Smoking Ribs

Of all the questions I receive at on smoking meat, the number one question involves smoking ribs.

Smoking Ribs

There are several different methods for smoking ribs that are literally “fall off the bone” tender and lucky for you I am going to tell you everything I know about it.

The first step in cooking ribs is in the preparation..

Ribs - Remove the MembraneYou must remove the membrane if you plan to have a good rib experience. The rib membrane on the bone side of the ribs is quite inedible and also keeps the smoke from permeating the meat.

To remove the membrane, slip a knife, screwdriver or other object under the membrane at about the second or third bone from the end and pry up just enough so that you can get ahold of it.

Ribs - Remove Membrane 2Using a paper towel for friction, pull the membrane firmly up and off the rib in one motion if possible. If you miss a piece it is not the end of the world but you should try to get as much off as possible.

Rib Membrane RemovedUnbelievably, some folks leave the membrane on and actually expect their friends and family to eat that stuff! I have even been to restaurants that leave it on. It takes a little extra time to get it off but it is so worth it.

Tip: Catfish skinning pliers also do a nice job of pulling off the membrane.

Once the membrane is removed, you may want to trim the ribs Kansas City Style which is removing the brisket bone, that long bone that runs perpendicular to the actual ribs themselves. You will also cut off the very tip of the narrow end of the ribs so that the slab is now very rectangular in shape and each corner forms a 90 degree angle.

This is mainly for looks but looks do matter.. sometimes more than others.

You may also want to remove the flap of skin that runs the length of the ribs on the meaty side.. this skirt meat can be cut into pieces and laid in the smoker with the ribs. They will get done in about an hour and make great snacks.

Removing the skirt allows the heat and smoke to get to the meat better and cooks the ribs more evenly.

Ribs with RubIf you are planning to do your ribs memphis style, which is basically using a dry rub on the ribs at the beginning of the smoke and serving sauce on the side, then you will need a good rib rub.

I have a special recipe that I sell over at which I consistently get raving reviews on or you may have a secret family recipe that goes way back.

Either way.. get a good rib rub and give the ribs a good dusting the night before you plan to smoke the ribs.

Wrap the ribs in plastic and place in fridge to allow the rub to do wonderful things to the meat while you sleep.

Once you are ready to smoke the ribs..

Build a 225 degree fire using lump charcoal making sure there is plenty of airflow by leaving the intake vent open at least half way and the damper open about 3/4 of the way.

Build a small enough fire so that it will maintain 225 degrees with these settings.

Create some smoke by using wood chunks in an iron chip/chunk box or you can wrap a good sized handful of chips up in a large piece of foil.

Poke 5 or 6 holes in the foil package and lay it right on the coals for some good smoke action.

Remove ribs from the plastic wrap and place on grate.

Smoke the ribs for about 3 hours or so using hickory, mesquite, apple or your favorite wood mopping the ribs every hour or so with straight apple juice.

After 3 hours continue applying 225 degree heat for another 3 hours or until the ribs reach 170 degrees internally.

Once the ribs have reached temperature, remove them from the smoker very carefully and let them sit on the counter for about 10-15 minutes before slicing to allow the juices to redistribute throughout the ribs.

To further tenderize the ribs, place the ribs in foil after removing from smoker. Splash on some apple juice just before closing them up.

Wrap the foiled ribs in a thick towel and place in a tight cooler for up to 2 hours.

This will produce good ribs but they may not be falling off the bone.. if that is what you after then check out the 3-2-1 method which will uses foil to steam the ribs during the smoking process and yields extremely tender ribs.

Smoking Ribs to perfection has just been accomplished by you!

Here is a video that will help you even further:


  1. Lafe Maurer says:

    Thanks for the help

    • Hi. I have smoked for a couple of years but have never tried ribs. I came accross your website yesterday and decided to try your 3-2-1 method on babybacks. Since they were smaller, I did 2-2-1. Best ribs ever!! Thanks for the advice!!

  2. GEEZ that takes forever. I tried it today and me and my friends about ate each other before they were complete! Ribs turned out perfect though. Should have cooked more.

  3. Brian McAloon says:

    I have been smoking my ribs using the same method with the same electric smoker. I have found the ribs to be tasty and have enjoyed the same results. But my guests have mentioned the ribs are not tender enough (only after pressing them for an opinion). Falling off the bone is something I want for my ribs. Not to take away anything from this method but today I am smoking baby backs using the 2-1-1 method. 2 hours in the smoker unwrapped, one hour in foil, and then one hour on my gas grill or maybe on my smoker cooking down some honey and BBQ sauce on the ribs to get up to done temp. Great tips in this video and I think variations are limitless! Nice to see he has the same electric smoker as myself,,, gives me hope!

    • It all depends on how much weight you’re smoking, but I use a half and half method, half out of foil, and half in foil. Basically, you want your ribs to turn a dark color before wrapping, that’s how you know when to wrap them. Also, try applying a layer of light brown sugar to the meat side of your ribs 15 minutes before you put them in to smoke. Hose them down with apple cider vinegar every 30 minutes, and smoke heavily for the first half. Turns out great!

    • Kevin H says:

      I know that falling off the bone is apealing but it is overcooked at that point.
      In a Rib off the quickest way to get tossed is to serve ribs that do not have just a bit of pull fro the bone. Just sayin…

      • I agree.. if you’re cooking for judges then you have to do it the way that will help you to score the highest. If you are not being judged then you can feel free to “overcook” them if that’s what you like. I subscribe to the idea that there should be very few rules when it comes to barbecue and smoking meat. I hear what you’re saying and that’s great advice but only for competition in my opinion. A lot of what I sample at competitions, I would not feed to my family and friends and I have heard quite a few competitors say that exact same thing. What the judges like and what I like are 2 entirely different things.

        • Lion enf 1 says:

          My friend do a cook off in nashville every year. They took 3rd last year.
          See im a yankee that moved south so I like to do it diffrently. I smoke for 3 hours then just heat for 2-3 more. I use to use bar-b-que sause but after moving to nashville I just put on side.
          Your comment helpful also. I only cook for family and friends.

      • absolutely correct. Falling off the bones is overcooked. Has to have a slight pull to get it off the bone.

        • I agree that “technically” they should not be overcooked but then if that’s what someone likes, who am I to say it’s “wrong”?

          I know some folks who will not eat their steaks medium-rare where (to me) they are the most tender and the most flavorful, they want them very well done. I do NOT criticize them but I simply cook their steaks exactly the way they like them. Part of being a great cook is learning to serve food the way that THEY like it and not necessarily the way I like it or the way “normal” says it should be done.

          Likewise, I know folks who love their ribs absolutely falling apart tender and if that’s the way they like it, then, when I am cooking for them, that’s what they will get;-)

  4. I’ve read that a lot if people wants the fall off the bone ribs and I wanted to share how I’ve achieved this,

    I start by outing a good dry rub mix that s make all over the baby backs, then I throw them in my gas or charcoal grill and cook them for about 10-15 min on each side to get the good grill marks and flavor. After that I wrap them in aluminum foil and cook for about 35min per side. After that I take them out of the foil throw them back on the grill and coat them with my favorite bbq sauce. They have came out wonderful every time. Hope u enjoy.

    • Steven, where is the smoking done? Did I miss a step? You describe grilling ribs, while in itself is probably just fine and very tasty, but is not smoking which is what the article was about

  5. The membrane on the ribs is not inedible. Maybe some people don’t like it, but that isn’t the same as being inedible.

  6. Jerry L Sorrells says:

    Sounds good I will try it. Thank you shareing

  7. I have a vertical square smoker and want to cut my rack in two. Any thoughts or recommendations? Also – is a rib rack really neccessary or could I just flip them periodically?

  8. Yeah.. I see many people just poke a bunch of holes/slashes in the silverskin, and say its fine… umm.. you can eat it.. umm.. its not fine…
    My 2 cents.. if your gonna spend hours smoking dont try to save 5-10 minutes and not remove the silverskin.. thats just nuts..

  9. robert says:

    i am gonna try the 3-2-1 for my very first time ,i will tell later hot they came out

  10. Falling off the bones is “Hone Style”. I am used to this style and have made most of my ribs this way. Then I discovered competition style ribs and I have not gone back. I still like and can eat “Homestyle” falling off the bone.

    However I now recognize it as MUSHY. Competition style is FAR Superior. The texture and give of the meat is much better competition style IMHO. I try and cook for perfect ribs, but if I fail and get Homestyle then I am still happy but not Thrilled.

  11. Is leaving the silver skin on that bad? I find if smoked well that it breaks down and does not affect the taste or texture much.

    When cooking Spare Ribs I find cutting off the tip and back flap meat to be more important than the silver skin membrane.

    If cooked “OFF” then the silver skin retains moisture. If cooked “RIGHT” then it does nothing because the meat is moist enough. If you smoke your meat “RIGHT” you will not have any problems with moisture or tenderness.

  12. Joshua Lindsey says:

    I am starting to get into bbq smoke and this was a great post.I feel good about giving it a shot now thanks for all the great info!

  13. paul catanese says:

    Tried you’re method and the very first time they turned out great. Made a special rub and used it on one slab and used regular pork rub (Montreal) and that was great also, seems the rub is incidental to the smoke.
    Added sliced apples and some bourban to the soaking of the chips before just dropping them on the coals.

  14. Lion enf 1 says:

    Thank you so much. Your video taught me some really good tricks. I had no idea about the musturd trick.
    They came out so good.

  15. Great post and really educational. Here’s an idea that bbq specialists can make use of to smoke or BBQ a lot of the most succulent barbecue out there. If you’re having trouble with your food dehydrating on the BBQ smoker or weber grills, try this procedure to quickly improve your barbeque. Whether you’re cooking ribs, chicken breasts, or any other meat, shower it using apple juice to keep a better moisture content degree on the food. A lot more moisture means your dinner may be a lot more juicy and tender on the dinner table. MMMMM barbecue.

  16. I smoke ribs all the time, and while I always remove as much membrane as possible, I don’t obsess about every little piece. I do about 4-6 racks at a time for large parties, and if a little piece is giving me a hard time, I score it and move on. There is a beautiful place in-between competition firm and mush. It takes a lot of practice, but I actually find that the best ribs I’ve ever made are when I put a ton on a rack. I use a side-box smoker, and I think the reason the rack helps is that the ribs are propped up and getting much more of the smoke and heat, which tend to rise up in the chamber. I’d recommend that to anyone who is laying them down right now. You really don’t even have to foil them if you keep enough moisture in the smoker. Further, higher heat isn’t going to hurt anything unless you keep the ribs too close to the source, or if you’re yo-yo-ing up and down all day. That makes meat tough, but a consistent 275-300 has produced quality ribs for me as well as 225-250, but in about an hour less. Hope some of this helps! Happy smoking!

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