The Best Smoked Pork Ribs Recipe Ever

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The Best Smoked Pork Ribs Ever Recipe – our 3-2-1 smoked ribs recipe delivers tender, juicy rib meat that is perfectly seasoned, with a crispy, crunchy bark and tons of smoky flavor.

If you’re new to smoking and want to try smoking ribs, this smoked ribs recipe is perfect for beginners, because we’re adding lots of tips and information like how to prepare your ribs, what ribs to buy, how to season ribs, and more – so you can feel like an experienced grill-master, your first time and every time.

picture of smoked pork ribs on a cutting board
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picture of smoked pork ribs on a cutting board

3-2-1 Smoked Ribs

Easy, tender, juicy, and finger-licking delicious smoked pork ribs are one of the best meals you can make for a summer picnic or party – they are everyone’s favorite feast, and are surprisingly simple to make with the right tips and tricks.

If you’ve ever wondered what goes into restaurant quality ribs at home on your smoker, you’re in luck – I’m going to share tons of tips and tricks to help you become a rib smoking pitmaster in no time with this recipe for the best smoked pork ribs ever.

Make a delicious side of BBQ Baked Beans, some Parker House Rolls, grilled corn, pour a Scotch and Soda, and let’s get to smoking these delicious, incredible, fall-off-the-bone tender ribs!

This recipe is perfection in a smoker or on a grill – but if you’re looking for a delicious, tender, fall off the bone slow cooker ribs recipe, you’re in luck! I also have a to die for delicious slow cooker ribs recipe that follows this recipe closely, even using the same rub!

And if you’re looking for even more inspiration for ribs, you can find more of our favorite juicy ribs recipes here.

Check on my web story on these ribs that includes video!

picture of a hand holding a smoked rib

How To Smoke Ribs

To make this recipe, we will need the following:

For the Rub:

  • Ground black or white pepper. Pepper has a citrussy, piney, earthy and hot flavor that adds depth to the fatty pork rib meat, and helps to cut through the rich smoky flavor.
  • Kosher salt. Salt doesn’t just add flavor to pork by helping to accent pork’s light buttery flavor – it actually helps accentuate the solubility of the muscle and fat (meaning it helps tough, chewy tissue break down to be more tender and delicious!)
  • Hungarian paprika. Whether you choose sweet or hot paprika is largely up to you – I prefer hot Hungarian paprika, but my husband prefers sweet – either way, this pungent peppery seasoning helps to season pork and add depth and dimension to the smoky bark.
  • Onion powder. Onion powder has an earthy, pungent, sharp and sweet flavor that highlights the meaty, fatty flavor of pork ribs.
  • Celery salt. – celery salt is salty, vegetal, with a green and grassy finish that helps to lighten the smoky flavor so it doesn’t overpower your pork meat. Additional salt also helps to tenderize pork and break down tissue as well.
  • Garlic powder. Garlic powder is another earthy, pungeant seasoning that is easy to mix and milder than raw garlic – perfect for mixing into a rub. It enhances pork’s rich, fatty flavor.

For the bath:

  • Brown sugar. Brown sugar helps to create a sticky sweet crust on the outside of the pork, without being too sweet. It has a perfect light molasses flavor that enhances rich smoky notes.
  • Apple cider vinegar. Rich, fatty, and smoky dishes need acid to balance them out, and the crisp, sweet notes in apple cider vinegar pair perfectly with pork’s light, slightly sweet meat flavor.
  • Apple juice or cider. Apple juice adds additional sugar, and a bit of sweetness that is light, crisp, and isn’t overpowering to penetrate the rich smoky flavor from the grill.
  • Butter. Butter adds fat to the bath to help the brown sugar stick to the bark, as well as create extra crisping on the outside of the pork meat.

For the Ribs:

  • Baby back ribs, Spare ribs, or St. Louis style ribs.

Once you’ve gathered the basic tools and ingredients, we will use the following method:

  1. Prep. Pre-soak wood chips in water for 1/2 hour, and preheat wood chips in smoker to get to 225 degrees Fahrenheit. Remove ribs from any packaging and pat dry, remove silver skin and trim off any excess sloppy bits from ribs. Mix rub ingredients well, cover completely over ribs. Let your ribs come to room temperature while wood begins to smoke and smoker comes to temperature. 
  2. Smoke. Smoke ribs on smoker for 3 hours. 
  3. Wrap. Lay out foil and lay ribs on top, adding butter, juice, and cider into foil and wrap ribs tightly in foil. Cook in foil for 2 hours. 
  4. Baste. Open foil and baste ribs in cooking liquids for one more hour, let set for 15 minutes. 
  5. Sauce. Baste a thin layer of your favorite BBQ sauce over ribs, and let set while they cook for about 15 minutes. Sauce will be sticky, not runny. Repeat with another thin layer of sauce, letting set, up to 2 more times. Total time for final smoke will be one hour. Let ribs rest at least 15 minutes before slicing or serving. 
picture of a hand holding smoked pork ribs

Tips and Tricks to Perfect Smoked Ribs

Know What Ribs You’re Buying. There are a lot of different types of ribs, which can make it confusing to figure out the best ribs to buy if you’re new to smoking ribs.

  • Baby Back Ribs. Baby Back Ribs are leaner, more tender, and work great in the oven, too.
  • Spare Ribs. Spare ribs are ribs that are closer to the belly of the pig. Spare ribs are not as meaty – in fact, that is why they are called “spare”, since the belly of the pig is primarily used for bacon, and spare ribs only keep a bit of their meat since they are cut so close to the bone. Since spare ribs don’t have a lot of meat, they cook more quickly, and also do great in the oven as well as on the smoker.
  • St. Louis Style Ribs. St. Louis Style ribs are actually from the same cut as spare ribs- except St. Loius style ribs are trimmed to a uniform rectangle shape so they can cook evenly to perfection. St. Louis style ribs have the skirt and the tip removed, which makes cooking time go faster, and prep easier. Since St. Louis style ribs have the least amount of meat, they cook the fastest – and are also great in the oven. While it’s not my favorite prep method, St. Louis style ribs can also be separated before cooking and cooked individually.

Trim and prep ribs for smoking properly. A lot of your success on the smoker will start before you ever step foot outside – starting with well prepared ribs will ensure your feast comes out perfect, every time.

Remove silver skin. Silver skin is the whitish, silvery membrane that runs along the back side of the ribs. While it is not necessary to remove this membrane, it is very easy, and can help to make your ribs softer and easier to eat.

  • Slide a small, rounded knife (not a sharp knife) under the silverskin anywhere along the rib rack, and pull up on the skin to loosen it.
  • If it won’t pull up in one spot, simply try another.
  • Lift and loosen the membrane or silver skin with the knife until it’s loose enough that you can grab it with your hands.
  • Pull the silver skin off of the rack of ribs; it should peel away in one large sheet, but if it breaks – no worries- just use the knife to restart the easy process in another section of ribs.

Use the 3-2-1 Smoked Ribs method. The 3-2-1 method is pretty easy and foolproof, and consists of 3 easy steps:

  • 3 hours of smoking. Prepare and preheat your smoker to 225 degrees, using the wood chips of your choice (be sure to make note of the section above where I talk about wood choices. Trim any messy flaps from ribs, and remove the silver skin membrane. Pat ribs dry to remove any excess moisture. Prepare and mix your rib rub, coat ribs in rub well, and let come to room temperature. Place the ribs on the smoker and smoke for 3 hours.
  • 2 hours – smoked, while wrapped. Arrange large sheets of foil to wrap the ribs in. Add the ribs flesh side down, then cover with the cider, and butter mixture. Wrap the ribs tightly in foil and return to the smoker to smoke for another 2 hours. This step can be done in your oven (if you run out of wood chips, mess up timing, etc.)
  • 1 hour – Finish, with sauce. Remove the ribs from the foil and paint on the BBQ sauce (if desired). Return to the smoker until crunchy and set in – around 15 – 20 minutes. If you like very crunchy BBQ sauce bark, you can repeat this step every 15 minutes or so for this last hour of cook time. This step can also be done in your oven (if you run out of wood chips, mess up timing, etc).
  • Remove from the smoker and rest for at least 10 minutes until separating and serving.

Create a bark. Creating a crunchy BBQ sauce bark is a beautiful thing – delicious slightly caramelized sauce that is more crunchy than drippy, sticky instead of wet, is heavenly on smoked pork ribs. For an extra crispy, crunchy “bark”, follow these tips:

  • When ribs are almost done smoking, unwrap from foil and brush a thin layer of sauce on, then let them continue to smoke until the sauce is “set” – or firm, sticky, and not wet.
  • Sauce should not slide around when set.
  • For an extra crunchy crust, repeat with another thin layer of sauce and cook for another 15 minutes until set again.

Know your wood. Since pork is a light and slightly sweet meat, it can become easily overpowered with heavy smoke. Trust me – there IS such a thing as too much smoky flavor! Picking the right kinds of wood chips can help get the perfect smoke flavor for smoking ribs without overpowering them. In general, you’ll want to look for lighter woods or fruit woods for a lighter, cleaner flavor that won’t overpower your ribs and will taste “cleaner”. Look for the following wood chips:

  • Hickory
  • Oak
  • Mesquite
  • Grapevine
  • Apple
  • Cherry
  • Pecan

Alternatively, when smoking ribs, there are some woods that are simply too overpowering and should be avoided for the best overall flavor. Do not use:

  • Elm
  • Cedar
  • Cypress
  • Pine
  • Fir
  • Redwood
  • Spruce
  • Sycamore
  • Poison Oak
  • Eucalyptus

Rub ribs with rib rub. It sounds silly, but this step is essential for flavor! We like to add tons of rich, delicious, earthy, salty, spicy flavor before our ribs ever touch the smoker – by absolutely covering them in rib rub full of herbs, spices, and salt. While we love ribs smothered in sauce, perfect smoked ribs should be so full of flavor right off the smoker, they don’t even need sauce to taste great!

Give ribs a bath. In the middle of smoking ribs, when they are wrapped in foil, I like to give my ribs a little bit of a bath in some apple juice or apple cider, and butter. This helps to create a juicy rib flavor and helps the meat become tender and soft and not dry out when wrapping to cook in foil.

When done properly, these steps can give you juicy and delicious ribs that don’t even need a sauce for moist, tender, and delicious meat – though they also serve as the perfect base to then top with your favorite sauce.

Recipe FAQs

How can I get over a temperature stall when smoking ribs?

If your ribs temperature stalls, and they won’t keep increasing internal temperature, using our 3-2-1 method, which involves wrapping the ribs in foil, will get you over your temperature stall and your ribs to delicious perfection.

What kinds of wood should I use to smoke ribs?

Hickory, oak, mesquite, grapevine, apple, cherry, and pecan wood chips all make for great smoke for pork ribs.

When are ribs done smoking?

Ribs are done smoking when their meat is soft, tender, and their internal temperature has reached 180 degrees, preferably about 6-8 hours depending on the size of your rack of ribs, the humidity and ambient air temperature, etc.

Should ribs be fall off the bone?

This is a controversial question – BBQ competition cooking deems “fall off the bone” tender ribs to be over cooked – but most people enjoy eating ribs that are more tender and juicy, and fall easily from the bone since they are softer and easier to chew. We prefer fall off the bone, whether it is technically overcooked or not, and this recipe is written to achieve fall off the bone results.

How can I store leftovers?

Leftover ribs can be saved in the refrigerator for up to four days in an airtight container, or frozen for up to four months.

Can I break up the cook time?

Ribs have a very long cook time, and sometimes that can mess with busy schedules. We’ve successfully broken up the cook time of these ribs on many occasions, and it’s still delicious.
For best results, smoke for 3 hours and then wrap for 2 hours all in one day, if possible. Save final hour for next day (excluding any time your ribs will need to come to room temperature from the refrigerator where you will need to store overnight.)
You can also break it up into saving the wrap and final hour for the next day – or complete both of those steps inside in your oven, say if you run out of wood chips, the weather changes and you need to come inside, etc.

picture of a rack of smoked ribs on a platter

What to Serve With Smoked Ribs:

Smoked ribs are a thing of beauty on their own, slathered in your favorite sauce or just falling off the bone in a delicious rub – but we love serving with one of our favorite BBQ sides!

Ribs are delicious alongside cool and creamy potato salad, delicious and hearty smoky bean bake, a tangy, zippy creamy cucumber salad, out delicious crunchy grilled potatoes, with a simple and easy chili, or some no knead jalapeño cheddar bread!

You can find more of our favorite sides that pair perfectly with BBQ recipes here.

picture of smoked pork ribs on a cutting board

The Best Smoked Ribs Recipe Ever

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picture of smoked pork rib on a cutting board

Best Smoked Pork Ribs Ever Recipe

Yield: 4 people
Prep Time: 15 minutes
Cook Time: 6 hours
Additional Time: 15 minutes
Total Time: 6 hours 30 minutes

The Best Smoked Pork Ribs Ever Recipe - juicy, tender delicious restaurant quality smoked ribs at home are easier than you think! This is the best ever pork ribs recipe you can make at home.

Ingredients

  • For the rub:
  • 1 tbsp ground black or white pepper
  • 1 tsp kosher salt
  • 2 tbsp Paprika, sweet Hungarian paprika
  • 1 tsp onion powder
  • 1 tsp celery salt
  • 1 tbsp garlic powder
  • For the bath:
  • 2 tbsp brown sugar
  • 2 tbsp apple cider vinegar
  • 1/4 cup apple juice or cider
  • 4 tbsp of butter cubed
  • For the Ribs:
  • 1 rack baby back ribs, reduce cook time if using spare or St. Louis Style ribs

Instructions

  1. Pre-soak wood chips in water for 1/2 hour. 
  2. Preheat wood chips in smoker to get to 225 degrees Fahrenheit. 
  3. Remove ribs from any packaging and pat dry. 
  4. Remove silver skin and trim off any excess sloppy bits from ribs. 
  5. Mix rub ingredients well, cover completely over ribs. 
  6. Let ribs come to room temperature while wood begins to smoke and smoker comes to temperature. 
  7. Smoke ribs on smoker for 3 hours. 
  8. Lay out foil and lay ribs on top, adding butter, juice, and cider into foil and wrap ribs tightly in foil. 
  9. Cook in foil for 2 hours. 
  10. Open foil and baste ribs in cooking liquids.
  11. Remove the ribs from the foil and use the instructions below based on if you want your ribs without sauce or with sauce.

For ribs without sauce:

  1. Baste another 2-3 times with cooking liquids, total time for final smoke will be one hour.
  2. When ribs are crunchy to your preference, remove and let rest at least 15 minutes before slicing or serving. 

For ribs with sauce:

  1. Baste a thin layer of your favorite BBQ sauce over ribs and cook for about 15 minutes more. Sauce will be sticky, not runny. 
  2. Repeat with another thin layer of sauce two more times. Total time for final smoke will be one hour. Let ribs rest at least 15 minutes before slicing or serving. 
Nutrition Information
Yield 4
Amount Per Serving Calories 3197Saturated Fat 61gCholesterol 1128mgSodium 5942mgCarbohydrates 50gFiber 7gSugar 31gProtein 267g

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About Courtney

Courtney loves to share great wine, good food, and loves to explore far flung places- all while masting an everyday elegant and easy style at lifestyle blog Sweet C’s Designs. Sweet C's devoted to finding the best food and drinks you'll want to make or find, around the world!

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44 Comments

  1. Hi! Excited to make these 3-2-1 ribs for my wife’s birthday party this weekend. Possibly a dumb question, but when you say to cook the ribs “on the smoker,” am I good to place the raw ribs in a foil pan, uncovered, and place that in the smoker? I have a multi-shelf smoker and am concerned that putting the raw ribs right on the wire rack will be messy and they’ll stick…thanks!

  2. For the bath, would a foil pan covered with foil work instead of just direct wrapping in foil? After reading reviews it seems that there could be issues with leakage.

    1. Yes that would work. Part of the problem people run into with using foil on the grill or smoker is that they use off brand cheap foil that is thinner. Its always best to use heavy duty foil for the grill because of the stress of the heat. You don’t have to use heavy duty foil for everything (since it can be pricier) but its best for the grill and smoker. Hope this helps!

    1. Yes, you remove the foil then choose one of the options “with sauce” or “without sauce” for the last hour of cooking. I have updated the wording to hopefully make it more clear.

      1. Hi! I’ve used your recipe at least 5 times now and it’s wonderful! My problem with removing the foil is that the ribs are already so tender that just handling them to move them off the foil causes them tear into pieces.

        1. Maybe try using parchment paper under the foil so they rest on the parchment paper which can be removed more easily.

  3. Ok trying this recipe as I type this. Just moved ribs to the foil stage for the next two hours in my smoker.
    However, I’m a bit confused about the next step. If I’m using bbq sauce, am I letting the ribs “set” at room temperature wrapped in the foil? Or am I leaving them inside the smoker at 225F? The instructions make reference for a final smoke of 1 hour. If total smoking time is 6 hours then I presume the bbq sauce applied every 15 minutes would be while the ribs stay in the smoker, and wrapped in the foil right? 3 hrs + 2 hrs in foil + 1 final hour = 6 hours. The terms “let set” and final smoking hour in the same section is a bit confusing.
    Hoping to hear back in the next two hours! Lol.

    1. Sorry its so confusing for you, you don’t need to let it set up at room temperature, they are just cooking and letting the juices set in the smoker. So its in the smoker after its basted each time. I re-wrote the instructions to try to make it clearer. Let me know if it helps!