What went wrong with my ribs???

  • Some of the links on this forum allow SMF, at no cost to you, to earn a small commission when you click through and make a purchase. Let me know if you have any questions about this.
SMF is reader-supported. When you buy through links on our site, we may earn an affiliate commission.


Original poster
Feb 24, 2014
Hello all.  this is my first post aside from my roll call.  I found the forum while researching what went wrong with my ribs this past Saturday.  I signed up yesterday and have a few questions... I'm sure I'll have more.  I'm going to explain the process and recipe that I followed and sprinkle a couple of questions in along the way. 

The ribs were not bad.  In fact, the flavor was great.  However, they were TOUGH AS HELL.   We're not talking didn't fall off the bone.  We're talking had to really chew and tug to get em' off.

I'm am a rookie armed with an Masterbuilt electric smoke that I received as a gift in December.  I do have an offset as well that I have used with mixed success in the past.  A few side notes:  This was not the first smoke with the Masterbuilt as I did a butt for the Superbowl and I did run a full empty smoke before food was ever used.  Also, I am relying on the digital thermometer that is built in and the meat probe.  Question 1:  Is that a mistake?  If so, can you recommend a good thermometer and set up for a unit like this?

Here is how it all went down:  I was following a recipe from the book Slow Fire which is written by Ray Lampe.  Question 2:  Anyone know if this book is decent?  If not, is there a better one to get me going? 

I picked up 2 slabs of St. Louis style ribs from the supermarket.  They were previously frozen and had some additives according to the package, but they looked pretty good.  Question 3:  Big mistake?  should I have gone to other stores looking for fresher or never frozen?  Friday night I peeled the membrane and rubbed them with a generous amount of the rub from the recipe.  It is some sugar in the raw, kosher salt, coffee, chili powder, garlic powder and a few other spices.  I think its a pretty decent rub and better than a store bought.  I placed them in a pan and covered the pan with plastic wrap and let them sit in the fridge overnight.  Question 4: No mustard, too long, not long enough, not wrapped?

Saturday around noon I let them come to room temp for about an 1/2 hour and they went into the smoker at 235 with a mix of apple and hickory wood.  I smoked em for 2 hours meat side up, flipped em bone side up and smoked for an hour more.  Took them out and wrapped in foil with brown sugar, butter, honey, and Frank's red hot.  They went back in for another hour.  (This is exactly as the recipe said).  After that I finished hit them with a bottled sauce and finished them on a pretty hot grill (natural charcoal and hickory chunks) for a few minutes on each side.............  End result was tasty ribs that were TOUGH AS HELL

Any thoughts and answers to my questions will be greatly appreciated... Sorry for the long post, but I wanted to provide enough detail and context.   Zach
For all that , I think you just didn't cook them long enough. Previously frozen ? No problem.
No Mustard? Fine. Leave the rub on as long as you want before cooking. No problem.
Long story short they probably needed another hour on the smoker. How did you determine that the ribs were done? Bend test? Toothpick? Temperature ? Or just time?
Last edited:
I agree with Ham. My thought would be the thermometers. I've never seen anyone brag about the built in temp gages provided on any commercially available smokers. Most members here, including me, seem to like the Maverick ET 732. Frankly, for ribs I don't use it. I use the 3-2-1 method at 220* for fall off the bones tenderness. Has never failed me. If that is too tender for your taste you may want to try a variation of that, like 2-2-1. You can read all about it on the site. As for supermarket cryopacked STL style ribs, never had a problem with them. Everything else sounds fine, although my personal preference for the rub is a simple SPOG + brown sugar to taste. The next try will be more enjoyable.
Hi Zach.  Good advice given already.  Read the article below to learn more about the bend test to determine 'doneness' of ribs:


If I read your post correctly, you only cooked your ribs for about 4 hours? (basically a 2-1-1 method).  Try 3-2-1 as a starting place for spare ribs, then adjust downward in the times of the second and third phase as needed until you find your sweet spot.  Here's some threads related to 3-2-1 ribs:


Hope that helps.

Last edited:
Well I dont do well on long prose but to cook spare ribs..debrane and a mustard slather and whatever rub you prefer. I like Head Country personally..but Harley's Sweet Rub is also good. Salt and pepper might also work. Try to get a pit temp up to around 260 and cook them meat side down until they are done no flipping and dont spill the juice which collects on the concave top bone side. Done meaning you can put on the dishwasher gloves and see how easy it is to pull apart two adjacent bones in the middle of the rack. If they pull apart sorta easy..that's a clue. Around 4 hours on a regular sized rack. When that happens wrap in foil and stick in the hot box (empty ice chest for example) and let them chuckle away for at least an hour. Half a day is  best..then throw them back on the fire and hit one swipe on each side with a sweet glaze and allow it to to burn in a bit. You get one flip up only on the glaze cycle. There ya go. Try that. Oak wood is our friend.
Last edited:
Lots of methods given, all will work. Takes time to figure your way out, but keep trying different ways and keep note of what you like and dislike. Repeat the good and learn from the bad.

The thermometers on the MES smokers are not accurate (most of the time, a couple out there might be). So a therm like the Maverck is good to use, but as long as you have a calibrated therm you can read outside the cooker you are good. I cook at 250-300 for ribs, I adjust my temps as needed based on how they are doing.

I did some ribs over the past weekend and dis 3 in smoke 1 wrapped and .75 to set glaze. For the first step I was at 255 and the rest was at 280. Spot on perfect ribs. I do not want fall of the bone ribs (over cooked), I could take a bite and it left a perfect cut out or I could peel them off with little to no pulling if desired.

Many methods, seasonings, positioning, wrapping, don't wrap, etc.............. Most important is proper temp monitoring and control, the rest is personal style.....
Same exact issue I had with my first ribs, they were tasty but they were not tender enough for the family.  Probably tender enough for some, maybe like eating a cheaper cut of steak, a bit chewy, had to work them off the bone.  My next attempt was a combination of baby backs and a full slab of spares.  The baby backs I did two hours before foiling, the spares three ...... two hours in the foil with apple juice, honey and Jack Daniels, then out of the foil and back into the smoker.  After an hour I tested using the bend test learned here ....... one of the baby backs passed the test and come off after that one hour, about a half hour later the other one was ready, the full slab took even longer, so it ended up being more of a 3-2-2 1/2.  They were all great and I could grab the bone on each one, give it a good firm twist and take it out with still some good firmness to the meat.  Long story I know, but I think you're doing fine, just need to cook longer.  The one thing I learned here is that you need patience, a good understanding of how to tell things are done and a very trusty thermometer ..............
 End result was tasty ribs that were TOUGH AS HELL

Thermometer only tells you when the meat is safe to eat. Doneness is to personal preference. I don't pull ribs from the cooker till I can twist a bone from the meat.

( Doneness ?  3 diff spell checks still doesn't look right. )
Good tips. Another way to get tough ribs is to cook them too low and slow. Dries them out on most pits. Works the same on butts.
Good tips here. My first attempt at ribs turned out the same way ...... TOUGH. I discovered that my thermometer was big time off and that my ribs were simply not done. I replaced it with a Maverick and haven't had a problem since ..... consistently great. One more thought ...... we all have our own preferences and this is my 2 cents worth. I like to smoke my ribs bone side down. I don't turn them. Good luck on your next batch.
I'd have to agree with everyone else.  Sounds like your problem is simply just not cooking long enough.  They likely should have been left in foil longer than only 1 hour.  And there are plenty of guys who do ribs without ever foiling, you just have to cook even longer to get "bite off the bone" tenderness.  Also you can try spritzing with water or apple juice (or both) during the cook.

I royally screwed up on my first rack of ribs back in 2011.  Didn't cook them long enough, and they were gross, tough, and just tasted like ham instead of ribs.  Since then I've made sure to cook much longer, and prefer to foil during the middle of the cook.  And you can always do the bend test during the cook.  If they don't feel tender, they ain't ready.

And getting a new thermometer is also a great suggestion.  But even with a poor thermometer, the beautiful thing about ribs is you can just cook till they are tender.  Cooking at a lower temp will take longer, but it is much easier to do a feel test with ribs as opposed to say a boston butt.
Last edited:
Yeah...broken record here...try the same thing again, but do them at 225 for five hours. I don't foil mine, but if they are getting too black for you, then foil is your option. Spray them ever hour with apple juice.

Pick them up with a pair of tongs. When they bend in half easily, they are done.
SmokingMeatForums.com is reader supported and as an Amazon Associate, we may earn commissions from qualifying purchases.

Hot Threads