Weekend Project: Smoked Baby Back Ribs

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Weekend Project: Smoked Baby Back Ribs

Slow smoked ribs are the ultimate centerpiece for a Father’s Day feast. And they’re easy to cook — they just need a little time and patience. Use these tips to get started and try our go-to recipe below. 


Remove the MembraneRemove the Membrane

Flip the ribs over so the backside 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.

Steam-Roast the Ribs in the OvenSteam-Roast the Ribs in the Oven

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.

Mix Your Wood ChipsMix Your Wood Chips

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.

Don't OvercookUse Both Indirect and Direct Heat

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.

Don't OvercookDon’t Overcook

Some people think that once the meat has pulled back from the bones 1 inch (2.5 cm.) 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. 


BBQ Baby Back Ribs


For the BBQ rub:

1/4 cup (2 oz./60 g.) granulated sugar

1 Tbs. firmly packed light brown sugar

1/4 cup (1 oz./30 g.) paprika

1 Tbs. chili powder

1 tsp. cayenne pepper

1 tsp. smoked paprika

Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper


2 racks baby back ribs, about 3 lb. (1.5 kg.) each

2-3 Tbs. mustard of your choice


About 2 cups wood chips, soaked in water for 30 minutes

Classic BBQ sauce (recipe below) or 2 cups (16 fl. oz./500 ml.) of your favorite BBQ sauce

About 2 Tbs. honey


To make the rub, in a small container with a tight-fitting lid, stir together the sugars, paprika, chili powder, cayenne, smoked paprika, 1 teaspoon salt, and several grinds of black pepper. Shake vigorously to mix.


Preheat the oven to 250°F (120°C). 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 (2 fl. oz./60 ml.) water; reseal the package. Bake the ribs in the oven for 1 hour. 


Prepare a charcoal or gas grill for smoking over low heat; the temperature of the grill should be 200°-250°F (95°-120°C). 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. 


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.


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.


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.


Classic BBQ Sauce


1 cup (8 oz./250 g.) ketchup

2 Tbs. yellow mustard

1 Tbs. cider vinegar

2 tsp. firmly packed dark brown sugar

1/2 cup (4 fl. oz./125 ml.) low-sodium chicken broth

Kosher salt and freshly ground pepper

2 chipotle chiles in adobo sauce, finely chopped (optional)

1/4 tsp. ground cumin (optional)


In a saucepan over medium heat, combine the ketchup, mustard, vinegar, sugar, broth, a pinch of salt, and 2 teaspoons pepper and bring to a simmer, stirring to dissolve the sugar. For a Southwest-style sauce, stir in the chiles and the cumin. Simmer for 5 minutes for a relatively thin sauce or for 10-15 minutes for a thick sauce. Taste and adjust the seasoning with salt. Use right away, or let cool and store in an airtight container in the refrigerator for up to 1 month. Makes about 2 cups (16 fl. oz./500 ml.)

5 comments about “Weekend Project: Smoked Baby Back Ribs

  1. Smoked Baby Back Ribs |

  2. Melissa

    Do you think you could ‘steam-roast’ the ribs in the Smoker Bags that you sell? Then finish on the grill?

    1. Williams-Sonoma Post author

      Hi Melissa, absolutely! The food stays moist while it cooks in the bags. You can finish the ribs on the grill or under the broiler. Hope you enjoy!

  3. Warren B

    These look amazing! I just got my hands on a dyna-glo propane smoker last week, I think these ribs are on the menu this weekend! I tried ribs last year without doing much research, an dI didn’t know about removing the membrane. Hopefully this will make them a little more tender!

    Thanks for the post!


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