Well I finally did it. I made another smoked rib recipe. For the past three years my top post/recipe on this site has been my “How to Smoke Ribs” post. I slammed the 321 method and I used babyback ribs. Now it was time to step up my game and create a recipe on spare ribs (more specifically St. Louis cut). This was a couple years in the making because I found it more challenging to master spare ribs vs babybacks. I’m finally happy with this recipe and I get a lot of positive feedback on them.
A big part of smoking barbecue is learning from those with experience. We all have to start from somewhere, but even veterans like us here at Angry BBQ can always learn from those who have been smoking longer than we have.
That’s why resources like Aaron Franklin’s Masterclass are so helpful. Anyone familiar with barbecue, especially Texas-style BBQ, recognizes Franklin’s name. He’s a huge part of the development of modern-day craft BBQ, and his restaurant is still one of the best in the state of Texas (and therefore the U.S. if Texas-style BBQ is your thing.)
However, most people think of brisket when they think of Franklin. Recently, I took his Masterclass and learned some new tips and tricks for cooking pork, though. You can check out my Franklin-inspired pulled pork recipe to see what I’ve learned there.
Now it’s time to apply what I’ve learned about his method for smoking spare ribs. Just like that smoked pork butt recipe, this isn’t a copy of Franklin’s rib recipe. This is my heavily Franklin-influenced recipe. I took the things I liked about his method and incorporated into my own. I also made it work for a pellet grill. Aaron only uses offset smokers, and we all know offsets cook differently then pellet smokers. I find I need to turn back temps on a pellet grill to cook at the same rate as an offset. I figure it is due to the fan and the rate the air moves through the cooking chamber.
Table of Contents
Who Is Aaron Franklin?
Chances are you already know who this BBQ legend is. If by chance you don’t, here’s a quick recap. He is an Austin, Texas-based BBQ pitmaster who owns and operates Franklin Barbecue on the east side of Austin after starting out of a trailer back in 2009. Just make sure you show up nice and early if you want to enjoy some of his world-class barbecue. The doors open at 11 a.m. on Tuesdays through Sundays, but food sells out as early as 2 p.m. while the lines can form as early as 4 a.m.
Franklin started out from humble roots, but he has risen to prominence thanks to hard work and resilience. He is a James Beard Award winner for Best Chef in 2015 as well as a published author with two cookbooks, Franklin Barbecue: A Meat-Smoking Manifest and Franklin Steak. There are plenty of men and women who have helped make barbecue what it is today, but there’s no question that Franklin is one of the most influential people of the last two decades.
What Are Spare Ribs?
If you’re a fan of BBQ ribs, there are two main cuts of pork ribs. There’s the baby back ribs that come from higher on the back of the hog. These are sometimes referred to as loin ribs, but you won’t find that listed on most BBQ restaurants’ menus. Then there’s the spare ribs. These come from lower on the hog’s rib cage, right near the belly.
Spare ribs (which are trimmed up and served as St. Louis-style or even Kansas City-style) are bigger and fattier. They take longer than baby back ribs to cook but will deliver plenty of meaty, juicy bites. If you want a more detailed breakdown of baby backs vs. spares, check out our breakdown of these different types of pork ribs.
Regardless, this recipe is focused on spare ribs. You can do this with baby back ribs, just reduce your cooking time accordingly. Checkout my how to smoke ribs recipe to do babybacks justice.
Do I Need To Trim Spare Ribs?
Chances are if you’re purchasing spare ribs from the grocery store, you’re likely buying a big old slab of spare ribs. If you go to a butcher shop, you should be able to purchase pre-trimmed ribs as St. Louis-style ribs, but they’ll be more expensive than if you do the trimming yourself.
However, if you want to save some money and trim a rack of spare ribs yourself, you’ll need to know how to look at spare ribs and where you need to trim.
You want to start with your rack of ribs facing you with the straight edge of the rack away from you and the curved line towards you. You also want the meat side up to start.
So what needs to be trimmed to get the rack of ribs ready for smoking? You’ll want to start by removing the collection of meat and cartilage that makes up the curved edge of the ribs. This is part of the sternum of the hog. Then you can round off the opposite edge of the ribs to simply make it more uniform for better smoking.
Now Franklin doesn’t trim the sides of his rib racks too heavily, but if you’re partial to a St. Louis-style rack of ribs, you can trim the irregular, shorter ends off the rack to make it uniform.
On the bone-side of the ribs, there’s a flap of meat that you should remove. This is still good meat, so save it for other uses like sausage.
Key Takeaways From Aaron Franklin’s Method For Smoking Ribs
Typically, I like using a rubs that are simple and only help elevate the taste of the meat vs. accent it. Conveniently Aaron takes the same approach. Just like his pork butt rub, Franklin opts for simplicity when it comes to rubbing his ribs: salt, pepper, and paprika (mostly for color.) While a Texas-style brisket rub might call for equal parts salt and pepper, Franklin opts for a 2:1 pepper-to-salt ratio and just a little paprika.
Cook Time And BBQ Sauce Usage
Franklin opts for a variant of the 3-2-1 method. Rather than smoking the ribs unwrapped for three hours, wrapped for two, then finishing unwrapped and sauced for one hour, Franklin opts to keep his ribs wrapped for the final three hours. He also coats the ribs with his sauce before wrapping them.
His barbecue sauce recipe is pretty different than the (sometimes overpoweringly) sweet sauces we are used to seeing on barbecue ribs, too. It does have both brown sugar and ketchup to provide some sweetness, but he balances it with apple cider vinegar, chopped onion and garlic, mustard powder, and Worcestershire sauce. I find our BBQ sauce recipe works really well with this recipe.
This results in a very different take on ribs than you may be used to if you’re used to ribs coated in a thick, sticky, and sweet sauce. It’s only a fairly thin layer of sauce so you can still tell that the ribs have a pepper-forward rub on them.
Just like with his pork butts, Franklin tends to run his smoker hotter than we do. For ribs, he runs his smoker anywhere between 265°-270°F. I’ve typically smoked ribs anywhere from 225°-250°F. I’ve adjusted the recipe to smoke the ribs unwrapped around 225F, and then in the foil between 225-240F. If you’re using a pellet grill at the temps Aaron suggests (265’ish), then these ribs are going to be overdone. If you’re using an offset, proceed with the 265F temp. We include both options in our recipe below.
Spritzing meat is a common way to keep it moist during the smoking process. We want good bark, not a dried-out surface. Its still a good practice to spritz the ribs with a 50/50 ratio of water and apple cider vinegar after the first 1.5 hours on the smoker. Spritzing every 30-45 minutes.
Franklin wraps his racks of ribs with one big layer of aluminum foil. Yes, even Franklin uses foil for wrapping ribs. We usually wrap our meat in a double layer of foil to help prevent damage and all those juices leaking out, but Franklin does a good job with just a single layer.
Also, he specifies wrapping the ribs with the duller side of the foil facing out. He said it absorbs heat more than reflecting it. Nothing new here. There is a small amount of difference between the sides of aluminum foil, but when you’re dealing with convection as we are in a smoker, it’s not a huge deal.
Franklin also emphasizes looking over the rack of ribs for small sharp bones that could puncture the foil and let the juices drain out. I have proof in pictures that will show you that you do not want your juices to leak out. The ribs will cook faster without the juices and have a more burnt finish. See below.
Checking For Doneness
Normally we look for visual signs when we determine doneness. We look to see if the meat has pulled away from the ends of the bone. We also test to see if the surface of the meat cracks a little when grabbed with tongs and bounced lightly.
However, due to keeping the ribs wrapped for the entire second half of the cooking time as well as the resting time, we can’t do that. Franklin tests for doneness by squeezing the meat around the third bone in to see if it’s tender to the touch. Wet your hands slightly before touching the foil to avoid burns.
What Temperature Are The Ribs Done At?
With ribs I myself and Aaron Franklin are not overly concerned with temping them to confirm they’re done. This recipe will ensure that they are cooked to a safe temp. However, if you want to use your instant meat probe (if you don’t have one get one, see below), then you’re looking for a temperature around 195-205F.
Speaking of resting, Franklin recommends letting the ribs sit in the foil for about 30-40 minutes before serving. That’s usually what we do as ribs aren’t a thick piece of meat that we might let rest for up to two hours like a brisket.
Wrapping It Up
We always approach barbecue with two things in mind: how do we make this as tasty as possible and what can we learn from others? When it comes to ribs, there are so many different ways to approach it. Aaron Franklin brings a Texas spin, and we feel like that’s worth learning from and applying to how we’ve always done things.
So give this a try and let us know what you think! Then let us know in the comments what’s your favorite way to smoke ribs. Maybe we can learn something from you!
What’s A Good Side Dish For Ribs?
Ribs are an iconic barbecue meat, so most iconic sides go well with some ribs. You can’t go wrong (unless you are lactose intolerant, at which point forgive us for what we’re about to list) with macaroni and cheese. We prefer giving it a barbecue twist, so check out our recipe for smoked mac and cheese. For some reason cheese and BBQ seem to go well, so you can also check out these cheesy smashed potatoes, too. Don’t forget the veggies with some sauteed asparagus. And for dessert try our smoked cheesecake recipe.
Smoked Spare Ribs – Aaron Franklin Style
- 1 smoker Pellet, Offset or Charcoal.
- 1 Aluminum Foil
- 1 Brush for Mop Sauce
- 1 Boning Knife
- 1 Squeeze bottle For Mop Sauce
- 1 Cutting Board
- 1 Spice Shaker
- 1 Water Pan
- 2 Racks Pork Spare Ribs (St. Louis Cut optional)
- 1/2 Cup BBQ Sauce For Mop Sauce
- 3/4 Cup Apple Cider Vinegar 1/4 Cup for Spritz Bottle. 1/2 Cup for Mop Sauce
- 1/4 Cup Water For Spritz Bottle
- 1/4 Cup Coarse Kosher Salt
- 1/4 Cup Coarse Ground Black Pepper
- 3 tbsp Paprika
- 1/4 Cup Yellow Mustard
- Trim your rack of ribs. If you've purchased St. Louis cut there is very little prep. Remove any excess chunks of fat, small sharp bones and the membrane found on the bone side of the ribs. Use paper towel to help grip the membrane and pull to remove. If you purchased a full rack of spare ribs. Watch the video above to trim properly.
- Once your ribs are trimmed it is time to apply the rub. Use a shaker bottle and combine the kosher salt, coarse black pepper and paprika. Shake well before applying to the ribs. Start by applying some ballpark yellow mustard to the ribs, just enough to get a light coating. The mustard acts as a binder.
- Then apply the rub to the bone side of the racks first. Apply liberally and evenly. Then flip the racks bone side down and apply again.
- Once the rub is applied, it's a good time to fire up your smoker. If you're using an offset get it going to 265F. If you're using a pellet smoker set it to 225F-240F. Place the ribs in the fridge if it's going to be a while until they hit the smoker.
- When the smoker is at temp, put in the water pan and fill it with hot water. Then place the ribs in the smoker, bone side down. The water keeps the humidity up in the cooking chamber, which lets the smoke adhere to the meat better. I find slow cooking meat in a higher humidity makes the meat more tender as well.
- After about 1.5 hours, fill your spritz bottle with 50% water and 50% apple cider vinegar. Spritz the ribs but do not drench them. We want to keep them moist to help create a bark and encourage more smoke flavor. Spritz every 30-45 minutes until the wrapping step.
- After 2 hours the ribs should be forming a nice color. What we do not want to see is the fat rendering out of the ribs and the meat pulling back from the bones. If this is happening, reduce the temperature. We only want the fat to render after we wrapped the ribs.
- After 2.5 hours of smoking, mix the warm bbq sauce with the apple cider vinegar and pour into your squeeze bottle. Flip the ribs meat side down and mop the ribs with the sauce/water mix. Close the lid and let smoke for 15 minutes. Flip the ribs again and mop the meat side. Close the lid and let smoke for another 15 minutes.
- Now we are at the 3 hour mark. The ribs are ready for wrapping in foil. Inspect the ribs for any sharp edges and remove them. We do not want to puncture the foil as overcooking can happen.
- Cut a piece of heavy duty foil about 2.25 x the length of the rib rack. Place the foil shiny side up. Pour 1/2 of the remaining sauce/cider vinegar mixture into the foil. Place a rib rack meat side down in the middle of the foil and on top of the sauce.
- Wrap each long side of the foil into the middle of the rib rack and wrap it tightly (making sure not to puncture the foil).
- Wrap the remaining short sides of the foil into the middle and again pack tightly.
- Once the ribs are wrapped tight and there isn't a chance of the foil being punctured, put them back on the smoker.
- After 2 hours it's a good idea to check for tenderness. Wet your hands and feel for the third bone from the end of the rack. If the ribs feel soft and pliable, the ribs are done. If it isn't soft, keep on cooking. Once you hit the three hour mark, they will most certainly be done. By my experience they are usually done after two hours in a pellet grill at the 225-240F cooking temperature. If you're using an offset at 265F, they will probably go the full three hours in the foil.
- Remove the ribs and let them rest for 30 minutes.
- Remove the ribs from the foil and cut the ribs between each bone. You're ready to serve and blow peoples minds.