Who can say no to some beautifully smoked baby back ribs? They’re lean, tender, and a great way to upscale your barbeque.
Baby back ribs are perfect for braising, smoking, or grilling. Basically, any cooking method that goes low and slow.
My favorite is smoked ribs. Adding that sweet smoky flavor to the tender meat is just bliss!
So, let’s take a look at how long it takes to make beautifully smoked baby back ribs.
What Are Baby Back Ribs?
Despite the name, baby back ribs do not come from a piglet. They are called baby back ribs because they are smaller than spare ribs.
The back part of the name refers to the fact that they are the top part of the rib. They are where the rib meets the spine.
Baby back ribs are sold in racks that usually have about 10 or 13 ribs. The ribs are curved and are between 10 and 13 inches long. A standard rack of baby back ribs will serve 2 people as part of a meal.
If you’re using the ribs as a barbeque snack, you’ll have 10 or 13 ribs to serve to your guests. Depending on the size of your party, you might need more than one rack.
Do You Need to Prepare Baby Back Ribs?
Well technically, no. You can just sling the ribs into your smoker. They will not taste great but they will be edible.
If you want to make really good smoked ribs, then you are going to need to put a little work in.
The first thing you’re going to need to do is pull away the membrane. The membrane is a dense grayish skin that coats the back of the ribs. This is the side closest to the bone.
Some shops and butchers remove the membrane for you but not all do. If your ribs still have the membrane, use a spoon to get between the bone and the membrane.
Once you have a corner free you can grip it with a paper towel and pull it off. It should come off in one piece. Use the spoon to encourage stubborn patches to break away.
Removing the membrane will give you more flavorful and tender ribs. If you forget to do it, you can still eat the ribs. You will find that one side is a bit tougher than the other.
The next step is to brine the ribs. Not everyone does this, but I recommend it. Brining helps your ribs retain moisture throughout the smoking.
As baby back ribs are quite lean, they can become quite dry. They don’t have enough fat to keep them moist throughout the long cooking process.
Brining simply means leaving your ribs to soak in a tub of salted water. To get some extra flavor into your ribs you can season the water with peppercorns, garlic, and onion.
If you’re feeling fancy, you can throw in a few herbs and spices too.
Some recipes call for apple cider vinegar however this turns the brine into a marinade. Vinegar or any other acidic liquid like lime or lemon juice will begin to ‘cook’ the meat if it’s left for longer than an hour or so.
You’ll need about a gallon of water and ½ cup of salt. The herbs and spices are to your taste. Just throw it all in a tub, give it a good stir, and submerge your ribs.
If you don’t have a tub big enough, you can use Ziploc bags.
Your ribs should be left in the brine for 2-12 hours. It depends on the size of the rack and how much moisture you want in them.
If you’re in a rush, 2 hours will do. If you have plenty of time, overnight will make them super tender.
Once you remove the ribs from the brine, you need to give them a good rinse to remove the salt residue from the surface.
Pat the ribs dry so that they are ready for the rub.
This is where you’re going to get all the flavor into your ribs. A rub is usually a mix of dried herbs and spices that is put on the outside of the ribs. It’s different from a marinate because it doesn’t usually contain any liquids.
There are lots of pre-packaged rubs available online and in the supermarket. Barbeque flavored rubs work well with baby back ribs but you can use whatever you want.
If you want some advice about choosing a barbeque rub, check out our article on the best barbeque ribs.
It’s a good idea to sprinkle the rub onto the inside of the ribs first. That’s the concave bit, where it curves inwards.
This means that when you flip them over to do the other side, the rub won’t stick to the counter as the curve holds the ribs up slightly.
Generously sprinkle the rub over the ribs and then, well, rub it in. You need to get the rub into all the nooks and crannies of those ribs. Make sure you go between each rib and right to the ends.
Flip the rack and do the same for the other side. If you want to keep the rub off your hands you can wear gloves. Make sure they’re fairly thin gloves. You still need to get into all of the crevices.
If you’re preparing ahead of time, you can leave your ribs overnight in their rub. This will allow the flavors to permeate the meat. If you don’t have that kind of time, don’t worry. You can cook them as they are.
Smoking Baby Back Ribs
Smoking baby back ribs is a bit of an art. Many people swear by the 3-2-1 method. This requires you to smoke the ribs for 3 hours, cook them in foil for 2 hours and then return them to the grill and cook them in a sauce for 1 hour.
Overall, that gives you a cook time of 6 hours.
For smaller racks, 3 hours in the smoker might be a bit much. You can bring it down to 2 hours if you think they need less time.
When Are They Done?
Ribs shouldn’t fall off the bone. That means they’ve gone too far. You’re not making pulled pork after all!
You can use a thermometer to check if they are done. You’re looking for an internal temperature of 170°F. Ideally, you want to check this over an hour to see if they can hold that temperature.
A good visual check requires nothing but a pair of barbeque tongs. Pick the ribs up lengthways in the middle and allow them to flop over. They should make an arch without falling apart. Only the outer layer should crack. If they perform well, you know they’re ready for saucing.
Smoking baby back ribs is a labor-intensive task. You need to prepare them overnight ideally and then you’re looking at 5-6 hours of cooking.
However, the delicious melt in the mouth texture and that sweet smokey flavor is very much worth the effort!