With summer looming large, many home cooks are turning their thoughts towards outdoor cooking, but what if you are short on space or your local regulations prohibit open fires? If basic burgers and hot dogs feel lackluster or you just can’t cook outdoors, an electric smoker is the perfect cooking appliance to take your meat game to the next level. If you’ve had a smoker for a while and have already treated your family to a Thanksgiving turkey or even a moist, rich brisket, it may be time to try your hand at that most decadent smoked treat, fall off the bone, tender ribs. Smoking is a long process, but it is so worth it when you experience the deep, complex flavors. With a little planning and preparation, your ribs will be the talk of this summer’s barbecues— all without setting foot outside of your kitchen.
Naturally, an electric smoker is the primary piece of equipment you’ll need. These come in a range of sizes and styles, so it’s easy to find one that’s perfect for you. Electric smokers are perfect for smoking newbies because they regulate their own temperature and since it’s plugged in, you don’t ever have to worry about fuel supply. Smokers come with either digital or analog controls, both of which allow you to easily control your smoking temperature by simply pressing a button or turning a dial.
If you choose a water smoker, you can add another element to your smoking by varying the liquid you use, changing the flavor of your meats with different juices and beers. Although an electric smoker won’t give your meat a smoke ring as you would get with a charcoal or pellet smoker, this is merely aesthetic and doesn’t affect the quality or flavor of the product, meaning you get the same delectable, tender cut of meat without the hassle of monitoring and maintaining the heat and fuel manually.
Choosing the type of wood chips you use in your smoker will subtly impact the flavor of your ribs. Since you really can’t go wrong with any flavor, plan to experiment to find your favorite, but hickory is a classic choice for most smoked meats and pairs especially well with pork cuts. Aside from the classic woody flavors like oak and mesquite, sweet and fruity notes like those of pecan and cherry also match perfectly with pork. If you’re using a sweet barbeque sauce and have plenty of time for a long, low-temperature cook, applewood beautifully enhances pork’s, natural sweetness. You can even combine a couple of different types of wood, like ash and cherry to create a more complex flavor. Mesquite is best combined with another wood to cut the bitterness it can give meat when used alone.
A meat thermometer is vital for any cooking, but especially for grilling and smoking. The FDA recommends that ribs must reach a minimum of 145°F internally, but 165°F is great and you can even take them to 180-195°F to have that perfectly tender, falling off the bones texture. Some thermometers can be left in the meat and even include a wi-fi connection that can alert you when your meat reaches the desired temperature.
- A basting mop – for keeping your ribs drenched in the sauce so they don’t dry out during cooking
- Aluminum foil – for wrapping your meat to hold in the moisture and covering the ribs during resting
- Deep, disposable aluminum pans – especially if you’re cooking your ribs in a lot of sauce. Make sure your pan is the right dimensions to fit inside your smoker!
- Long-handled tongs – for moving the ribs
- Extreme heat gloves – for handling the ribs
- Wi-fi Temperature Alarm – extremely useful if you need to leave your ribs or tend to lose track of time
If you want to marinate your ribs instead of (or prior to!) using a dry rub, you can use many different liquids for your base, from ketchup and soda to barbecue sauce and beer, or oil and apple cider vinegar for a steakhouse flavor. A good marinade includes sweet and spicy flavors and an acidic component. The acid is important for allowing the flavors to penetrate the meat. Add a combination of your preferred spices and rub the marinade on all sides of the meat before placing it in a covered container with the liquid. Marinate your ribs at least overnight, or 12 to 24 hours. Always marinate in the refrigerator and, for food safety, don’t reuse marinades used on meat. When you’re ready to cook, remove the ribs from the marinade and allow them to drain over the sink for a few minutes.
A dry rub provides a good flavor for ribs that goes deeper than just a sauce. Dry rubs are made from a variety of spices and seasonings to provide a good balance of different flavors, from sweet to spicy and salty to umami. It’s worth trying a few recipes because most can be used on a lot of different foods besides ribs. When in doubt, an excellent basic dry rub is freshly cracked black pepper, sea salt, and brown sugar. Apply your dry rub shortly before you’re ready to start smoking your ribs, rubbing the mixture into all surfaces of the meat.
A mop sauce is used for basting your ribs to keep them moist and flavorful through their long cooking time. Mop sauces range from simple to quite complex, but there are a few important components. First, vinegar is an important ingredient because it helps the flavors to permeate the meat. Second, time. Make your mop sauce at least a few hours before you need it, but it’s even better if you can make it a couple of days ahead of time and leave it in the fridge to let the flavors meld. When your ribs are about halfway through their cook time, start mopping the ribs every half hour or so until they reach your desired temperature. Don’t apply it too heavily, so you don’t rinse off your dry rub from the surface of the ribs.
Around the last hour of your ribs’ cooking time is when you want to brush on your preferred sauce, if you’ve chosen to use one (Ribs with dry rub alone are perfectly valid!) This gives the sauce time to “tighten” before serving. There are so many choices for different sauces to go on ribs, from store-bought to homemade, vinegar to tomato, so get creative, get curious, and experiment until you find your favorite topper.
- East Texas barbecue sauce is ketchup-based and gets its kick from a can of beer and a whole list of spices and seasonings, including a little zing from soy sauce!
- Perfect on spareribs, Kansas City barbecue sauce is thick, spicy, and sweet, based on ketchup and loaded with flavor from Worcestershire sauce, onion, and just a little Liquid Smoke
- A vinegar sauce takes you back to the Carolina basics. Vinegar, a touch of brown sugar, and loads of cayenne and red pepper flakes are a wonderful contrast to the sweetness of ribs.
- The mustard-based sauce is a South Carolina classic with apple cider vinegar, tangy mustard, and sweetened with brown sugar.
Selecting your ribs
No matter which style of pork ribs you go with, there are a few important tips for choosing the best ribs. Be sure you can’t see the bones shining through the meat. Look for the meatiest pork ribs possible with good fat marbling throughout. If you can, talk to your butcher to select the best cut. A butcher can even trim the excess fat from your ribs so you have a heartier side of meat. If you choose pre-packaged ribs, make sure there isn’t excess liquid in the plastic wrap.
- Baby Back Ribs are the leanest cut of ribs. They come from the pig’s back to the sides of the spine and are shorter than spareribs.
- Spareribs come from the pig’s belly, near where bacon is cut. It’s a pretty meaty type of rib
- St. Louis ribs come from the pig’s back and tend to be flatter and more fatty. Their more uniform size tends to mean they cook more evenly.
Removing the membrane
A flat-head screwdriver and paper towels are useful for removing the thick, papery membrane found on one side of a rack of ribs. You could also use a dull butter knife or a pair of fish-skinning pliers. Use the screwdriver to lift the edge of the membrane, then grasp it with the paper towels because it will be slippery. It can be tough to get the whole thing off but keep at it because it will make a big difference in the texture of your final product. If you’re using a marinade make sure you prepare your ribs a day in advance to give them time to soak in the flavors.
There are as many specific methods and recipes for making ribs as there are smoker enthusiasts. The 3-2-1 method is a tried-and-true rib smoking technique. Preheat your smoker to 325°F. While the smoker is warming up, remove the membrane from your ribs and apply the dry rub. Smoke the ribs for three hours. Remove them from the smoker, lay them on a few sheets of tin foil laid across each other so that you’ll be able to create a sealed packet. Lift the sides a bit and add liquid, usually juice, wine, or beer, then wrap the ribs tightly and return them to the smoker. Smoke the ribs at 325°F for another two hours. Carefully remove the foil packet from the smoker, take the ribs out of the foil, then return them to the smoker to cook directly on the rack for one last hour, basting with sauce if you wish. If you only have one rack of ribs, or your rack is smaller, the ribs may be done earlier and the 2-2-1 method may work better.
How long it takes to smoke ribs mostly depends on the temperature you want to smoke at, but it will rarely take less than three hours. If you want to really go low and slow, you can let your ribs smoke for a couple of days at only 160°F, but really, who wants to wait that long for delicious ribs when you can get such tasty results with the 3-2-1 method?
Don’t forget to rest! Resting your meat after you remove it from the grill is an important final step to make sure your meat is cooked to perfection. Just leave the smoked pork ribs tented in foil for 15-30 minutes, or as long as you can hold everyone back.
How long does it take to smoke ribs in an electric smoker?
Smoking ribs in an electric smoker can take anywhere from 3.5 to 48 hours, depending on how far you’re willing to go for tender, juicy meat. Most recipes have a 4-6 hour cook time.
How long does it take to smoke ribs at 225°F?
It takes an average of 5 hours to smoke ribs at 225°F, depending on the exact size of your rack of ribs. Use a meat thermometer to make sure your ribs will be mouth-wateringly perfect.
How long does it take to smoke baby back ribs in an electric smoker?
It takes between four and six hours to smoke baby ribs on an electric smoker.
What is the 2-2-1 method for smoking ribs?
With the 2-2-1 method, you have a simple way to make a gorgeous rack of smoked pork ribs. You cook them directly on the grill grate for two hours, wrap the ribs with apple cider or another liquid for two hours, then coat the ribs with sauce for the last hour of cooking time.
If this has your mouth watering, I don’t blame you. With a little preparation, succulent, fall off the bone ribs are simple to cook on an electric smoker, so gather your supplies and make that your next weekend cooking adventure. It will be sure to impress your family or guests and leave you happy with a belly full of delicious, incredibly tender ribs.