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 success...so, 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... APPLE SPARE RIB RUB 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 expected...no 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. Enjoy! Eric 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.