Smokey Barbequed Baby Back Ribs

I’m going to say it: These are the best ribs ever.

Now, you don’t have to believe me, but if you’re going to doubt at least give them a shot to find out. If after you eat them you still think I’m wrong, well, you’re crazy. Certifiably nuts. These ribs and tender and juicy (thank you brine), they are full of flavor (thank you dry rub and smoke), and fabulous with or without sauce. I mean, really, what more could you ask for. They might seem like a bit of work, but it’s pretty much all hands off, so don’t complain, just pick a Saturday that you’re around the house and do it. As usual, full credit isn’t mine, it’s a recipe I slightly adapted from America’s Test Kitchen. The Original was in the Cook’s Illustrated Summer Grilling magazine, Summer 2010.

Also, I did them on a charcoal grill, but I’ll give you the instructions for a gas grill too.

First up, we’ve got to prep the ribs. Lay them out on your counter, back side up.


Slide a pairing knife (on it’s side), along the back of the first bone to lift up the silver skin there. The silver skin is this tough little membrane that makes it hard to chew through the cooked ribs. Lucky for us, once you know how to get it off it’s a piece of cake. It takes a few times to get used to it though, so don’t feel bad it you find it aggravating the first go-round. There’s me holding the little lip of silver skin that we just lifted up.


Now, grab it with some paper towel (because it is nearly impossible to hold onto with bare hands), and pull the silver skin back away from the ribs. You’ll have to hold the ribs down with your other hand.


Ok, here are the ribs, silver skin removed. It’s time to brine them now. Because I was doing it in zip-lock bags I had to cut the racks in half, but if you’re brining in a big bucket you won’t have too.


Here are my ribs split into two bags. I used 3 full racks of ribs total.


Now, make a brine. I just eyeballed it here. Each bag had 1 big bowl of room temperature water with ⅓ cup of sugar and ⅓ cup of salt in it.


Here are the filled bags. If you’re using zip-lock bags, stand them up in a bowl then put them in the fridge, just in case one leaks.


I prepped the dry rub the night before too, just wrap it with plastic wrap so the sugar doesn’t harden. So, mix together the paprika, cumin, chili powder, dark brown sugar (more molasses punch, but you can use light brown if that’s all you’ve got), pepper, salt, oregano, and cayenne pepper.


Alright, it’s the next morning, and Maggie is hell bent on getting her paws on these ribs. Wherever the ribs went, she went.


So, get your ribs out of the brine and pat them dry with paper towels. They’ve got to be dry or else the rub won’t stick, it’ll just clump up on the ribs and your hands.


Get that rub all over both sides of the ribs. What I forgot to show was a big bowl full of wood chips soaking in water. Get them soaking at least 30 minutes before you want them on the grill. I like to use a 25/75 split of hickory and apple wood for ribs. Now it’s on to the BBQ!


Alright, before we hit the pictures I just want to lay out how we’re grilling and smoking these.

On a charcoal grill:

Put a full chimney’s worth of hot coals on one side (hot side) and leave for 10 minutes. Clean the grates and brush with vegetable oil. Add the ribs on the opposite (cool) side of the grill. The cool side should also be the side with the vent, to pull the smoke over the ribs. Keep the top vent half way open, and the bottom ones completely open. Top the coals with a 2 big handfuls of soaked wood chips every 30 minutes, and at the same time, rotate the ribs 180 degrees and front to back, so that the ribs furthest from the coals move closest to the coals. Total cook time is about 3 hours. After 2 hours you may need to add another couple of handfuls of coals if you’re running really low. At 2.5 hours start basting with sauce every 5 minutes if you’re using it.

Charcoal grill

On a gas grill:

Turn the heat on one burner to high. Add soaked wood chips to a disposable aluminum pan or foil pouch with holes punctured into it and place directly onto the ignited burner. Leave it for about 10 minutes until the bbq is filled with smoke. Clean the grates and brush with vegetable oil. Add the ribs to the cool side of the grill, without any burners on. Every 30 minutes replace the smoke pack with a fresh one and rotate the ribs 180 degrees and swap the ribs closest to the heat with the ones furthest from them. Total cook time will be between 3 and 4 hours, until the meat pulls easily away from the bones. If using sauce baste on throughout the last 30 minutes of cooking, every five minutes, to create a nice, sticky glaze.

Gas grill

Ok, you might be noticing that the ribs are looking different. That’s just because I forgot to take pictures of them on the BBQ. Good thing I did the last time I made them. Here are the ribs right after I put them on the grill. Note all that fabulous smoke!


And here they are about half way through cooking. This time around I didn’t have time to brine them and kept a tray with water under them, but it was a disaster. Please, please brine the ribs. These ones turned out too dry to eat and we ordered a pizza (it wasn’t helped by the fact that I left them on 30 minutes too long as well. Nothing in this world is sadder than my face looking at two racks of inedible ribs).


Alright, back to current day ribs. Now come on! You can not tell me that you don’t want to dive into these right now.


It’s 8:27 am and I am literally drooling. I really wish I had some more ribs in the fridge right now. At this point, after about 3 hours, you are good to go if you don’t like them saucy. These ribs are already packed full of flavor from the rub and the smoke. Me, I like to kill everything with flavor. I also like to go through an entire roll of paper towels cleaning up my face when I eat ribs, so I hit them with the sauce too. My personal is Sonny’s BBQ sauce from the resturant in the states. My wonderful Nana keeps my pantry stocked for me from their trips to Florida.


As I’m outside grilling, my children are inside doing this. Oliver shushed me when I laughed because “We’re reading the paper Mommy”


Now come one. How could you not want to dive into these delicious, sticky, smoky ribs.




See that rim of pink around the edge of the meat. That’s called a smoke ring. When you see a smoke ring on any meat it means that you’ve done everything fabulously and whatever you’re about to bite into will blow your mind. I can’t make this stuff up, it’s written on a block of stone somewhere.


I’m sorry. Please understand that I REALLY love grilling. I love gas grilling. I love charcoal grilling (and you don’t need anything fancy. That charcoal grill you see me using was $20 the end of last summer on clearance at our local grocery store).

Here’s the printable:

Smokey Barbequed Baby Back Ribs

Rating: 51

Prep Time: 30 minutes

Cook Time: 3 hours

Total Time: 3 hours, 30 minutes

Yield: 3 racks of ribs

Serving Size: 6

Smokey Barbequed Baby Back Ribs


    Brine and Ribs
  • Water to cover ribs
  • ⅔ cup sugar
  • ⅔ cup salt
  • 3 rack of baby back ribs
  • Dry Rub
  • 2 tbsp sweet paprika
  • 1¾ tsp ground cumin
  • 1½ tsp chili powder
  • 1 tbsp dark brown sugar
  • 1 tsp salt
  • 1½ tsp black pepper
  • ¾ tsp dried oregano
  • ½ tsp cayenne pepper
  • Other
  • Vegetable oil for cooking grate
  • wood chips
  • water


  1. The night before grilling remove the silver skin from the ribs. Mix the water, sugar, and salt for the brine together. Place the ribs in zip-lock bags and fill with the brine mixture. Leave in fridge over night.
  2. Soak wood chips in water in a large bowl for at least 30 minutes before adding to grill.
  3. 30 minutes before you begin grilling get your coals lit in your chimney.
  4. Mix together all the ingredients for the dry rub, set aside. Remove the ribs from the brine and throughly pat dry. Rub the ribs with the dry rub on both sides.
  5. Build a 2-level fire in your grill. Place all the coals over half of your grill (the half opposite the top vent). Add the cooking grate to the grill and let heat for 10 minutes. Clean with a brush, then add vegetable oil to the grates using paper towels and long tongs. Sprinkle two large handfuls of soaked wood chips over the hot coals.
  6. Add the ribs to the cool side of the grill, opposite the coals. Cover.
  7. Every 30 minutes add two more handfuls of wood chips, rotate the ribs 180º and swap their positions (putting the ribs closest to the coals furthest away, and vice versa).
  8. At the 2 hour mark, if your coals are more than half gone, add a few more handfuls of cold coals on top of the hot ones.
  9. The ribs will cook for approximately 3 hours like this, until a deep mahogany in color and the meat easily pulls off the bones.
  10. If adding sauce, brush on a thin layer every 5 minutes for the last 30 minutes of cooking.
  11. Gas Grill Instructions
  12. Turn one burner on to high and let the grill heat for 10 minutes. Clean the grates.
  13. Add the soaked wood chips to either a disposable aluminum pan, or a foil pouch with holes poked in it. Place the wood chip packet directly on top of the lit burner and close the lid. Leave for 10 minutes, until filled with smoke.
  14. Brush the grates with vegetable oil using paper towels and long tongs.
  15. Add the ribs to the grill, on the side with no burners lit. Keep the lid closed to cook.
  16. Every 30 minutes replace the smoke pack, rotate the ribs 180º, and switch their position (putting the ribs closest to the lit burner furthest away, and vice versa).
  17. Total cook time will be between 3 and 4 hours, until the ribs are a deep mahogany color and the meat easily pulls off the bone.
  18. If adding sauce, baste every 5 minutes during the last 30 minutes of cooking.
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  1. Ok, it’s really difficult to imagine nobody has commented on your ridiculously awesome coverage of how to make kickass ribs. I’m following your lead step by step tonight, in time for friends and football tomorrow afternoon. Great job putting this together, and thank you!

    • Thank you! And yes, sadly, no one commented. That’s ok though – you’re proof that it’s getting out there, and this really will yield you some kickass ribs. Hope you loved them!

  2. Thanks for the recipe I was really about to give up on ribs. They were always way to dry no matter what I did, the key to ribs must be the brine so glad I did that and so easy as well. These were by far the best and most moist fall off the bone tender ribs I have ever had. During cooking i used charcoal as well, the ribs would give off moisture so they continiously basted themselves I cannot say enough about the brining process. The rub is great I didn’t even bother with BBQ sauce, Thanks again and great work on the recipe.

    • You have no idea how happy this made me. Ribs are my 4 year olds favorite dinner, so I’ve been promising to show him how to cook them either this week or next.

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