Help with rib "bark"

Discussion in 'Pork' started by vosserr, Jun 7, 2014.

  1. vosserr

    vosserr Newbie

    Just bought some spare ribs that I am planning on smoking later this afternoon. Using my WSM 18.5 with some pecan. Normally I coat my ribs with mustard, then add a nice rub before throwing them on at 225-230F (using the 3-2-1 method). Ribs have been coming out great, but still not completely to my liking.

    Anyone know how to get a nice crunchy bark while smoking ribs? Not sure if I should coat them in some sort of honey or molasses while smoking or something else (possibly change the temperature?). I don't necessarily want them to be dripping with sauce, just a nice coat on top. Thanks in advance everyone, and will post come pictures up when they are done! 
  2. noboundaries

    noboundaries Smoking Guru OTBS Member SMF Premier Member

    Ahhhh, looking for that taste and texture perfection.  So much fun.  I like my spares to have a nice smoke ring, a firm bark and a tender, juicy center.  Not fall off the bone but a "competition" bite where it bites cleanly off the bone without leaving you with a mouthful of meat. 

    Here's what I do.  I use EVOO instead of mustard but it has nothing to do with technique or taste.  My wife HATES the idea of using mustard so I just want something that will help the rub stick to the meat.  EVOO is it for me.  I also apply just a light rub, just a dusting actually.  Too much rub overpowers the meat for me and I really dislike that "dusty" taste in the mouth from too much rub.

    Definitely "wet" smoke the ribs with water in the water pan.    

    Next, and this was the key for me, I don't wrap my spares at all and use the same temp as you.  Not wrapping gave me what I was looking for.  I wrap the leaner BB's but found I like the fattier spares better unwrapped.

    I spritz them with Simply Apple brand apple cider every 90 minutes or so.   At 5 to 5.5 hours I check for doneness.  I look for about a half inch draw on the bone and do a bend test.  I lightly sauce when there is about 30 minutes left.  They are usually done between 5.5 and 6.5 hours, depending on the size of the racks.

    The 3-2-1 folks will offer their techniques too for a firm bark.  So now you can experiment and see what you like best.

    Have fun eating your laboratory specimens!
  3. forluvofsmoke

    forluvofsmoke Smoking Guru OTBS Member

    If you want a more prominent bark, try a 2.5-2.0-1.5. With the smoking time slightly reduced, you can increase the volume of smoke to compensate for reduction in the time exposed to smoke. The foiled time is unchanged, so internal tenderness should remain unchanged, for the most part. The open grate final stage is where your bark is set. A longer final stage will give a firm to crisp bark, given the proper smoke chamber humidity. For a very crisp bark, you need low humidity to finish it up, and also, if you will rest the meat prior to serving do not cover or wrap in foil...a 10-15 minute rest for ribs would be my maximum for best results. Place in single layers and cover with a clean towel to allow it to breathe. Your resting method is just as important as the final stage in creating that bark.

    You may not have enough time to read through this and understand it before your smoke today, but this is my "go to" for creating a fantastic bark on also helps in retaining natural moisture in meats finished at higher internal temperature:

    Wet-to-Dry Smoke Chamber Method

    If you wish to use this method today, just add washed (rinsed in fresh water) pea-gravel or play sand to you water pan (about 1/2 filled), then line the pan with 2 separate layers of foil and add a smaller mount of water to the foil. This will add humidity for smoke reaction with the meat, then dry out later allowing for a low-humidity cooking chamber to finish the ribs. Water amount needed is difficult to estimate based on your individual smoker and the time you want higher humidity, but for ribs 1-1.5qts will likely be enough...possibly too much. Better to start with a smaller amount and run can always add a small amount of water to extend the wet stage. The pea-gravel or sand can be used repeatedly, provided you keep meat drippings from getting to it, hence the foil.

    I've smoked ribs with the above method (wet-to-dry with no-foiling) and get relatively tender ribs bursting with juices and a crispy bark.

  4. noboundaries

    noboundaries Smoking Guru OTBS Member SMF Premier Member

    Ooooh, wet to dry, I LIKE that idea!
  5. forluvofsmoke

    forluvofsmoke Smoking Guru OTBS Member

    If the competition texture is for you, wet-to-dry leans more towards that. Not fall-off-the-bone tender, but not a chewy texture, either. I just use the bend test and the visual pull-back of meat from the bone tips as well as overall shrinkage to determine the level of internal cooking. Most times I use visual checks only, and get good results with texture/chew. I don't like chewy ribs, nor bone popping ribs. A good baseline for the wet-to-dry method is around 3.5-4hrs wet with smoke, depending on how high your actual smoke chamber humidity runs (a faster evaporation from the water pan translates to higher humidity). Then, 2.5-3hrs dry (this is somewhat dependent on your ambient humidity). My location is dry/arid, most times, unless there is weather in the area, then the ambient humidity is higher and I may need to run a bit longer for the dry stage for similar/repeatable results.

    Also, I'm @ ~5,000' elevation, so my cooking times are longer, or I need to bump chamber temps about 10-15* higher to compensate when compared to others who are smoking at lower elevation. And, I smoke ribs low & slow @ 225*...renders out more fat and seems to reduce the natural response of meat to evaporate internal moisture as it cooks...low & slow combined with the wet-to-dry method seems to yield the best results for me.

    Note that with foiling, meat tends to cook faster...this may not be in the best interests of texture if you're looking to break-down the connective tissues. A lot of folks foil brisket and pork shoulder for PP, either just to speed-up cooking, or, to help jump through the stall (stalls are not a bad thing, they're normal with low & slow cooking). Ribs are foiled to achieve a more rapid cooking, and, whether or not they realize it, it greatly reduces the formation of bark. Don't like bark? Foil away. If you do like bark, less foiled time is in your best interests...this applies to brisket and pork shoulder, among many other cuts of meat.

  6. zalbar

    zalbar Fire Starter

    Not sure what this is worth but I've been using the 3-2-1 method since I got my smoker 2 years ago. There was something always off about it to me so yesterday I got up the courage to experiment on my own. 4 racks of ribs got thrown in the wsm for 6 hours with temps floating between 225 and 240 throughout the day for 6 hours. No foiling, no spritzing, the only thing I did was swap the outer ribs with the middle ones about 3 hours in. Last hour and a half I was mopping with my bbq sauce on the half hour. First bite was a complete revelation. It was everything I thought BBQ was supposed to be, not chewing on a wet sponge. Crisp outer layer and tender juicy inside. I will never foil my spares ever again.

  7. forluvofsmoke

    forluvofsmoke Smoking Guru OTBS Member

    ...that is why I have gone no-foil. If you use water in your pan, I suggest you consider this method to take it a step further:

    Wet-to-Dry Smoke Chamber Method

  8. zalbar

    zalbar Fire Starter

    no foil pics from saturday

    yotzee likes this.
  9. kargov

    kargov Fire Starter

    This Saturday I'm finally trying the wet to dry method you've recommended. Going to do both foil and non-foil ribs to see the difference.
  10. noboundaries

    noboundaries Smoking Guru OTBS Member SMF Premier Member

    Good on you! Love the variable control experiment. Keep us posted.
  11. Zalbar you are a terrible person for posting those pictures [​IMG]
  12. forluvofsmoke

    forluvofsmoke Smoking Guru OTBS Member

    Ah, this should be an interesting duo...foiled and no-foil with wet-to-dry smoke chamber...looking forward to the results. Just remember your foiled ribs will cook a bit faster than no-foil, if you're looking for nearly the same level of tenderness.

  13. yotzee

    yotzee Smoking Fanatic

    Zalbar - those pics look incredible!   After finally convincing the wifey that ribs can be tender without falling off the bone I am done foiling too.  I myself was never happy with the texture after foiling.  It took some practice to know when they were done to the point that I'd get tender with a tug, but the bend test and a toothpick really do tell you when.  I do use a light mop of vinegar and seasoning throughout my cook, but I will never foil again.
  14. kargov

    kargov Fire Starter

    I was planning on just doing 2-2-1 for both (with potential time added to the last hour if they're not showing as ready.) No good?
  15. jirodriguez

    jirodriguez Master of the Pit OTBS Member SMF Premier Member

    Best method I find (I have the 22.5" WSM), is to smoke them till done on the WSM, then crank up my gas grill, toss the ribs on and sauce them. It caramelizes the sauce and gives the ribs a nice crunch while not messing with the nice tenderness of the ribs. You only need about 3-5 minutes a side depending on how hot your grill is.

    .... oh and I no-foil cook them.
    Last edited: Jun 13, 2014
  16. NO foiling!!!  Plain and simple.  I never fil and get incredible bark and tender ribs!!!

  17. kargov

    kargov Fire Starter

    Did the wet-to-dry / pea gravel method on 4 racks of baby-backs yesterday. 2 foil, 2 non foil. Held consistent at 225-250, bumping up to 275 for 10-15m in an attempt to caramalize sauce.

    Pea gravel setup: foiled WSM water pan, filled win pea gravel a little under half way, covered with two layers of foil and put a cup and a half of water in a foil pie tray on top.

    2-2-1 foil. Dry all save but one half rack. Little to no smoke ring (less than what's shown in photo.)

    No-foil. 5 hours was not enough. Smoked nearly 7. Also dry, and sauce burnt as I timed it incorrectly. Prefer foiling.

    Vs water-pan foiled spares from a few weeks prior.

    So, pea gravel didn't work for me. I know it certainly works, I'm just too much of a newb to grasp it. As for me...I'm waving the white flag and picking up an IQ110 :p
    Last edited: Jun 15, 2014
  18. noboundaries

    noboundaries Smoking Guru OTBS Member SMF Premier Member

    Baby Backs?!  Ruh oh.  Where did baby backs come into this conversation about spares?  Baby backs are not spare ribs.  The entire discussion was about spare ribs.  7 hours on BBs!  Holy moly.  Yeah, they should have tasted like dust.  I rarely go more than four hours on the leaner and more temperamental BBs, and always foil.  They are a different smoke.  They don't draw up like spares and being leaner will dry out in a hurry.  Smoking BBs like spare ribs is like trying to smoke a pork butt like a loin.  They may all be pork but are quite different in how they smoke.  Kargov, you just learned how NOT to smoke BBs, foiled or not.       
  19. kargov

    kargov Fire Starter

    The foiled were 2-2-1 and still very dry.

    The unfoiled still weren't done @ 5hrs, or even six. Little pull back, did the bend test and it was still too stiff, and they didn't budge much when I pulled against two bones.

    But got it...always foil BBs. Will do.
  20. forluvofsmoke

    forluvofsmoke Smoking Guru OTBS Member

    I think you're getting the bend test wrong...too stiff translates to overcooked. Raw has a lot of sag, partially cooked will still have quite a bit of sag, while when cooked tender most of the sag is gone...time to stop and enjoy. And  yes, you don't see nearly as much pull-back with BBs as with spares.

    You can do no-foiled BBs and get a decent rib, but with a straight wet pan, maybe not as good of results. If you did a wet-to-dry smoke with BBs, 225* will suffice, but 7hrs is probably too long. If you go with no-foiled and a straight dry smoke chamber, or, wet-to-dry, this shouldn't be the cause for a dry rib, but overcooking definitely will do it.


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