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First-time ribs: horrible, why? Main issue: no bark.

Discussion in 'Pork' started by kargov, Oct 7, 2013.

  1. kargov

    kargov Fire Starter

    Hey all,

    On Saturday I tried smoking ribs for the first time. They turned out horribly, and have turned off my family from smoked meat. I'd like to learn why this was, so I can correct these issues moving forward.

    My process:

    - After I was turned down by six butchers (tough to find spares in Canada), I had my mom pick up spares while she was at Costco. They were horribly cut; trimmed in half lengthwise with no regard for the bone. They were very poor cuts. Uneven, thin, tiny. Obviously, I will only be buying untrimmed spares and baby backs in the future.

    - I removed the membranes and flaps, applied yellow mustard followed by Jeff's rub. I wrapped in plastic wrap and let sit in the fridge overnight.

    - I setup the WSM using minion method w/ Kingsford briquettes. I filled the ring quite full and dumped ~14 lit briquettes w/ 4 chunks of wood. I let the smoke billow for 10m then once it was steady whisps of white smoke I placed the ribs on. I found the fire dying near the 4.5hr mark, which I find odd. Is there a reason it died so early? Is it because I used a full water pan of hot tap water, and that sucked up the fuel? Is it because ash fell through the grate (I haven't doubled up the ash grate.) All I had to do was add 2 or 3 unlit briquettes in to get it going again, but I'd like long burns so I can leave on overnight.

    - I trimmed the ribs in half so I could stand them up in the rib rack. Because Costco chopped them vertically, they weren't tall enough and couldn't stand. I had to ditch the rib rack and simply throw them on the grate. Using an 18.5 WSM, I was able to just fit them on both racks. As such, the probe was forced to sit on the outer rim—I know this to be bad as the outer rim runs hotter. The probe read ~240-250 for the first two hours while the WSM temp read ~200, so I thought this to be around 225 in actuality. The last three hours I was able to get the probe in an accurate position to read, and smoked consistently at 220-240. Temp control didn't seem to be the issue.

    - With the intention of doing 2-2-1, after a little over 2 hours of smoking, I placed the ribs in tin foil which contained some apple juice. I also sprayed apple juice on top. I wrapped the foil and placed on the smoker for another two hours.

    - I removed the ribs from the foil and placed on the smoker for another 30m. I then mopped on some BBQ sauce and let smoke for a final 30m. In total, it was on the smoker for 5.25 hrs.


    - NO BARK. I've had this issue with pulled pork and chicken as well – though they tasted great – but this was the worst it's ever been. The rub did not caramelize in the slightest, and it was a gooey-powdery coating.

    - Dying fire.

    - Unpleasant texture.

    - Very tiny smoke ring.

    Any help would be much appreciated—thanks.


    2hr mark

    2hr mark

    completed ribs
    Last edited: Oct 7, 2013
  2. well i dont know what kind of "bark" youre looking for, theres not nearly enough "pull" on them bones for me to call them done. if its bark youre looking for, try NOT foiling. you can achieve all the bark and tenderness without foiling, just use a spritz here and there. you wont get a "bark" on chicken at low smoking heats..chicken requires a higher heat to crisp up skin. never seen bark on a bird. lol. also if they tasted great how can you say they turned out horribly?
  3. kargov

    kargov Fire Starter

    Thanks for the response!

    How do you spritz with ribs on the bottom rack, given the lid would need to be off for an "extended" time to reach them?

    What are some things I can do to increase bark formation? I mean, if there was no bark that's one thing, but the rub on these ribs was gooey and powdery…completely unpleasant.

    Got it re: chicken!

    The ribs did not taste good at all. The pulled pork and chicken tasted great :P
  4. dirtsailor2003

    dirtsailor2003 Epic Pitmaster OTBS Member

    You said you sauced the ribs, I would attribute that to some of the problem. It sounds like the BBQ sauce didn't carmelize. What was in your rub?

    As TB mentioned try skipping the foil. A sugary rub will produce more bark.
  5. a spray bottle on stream is how...lol. dont need to soak the meat but a quick douse will keep it wet for the time being.

    to increase bark formation you need to keep it out of foil, when in foil ur just steaming in juices which in turn softens the crust or the "bark". or if you are gunna use foil, pull them outta the foil at desired time and crank up the heat and place them over it, like on a grill. to get that "gooeyness" taken care of. i sometimes do this, when it comes time for me to glaze my ribs(when im requested to do so), i crank the heat up and let it really "set" up over higher heat. no gooeyness or powderiness to them.

    and as DS said, a sugary rub will often give u a good bark, just remember if youre using more sugar you need to watch the heat. cuz u definitely dont want burnt sugar on your ribs. i know thats NOT the bark youre looking for. lol.
  6. timberjet

    timberjet Master of the Pit

    They do not look done to me. No pullback on the bones. I don't understand what you meant by the whole rib rack thing but next time you can just coil them and skewer through to save space. I use jeffs rub all the time on ribs and it carmelizes nicely by the time they are done. I hope this helps. were they fall off the bone or rubbery?
  7. kargov

    kargov Fire Starter

    Thanks all.


    How long does BBQ sauce need to caramalize? What's the best way to approach that? Blast the heat for a short amount of time?

    The rub is 70% brown sugar.

    Will definitely skip the foil.

    Certain parts did have have ~1/2" pullback. The issue is, in the photo, a lot of those hardly had any bone. It was just the tip and the rest were meat. The ribs which had bone straight across are not depicted, unfortunately.

    I will coil the ribs next time for sure.

    They were not fall off the bone. Due to the vast variations in thickness and proximity to the outer rim, some were cooked accurately, some dry, some too tough to pull from the bone, etc. I'm confident I can fix this for the next cook, as my biggest issue was the powdery/gooey rub.
  8. I think you missed the part on the forums that say after removing the ribs from the plastic wrap, apply more Rub on the ribs.  When you took your ribs out of the fridge, and unwrapped them, they were probably very wet with little to no signs of the rub you applied the night before.  That is why more Rub is needed to make that bark.  Also, the BBQ sauce trick, is best done on hot grill. I, at time, after the 2 in the 3-2-1 method, remove them from my MES 30 inch and place them on my Gas grill over high temps.  Dry them out a bit there then apply sauce.

    I also find it very difficult to believe you called some butchers and trouble finding ribs.  I too am from Ontario, and If I call any of my local butchers, I have no trouble getting any cut of meat, although it may take up to week for them to get it in.  But then again, I am no where near Toronto.

    [​IMG]                  [​IMG]                      [​IMG]  
    Last edited: Oct 7, 2013
  9. kargov

    kargov Fire Starter

    I let them sit 10m per side after rubbing so they stuck. When the plastic wrap was removed, very little rub came off. It was all intact. I applied more rub after removing from foil, though that didn't seem to help. Perhaps it would be best not to leave overnight, and simply apply the rub an hour before smoking?

    Surely there must be a way to achieve a good bark on the smoker, such as the above suggestions? I'd hate to have to run the grill every time I want bark.

    I went to all six butchers in St. Lawrence market. They do not carry them as they simply don't sell. I asked one butcher why, and she actually said...without me prefacing the question, "They're too fatty. We're not in America, we don't smoke our ribs." I'm going to try a multitude of grocery stores next.
  10. sqwib

    sqwib Smoking Guru OTBS Member

    No bark???
    From the looks of the pics... I'm afraid to ask what type of bark you are going for.
    I agree with most folks on them not being done.
    As far as the bark goes... I try to get the thinnest bark possible. Heavy bark on ribs is just dried out meat in that case you're better off making jerky.
  11. kargov

    kargov Fire Starter

    By bark, I just mean a light crisp to the outside. Like, really light. Just so much that the rub is caramalized, it's not soggy, gooey, or powdery. That the rub sticks and doesn't slide off with your finger. The pics are misleading; they tasted horrible.
  12. Your correct, rub after the foil does nothing toward the end product.  I meant adding more rub even before they get to the smoker, first thing in AM.   What I do is marinate my ribs for 24 to 36 hours, then rinse them off, dry them off, apply Honey for the 'glue' then my chosen rub of the moment.  I then wrap them tightly in plastic wrap and leave them in the fridge overnight.  The next morning, I take them out of the fridge, unwrap them and apply more rub.  I do that because they are very wet and most of the rub i put on the night before has soaked into the meat.  Then I leave them on the counter while I set up and start up my MES, this takes about 35 to 40 minutes.  I then do a 3 - 2 - 1 method to cook them.  I have had who went to the local Ribfest, tell me mine are better and I should enter the event next year.

    Living in the Great Smoke, I can only assume you get the same basic flyers as I do, out here in the Grand River Valley.  If so, I have observed  that St Louis style ribs have been on sale at various stores for $1.29 to $1.49 over the past several months.  Look at the flyers that come to your house or look online.  Any that I have bought at the local grocery stores are fine and look good.

    [​IMG]                        [​IMG]                  [​IMG]
  13. miamirick

    miamirick Master of the Pit OTBS Member SMF Premier Member

    You can always throw em on nice hot grill right at the end for a couple minutes each side to crisp em up
  14. chef jimmyj

    chef jimmyj Epic Pitmaster Staff Member Moderator Group Lead OTBS Member SMF Premier Member

    Bark comes from the right combination of Heat and Time. Low Heat = Longer Time. A Butt on at 225°F for 12+ hours has a great Bark. Conversely, High Heat = Short Time. Smoking Ribs at 275°F for 4 hours, no foil, gives a nice Bark. I just roasted Chinese style Ribs in the oven at 350°F for 1.5 hours and 300°F for 30 minutes while I made the sides. The ribs were tender, juicy and overall had a great caramelized Bark, the thinnest part with the small bones got pretty dark almost black and were crunchy, I call that Utra-Bark! If you don't want to mess with the Grill, bump the Heat and plan on a short cook Time...JJ
  15. stickyfingers

    stickyfingers Smoking Fanatic

    The way I see it you have a few things going on here.

    First, the bark. Usually one doesn't seek to have "bark" on ribs. Your ribs do appear to have good color and I would be happy with that.

    Second, the lack of smoke flavor. You mentioned you smoked them for 2 hours before foiling. IMHO this is not long enough. It looks as though you were smoking spars cut St. Louis style basically. These are meatier and require a longer smoke time and cook time. A longer smoke time would have infused more smoke flavor. Longer foil time would have increased tenderness.

    Third, tenderness. as I just mentioned it appeared as though you were smoking meatier ribs so your times will be longer. 2-2-1 or 3-2-1 are just basic guides and will need to be adjusted depending your meat. By their looks, I would have done 3.5-2.5-1 or maybe 4-3-1 while checking for bone pull back and flexibility.

    I believe if you would made these suggested "tweaks" you would of had a better product. But, hey, don't get down of yourself...we have all been there.

    Keep smoking and improving!  
  16. kargov

    kargov Fire Starter

    What do you marinade your ribs in? Do you find it to have much benefit? Got it...rub soaks into the meat. Will apply more rub after unwrapping.

    Will do this on my next run should all else fail. Cheers.
    Got it. Does this dry out the ribs?
    Got it. Thanks a bunch. Will definitely smoke longer next time and pay special attention to pull back & flexibility.
  17. daveomak

    daveomak Epic Pitmaster OTBS Member SMF Premier Member

    Kargov, morning....  I just did a batch of ribs....  Not enhanced..  natural...  I leave the flap meat etc. on the ribs...     Run the membrane under hot tap water for 30 seconds or so...  pull it off grabbing with paper towels for grip.....   rub with mayo or mustard or bacon grease etc. and season liberally with spices of your choice...   

    Run the smoker at 160 ish with smoke and about 1/4 cup of water in the water pan... after a couple hours, dump the water and raise the smoker temp to 210 deg F... NO more water...  The initial water in the pan will keep the ribs moist....   Now with no water, the ribs will form a bark sealing the moisture inside..    Do not spritz, do not foil, keep the door closed....   In about 4 more hours check the ribs...  If the meat has pulled back from the end of the rib bones, check the doneness of the meat with the lift test...  pick up the end of the rack and the more the rack bends, the more tender the rib meat...  I usually wait until the meat has pulled back about 3/4" from the end of the bones... and the rack bends easily to a 45o   angle...    You may have to experiment with a few racks and be forced to eat your experiments, which I don't mind doing...

    Using a water pan full of liquid, sucks the BTU's from the fire and wastes good wood and money...   1/4-1/2 cup will do exactly what you need... adding a little moisture to the Cook Chamber keeping the meat moist and reducing evaporation in the meat.....

    If this method works for you, thank Eric, (forluvofsmoke) for turning me on to this method....  he has a couple of great tutorials explaining how and what he did, during several long smokes for a wedding for several hundred folks...

    Last edited: Oct 8, 2013
  18. chef jimmyj

    chef jimmyj Epic Pitmaster Staff Member Moderator Group Lead OTBS Member SMF Premier Member

    The 4 hours at 275°F does not dry the meat out to any great extent but is not quite as juicy as 3-2-1 or the method Dave described. If your goal is a good bark then you need more heat at some point. You can either do them how I describe or Low and Slow and finish on the Grill. During nice weather, Low and Slow then to the Grill is great. When you get that taste for Ribs in January the 4 hours at 275°F makes life easy. Don't forget you don't always have to use the Grill, the Boiler in your kitchen will get the job done as well...JJ
  19. sqwib

    sqwib Smoking Guru OTBS Member

    I still cant wrap my head around the gooey powdery statement, please clarify.

    Its either gooey or powdery (dry), I cant see it being both???

    But I feel your main problem was they were undercooked, your times seem ok so it must have been your temps were lower than you thought??

    I don't rub the night before, and I would not suggest it but other folks do

    I would ditch the mustard as well.

    My rubs are low in sugar.

    I mop with Worcestershire, Soy Sauce and Jack Daniels, sometimes I add a can of coke, this penetrates the meat but also has enough sugar to get a nice thin crust.

    After Several hours I will start building a glaze.

    Jimmies results are different than mine... if I'm reading that correctly... I don't get more of a bark with higher heat, but rather more of a char.

    I will usually finish off ribs over high heat for a minute or two each side.
    • Finishing over high heat.

    3-2-1 Fall off the bone

    • Fast and hot ribs, the best texture I have found to date! 70 minutes at 450°F
    • BB's @ 2-2-1   225° - 235°

    • way overdone but still edible.

    Looks like you got some great advice... SO...lets see some more ribs

    Goodluck my friend.
  20. kathrynn

    kathrynn Legendary Pitmaster OTBS Member

    I absolutely HATE the mustard stuff on the meats.  Don't like the texture/taste or anything about it.  The rubs will stick to the meat naturally with out adding that yellow stuff!  (IMHO) And depending on what type you used....it can give that "grainy texture"....too much on it and it didn't "soak in or cook in the meat".