Ribs in a smoker cook much more slowly than on a grill or in the oven, allowing the flavor and tenderness to develop. Smoke permeates the meat and adds flavor that cannot be had any other way. The secret to tender ribs is the slow smoking process. Once the ribs are cooked to 160 degrees Fahrenheit, allow them to continue on the smoke for an additional 30 minutes to an hour, until they are tender and the bones are loose. The additional cooking time breaks down the collagen and makes the ribs succulently tender.
Preheat the smoker to 225 to 250 degrees Fahrenheit. Use mesquite, apple, hickory or other hard wood. If using charcoal, add soaked wood chips to generate smoke. Keep the heat as close to 225 degrees as possible.
Control the heat by controlling the smoke inlet into the grill area. There are three air valves on a smoker. The first controls air into the firebox. Opening this valve will increase the heat. Closing the air intake valve completely will put out the fire. The second valve controls the amount of smoke that leaves the firebox and flows into the smoking area. This valve also can be used to control the heat, but should not be completely closed. The last valve controls the smoke leaving the smoking area. This valve should be wide open.
Remove the membrane from the back of the ribs. Slide a knife under the edge of the membrane to loosen a large enough piece to grasp firmly. Grab the edge and pull the membrane away from the ribs. This step is optional, but removing the membrane allows the seasoning and smoke to penetrate the ribs.
Season the meat with a dry rub or marinate. A good dry rub mix for ribs is 2 tablespoons of kosher salt, 2 teaspoons of cracked black pepper, 1 teaspoon paprika, 1/2 teaspoon each of onion powder, ground sage and thyme and 1/4 teaspoon cayenne pepper. Mix together and cover the ribs with this mixture on both sides.
Place the ribs on the grill or in a grill rack, if available. Smoke for four to five hours or until the meat reaches 160 degrees and is tender. The bone will be loose when the ribs are done. Add more fuel if needed to keep the temperature at 225 degrees Fahrenheit.
Apply barbecue sauce during the last 30 minutes if desired.