The Smoking Section: Ribs

by TRH on June 24, 2013

in Cooking & Recipes

Post image for The Smoking Section: Ribs

Note: Sadly not my image as my photos didn’t come out due to a memory card snafu.

The past year has definitely been the year of the carnivore in my household. My desire to take my first steps into charcuterie also brought about a desire to dabble in the world of home smoking. Thick cut bacon in my choice of cures and then home smoked with applewood or hickory was the ultimate goal of the charcuterie experiment. Yet here I sit some ten months later with not a single slab of luscious pork. Part of this is a supply issue, I’ve yet to find a butcher that will sell me a sizable chunk of thick belly from a local producer. The other part is my distraction with other meat issues (as well as the overall time-suck of a new job.) Already chronicled on these pages are my first attempts at Pancetta and Corned Beef but once summer finally rolled into town two months late I had run out of excuses for not using the new smoker.

Beyond just bacon I’ve always been a fan of most smoked foods. Being Canadian and having relatives on the west coast I was introduced at a fairly early age to quality smoked salmon. As a fromageophile I’ve always loved smoked cheeses, particularly some of the small batch cheddar I’ve had on family trips to Wisconsin. Long smoked brisket, chicken or sausages are some of my favourite orders at barbecue joints both at home and abroad. (See also Lagavulin, Laphroaig and other awesome smoky peaty scotch whiskey) The chance to dabble in the smoky arts was irresistible and I opened my new toy at Christmas with a bit of a pre-emptive drool.

I’ve mentioned before on this blog that I don’t see myself as a particularly gifted “foodie.” I can cook well, but I’ve lacked the pure dedication to ever become truly professional. I enjoy things that take a fair bit of preparation to make but I have little patience for some of the conceits of my more talented friends. This is of course a preamble to the discussion of smokers. I understand that to some of you an electric smoker is an abomination. I don’t really care. I wanted an electric for ease of temperature regulation (I simply knew I would use it more if I could spend less time fiddling) and the very real problem that I’m likely to be moving somewhere where non-electric was a no-go sometime in the next year. I operated by the principle that I’d rather have (sometimes) slightly inferior results if it meant I could be bothered to smoke more than a couple times during the summer. If you have the time, tools and inclination to use a charcoal smoker or if you’ve rigged up some complex little temp monitor good for you, I’m jealous but I’m fairly happy with my setup. With that out of the way…

Most introductions to smoking suggest that you start with something simple and forgiving. I’d certainly agree. Personally I went for some spareribs with a dryrub and done in hickory smoke. Ribs are reasonably forgiving, cook relatively quickly and are quite frankly delicious. One thing I will suggest, especially if you’ve never made your own ribs before: “Always make more than you think you’ll need.” Ribs are not always as meaty as you expect and you don’t want anyone to go hungry. Additionally if you’re having guests, occasionally you get a rack that just doesn’t quite measure up quality wise and this way you can hold that back for leftovers or to just shred for a sandwich later.

With ribs I like to prepare them the night before and leave them in the dry rub overnight. Start off by thoroughly rinsing the meat in cold water to get any schmegglies off the meat then after it dries off peel any remaining membrane from the back of the ribs. If you use a real butcher they’ll do this for you if you ask nicely. Trim any particularly overwhelming bits of fat off at this point as well.

Prep the meat for the rub by coating it thinly with canola (or veggie) oil then rub in solid coating of your favourite dry rub. For my first smoke I used a blend of my own based on a few different recipes. Basically – Brown Sugar, Paprika, Garlic and Onion Powders, Salt, Dry Mustard, Cayenne, Coarse Black Pepper and a few other random herbs. Make a bunch, it’s handy for a quick bbq as well. The meat should be well coated but not totally crusted with the rub. Leave them overnight if you can, or least an hour or two. You need to preheat the smoker anyway.

The bend test

“I pick up the slab with a pair of tongs and bounce them slightly. If they are ready, the slab will bow until the meat starts to crack on the surface, as shown at right. A small crack means you need a little more time. It should be close to breaking when you lift the slab. You’ll get the feel for this with practice.”

via the awesome

I should note, depending on your bbq/grill setup you can probably do solidly smoky cooking anyway. I’ll point you over to the fantastic BBQ resource of and their section on grill setup. For me I simply set my smoker for 225F, let it heat up then tossed my two trays worth of ribs in. I started off with a handful of my hickory wood chips, then added a second handful about half an hour later. Many sites warn about overdoing the smoke and I can speak from experience. The first time a friend ever smoked a pork shoulder he constantly added wood and the final product tasted like campfire ashes. Start small, add more each run til you find your taste. Likewise experiment with different smoking chips.

Timing isn’t pinpoint at the best of times with grilling and smoking and… in what is fast becoming a trend as I write this… the day of my smoke turned out to be rainy and rather blustery. Still, the ribs were all done in about 6 hours with a reasonably thick crust on them. Using the bend test via worked like a charm.

Right about the time you think they’re ready heat your grill up as hot as it can go and throw the ribs on. Slather each side in your favourite BBQ sauce and let cook for a minute or so per side just to get the sauce sizzling then pull them off, you don’t want a charred taste hiding your smoky goodness.

Serve them with Cornbread and coleslaw or whatever else you like for a great southern meal.

The GWS smoking thread.

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