Ribs 101
For many years, I did a big cookout each summer that I called Pork-O-Rama. I loaded up a Weber Smokey Mountain Cooker with racks of back ribs, and grilled a variety of bratwurst over charcoal. Here are some notes about what I figured out.

What You Will Need

Special Note

From opening the rib packaging to serving the meal, you should allow six to seven hours for back ribs. The rub needs a couple of hours to settle into the meat, and the ribs will take at least four hours in the smoker.

Choosing Ribs

When a meatcutter produces ribs, the end product is a slab of larger ribs and smaller ribs. The larger ribs are called spare ribs; the small slabs are variously called back ribs, loin back ribs, or baby back ribs. Spare ribs are bigger, meatier but a little more chewy, and take longer to cook. Back ribs are smaller, more tender, and cost more, per pound, than spare ribs.

The times suggested in this document are for back ribs.


Prepare the Rub and the Ribs

Mix the spices needed for the rub. See the list of ingredients at end.

Next, prepare the ribs. If you have purchased a package of three slabs from Costco, open the heavy plastic package and remove the rib slabs. Rinse them off in cold water and pat well dry with paper towels.

Ribs from a supermarket butcher should be trimmed, dry and clean.

Depending on where you buy your ribs and from what processor, a rack of ribs may have a rough membrane along the “back” of the bones. If so you should remove it before anything else.

To remove this membrane, get a table knife and some paper towels. Scrape up an edge of the membrane with the knife, grip it using the paper towel, and pull off. This takes some trial and error, but with experience you can sometimes get the whole membrane off with a single pull. If you are unsure about this step, check Youtube: Lots of good videos on this topic.

Rub the ribs with a generous coating of spice rub. Go ahead and rub it into the meat and fat with your fingertips.

Now, cover the ribs (just with tea towels or paper towels or something, to keep flies off) and leave out for an hour or two.

Ready the Cooker

(The following directions are for the Weber Smokey Mountain Cooker)

About an hour before starting the cooking, light the charcoal in the bottom compartment of the smoker. I use a charcoal lighting basket that gets the coals going with some newspaper. Charcoal lighter fluid may impart an unwanted petroleum flavor to meat.

Once the charcoal is burning, spread across the bottom compartment. Put the water pan in place over the coals. Add water right up near the rim. Lots of water in this step means less likelihood of having to add more later. Put the large cylindrical shell of the smoker in place on atop the rim of the bottom compartment.

Let the coals burn down to a nice coating of white ash. (About 45 minutes to an hour). Check on their progress by looking through the small aluminum side door.

Start the Cooking

Put the first metal grate in place over the water. Four racks or less can just be laid flat – two on the lower grate, two on the upper grate. Place the food on the lower grate, then place the upper grate on the tabs above.

For preparing up to eight racks, roll each rack into a ring. Pin closed with a bamboo skewer. Set them upright on the grates, with the cut side of the bone resting on the grill. Doing this will allow you to put up to four racks of ribs on each level of the cooker.

Put the lid on the smoker. Open the side door and throw a small handful of hickory chips. Close the side door.

Cook 4-5 Hours

Add a few more chips every hour or so. Add a handful of charcoal briquettes when you do so.

The WSMC has three vents. For the first couple hours, have the vents wide open. Then, close one. For the last hour, close two.

The ribs will need at least four hours to cook and maybe as long as five. They will be done with a bone will wiggle in it's socket.

Remove from heat and slice up. Cut between each bone with a sharp knife. Keep a little meat on each side of the bone. Serve sauce on the side.

Spice Rub

Just mix the spices below. They will keep for a long time in an airtight container: