outer layer of the meat.
Baby Back Ribs
The thing that sets baby back ribs apart from other ribs is the tender rib eye meat between the bones. Baby backs are taken from the top of the rib cage have anywhere between 8 and 13 ribs. Since there is more meat on these ribs, you need to cook them differently to spare ribs. Rather than using the 3-2-1 method as you would with spare ribs, baby backs are best smoked using the 2-2-1 method, which is 2 hours unwrapped, 2 hours wrapped, then 1 hour unwrapped with a glaze. However, this is only a guide that you can alter.
How To Smoke Baby Backs on a Pellet Grill
Most pitmasters cook baby back ribs in three stages using the 2-2-1 method. However, this method is only a guide. The first stage of the cook is 2-hours unwrapped, followed by 2-hours wrapped in foil, then the last hour, cook the ribs unwrapped with a glaze.
- 1 set of baby back ribs
- Dry rub
- Yellow mustard or olive oil for the binder
- Barbecue sauce for the glaze
- For the spritz, use either apple cider vinegar, beer, or apple juice.
1. Trim. Remove the thin membrane from the ribs.
2. Binder. Apply a layer of mustard or olive oil to the baby back ribs. This will help the rub stick, however, you can skip this step.
3. Dry rub. Apply a generous amount of seasoning with your favorite dry rub, or make your own dry rub by combining the ingredients in this recipe.
4. Refrigerate. Let the rub absorb into the meat for 2 hours.
5. Choose wood. Fill the hopper of your pellet grill with a fruit wood such as apple or cherry, or for a stronger flavor, use oak, pecan or hickory pellets.
6. Temperature. Set your pellet grill in the 225°F range.
7. Cook. Place the baby back ribs onto the grill and cook for 2 hours (spritz every 30-45 minutes)
8. Wrap. After 2 hours, wrap the ribs in foil. Before sealing the foil, give the ribs one final spritz. You can also add some more dry rub before closing the foil.
9. Cook wrapped. Return the ribs to the grill and cook for another 2 hours.
10. Baste. Unwrap the ribs and apply the barbecue sauce with a basting brush.
11. Finish. Cook the ribs uncovered until tender (no longer than an hour). Be careful not to let the ribs dry out. Begin checking the ribs after 20 to 30 minutes and perform a tenderness test. Perfectly cooked ribs should almost fall off the bone., but not quite.
12. Rest. Once you are satisfied with the tenderness, allow to rest for 20 minutes in the foil.
St. Louis Ribs
St. Louis ribs are taken from pork spare ribs, but the butcher removes the cartilage, rib tips and the sternum. The other feature of St. Louis ribs is the thick barbecue sauce.
- 1 set of St. Louis cut spare ribs
- Dry rub
- Spritz sauce
- Binder (olive oil or yellow mustard)
- Wood pellets (apple, cherry, oak, pecan or hickory).
- Take a rack of spare ribs and remove the sternum, rib tips and cartilage.
- Apply a binder (olive oil or mustard)
- Apply a layer of rub both sides of the ribs.
4. Set your pellet grill between 225°F and 250°F.
5. Cook the ribs for 2 hours (spritzing every 30 minutes).
6. Wrap the ribs in foil (baste before wrapping).
7. Cook for 1 hour wrapped.
8. Check for tenderness or measure internal temperature (should be around 203°F).
9. Remove foil and apply the thick barbecue sauce.
10. Lay ribs on the grill uncovered for 10 to 15 minutes.
Kansas City Ribs
Kansas style ribs are ribs from the pork belly and are cut similar to St. Louis ribs but served with a sweet tomato sauce.
- Pork spare ribs
- Mustard or olive oil
- Spritz (apple cider vinegar, or apple juice)
- Barbecue rub
- Wood pellets
- Kansas sweet tomato sauce
Kansas City Sauce Recipe
The famous Kansas-style tomato sauce is a sweet and spicy sauce, and goes well with ribs. Pork spare ribs are the best type of ribs to use for this recipe.
Kansas City Tomato Sauce Recipe
Yield: 3 cups
Time: 5 minutes
- 3 cups ketchup
- 2 cup brown sugar
- 1 cup of water
- 2 tbsp Worcestershire sauce
- 2 tbsp apple cider vinegar
- 3.5 tsp salt
- 1 tsp molasses
- 1 tsp chilli powder
- 1 tsp paprika
- 1 tsp black pepper
Mix all the ingredients then place over a low heat for a few minutes. remove the pot from the heat once the sauce has a nice, thick texture.
Kansas City Ribs on a Pellet Grill
- Cut and peel the membrane from the ribs.
- Apply the binder to the ribs (mustard or olive oil).
- Season both sides of the ribs with the dry rub.
- Fill the pellet hopper with either hickory, apple, cherry, pecan or oak.
- Bring the temperature of your pellet grill up to 250°F.
- Smoke the spare ribs for 3 hours (spritzing every 45 minutes).
- Wrap the ribs in foil and cook for 2 hours.
- Remove ribs from the foil and baste with Kansas City tomato sauce
- Place ribs back on the grill for 20 minutes or until tender.
The Best Pre-Made Dry Rubs For Smoked Pork Ribs
|Dry Rub||MSG||Size||Description||Ingredients||Price||Where To Buy|
|Killer Hogs||Yes||12 Oz||Championship winning rub made by Malcolm Reed, the guy with the number 1 barbecue YouTube channel ‘How To BBQ Right’.||Brown sugar, sugar, paprika, salt, spices, dehydrated garlic, oleoresin paprika, dehydrated orange peel, natural flavor, and less than 2% tricalcium phosphate added to prevent caking||$20||Amazon|
|Slap Yo Daddy All Purpose Rub||No||12 Oz||Multiple barbecue world champion Harry Soo now shares his competition-winning secrets with his line of barbecue rubs.||Sea salt, cane sugar, garlic, chili powder, paprika, cumin, chipotle powder, black pepper, rosemary, cayenne pepper, rice concentrate, spices, parsley flakes, natural flavors||$20||Amazon|
|Meat Church||No||14 Oz||Well respected name in barbecue. Southwestern style rub. Versatile, works on beef, chicken, pork and seafood. Adds great color to your meat.||Sugar, salt, spices including paprika, dextrose, dehydrated garlic, celery, silicone dioxide & spice extractives. Gluten free. No MSG.||$15||Amazon|
|Butcher BBQ||No||16 Oz||Works on great on beef, pork, chicken, wild game, and vegetables. Championship winning formula made by David Bouska, World BBQ Champion and featured on TV show Barbecue Pitmasters.||Sugar, salt, garlic, onion, spices, lemon powder, corn syrup solids, natural flavors and BHA as an antioxidant||$20||Amazon|
|Kosmos Killer Bee Honey Rub||13 Oz||Award winning rub. Sweet, savory rub. Works well on brisket, chicken and pork.||Sugar, Salt, Honey Powder (Refined Syrup, Honey), Spices Including Paprika, Dextrose, Dehydrated Garlic, Celery, No Greater Than 2% Silicon Dioxide To Prevent Caking, And Extractive of Paprika||$16||Amazon|
|Killer Hogs Texas Brisket Rub||Yes||16 oz||Award-winning Championship brisket rub made by barbecue guru Malcolm Reed.||Salt, spices, dehydrated garlic, dehydrated onion, dehydrated parsley, refined soybean oil, and less than 2% calcium silicate added to prevent caking||$20||Amazon|
|McCormick Montreal Steak Seasoning||No||29 oz||Made with all natural herbs and spices. Very popular seasoning from a well-known brand.||Garlic, extractives of paprika, and coarsely ground pepper.||$20||Amazon|
My Favorite Meat Smoking Tools
Thanks for checking out this article. I hope you learned a few things. Here are some of my favorite tools I use when smoking brisket that may be useful to you. These are affiliate links, so if you decide to purchase any of these products, I’ll earn a commission. But in all honesty, these are the tools I recommend to my family and friends who are just starting out.
Meat Thermometer: There are dozens of fancy thermometers on the market, but I still use my trusty TP20. For around $50, I have a high-quality meat thermometer with two probes, and can track the temperature of my smoker with one probe, and my meat with the other probe. The ThermoPro TP20 is an Amazon Best Seller because it’s the easiest thermometer to operate, is durable, highly accurate, and comes with pre-programmed meat settings.
Instant Read Thermometer: Arguably, the second most important tool you need is a fast and accurate instant-read thermometer. These tools play an important role in the latter stages of the cook when the meat needs regular checking in multiple areas. I use the ThermoPro TP19 because it can do everything a ThermaPen can do, but for a fraction of the cost. You can check out the TP19 on Amazon here.
Butcher Paper: Wrapping brisket in butcher paper has become a huge trend in barbeque thanks to Aaron Franklin. Wrapping your brisket in paper will give you a nice brisket bark. However, you can’t just use any old paper, it has to be unwaxed, food grade paper. You can find it on Amazon here.
Advanced Thermometer and Automatic Temperature Controller: Once you’re ready to take things seriously, the FireBoard 2 Drive is a six-channel Bluetooth/Wi-Fi thermometer that can monitor up to 6 pieces of meat, control and graph your cook sessions on your smartphone, and attaches to an an automatic blower that will convert your charcoal smoker to a set-and-forget. This is one of the most advanced meat thermometers on the market. You can check it out on the FireBoard website here.