Cherry Smoked Ribs

“Ribs. I had ribs for lunch, that’s why I’m doing this.” (as he’s picking his teeth) ~Ron Burgundy, Anchorman

     I’ve been having a craving for ribs for a while. It’s not something I make all the time, just because it takes so long to smoke spareribs, but Sunday we had no plans and it was the perfect day for it. Just lay around all day, read the paper, watch TV, maybe take a nap and let the Egg do its magic and slowly smoke the ribs for 5 or 6 hours. Perfect day.

Pork Spareribs

     In the picture above you can see a rack of untrimmed pork spareribs. These are not baby backs, but spare ribs. They are bigger, tougher and meatier in every way compared to baby back ribs. As a result, they need to cook longer than baby backs, generally in the 6 hour range, sometimes a bit more, sometimes a bit less. I’m going to show you how to trim your spare ribs into what are called St. Louis Style ribs. I don’t know where they got that name, probably a butcher in St. Louis would be my guess, but a quick scour of the internet didn’t really produce any results for me.

Remove the skirt or skirt meat

     The first thing you want to do is remove the skirt or skirt meat. This is a flap of meat that sits in the middle of the rack on the inside of the rib (bone side). This flap of meat cooks differently than the ribs and will burn if left on, not to mention it makes a good taster or cooks treat while the ribs are smoking. To remove this flap, lift it up with one hand, and holding a knife parallel to the ribs slowly carve it away as close to the ribs as possible.

Trim away the rib tips and square up the ends

     The next step, is to trim away the rib tips. In the picture, it is the top of the ribs, but in actuality it would be the bottom of the rib cage. The rib tips contain the cartilage and the sternum. These also cook differently and are more difficult to carve off after the ribs are done. In order to trim this section off, locate the ends of the ribs and trim at that line. It might be difficult at first, but it gets easier with practice. Finally, square off the ribs by removing the last few smaller, bones. This is more for appearance sake than anything else. Don’t worry about waste, we are going to smoke all of these parts, or you could reserve them and use them for other purposes if you so choose.

Spare ribs trimmed St. Louis style

     One thing I did not show you is how to remove the membrane located on the inside (bone side) of the ribs. Some people say it’s vital to remove the membrane, others claim it doesn’t matter. If you don’t want to do it, you don’t have to. I didn’t take any pictures of this, because my hands were all messy….plus I forgot. But there are plenty of website that will walk you through it and even videos on youtube, so check those out for more details.

     Why should you remove the membrane? The membrane is a water proof film that separates the chest cavity of the pig from the muscle/rib area. It keeps everything from passing in or out of the chest area. When smoking ribs, it keeps out the smoke and seasoning flavor and holds in the fat that needs to be rendered. Not to mention you really can’t chew it. That is why I choose to remove the membrane.

     Do you really have to trim your ribs? No, but I think it makes them easier to cook and looks better. Can you get a butcher to do it for you? Sure, but it’s gonna cost you more for something you can easily learn how to do on your own.

On the smoker at 250F

     For these ribs, I decide to use a rub from a lil place outside of Austin. Maybe you’ve heard of it….the Salt Lick? Maybe you’ve seen it on Food Network or The Travel Channel? We’ve visited a few times, and while the BBQ can be hit or miss, and it’s not quite as good as the Big 3 in Lockhart, they do sell some quality rubs and sauces (and their sauce is quite unusual, try it if you ever get the chance). So I decided to use their rub today for these ribs. First I slathered on a layer of mustard. This helps the rub to stick and helps form a nice bark on the ribs. If you don’t like mustard, don’t worry, you won’t be able to taste it at all by the time the ribs are done. The generously apply the rub.

     The ribs (and trimmed sections) went on to the Egg at 250F. For this smoke, I decided to branch out a bit. Normally with ribs (or brisket or pork butt), I would go with a wood that produces a heavier smoke, like mesquite, hickory or even pecan. This time, I tried using cherry wood chips for the smoke. This produces a lighter smoke flavor and I’ve had great results with it in the past with chicken and turkey. And because this was a lazy, take it easy kind of Sunday afternoon, I hooked up my Auber Instruments Pit Controller so I wouldn’t have to worry about or check the temperature of the Egg throughout the cook. The controller takes care of the hard work and makes it almost seem like cheating. perfect.

     There is a lot of talk in the barbecue world about using a 3-2-1 method when cooking spare ribs. Smoke the ribs for 3 hours, then wrap in foil, maybe with a little juice (apple or other) or beer to braise them for 2 hours, then remove from foil and smoke for another hour to “firm up” the bark again. I don’t buy into it. Hasn’t worked for me once. Everytime I have tried that method, I’ve ended up with over cooked, fall off the bone mush. BTW….fall off the bone….that’s a sign that your ribs have been overcooked. Don’t buy into that advertising hype. Ribs should have a bit of pull to them when you take a bite, they shouldn’t fall off the bone. At least that’s the way I see it, you can cook your ribs fall off the bone if you want to. I’ve tried modifying this method and have found a 3-1-and then however much time is needed to finish them off method works best for me.

4 hours in, after removing from foil.

     After 3 hours of smoke, one hour wrapped in foil with some liquid to braise it, the ribs came out almost done. I left them on the Egg for about another 20-30 minutes for the bark to firm up before pulling them off. Notice the missing skirt and rib ends in the above picture? Of course not, they were already done, pulled and eaten by this point. Cooks treat.


     Look how far the meat pulled back from the ends of the bones! These were almost over done.

Cutting up the ribs

     And check out that smoke ring! We plated them up with some corn that we grilled after the ribs were done, some pasta salad and some baked beans.

Plated up

     This was a perfect Sunday dinner for us. The cherry wood really complimented the ribs well. It left a nice smoke ring, but was a strong smokey flavor like you sometimes get using a heavier wood. I had forgotten how peppery the Salt Lick rub was and I might have used it a bit heavily on the ribs, but the sweetness of the corn and the coolness of the pasta salad played off it nicely. Just thinking about it is making my mouth water, glad I packed some of the leftovers for lunch today.

     (If you happened to notice, I apologize, but some of the pictures are blurry. My camera lens got a smudge on it somehow and I didn’t realize that until I looked over the pictures Monday. If you didn’t notice it, nevermind. The lens has now been cleaned. )