Baby-back experiement, 2 smokers, 3 methods

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Smoke Blower
Original poster
OTBS Member
Aug 29, 2006
OK, here goes. Last week I cooked some ribs for my neighbor and I was unhappy with how they turned out. My neighbor bought them and I forget exactly what they were called, but I want to say it was loin ribs or something like that. I cooked them on a friends offset smoker that I had never used before, but the temps seemed to do just fine. I used the 3-2-1 method, but the ribs were still a little tough. So I don't know if it was the ribs or the smoker that I don't like.

So what am I gonna do about it?????

I am going to do an experiment using 6 sections of baby-backs and two different smokers. Here is how it will break down. On my bullet smoker from Home Depot I am going to cook three sets of ribs all rubbed and prepared the same way.

1. One set of ribs will be cooked for five to six hours without foiling, only spraying with apple juice occasionally.
2. The next set of ribs will be foiled usning the 2-2-1 method, only two hours before foiling and adding apple juice to the foil. They will be allowed to cook for two hours in the foil and then placed back on the smoker for about an hour to firm back up.
3. The third set of ribs will be done using the 2-2-1 method also, but before I wrap them in foil I am going to sauce them down good and add just a touch of apple juice before sealing them up. They will finish up like the set using only apple juice.

The remaining three sets of ribs will be prepared exactly as the ones above, however they will be cooked on my friends offset smoker (chargriller pro with mods). This experiment will hopefully tell me what smoker I like better and what method of preparing ribs that I like better.

I will try to post some pics as I go along.

When I was a judge at my local fair for BBQ the best ribs I had the team did a 3-1-.5. You could take the meat off the ribs with your lips. (I am not kidding I did) Once I get this new smoker done I want to give baby backs anouther try. Right now my off set it a little to small for making about 4 slabs for the house.

That .5 is when they added the sause.
Thanks Roger, I remember reading that thread a short while back. I am simply carrying pretty much the same experiement a couple of steps farther using two grills and three methods of cooking. I wholeheartedly believe that the 3-2-1 method (or some variation of it) will come out as the best method. I don't know if it will be with sauce or with just apple juice. The real question that I am trying to answer is the difference between a water smoker and an offset smoker.

You know another question just hit me, do people use water pans in offset smokers? I only have one experience with an offset and I did not use any water. Should I?
IMO, the water pan is only for temp control. If you didn't have a problem controling your temps then I wouldn't use a water pan. When air is heated the moisture in the air is concentrated so the moisture is in there with or without the water pan.
3/2/1 methds is for spares that take longer with baby backs that normally produces mush.

The foil methods 3/2/1 or2/2/1 are simply guides and other things need to be taken into consideration.

The ribs in the first section of the cook need to have a couple of things happening, first part of the cook you look for color and some pull back on the bones. The second part of the cook is tenderizing and the third is simply used to set the sauce or if not saucing then drying some of the exterior moisture you have from the foil part of the cook.

Simply using the time does not insure that the product is where it needs to be.
Thanks Jim, of course what you are saying is exactly true. I guess my post is a little confusing since I mentioned the 3-2-1 method, the 2-2-1 method and some variation of the 3-2-1 method. What you have stated above is the concept that I will be using and what I meant by a variation of the 3-2-1 method. I also believe, but certainly don't know this for sure, that the ribs that will not be foiled may take a little longer to reach completion that the ones that get foiled.
Roger, I am not sure I agree with this statement, so help me understand.

Since matter cannot be created or destroyed, only converted to different forms, it seems like the air in the smoker will be dryer than the ambient/outside air unless you put a water pan in the smoker. The only source of water in the smoker would be the water contained within the meat you are cooking. While it is certainly true that warm air can hold much more moisture than cool air (this is why we have dew in the mornings), warm air does not automatically contain more moisture unless there is a source of moisture provided. Please understand that I am not trying to be argumentative, just trying to understand.

No problem Jamie,

That is what is great about this forum, everyone can give their own opinion. I based my opinion on this quote "Water Smoker
A water smoker is a sheet metal appliance which has: a bottom rack for fuel, wood or charcoal; at top rack for meat and an open pan in between for water or a mixture thereof.
Beside the price, the sole redeeming feature of the water smoker is that, as long as there is water in the pan, the temperature at the surface of the meat will not exceed the boiling point of water, therefore, only the most obdurate will dry out the meat.

Aside from its construction, the major detraction is that it encourages neophytes to oversmoke, thereby ruining what would otherwise be a tasty piece of meat.

With the insides removed and a garbage bag inserted, it makes a covered trash container that blends in rather well in a cooking setting."

The above quote came from this site

I have found this to be an excellent site to get some of my questions answered.

By the way, I never use my water pan in my BSKD propane smoker for anything other than a drip pan.
I know Smokey well and his statements about water cookers are factually incorrect when talking about a water cooker like the WSM. The waterpan is a heat sink and you can easily control pit temps with the bottom vents. If you are talking about a water cooker like an ECB the statments are closer but with modifications you can over come some of it's design shortcomings.

The idea that because your using a water smoker and that causes oversmoking in neophytes is not just the case in water smokers, that can be said about any smoker until the cook get's a handle on what we are trying to achieve.

Having cooked with Smokey, I know for him they may make a good trash can but that says more about his skills with that style of cooker rather than the cooker it's self.

Moisture in the air or the cooker does not insure moist product, moist food comes from understanding that as conective tissue breaks down those cells releases their moisture into the meat, as long as you don't over cook it, retaining that moisture is what we are looking for.

Never intended to make out that Smoky was any great Guru or anything Jim :roll: This started out because I said the water pan was used to control temp not moisture. I maintain that fact to be true. If I was using an ECB, I would keep my pan full of water. If I was using a silver smoker I would not.
As I said I know Smokey and he loves making statements like the trash can deal.

In an ECB you could get away with using sand or wadded up foil in the water pan and make it work, It takes more work when using charcoal.
I"m with you 100%. I cooked with charcoal for the last 20 years. I just converted to propane about 6 months ago. I love cooking on coals, but it just got to be too much work.

As far as Smokey goes, He seems to love to make bold and audacious statements to see what reaction he will get. I like to refer to his site because he has some good info there. Such as rib bone structure, etc
Jim, I agree that moisture in the air does not mean moist food. My whole post above was meant to counter this statement

"When air is heated the moisture in the air is concentrated so the moisture is in there with or without the water pan."

This statement seems to defy the laws of physiscs. When air is heated it can hold much more water than when it is cool. So when you heat air the water in the air is actually less concentrated and not more concentrated. One would have to agree that if the closer the air in your smoker is to the saturation point (100% humidity) the less likely it would be to grab moisture from the only other thing in the smoker (assuming no water pan) that has moisture in it, your meat. Would this amount of evaporation make any noticeable differance in the way the meat comes out? I don't know and I doubt it. One thing that is for sure smokers with and without water pans can both produce some fine eats. Man it is good to stretch the brain every now and then.

Many thanks to both of you for some great advice and a thought stimulating thread.

ouch, my head hurts.

In all the talk about water pans, I forgot that the thread was about cooking ribs. Sorry about that Jamie.
No problem, the ribs are rubbed with Jeff's rub and are in the fridge just waiting on tomorrow morning.

The ribs are on the smokers. Smells good out here.

Jamie, it sure sounds like an ineresting experiment and quite an undertaking. I am looking forward to your pics and results. I'm gonna stay out of the physics chat so I don't embarass myself, my head hurts and I just read it.
Got lazy on the pics, but there wasn't a huge difference in the way the ribs looked. The ones that never went in the apple juice had a better bark than the others, as one would expect. Here are the taste test results as reported unamimously by our three judges.

Water Smoker

All the ribs were very good, the ones that never saw any apple juice had a great bark but were not as tender as the others. The ones in apple juice had a great flavor and were very tender. The ones in sauce and apple juice had the best flavor and were very tender. The ones with sauce and apple juice were declared the winner

Offset Smoker

The ribs on the offset smoker finished very similar to those on the water smoker, but were not quite as tender. This could very well have been that these ribs were not cooked quite as much as the water smoker as the temps in the water smoker ran just a little higher most of the day.

Between the two smokers
The water smoker won this battle, but that could be do to temp times and my inexperience with the offset.

All in all
These were far and away the best ribs I have cooked to date. Regardless of the method or the smoker these ribs were awesome and they were all good in different ways. I would not hesitate to use any of these methods or either of these smokers in the future.

Let me see if I can get a pic or two.

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