Although grilling or braising ribs is faster for busy families, these techniques can never compare to the flavor and texture of the barbecue smoked ribs your family loves. Low heat prevents pork meat from over-tightening, a longer cooking time causes it to eventually relax and get tender, the slow-melting fat allows the meat to baste itself and the smoke flavor is infused deep into the bone. Put your homemade charcoal and wood smoker to the test next time you and your family decide to spend the day together, and the results will amaze you.
Make a Suitable Smoker
Design your barbecue smoker so that the coals are accessible, because heat control is vital in true barbecue. You don't want to have to remove your ribs and grate every time you need to add some hot coals. Slabs of ribs can be quite long, so make sure your smoker is designed to hold them and comfortably close. You may wish to get a standing rib roasting rack so you can make up to five slabs at one time.
Purchase wood chunks of a hard wood to smoke your ribs. Since ribs require such a long cooking time, pellets and chips are not as convenient because they need to be replenished much more often. Hickory and mesquite are favorites for ribs, they have a strong flavor, but if ribs are exposed to them for too long a time they can become bitter. Oak has a milder resulting flavor for those who only want a hint of smoke. You can also select something with a sweeter flavor, like maple or apple wood. Experiment and combine different woods to find your own perfect balance. Don't smoke for the entire cooking period. After three hours, stop replenishing wood chips and let the ribs finish by heat alone so the smoky flavor isn't overpowering.
Preparing the Ribs
On the back of your slab of ribs, check for a paper-like membrane. Peel it up on the corner, then use a dry paper towel to help you get a grip on the corner and pull it off the ribs. This membrane prevents flavors and smoke from penetrating the rib rack. If you are making spare ribs, cut the extra flap of meat off the front of the ribs to even out the thickness. Don't discard it as you can cook it with your ribs, it's just best when not still attached. Use a flavorful rub on your ribs, such as ranch seasoning mix, pepper and paprika, and refrigerate them with the rub anywhere from an hour to overnight. Don't add sauce until the last 15 minutes of cooking.
Low and Slow
The key to successful barbecue ribs is temperature control, so use a thermometer to ensure your barbecue smoker maintains a steady heat of 225 degrees Fahrenheit. Use a chimney starter to get hot coals ready to replenish as necessary. Keep the smoker away from windy areas, as this can cause heat flare-ups. Depending on the type, weight and size of your ribs, most will reach a safe eating temperature of 165 degrees within four or five hours. The longer you leave them on, the more flavorful and tender they will get. Try to let them continue for eight to 12 hours for best results.