Ribs are one of the most recognizable cuts of meat. They’re the less meaty part of the animal, and are most often cooked as a rack or slab rather than separated and cooked individually. In American cuisine, we most commonly cook and eat pork ribs and beef ribs.
Pork spare ribs are ribs cut from the belly area of a pig. They’re surrounded by the belly meat where bacon is cut. Even though that belly fat is trimmed when spare ribs are being cut, they still have delicious marbling and flavor. St. Louis-style ribs are a type of spare rib that has the tips removed for more uniform cooking and less cartilage.
Baby back ribs are cut from the back of the pig rather than the belly. They’re shorter than spare ribs (thus the name “baby”), and they’re leaner and more tender. As a result, they tend to be more expensive than spare ribs.
Short ribs are cut from the beef chuck part of the cow. They’re called short ribs because they’re too small (or “short") for quality steaks. Rather than being tender like ribs from farther back on the cow, they’re muscles that are heavily used. However, they have a lot of flavor when cooked low and slow.
If you’re looking to master smoking pork ribs, look no further than this guide. All you need are some St. Louis spare ribs, our Pork & Poultry Rub for ribs, and some ingredients you probably already have at home.
St. Louis-style spare ribs are already cut to be mostly square and uniform, but you may want to cut along the highest rib in the rack (typically the third or fourth) and square off from there with your knife. You’ll also want to cut off the end ribs right along the bone so the ribs end on meat rather than bone.
When judges look at your ribs, they’re looking for that deep mahogany finish. That thin, dark, caramelized BBQ coating is achieved by regular mopping, spritzing, or saucing ribs throughout the smoking process. But that’s not all -- judges are also looking for a uniform, perfectly rectangular rack that comes from those perfect knife cuts.
Chad Ward, legendary BBQ competitor, 7-time grand champion, and owner of Whiskey Bent BBQ, is a self-taught BBQ pro. Below are a few tips from the pit master himself! But before you start smoking baby back ribs or spare ribs, you need to learn how to prep them.
You can buy ribs either at a grocery store or a butcher shop. Find ribs that have uniform marbling, but not too much fat. Fat provides flavor, but more fat means less meat. Avoid ribs with blood spots.
Prep time: 15 mins.
Cook time: 6 hrs.
3 hours of smoke: Set your Traeger to 180 degrees Fahrenheit and place the ribs meat-side up on the grill. After 3 hours, your ribs should have an internal temperature of 165 degrees.
2 hours of low and slow: Remove the ribs from the grill and place in a rimmed baking sheet. Raise the grill temperature to 225 degrees. While waiting for the grill to heat up, wrap your ribs in two sheets of foil, crimping the foil together to prevent leaks. Grill for 2 more hours.
1 hour of final touches: Remove the foil from the ribs and place them directly on the grill grate until the internal temperature is 195 degrees. Slather with BBQ sauce and cook for 10 to 20 minutes longer or until your internal smoked ribs temperature is 203 degrees. Let them rest for a few minutes, and serve.
One of our favorite things about smoking ribs is that they pair well with so many foods. You can keep it simple with some mac and cheese and collard greens, or you can branch out with unique takes on other picnic-friendly foods like our grilled mango coleslaw.
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