I generally follow a 3-2-1 format, which is 3 hours on the smoker with smoke, 2 hours on the smoker in foil, and 1 hour on the smoker with the foil open and barbecue sauce on. I need to test this, but I think I could cut the 3 hour portion down. Of course, the timing depends on how hot your fire is. Mine was running at around 250 degrees.
So here's how I cooked them. I started with a rack of ribs that I washed off.
The first thing that I do is remove the membrane from the back of the ribs. Not everyone agrees that you need to do this, and it's the subject of debate sometimes, but it's what I like to do. You decide, but choose wisely!
To remove the membrane, flip the ribs over and use the back of a spoon or a butter knife, or something similar to find a little spot where you can work it under the ribs and create enough space that you can slip your finger in. If you look above where my finger is in the picture below you'll see a spot where I was unsuccessful, but then I found a place where the membrane wasn't as tightly attached.
Once you can lift up the membrane a bit, take a paper towel (helps improve the grip), grab the membrane and pull it off! That's all there is to it.
Next, I covered them with mustard. Yes, mustard! It helps hold the rub on and mustard has a little bit of something that helps tenderize the ribs. The first time I did it, Sue (my wife) grossed out and was sure they would taste like mustard. But you can't tell at all. Trust me.
Next is the rub. I often use a homemade rib rub that I like, but this time, I used a commercial rub, one from Rendezvous in Memphis. Sue had visited Memphis for a convention and had brought back a variety of rubs, so decided to use this rub this time. But there are tons of great rubs you can make for yourself that are absolutely delicious, so no need to buy one.
I usually wrap the ribs with the rub in plastic wrap and let sit in the fridge over night, but I had gotten home late the night before and didn't want to bother so I just went for it. Plus, when barbecue folks are doing competitions, they don't usually let it sit overnight, so I figured I was ok. Shortly after I got the rub on, I started getting coals ready for my smoker.
I have a side fire box attached to one chamber of my grill, so I got those coals going well, dumped them into the side fire box, and then put some more briquettes on top to get them started going and get the heat up.
At this point I also put a bunch of wood chips into a bucket of water to get them soaking. I'll put a handful of them on the coals every hour during the first three hours. I used pecan chips today, but I often use a combination of apple and hickory.
I got the temperature up to about 250 degrees and I was ready to put the ribs on the grill. You can see that I was smoking something else at the same time today-a bacon covered roast. Mmmm...!
I let the ribs smoke for about 3 hours, adding briquettes and wood chips every hour. I also flipped the ribs once, end for end, since my smoker runs hotter at the end where it is attached to the side firebox. I don't have a fancy grill that would prevent that, maybe one day.
See that smoke coming out the top--that means you are going to have some mighty fine tasting ribs.
After three hours, I did a check I expect that that if I hold the ribs from one end with my tongs that they will start to bend pretty good near the middle. If so, I'm ready to add some more flavor (there are a number of layers that we are adding) and then wrap in foil.
I took the ribs off the smoker and laid them down on a good-sized piece of heavy duty foil. You have to use heavy-duty, because the ribs bone ends can pierce lighter foil. Next, I squeezed some squeezable butter on. I had never done this before, but I saw the master, Johnny Trigg do this on a BBQ show, so I always do it now.
I also put some brown sugar on top--Johnny puts a ton of brown sugar on this ribs. I guess it's whatever you like, huh? He has won competitions for years and years doing this, so I've added it to my rib techniques now and everyone it liking the results.
Finally, I put some apple juice on the ribs. Normally, I just put some into a spray bottle and spritz them really, really well. But I keep some apple juice in the freezer (put into ice cub trays, froze them, then kept in a zip-lock bag until needed), so I just put some cubes from my stash onto the top of the ribs. These will provide some delicious moisture during the 2 hour foil time, and will add a different kind of sweetness. Lots of layers of flavor!
Finally, I wrapped up and sealed the foil and put back on the smoker. You can also see how nice that bacon covered roast looks in the foreground!
I let the ribs in foil go on the smoker for a couple of hours. After that, I unwrapped and checked them. At this point, I expect that if I hold the ribs by the end with my tongs, they should start to break in the middle because they are so tender.
They were ready so the next step was to brush some barbecue sauce on. Use whatever sauce is your favorite. If you don't want to use sauce, you can serve them without, but let the ribs sit in the smoker for another hour. I'll often toss another handful of wood chips on at this time to finish up with some smoky flavor.
That's my ribs! 3-2-1. Pretty easy. If you want to learn more tricks to make fabulous food outdoors, sign up to receive my free Outdoor Cooking Magic Tricks ebook or check out my Grilled Vegetable Magic Kindle Book.