Smoked meat has been around as long as there has been fire on which to cook it. Before refrigeration, smoking was a way to preserve meat. Nowadays, it’s so much more. Smoked meat is tender, flavorful, crowd-friendly, and inexpensive. But smoking can also be a little intimidating, especially when the meat is ribs. To learn the secrets to flavorful, tender smoked ribs, we turned to barbecue maven and serious rib aficionado Jess Pryles. The key to her success is following a few basic rules. Keep them in mind as you approach the task, and soon, you’ll proudly call yourself a pit master, too.
Start with good-quality meat, prepped right
That doesn’t mean expensive, because ribs aren’t pricey. They’re loaded with tough connective tissue and lots of flavorful fat that needs to be broken down and rendered (plus a tough silverskin that must be removed). That’s why you smoke them in low heat for a long time.
Invest in a good-quality smoker
This can be an expensive proposition, but affordable options are available. The Fine Cooking test kitchen used the Weber Smokey Mountain, a bullet smoker, to make these recipes. For an affordable price, it’s a great smoker that maintains steady heat over a long period of time.
Use a flavorful rub
Make one, or buy one. Just be sure it has good flavor because that’s largely what you’ll be tasting on the meat.
Keep the temperature steady
Maintaining a consistent temperature throughout the cooking time is critical for achieving tender, fall-off-the-bone meat. The ideal temperature range is generally from 200°F to 275°F, depending on the cut of meat and its thickness.
Keep things moist and smoky inside the smoker
That’s exactly how you want the meat to be when it’s done.
Learn to use the Texas crutch
First developed at the world famous Franklin Barbecue in Austin, Texas, this technique of wrapping ribs in butcher paper during the last phase of smoking has now become de rigeur for competitive meat-smoking enthusiasts. Why? It’s one of the best ways to battle the temperature stall that can occur after a few hours of smoking. Learn how to do it here.
Finally, be patient
Give the smoke time to do its job. Resist the urge to constantly check on the meat; that only allows heat, moisture, and smoke to escape and cause the smoker’s temperature to fluctuate.