How to Smoke Baby Back Ribs

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Ask a backyard grill master to name the holy grail of grilling, and the usual answer is perfect ribs. We turned to grilling expert, Fred Thompson, to learn the ins and outs of making perfect baby back ribs.


Frankly, even though ribs are simple to cook, folks come up with the oddest methods. First, don’t ever parboil ribs that you’ll be smoking. It makes them tough. Second, don’t let the fire get too hot, or you’ll end up with a batch of dry ribs.



Flip the ribs over so the back side is up. Slide a sharp knife under the corner of the thin membrane that covers the backside of the rack, then grab a corner of the membrane and rip it off (you can also use a paper towel to grab the membrane). The ribs will be easier to eat, will be infused with more flavor, and will cook more evenly.

Loosely wrap the ribs in aluminum foil, add a little water to the package, and steam-roast the ribs in gentle heat in your oven for about an hour. This sets up an environment that guarantees moist ribs.


Cook the ribs over low indirect heat first, then, toward the end of cooking, move them to medium direct heat, and baste with the sauce.


Some folks think that once the meat has pulled back from the bones 1 inch or so, the ribs are done. Wrong. On the competition circuit, ribs that look like that are called shiners because they are overcooked and dried out. A little bone showing is okay. The best way to tell when a rack of ribs is ready is to grab the long side with tongs, and if the ribs bend without resistance, they are done.


Don’t use all hickory chips, which can give the ribs a bitter edge. Instead, use a mix of hickory and oak or a fruit wood.


BBQ Baby Back Ribs Recipe


  • 2 racks baby back ribs, about 3 lb each
  • 2–3 tablespoons mustard of your choice
  • All-Purpose BBQ Rub
  • About 2 cups wood chips, soaked in water for 30 minutes
  • 2 cups BBQ sauce
  • About 2 tablespoons honey

Directions: How to Prepare Baby Back Ribs on a Charcoal Grill

  1. Preheat the oven to 250ºF (This is the best temperature to smoke ribs). Remove the membrane from the back of each rack and trim off any excess fat. Brush the mustard on both sides of the racks and sprinkle the rub on both sides. Gently pat the rub into the mustard. Place the ribs, side by side, on a large piece of aluminum foil and loosely wrap the ribs. Set on a rimmed baking sheet. Unwrap one corner and pour in 1⁄4 cup water; reseal the package. Bake the ribs in the oven for 1 hour.
  2. Prepare a charcoal or gas grill for smoking over low heat; the temperature of the grill should be 200º–250ºF. If using charcoal, bank the lit coals on either side of the grill bed, leaving a strip in the center without heat. Place a drip pan in the center strip and fill the pan with water. Add about 1 cup of the wood chips to the fire just before grilling. If using gas, fill the smoker box with about 1 cup of the wood chips, then preheat the grill. Turn off 1 or more burners to create a cooler zone. Brush and oil the grill grate.
  3. Remove the ribs from the oven. Unwrap the ribs and discard the foil. Place the ribs over the indirect-heat area of the grill, cover the grill, and smoke for 1 hour, adding the remaining wood chips after about 30 minutes.
  4. If using a charcoal grill, ready some coals to raise the temperature of the fire to medium, then uncover the grill and add the hot coals. If using a gas grill, uncover the grill and raise the heat to medium. Move the ribs, meat side down, to the direct-heat area of the grill and brush with the BBQ sauce. Cook for 5 minutes, then turn the ribs and brush the bone side with sauce. Continue to cook for 20 minutes, turning and basting with the sauce every 5 minutes. On the last turn, drizzle the honey on the meaty side of the racks.
  5. Transfer the racks to a cutting board and let rest for about 10 minutes. Cut the racks into individual ribs, pile them on a platter, and serve at once with the remaining sauce. Serves 4

Best smoked ribs recipe


Grilling authority Fred Thompson shares more than 100 delicious recipes in his book Williams-Sonoma Grill Master. The iBook version includes exclusive videos; to buy, search “Williams-Sonoma” in iBooks on your mobile device.

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Smoked Baby Back Ribs
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7 comments about “How to Smoke Baby Back Ribs

  1. John D. Ekberg

    As far as steam roasting the ribs in the oven, I’d want to try using 1/4 cup of a good lager or stout instead of water for additional flavor. Do you see a downside of this technique or is it something you would recommend as well?

    1. Tom

      No, problem other than the lager upon evoperation may carmalize a little quicker

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  4. Bob Kelly

    (4) Replace your cigarette break with an orange juice
    break, or to smoke only those you really want. Some hobbies
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    or reading. They are afraid that if they quit smoking,
    they will feel worse because they don’t have the cigarettes to help improve their mood.

  5. Fall-Off-The-Bone Baby Back Ribs (Slow Cooker or Oven) - Family Savvy

  6. Mark Buress

    What temperature do you recommended steam roasting ribs at
    Also what temperature and length of time do you recommend to smoke the ribs


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