Pair of Big Spares, Apple Rub & Fine-Tuning Between Tug & Chew vs Bone-Popping: Method, Recipe & Q-V

Discussion in 'Pork' started by forluvofsmoke, Apr 3, 2011.

  1. forluvofsmoke

    forluvofsmoke Smoking Guru OTBS Member

    Hi again, everyone! I decided that today is the day to fine-tune my spare rib smoke just a tad.

    I have this slight delema at home when it comes to the varied preferences of ribs. My wife likes the fall-off
    bone rib, while I like a tender rib with a slight tug of the bone and a light bark. Everyone else here seems to
    like ribs no matter how I make them...maybe they haven't found their favorite just yet.

    So, my goal is to hit a happy medium between fall off the bone and the standard no-foil rib with alot of tug and chew.
    I've decided that the 3-2-1 isn't quite the ticket, having used it with slight variations for a few years now. 6 hours
    total time may not be long enough, either. I've had ribs nearing this weight take 7 hours before, but I added an hour to
    the smoke time without changing any other variables and the fall apart rib with a heavy bark was the outcome.

    The larger slabs I have to work with today, being just over 5.75lb average, will need a bit longer to cook than the typical
    5.0-5.25lb slabs I'm used to smoking, so I formulated the open-grate, foiled and bark setting times according to what I
    want for texture, and the weight of the slabs.

    My past experience has told me that 3 hours smoke won't be enough...not even close. I need at least 4.0-4.25 hours so
    I can have less time in the foil, which is where they really get super tender. Also, with less time back out to set the
    bark. Remember now, I want a fairly tender rib with a light bark in order to hit the mid-point so the wife and I have a
    close to perfect rib (in our own opinions, of course).

    With that, today, I'm going with a 4.5-1.33-0.5. If these slabs were closer to an average of 5lbs, I'd likely go for a
    4.25-1.25-0.5, which would give close to the same end result, which is a nearly done rib slab before the foil (tented pan
    in my case), then a slightly shorter foil time for a slightly less tender rib, and with the bark set time reduce to 1/2,
    it should have a nice, light bark, while still retaining loads of natural juices.

    That's my goal, and the plan for, let's make it happen!

    The ribs, as described above, are a bit larger than normal:

    Huh...there's still some soft ice on this slab's label...these pics were taken the night before the smoke:


    I went with a no-trimmed slab, mainly because the flap meat was already removed, but I had a late night with a stubborn brisket
    that was just finished this morning, so I opted for the KISS method.

    This is more traditional Bbq dry rub with the main twist being the addition of apple as the main flavor profile...nothing exotic here, and pretty simple...


    1/4 cup + 2 Tbls ground dried apple chips

    1 Tbls freshly ground rosemary

    1/2 Tbls freshly ground oregano

    1-1/2 Tbls freshly ground black peppercorn

    1 Tbls freshly ground garlic

    1 Tbls paprika

    1/2 Tbls chili powder

    1/2 tsp cumin

    2 Tbls kosher salt (added after all of the above is ground and blended together)

    I used all of this dry rub batch for today's smoke.

    Rubbed heavily on both sides and into the Smoke Vault 24 @ 225*F, 1/2 filled water pan, 40*F ambient temps and raining, with smoke provided by

    a couple finger-size chunks each of apple (of course) and pecan for a slightly pungent aroma. I oriented the slabs with the brisket

    bone (heaviest cross-sectional density) towards the left side, which runs slightly hotter in my rig for more even cooking.

    I'll rotate the grate positions from 5th to 3rd and vice versa at about 2.75 hours into the smoke as well as rotate the grates 180*.

    I used the top (5th) and middle (3rd) grate positions so there would be adequate space between the slabs in order to compensate

    for the baffling effect of the large pieces of meat...if they're too close together in a vertical smoker, the upper slab will not recieve much

    thermal energy transfer for proper cooking. The larger gap between them allows for the heat to travel above the lower slab, then back towards

    the center of the grate before reaching the next slab of ribs:



    2.75-hr grate rotation...lower slab is catching some drippings from the upper slab, and the meat is skinning-over slightly which
    helps to seal in the natural juices like we want...another good reason to use low & slow cooking...the meat's color is begining
    to turn a dark pink already from smoke reaction:


    4.5 hours, and time for a bend-test and check for pull-back...good methods to check for meat shrinkage which indicates the level
    of doneness...less sag = more done. A light to moderate sag in the slab when lifted with 4" meat forks, so I'm going for the foil tented pan:


    I added about 1/8" of water to the pan before laying the ribs into a 12" x 18" x 2" pan...just enough to cover the bottom.
    I oriented the slabs with the rib bone cut ends overlapping each other...this should allow for the most even cooking in this
    size pan. I'm using a pan because I've had one too many double-foiled packs of ribs get poked by the bones and leak those
    precious juices all over the place. Also, I could use one large pan for each slab, however, anything large as this will baffle heat,
    just like the rib slabs themselves, buty there's a hidden agenda here, too. By using one pan, and overlapping the rib bones,
    the lower slab's rib meat gets a bit more tender, while the one resting above gets a bit less steam and heat during this process.
    You following me on this? If I get a slightly less tender rib for me, and a slightly more tender rib for the wife, then it's a
    double-play home-run hit!!! Oh, I did bump the smoke chamber temp to 250*F for the steam phase due to the partially double-layered
    slabs of ribs in the pan. The color of the rub/bark is so-so...pretty light, but I want it just a bit more golden brown when they're finished:


    1.33 hours of steam...more shrinkage showing now, though not excessive, as I wanted...the slabs were softened up enough to have quite a bit more sag
    when I lifted them back out to the grates, but no bones were popping out, so it should be just what I'm looking for. I really like the color here, but it will get even better after a surface drying and slight setting-up of the bark on open grates again:



    The lower slab has some of the bark/dry rub washed off from the water in the pan...oh well, it happens. This is marked as the bottom
    slab from the steam pan, which would have gotten a bit hotter in the pan, thus being more tender than the other. This will be the one
    my wife will want her ribs from, as she likes the more tender, bone-popping ribs:

    Time to set the bark for 30 minutes:

    And, the moment of truth.......................








    The above slab was the one I customized for myself...the wife's slab was very similar, being just a touch more tender than the first.

    Light bark all the way, tender chew without the bones flying out when you slice it, juices gallore, and a good amount of smoke ring
    just for giggles.

    The rub was really nice for these ribs...slightly sweet and fruity as spicy heat to speak of, and the smoke combination
    seemed to be the perfect balance to bring it all home.

    I finally took the time to figure out what I needed to do to smoke our version of the perfect rib. Now that I have a much better base-line
    for times, temps and weight of the slabs, I can do it every time.

    If you're like us and have a bit different preferences, or you just haven't found your perfect rib yet, maybe this is what you want to
    try next.



    Note: I was creating this thread in progress on 04-01-11 and got dumped before it was finished, so I had to jiqsaw-puzzle my thoughts back together and I may have missed a few key points, but it'll come to me later.
    Last edited: Apr 3, 2011
  2. smokinal

    smokinal Smoking Guru Staff Member Moderator OTBS Member ★ Lifetime Premier ★

    Great post Eric, I haven't smoked any ribs in a while and looking at yours makes me hungry for a rack or two. I have the same dilemma as you, everybody here likes their ribs differently. From fall off the bone to heavy bark & nice chew. Depending on who's eating them I adjust the cooking procedure to suit my guests.
  3. Another great Q-View Eric...The ribs look fantastic. I love the fact that everyone can learn something from each of your Q-views.[​IMG]
  4. les3176

    les3176 Master of the Pit

    Another great post eric!!! I have also found myself straying abit from the 3-2-1 method. My wife and i like a heavier bark,less fall off the bone rib so i cut my foil times down and play with differant times. You are very is a personal taste on how we like our ribs cooked...i think everyone is differant in my family!!!!We're all so picky!!!lol
  5. rdknb

    rdknb Master of the Pit OTBS Member SMF Premier Member

    They look Great Eric!!!!!
  6. raptor700

    raptor700 Master of the Pit OTBS Member

    Great post Eric,I've tried several different methods of smokin' ribs, I love them all.

    Thanks for making me hungry![​IMG]
  7. scarbelly

    scarbelly Smoking Guru OTBS Member

    Another great post Eric. Ribs are still an experiment here too and seeing your post makes me want to get on it again soon

  8. ravanelli

    ravanelli Fire Starter

    Looks like a great result, nice work on those ribs!
  9. beer-b-q

    beer-b-q Smoking Guru OTBS Member

    Great Post Eric,  Awesome Ribs...
  10. realtorterry

    realtorterry Master of the Pit OTBS Member SMF Premier Member

    Now those are some dry bark ribs!!'
  11. nwdave

    nwdave Master of the Pit SMF Premier Member

  12. bearcarver

    bearcarver Smoking Guru OTBS Member

    Everything looks Awesome, Eric, as usual.

    Next time, avoid the dilemma, make them all "fall off the bone".

    Then everyone there, except one, will be happy, including any Bears that show up!

    Keep up the outstanding work!


  13. [​IMG]That looks great! Nice Q-View and report!

  14. sqwib

    sqwib Smoking Guru OTBS Member

    Looking Good Eric Great tutorial as usual, glad it worked out.

    I have a similar problem here... everybody but me likes fall of the bone, don't get me wrong I'll eat them either way.

    What I have had success with is a modified 3 - 2 - 1 and fol the ribs in a pan rather than individually, when they are removed from the smoker and rested a bit, they are slice and placed in a steamer pan, this is the point I like them. They are fall of the bone after several hours in the steamer pan.

    I get a better result doing it this way as opposed to smoking them till they're fall of the bone.The masses always prefer the fall off the bone

    And Ditto on the very thin bark. Thick bark is OK for Butts but not Ribs


    Thanks again for an excellent post

    I will have to try it without a glaze, yours look awesome!
  15. forluvofsmoke

    forluvofsmoke Smoking Guru OTBS Member

    Thanks, hey, I gotta give back to the place where most of my inspirations came from.

    Thanks Les, yea, when it comes to ribs, preferences can vary widely. Finding that sweet spot isn't always easy, but understanding what makes a rib more tender or more chewy sure helps take away the guess work.


    Thanks brother, they rank up there pretty high in my rib smokes, I must say. Mostly due to getting the texture so close to our preferences, and partly due to the simplicity of the rub.


    That's an interesting final stage...sliced before the finish. I would guess that lower temps could be used to basically just hold them at 180-200* to finish cooking to the texture you're looking for. Hmm...that's neat twist, and, a good example of everyone here having something to share which others may not have experienced yet. [​IMG]

    Oh, the dry ribs? Yea, we think it's the bomb! My wife likes what we call "sticky ribs" now and then, similar to wet ribs as they're more commonly referred to as. I have glazed a slab when they go back to open grates to set the bark, while leaving the rest of the slabs dry, just for some added variation. We never really got into the wet Bbq much here, I guess. Mostly the meat, smoke and dry rub seems to take it home for us. Really, I think if you have all the added flavors you like with your dry rub, a good smoke should bring it the rest of the way. As long as you're careful not to cook the ribs into oblivion, they should still have plenty of natural moisture. With glazes and sauces, you'll typically have alot of added sugars, unless you make your own recipe without sugars. I made a maple/citrus glaze for spares about two years ago that was pretty tasty. Hmm, I can't remember for sure what I used it for now, but I made a glaze with rehydrated dried cherries...maybe for spare ribs....that was a nice change of pace, for sure, but it did have me wanting to go back to a fruit-based dry rub. Something about the natural lightly sweet fruit flavors mingled with the meat's own juices...mmm.


    Thanks Dave, I had to nail them ribs down once and for all. I guess I never really took too serious about the texture before, just kind of changing things up a bit here and there, not really concerned about the out come. But this time, I had a true objective, and I wanted to make it happen.

    Thanks Bear! You know, there seems to be just a few too many bear foot-prints between you and me to get us hooked up! LOL!!! It's probably a good thing that black bears don't migrate when the snow gets too deep, or I might have to smoke up an extra case or two of ribs just in case you stumbled into my back yard!


    Thanks, I guess it does offer a pretty good perspective on how to get the texture and bark the way you like it. It's funny to think back on it now, but, when I first started smoking, spare ribs was all I smoked. No foiling or panning back then, 'cuz   I didn't know there was any other way. I got to where I could make a pretty decent slab of spares. Then, I found SMF...well, the rest is history.

    Thanks, hey, I still do a no-foil rib smoke now and then. I guess I have grown rather fond of the slightly more tender ribs...maybe it's so I can eat them faster! LOL!!!!!

    Ha-ha! Yea, the great thing about ribs is that there are so many different ways to finish them up. Unlike a pork shoulder, there are tons of options to consider with ribs. If you get bored with straight smoked for a tug and chew style, you can go with foiling, or vice-versa...the bark, thick or thin, soft or hard...overall interior texture...then, there's the wet ribs, sticky ribs, dry ribs...hmm, honey, I can't decide, which rib should we have...what would you like to try today? LOL!!!!!!!
    Thanks, it's not always that I can get pretty much exactly what I want from a smoke. This batch of ribs was a nice run, though. I guess I never thought about it much, but getting your perfect rib is an art in itself. 15-20 minutes too little or too long of foil time can make a signifiicant difference if the overall texture is going to be a key indicator of success...hmm, even the bark-set at the end can go the same way.

    Thanks Paul, it was a good challenge for me to really get into the nuts and bolts of a spare rib smoke, and then, to take it down to the business end of it all.

    Thanks Terry, they did come out pretty nice. The bark was just a touch heavier in a couple spots, but the slicing knife went right through with little effort. I think I have things figured out pretty well for spares, now. I do need to try this refined method on loin backs...I like LBR's the most...the meatiest and leanest, IMO. I'll have to reformulate the times and possibly the temps a bit, but it's another achievable goal.

    Thanks Al. Hey, I was just thinking about doing a combination for an upcoming gathering this summer with loin backs. About three different styles I figure will leave something for everyone's preference. A couple slabs of 5-hr straight smoke, some 2-2-1, and some 3-1.5-0.5...a good tug and chew on the first, a very tender rib (possibly bone-popping) with a heavy bark on the second, and the third being a tender rib with a light bark. I think that should about cover most everyone's rib feasting enjoyment.


    Another thought on something I touched on in a reply above is, with ribs being such a versatile piece to smoke, the list of variations you can use to finish them is limited only by your imagination. If it sounds good to you, give it a shot. You just may discover your latest favorite way to eat ribs...I say latest, 'cuz if you begin to experiment as much as I do, your favorites list will likely expand dramatically.

    Thanks again,'s been fun sharing the ride with you!

  16. fourashleys

    fourashleys Smoking Fanatic

    [​IMG]Great looking ribs Eric and an excellent post. I now need some ribs. Makin' plans for when the double shifts end.RIBS! RIBS! RIBS!
  17. bearcarver

    bearcarver Smoking Guru OTBS Member

    LOL---PA Black Bears can always find their way home (hundreds of miles), but they don't usually travel as far as Wyoming, for a meal.

  18. tjohnson

    tjohnson Smoking Guru Staff Member Moderator Insider OTBS Member SMF Premier Member

    Love Those Ribs!

    I've been finishing them off on the grill @ low heat for about 10-15 minutes, after pulling them from the foil.

    We all have our little trick to get them done.

  19. fife

    fife Master of the Pit

    Looks good and great q-view[​IMG]

  20. butch cassidy

    butch cassidy Fire Starter

    Great info Guys, I am doing ribs today. I will try something new especially the different 3-2-1 adjustments. Thanks

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