How Long To Smoke A Rack Of Ribs

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It’s funny how in the world of barbecue, ribs can be so divisive. Baby backs versus spare ribs. Wet (sauced) versus dry. If you’re approaching smoking ribs for the first time, you’ve probably already considered all of those options. Yet you might not have given much thought to one of the biggest questions: How long should you smoke ribs? While there…

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How Long To Smoke Ribs
Side Ribs Smoking on the Yoder YS640S

It’s funny how in the world of barbecue, ribs can be so divisive. Baby backs versus spare ribs. Wet (sauced) versus dry. If you’re approaching smoking ribs for the first time, you’ve probably already considered all of those options. Yet you might not have given much thought to one of the biggest questions: How long should you smoke ribs?

While there are layers to that question based on what type of ribs you’re smoking and what temperature you’re smoking ribs at, the answer is simply “shorter than you think.” Why do we say that? Well, as Michael Haas here at Angry BBQ says, the most common 321 method results in overcooked ribs.

Now that we’ve offended a large number of people, let me explain. We believe that pork ribs, whether it’s baby backs or sides, should require some tug to remove the meat from the bone. It should be 100% possible and fairly easy, but the meat should not simply be falling off the bone. This is more in line with competition BBQ where ribs are cut into individual  bones  and you can take a clean bite of the meat without any extra meat ripping or tearing off the bone. 

However, the true beauty of barbecue is that when you’re smoking ribs for yourself, your family, and your friends, you can do it however you want to suit your personal preference. You can ignore our thoughts. We won’t be, ahem, angry with you. This is simply how we think it should be done. If you love fall-off-the-bone ribs, do it! We’re certainly not going to come to your house and angrily knock ribs out of your hands. You want ribs that simply have a dry rub on them, go for it! Do you want barbecue sauce? Grab a bottle of your favorite sauce and slather it on!

So if you’re still curious about how long to smoke ribs according to Angry BBQ, read on!

Barbecue Is About Smoking To Temperature And Texture, Not Time

Smoked Ribs
Beauty Babybacks

When we first start smoking barbecue, we tend to approach it like cooking or baking. How long is this dish going to take me? Well, we’ve said it before and we will continue to say it. Smoking meat is about achieving the correct internal temperature and the right texture of the meat, not about how many hours. Time is a guideline here, not a rule.

When it comes to ribs, it’s actually more about the texture (and yes, timing) than the internal temperature. We’ve got timing guidelines for when you should be doing certain steps, but you’ll determine that the ribs are done by the texture and how the ribs physically handle being picked up. You can always use the ThermoWorks Thermapen ONEthe hyper-futuristic Typhur InstaProbe, or any of our favorite instant-read thermometers to check to see if you’ve reached the target temperature zone of 195°-205°F (90.6°-96.1°C.) Remember, the higher on that scale you go, the more likely you are to get fall-off-the-bone ribs, not ribs you can take a quality bite out of.

So while I cannot tell you to smoke ribs for four hours and 35 minutes and they will be perfect, I’m still going to give you guidelines for how long to smoke ribs at various temperatures on your smoker. 

How Long To Smoke Ribs

When it comes to smoking ribs and how long it will take, there are a few variables to consider. First, you need to consider what type of rib you’re smoking. How big each rib is and how thick the meat is will lead to variance in length of time. Secondly, you need to figure out what temperature you’re smoking your ribs at. The lower the temperature, the longer the  smoking time, and the higher the temperature, the less time it will take. 

So what are the most common temperatures for smoking ribs and what’s the best?

What’s The Best Temp To Smoke Ribs?

You can definitely get yourself in an argument debating what’s the best temp for smoking ribs. However, here at Angry BBQ, we love smoking ribs at 225°F (107.2°C.) While it takes longer than the other typical temperatures, it allows for maximum smoke flavor and gives the collagen inside the ribs plenty of time to break down to achieve tender ribs without overcooking them. 

You will find plenty of people recommending 250°F (121.1°C) or even 275°F (135°C.) It truly depends on your preference and your smoker. However, the higher the temperature you go, you can run the risk of either drying the ribs out or even burning the edges. So just keep a keenly trained eye on those ribs if you choose to smoke at a higher temperature. 

How Long To Smoke Ribs at 225°F? 

Traeger Smoker Temp

To achieve competition BBQ-style ribs, we recommend smoking baby back ribs at 225°F for four hours and 15 minutes. That gives you tender, smoky ribs without feeling like your ribs are falling apart. We want ribs, not pulled pork. However, if you truly want fall-off-the bone ribs,  smoke them for around five hours. Remember to start off the ribs bone side down.

Now there will be some deviations in the length of time. These are guidelines, remember. One of the biggest factors in determining how long to smoke ribs is the type of ribs. It won’t make an hour’s difference, but it can make a noticeable difference. Baby back ribs are a bit leaner and thinner than side ribs, so they’ll cook a little quicker. So make sure you know what type of rib you’re smoking and if you’re smoking a thicker rib, just give yourself a little extra time, line an hour or two max.

This is our preference here at Angry BBQ. We know that smoking barbecue involves low temperatures and longer lengths of time. We want our ribs to take in as much smoky flavor as possible without over-smoking, so we feel that 225°F is the ideal temperature for ribs.

I also want to point out that this is total cook time, if you read our rib recipe, you’ll notice that a percentage of the cook is with the ribs in the smoked uncovered, then about 1-1.5hrs wrapped in foil and then another 15-30 minutes unwrapped and sauced. Read our recipe to understand how to smoke ribs.

How Long To Smoke Ribs at 250°F?

250°F seems to be the other major player for preferred smoking temperature for ribs. You can still get good smoke flavor at 250­°F with a shorter cook time. You can smoke a rack of ribs in about three and a half to four hours at this temperature to get competition-style ribs. Once again, thicker and fattier ribs will take longer than thinner and leaner ribs. Malcolm Reed from How To BBQ Right and the Killer Hogs competition BBQ team smoked his ribs at this temperature in competition.

Time To Smoke Ribs at 275°F?

If you’re looking to cook ribs in the shortest period of time while still achieving smoke flavor, you can run your smoker at 275°F. This does require greater attention to detail than smoking  at 225°F or 250°F. The higher temperature runs the risk of drying the meat out or even burning some of the edges. 

If you want to go with this method, you can have your ribs ready in about three to three and a half hours.

Why Is There A Time Difference Between Baby Back and Spare Ribs?

As we mentioned throughout the article, you’re going to see some time differences depending on what type of rib you smoke. The two primary types of ribs you’ll see are baby back and spare ribs (aka side ribs). If the spare ribs are trimmed, you’ll see them commonly referred to as St Louis-style spare ribs. 

So what are the primary differences? Racks of baby back ribs are typically lighter and have more meat on the top of the rib. They are also leaner with less fat. Racks of spare ribs have more meat in between the rib bones, are heavier, and have more fat on them. Both types of ribs can be cooked to ideal tenderness, though. Baby back ribs come from near the pork loin, so even though they are leaner, the meat itself is still tender. Spare ribs are tougher to start, but that fat will render during a low and slow smoking session, resulting in tender ribs.

Baby Back Ribs vs Spare Ribs
Spares on Left. Baby Backs on Right.

For a full breakdown, check out our article comparing baby back ribs and spare ribs. For the purpose of this article, just remember that spare ribs are going to take longer than baby back ribs.

How To Tell When Your Ribs Are Done

With these approximate times in mind, how do you know when your ribs are ready to come off the smoker? There are three primary indicators to look for. First, you can temp the meat with an instant-read meat thermometer as discussed above. You need to take care not to hit the bone with the probe. You’re looking for a temperature in between 195° and 205°F. If you’re in that range, then look at the bones. Do you see the bones protruding more from the meat than before and the meat starting to pull back a little? If yes, then grab the rack of ribs with a tong in the middle and pick it up. If the meat starts to crack around the tongs, pull the ribs!

The ribs below are spares. The right side of the rack was overdone (nice job Michael). You can see the bones really pronounced on the right hand side. They are noticeable on the left side as well which is how you want them to look.

Smoked Spare Ribs

Is The 321 Method The Proper Way To Smoke Ribs?

If you’ve made it this far and are familiar with different recommendations for smoking ribs, you’re probably wondering where is the 321 method. 

If you’re unfamiliar with smoking ribs, you’re probably wondering what the heck is the 321 method. Here’s a brief overview. With your smoker set to 225°F, you smoke your ribs for three hours uncovered, then wrap tightly in aluminum foil or butcher paper and smoke for two more hours, then unwrap and glaze with your preferred BBQ sauce and smoke for one more hour.

What you get are ribs whose meat is falling off the bone. You can easily slide a bone out of the meat and it will be as clean as a whistle. There are plenty of people who love this method and believe it is the proper way to do so. If that’s you, have at it and enjoy! It’s not our preference here, though. We believe that those ribs are overcooked.

Though you could probably make a killer rib sandwich smoking ribs this way. No need to wait for that iconic fast-food restaurant to bring their “rib” sandwich back for a limited time. 

Wrapping It Up

We believe that following the 321 method for smoking ribs will result in overcooked ribs that would get you laughed out of any BBQ competition. We prefer ribs that you need to bite and tug the meat off the bone. If you’re smoking ribs at our preferred temperature of 225°F, that’ll take you around 4 hours and 15 minutes for baby back ribs, and a little longer for spare ribs. For a full breakdown of smoking ribs at 225°F, check out Michael’s method and recipe on how to smoke ribs! 

Remember, you can smoke ribs even if you don’t have an offset smoker or a pellet grill. You can set up a charcoal grill for indirect heat and add wood chunks or even wood chips for that smoky flavor. If you want more information on wood chips vs wood chunks, we’ve got an article covering that.

If you’re unsure of what wood to use to smoke ribs or any other meat, check out our article on smoking wood explained.

Also, if you end up having leftover ribs, you want to make sure that you take proper care of them in the fridge so you don’t end up with spoiled meat. If you’ve ever wondered how long ribs last in the fridge, you’re not alone!

What’s your favorite temperature to smoke ribs? Do you prefer fall-off-the-bone or needing to tug the meat off the bone? Are you a fan of using hickory, cherry, or oak wood for smoking ribs? Let us know in the comments!

FAQs

Question: Can you smoke ribs and not wrap them?

Answer: You absolutely can do that. However, it does heighten the risk of drying out your ribs even further. If you do it correctly, you can produce ribs with a ton of smoky flavor and an incredible bark. You just have to be aware of the potential for burning your ribs or over-smoking them.

Question: What are the best woods for smoking ribs?

Answer: In our article about what woods pair well with meat that we highlighted above, there’s a handy chart summarizing the flavor combinations. Fruit woods like apple, cherry, and pecan go extremely well with ribs. I personally prefer a combination of sweet fruit wood and oak. Cherry is a great option because it helps develop that deep red color we all want in our ribs. If you’re looking for more intense flavor, you can even experiment with mesquite. Just be careful not to overdo it! Download our wood smoking chart below.

Smoking Wood Chart

Question: What should I put in my wrap for ribs?

Answer: Michael Haas brushes his ribs with melted butter and honey before sealing the wrap. Some other options include adding liquid like apple juice or beer. These liquids help steam the ribs, so you are more likely to end up with overcooked, fall-off-the-bone ribs.

Question: Should I remove the membrane from my ribs before smoking?

Answer: While it isn’t a necessity, we do recommend removing the membrane. It can prevent your dry rub from actually forming bark on the meat itself. The membrane can also become tough and unpleasant to eat as you try to get every last bit of meat off the bone.

Jeremy Pike

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