When the weather starts warming up, everyone starts dreaming of those tender, fall-off-the-bone ribs. The problem is most people believe smoking ribs in an electric smoker is tricky, but that couldn’t be further from the truth. The good news is that with a few helpful tips, anyone can smoke ribs on an electric smoker like a pro.
Pick a Good Rack of Ribs
The first thing to do is to pick your meat. What type of pork ribs will you be smoking? There are spare ribs and baby back ribs. Spare ribs are generally less expensive and can be whole cut or cut into the St Louis or Kansas City Style. If you have a smaller or portable smoker, it is not recommended to buy the whole spare ribs as the rack may not fit onto your smoker without being cut in half.
Deciding on the style of pork ribs is just the beginning. Now you must actually pick a rack of ribs. Baby back ribs are the easiest to pick, simply pick a slab of ribs that are all cut the same length. When selecting other pork ribs, chose a rack that has good meat coverage and no large areas of fat. Your ribs should have a little fat on them as the fat helps to keep the meat moist during the smoking process. If you are still unsure if you’re picking a good slab, ask your butcher for help.
Apply Rubs & Spices
To membrane or not to membrane, that is the question. The choice is yours. Some believe leaving it on will make the ribs juicier, while others insist there is no noticeable difference at all. Still, others say that removing the membrane allows the spices to really flavor the meat. The shiny membrane is located on the bone side of the rack and is not hard to remove.
Using a sharp paring knife, start at one end and using short cuts slide the paring knife under the membrane. As you cut, lift the membrane from the bone but be careful not to cut the rib meat. Once you’ve removed the membrane, it is time to apply the rub.
Rubs can be sweet, hot, spicy, or savory. It’s just a matter of finding your particular preference. There are thousands of rub recipes for ribs, and every serious “grill master” will swear that theirs is the best. Your basic rub recipe would consist of 1/4 cup of brown sugar, 1/4 cup of paprika, 4 tablespoons of black pepper, 3 tablespoons of salt, 2 teaspoons of garlic powder, 2 teaspoons of onion powder, 2 teaspoons of celery seeds and 1 teaspoon of cayenne pepper. You’ll want to apply 2 to 3 teaspoons of rub per pound of meat.
If time permits, apply the rub to your ribs the night before, cover the ribs with plastic wrap and let them sit in the refrigerator overnight. If you are short on time, apply the rub at least an hour before smoking the ribs. It is okay to apply the rub just before cooking the ribs, just remember that the rub will have more time to infuse into the meat the longer it marinates.
Get your Electric Smoker Ready
First you should preheat your smoker to 225 degrees Fahrenheit. The next step is choosing your wood chips. Like the rub, there’s more than one option for wood chips when smoking ribs. Hickory and mesquite are the most popular and recognizable wood chips for smoking ribs, but those aren’t the only good options. You can combine one of those woods with others for extra flavors. A fruit wood like cherry, apple, maple, or pecan have a mild sweet flavor and combine well with hickory or mesquite.
After adding the wood chips, turn your attention to the water pan. Most electric smokers have a water/drip pan. The water pan catches the fatty oils that drip down from the meat while it is cooking. You can also add liquid in the water pan to keep the humidity levels up in the smoker. This is essential to help prevent the meat from drying out too quickly. You can use water but using a mixture of half water and half apple juice will do the job just as well; while adding even more flavor to your ribs.
The Smoking Process
Your ribs are rubbed, the smoker is preheated, now it’s time to cook. The amount of time this takes depends on how much meat you are cooking. If you are only smoking 1 rack of ribs use the 2-2-1 method. If you are smoking 2-3 racks of ribs, use the 3-2-1 method. These numbers represent your cooking times. The first number is how long the meat is cooked directly on the rack meat side up.
Next, remove the ribs from the rack and wrap them tightly in foil. You can add a little more apple juice in the foil to enhance the steam process. Place the foil wrapped meat back on the rack for 2 more hours. Finally, remove the ribs from the foil, coat both sides liberally with BBQ sauce and place them back on the rack for 1 more hour.
You’ll want to add additional wood chips after every hour during the smoking process. The ribs are fully cooked when the internal temperature is between 175-180 degrees Fahrenheit and the rib meat retracts from the edge of the bone about half an inch. So, you see, smoking ribs in an electric smoker is not hard at all. Just keep experimenting until you find what works best for you and enjoy!