If you do a lot of low-and-slow barbecue, you would probably know how pre-brining meat can have great results. However, brining isn’t always necessary. So what about when smoking ribs? I wanted to find out what happens if yo pre-brine ribs, so I asked the experts.
Brining has several benefits of most low-and-slow barbecue meats. Dry brining ribs will help the meat retain moisture during the cook, as well as add flavor. A dry brine is as simple as adding salt to the ribs prior to cooking. Leave the salt to absorb into the meat for an hour, then apply your barbecue rub. During the cook, the salt will help the ribs retain moisture. If you dry brine, be sure that your barbecue rub doesn’t contain much salt, otherwise your ribs will be too salty.
Ribs don’t need hours soaking in a wet brine as you would some meat. However, adding salt to ribs prior to cooking (dry brining) is common practice. I’ve watched dozens of world-class barbecue experts smoking ribs, and they will usually add salt with the rub, or before.
Should I Brine Ribs?
Brining ribs isn’t absolutely necessary and is more important when smoking large cuts of meat such as brisket or pork butt. Ribs are a much smaller cut of meat, but it’s still contains a lot of gristle and connective tissue, and will receive some benefit from salting.
As with cooking any meat in a smoker, ribs are at risk of drying out. If you cannot maintain control of your smoker, the ribs will dry out. Or, if you leave the ribs cooking for too long, they will dry out. Salting the ribs will help you retain moisture.
Brine Adds Flavor
Not only will salting your ribs help the meat retain moisture, it will also add an enormous amount of flavor to the ribs. Salt will penetrate through the thin layer of meat, which is unlike larger cuts such as brisket, where it is nearly impossible to get flavor deep into the center of the meat unless you inject.
Wet Brine or Dry Brine?
You can either wet or dry brine meat. A wet brine involves soaking meat in a liquid solution containing salt and other ingredients. A dry brine is where you rub salt into the meat, and leave it for 2 to 24 hours prior to cooking.
When brining ribs, a dry brine is definitely the best option. All you need to do is sprinkle salt onto the rubs about1 hour before applying the rub. The salt will make the surface of the meat nice and sticky—which will help the rub bind to the meat. When the rub sticks well, you have fewer patches on the bark.
Can You Wet Brine Ribs?
A wet brine isn’t always suitable. It works well with turkey or salmon—but not ribs. If you were to soak ribs in a liquid brine, they would end up soggy. It just seems unnecessary—especially if a dry brine can do such a good job.
Brine When You Apply The Rub
Another way to dry brine your ribs is to apply your rub a few hours before cooking. Some pit masters will apply a layer of salt, pepper before sprinkling on the barbecue rub. However, if your rub contains a lot of salt, you can simply apply the rub a few hours before cooking and the salt in the rub should brine the ribs enough.
Careful Not To Double-Salt
When brining meat, be careful because it’s easy to accidentally “double-salt ” your ribs. Often, this can happen without realizing. A lot of common dry rubs sold in stores contain a lot of salt. You also need to be careful if you’re mopping the meat. Sometimes mop sauces can be high in salt. So if you’re dry brining ribs, then applying a salty rub—the ribs will end up being “double-salted”.
Choose You Rub Carefully
Most dry rubs sold in stores are high in salt, so make sure you check the label. There’s nothing wrong with using these rubs on ribs—just add no more salt with a brine!
I prefer to make homemade. That way, I can have complete control over the salt content. The other thing I like about making my own rubs is I can mix different combinations and make large batches. If you’re interested in making your own dry rub, check out this post.
How Long Do You Brine Ribs?
Ribs only need 1 hour in a dry brine. Other cuts of meat need to sit in a brine overnight, but ribs are thin so the salt won’t take long to penetrate the meat.
The Best Salt For Brining Ribs
Kosher salt is the preferred salt for barbecue pit masters, otherwise you can use sea salt, or rock salt. Try to avoid using regular table salt because it contains iodine and other additives to prevent caking. Morton’s Kosher Salt is probably the most common brand, and you can buy it on Amazon if your grocery store doesn’t sell it.
There are so many salts on the market, and they aren’t all equal. Never used curing salts color because they contain preservatives. Curing salts should be reserved for making bacon and ham—not salting ribs.
Does Brining Help The Ribs?
Meat can lose a lot of moisture when cooked for several hours. Ribs will need about 6 or 7 hours in the smoker — which is a long time for a thin cut of meat. If you brine the ribs prior to cooking, the salt will help the ribs reabsorb some of the moisture.
How To Prevent Dry Ribs
Salting is only one way to help you get tender, juicy ribs. There are a couple of other things you can do as well. Wrapping will trap moisture and create a steaming effect on the ribs.
A lot of pitmasters will smoke their ribs unwrapped, but if you want your ribs tender and juicy, wrapping will make an enormous difference.
Buy Ribs With Fat
When shopping for ribs, buy a rack with some fat and marbling if possible. Fatty ribs are less likely to dry out, and will help lubricate the meat while cooking. Also, fat will add an enormous amount of flavor.
Lean cuts of meat dry out easily, which is why baby back ribs are harder to manage when compared to spare ribs. Baby backs are taken from the loin, which contains lean, tender meat. Spare ribs on the other hand are from the pork belly, and an area of the pork that contains a lot of fat.
Keep The Temperature Low
When smoking ribs, it’s important to keep the temperature in the low-and-slow range—between 225° F into 275° F. Once you go outside of this cooking range, the ribs will be at risk of drying out.
Whatever you do, don’t expose the ribs to high temperatures for a long period. Keep good control of your smoker and use a good wireless thermometer that will alert you if the smoker goes outside a safe range.
Spritz Your Ribs
Spritzing your ribs is a great way to keep them moist and juicy. The ribs will lose a lot of moisture during the cook. As meat cooks, it will sweat, and moisture will accumulate on the surface of the meat and then drip off. By spritzing the ribs, you help replace some of that lost moisture.
Spritzing also helps slow down the cooking process, which is important when smoking something for a long time. Spare ribs need time for the fat and gristle to break down, in order to become tender. Spritzing will buy you time.
Use A Quality Thermometer
A quality meat thermometer will be your best friend when smoking ribs. A thermometer is important to help you keep track of your smoker so that you do not exceed the target temperature of 275° F. If you lose control of your smoker, your ribs are going to dry out.
There are dozens of thermometers available online, but just be careful because many of them are inaccurate. For the moment isn’t accurate, then what’s the point?
I use the TP20, a $60 meat thermometer that I bought on Amazon. My thermometer will alert me the moment my smoker goes above the temperature parameters that I’ve set. It has two probes, one for the meat and one that clips to the grill. That way, I know what’s going on inside my meat, which is especially important when cooking to internal temperature rather than time.
Another important tool is an instant-read thermometer. This is more important in the last stages of the cook, where you need to measure different points of the meat. A good instant read will give you a temperature within two to three seconds, and will be deadly accurate. I used to TP19, a high-quality thermometer that only cost me $30 on Amazon.
How To Smoke Ribs
If you’re interested in smoking ribs, check out these articles:
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.
Wireless Thermometer: The latest thermometers on the market have no wires and can be controlled by wi-fi via your phone. Airprobe 3 is the best of this technology.
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.