So I know what you are thinking… NOTHING is foolproof. But here I am calling this recipe just that. If you can count backwards from 3 (hint: 3 – 2 – 1) then you can make this ultra easy, although a little time consuming, recipe that will produce the most delicious ribs you have ever eaten… EVERY SINGLE TIME!
How to Make Foolproof Easy BBQ Ribs Every Time!
No, there is no special gadget you need to buy and no I am not selling anything. Seriously!
Perfect ribs are all about cooking temperature and 3 easy steps. Otherwise know as the “Texas Crutch”, the 3-2-1 method of low and slow ribs has been on the BBQ competition circuit for years and is a tried and true method to getting great, fall of the bone, results.
Now, truth be told, some folks (who are purists) view the “Texas Crutch” as cheating… for them it is not a true measure of a pit master to use this method, but to be honest I really don’t care. The results are perfect every time and it is almost impossible to ruin the ribs – hence the foolproof in my recipe title.
Give this recipe a shot next time you have a hankering for BBQ ribs and I know you won’t be disappointed.
What is the “Texas Crutch”?
The “Texas Crutch” is achieved by wrapping your ribs in foil for a portion of the cooking time. When you wrap the ribs you are going to introduce a mop sauce to keep the ribs moist and essentially boil the ribs for about 2 hours on the smoker. Yep, you read that right… you are going to boil the ribs for about to hours on the smoker. Stop making that face, didn’t your mother ever tell you if you made faces like that it could stay that way? Here is the deal, the “Crutch” does boil the ribs, and yes that sounds weird, but the end result is meat so tender it virtually slides of the bone and has an ultra flavorful complexity that beats the pants off of any other rib recipe that I have tried (and I have tried a lot – failing a lot, before I started using this method).
If you hate dry, tough ribs then this is the recipe you need to try.
What is the 3 – 2 – 1 method for making BBQ ribs?
The 3 – 2 – 1 method is essentially the hours of each step of this recipe. 3 hours of smoke, 2 hours “Texas Crutch”, 1 hour saucing. Below is a little more detail:
3 hours of smoking on the smoker of your choice with the temperature averaging between 225 and 240 degrees. Don’t go any higher or lower or else the ribs will either be under done or over done. During this time you want to impart as much smoke on the ribs as you can so you will add your wood chucks when you place the ribs in the smoker and refresh every hour to keep a constant smoke. If you are a smoke ring fan then spritz the tops of the ribs with apple cider when you put them on the smoker and each time you replenish the wood chunks. Without getting too scientific the moisture from the apple cider will help develop a nice smoke ring.
2 hours ‘Texas Crutch”. After the ribs have smoked for 3 hours at approximately 225 degrees you will remove the ribs and place them in foil, moping them generously with the mop sauce outlined in the recipe and adding a couple tablespoons to the bottom of the foil for good measure. You will want to wrap the ribs tightly in the foil and then place back into the smoker for 2 hours. Wood at this point is not crucial, but keeping a constant temperature of 225 degrees is.
1 hour of saucing. BBQ sauce burns so you don’t want to sauce the ribs until the last hour or so… better yet wait till the last 15 minutes. For the pictures you see in this article I waited till the last 15 minutes to sauce. So, to get started with this phase remove your ribs from the smoker and unwrap them from the foil. Return them into the smoker and add more wood chunks to ignite a little smoke. 15 minutes before removing the ribs from the smoker, using a grill basting brush, sauce the ribs and cover. This last step with give the ribs a little crust and that final glaze of a yummy sauce – the recipe for which I have included in the complete recipe below.
Equipment and Supplies for the perfect BBQ ribs.
If you are a regular reader of this blog you may have already read my article on, How to Light a Charcoal Grill. If you have not then you should check this link out before reading further. In this article I outline the best way to light a charcoal grill, discuss what grill to use and suggest a couple tools to have at your disposal. However for this recipe there are 2 additional considerations that are not discussed in that article. The fist is choosing the right smoker and the second is what wood to use to favor the ribs. Below I cover both of those topics.
Tip #1: Choosing the Right BBQ Smoker:
If you already own a smoker then you can skip this section. But, if you are new to low and slow BBQ smoking or want to check out what gear I use keep reading.
So what is the best BBQ smoker? Well, it all depends on your situation, how much storage you have and what your budget is. Smokers vary in size, shape and cost greatly. In fact, the price range is very wide starting at a few hundred dollars and going all the way up to a few thousand dollars or more. But for me, a bullet water smoker is the hands down best way to go.
There are a couple reason why I think they are the best option:
Shape – The rounded lid gives greater cooking options and room to cook not only ribs and brisket but whole chickens and other larger cuts of meat… not to mention is allows for more air flow.
Venting – Whatever smoker you choose make sure it has vents both in the base of the smoker as well as the lid. These provide good airflow and can be opened or closed to control the temperature of the smoker by reducing or supplying more air to fuel the coals.
Cost – A quality smoker that has a 18″ cooking surface starts at $300 or so. An inexpensive entrance into smoking that will get you well on your way to enjoying some great smoke flavor!
Perhaps the most famous bullet water smoker maker is Weber. Born in the 1950’s, the iconic grills we know today were first fashioned out of buoys manufactured for the Coast Guard and through the imagination of George Stephen who worked at Weber Brothers Metal Works have now become an American icon.
I use a 18″ Smokey Mountain Cooker for all the low and slow recipes on the Mamma Rocks the Kitchen food blog… and have owned my current smoker for over 12 years now.
If you want to give smoking a try but don’t have the money to spend on a smoker don’t worry. It is 100% possible to set up a kettle grill to act as a smoker. You will just want to make sure it is a large enough kettle grill and follow the manufactures directions for proper set up.
Tip #2: Choosing the right wood for low and slow BBQ:
Choosing a wood variety to use for your smoking endeavors is just like choosing the right seasonings to use in your rub. The wood selected is GOING TO directly impact the flavor and taste profile of your ribs, so choose a variety to your preference. Below is a brief flavor chart of a few of my favor wood varieties:
Hickory – Fully flavor that is perfect for meats, seafood and vegetables.
Apple – Full flavor that works great with ham, pork and bacon.
Oak – A general wood flavor that is very neutral and works well with all types of foods.
Mesquite – I know I said I was listing my favorite woods but had to quickly mention Mesquite in the list. This is a wood I stay away from like the plague. The flavor is just way too over powering and I am just not a big fan. If you decide to use Mesquite be warned… only use small amounts.
For this recipe I use Hickory wood but feel free to use either Apple or Oak if you prefer.
Chunk vs chips vs pellets – what is best?
There are a number of different “forms” of wood you can buy. By this I mean log, chunk, chips, pellets and the like. The form of wood you use is going to be largely dictated by the type of smoker you are using. Some electric and gas smokers only use pellets while the Weber Smoker I am recommending can use logs, chips and chunks. Be sure to select the right form of wood for your smoker to avoid injury or damaging your smoker.
Since I am using the Weber Smoker I have options and I like to use wood chunks as I like that they are substantial, don’t burn off and smolder more in the smoker giving me longer smoke times and therefore greater smoke flavor.
Selecting the right ribs to use on your smoker and how to butcher them.
For this recipe we will be using pork ribs but just say pork ribs leaves open the option to buy a large variety of rib varieties when you go to the store. In fact, the are at least 5 different rib varieties you might encounter including: Baby Back Ribs, Spareribs, St. Louis ribs, Country-style ribs and Rib tips. While all of these varieties are tasty in their own right and all have their own unique and distinct recipe types and cooking times, for this recipe we will be using St. Louis style ribs.
St. Louis style ribs are THE most popular ribs on the competitive BBQ circuit and for good reason. These “squared” off ribs weigh in at about 3 pounds or so each and have a nice meaty profile with good fat content. True St. Louis style ribs have had the back flap trimmed off as well as the cartilaginous tips trimmed off giving them that “squared’ off look. However, I have found that stores will label ribs as St. Louis style and sell them as such BUT they have only done minimal butchering to them and you wind up buying the tips and flap or one or the other in tack. No worries, although it may seem like a waste we are going to take care of that with a little butchering as outlined below.
Step #1: Removing the papery film from the back of your ribs:
Ribs have a papery membrane on the back of them that creates a barrier stopping smoke and seasoning from fully penetrating the ribs. Additionally, this membrane will never break down… no matter how long you cook the ribs. So, we need to remove it. This can be easy or hard depending on the ribs and how tight the membrane is to the backing, but with a few simple tricks you will become a pro at removing it.
To remove the membrane, use a small sharp knife and work at one of the corners of the ribs to create a flap that you can grab onto. Then using a paper towel grab onto the flap you just created and start pulling it along the back of the ribs (the membrane can be slippery so the paper towels help you keep your grip). With practice you will be able to peel this membrane off whole with no tears or rips, but when first starting out you may loose your grip or tear the membrane. No worries, using the small knife create a new flap for yourself and try again.
Step #2: Butchering the ribs to TRUE St. Louis “Squared” off style:
As I mentioned earlier, many stores will sell you St. Louis style ribs that are not fully butchered. That is OK, and to be expected. After all they want to sell you all the flaps, tips and such as it adds poundage to the total sale and thus makes them more money. But do yourself a favor and don’t fall victim to leaving the tips and flap on because you, “feel bad” that you are throwing out, “good” meat. Truth is the tips and flap are not, “good” meat for this recipe… if you feel that bad save them for making sausage or smoke them sportily to see if you like the flavor. Fo this recipe we want to trim the flap on the back of the ribs (if the butcher did not remove) and we want to remove the tips.
The tips are that section of rib where the bones are not straight, and are very thin usually bendable and pointing on a sideways angle. In addition, these tips have a lot of fat which is chewy. To trim off the tips just find the first rib that is straight in the rack and the cut everything proceeding off. Yep, everything… typically about 2 to 3 inches of tip is what you will find.
Next you want to evaluate the top of the ribs… timing off large areas of fat without removing any meat. Typically there will be a large ball of fat on the opposite side of the tip. Go ahead and find the first straight rib and cut of this fat.
Now you have a TRULY St. Louis butchered rack!
Easy Brown Sugar BBQ Sauce
Finally, let’s talk about the best BBQ sauce to accompany our perfectly butchered and soon to be deliciously smoked BBQ ribs. For this recipe I use my Easy Brown Sugar BBQ Sauce recipe. All the ingredients for this simple but amazingly tasty sauce are in the recipe below but if you want to get the full low down on the sauce recipe check out my full article here.
Now you are ready to BBQ the perfect ribs – each and every time.
I hope you give this recipe a try and please comment below letting me know your results!
- 4 racks St. Louis-butchered ribs (about 2.5 to 3 pounds each when trimmed)
- ¼ cup Kosher salt
- ¼ cup light brown sugar
- ¼ cup smoked paprika
- 3 tablespoons freshly ground black pepper
- 1 tablespoon garlic powder
- 1 tablespoon onion powder
- ½ teaspoon cayenne pepper
- 18 ounces of hard cider (for this recipe I used Stella Artois Cidre, no that is not spelled wrong that is the name - but you can pick your favorite - you will need about a bottle and a half)
- ½ cup yellow mustard (for this recipe I used French's Classic Yellow Mustard)
- ⅓ cup apple cider vinegar
- 3 tbsp Apple cider vinegar
- 2 splashes Tabasco Sauce
- 1 ¼ cup Ketchup
- 1 jar Chili Sauce
- 1 ½ cup Brown sugar
- 1 ½ tbsp. Molasses
- 2 tsp Yellow mustard
- 1 tbsp Worcestershire sauce
- ½ tsp Garlic powder
- ½ tsp Onion powder
- About 1 cup of hard apple cider or apple cider in a clean spritz bottle reserved just for cooking purposes
- Arrange ribs on a baking sheet or on foil lined counter top so that you have a clean work surface, pat the ribs dry with a paper towel, remove the thin papery membrane from the back of each of the ribs and trim off the flap and tips as described in my article.
- Combine the rub ingredients together in a bowl and sprinkle generously on both sides of each of the ribs using your fingers to work the rub into the ribs, about 2 to 3 tablespoons of rub for each rack of ribs.
- Set up your smoker following the manufactures directions and the suggestions I outlined in my article, preheat to 225 degrees and no hotter than 240 degrees, add the wood chunks or the kind of wood you will be using per your smoker type.
- Place the ribs into the smoker bone side down and smoke for 3 hours spritzing the ribs with apple cider if you choose, replenish the wood every hour and keep a constant temperature of 225 degrees.
- While the ribs are cooking prepare the ingredients for the mop sauce in a small non reactive pot, adding all ingredients and brining the a slow boil stirring occasionally, once a boil is reached remove from heat and set aside.
- Once ribs have been cooking for 3 hours remove from smoker to a sheet pan and bring inside, wrap each rack with foil mopping with mop sauce and adding a little extra to the bottom of the foil, wrap tightly, return ribs to smoker and cook for 2 hours at 225 degrees.
- While ribs are cooking combine ingredients for the BBQ sauce in a non reactive small pot, stir all ingredients together over low heat until evenly combined, warm BBQ sauce through stirring occasionally so that it does not burn, you want the brown sugar to be completely dissolved and the sauce to be warm but not boiling.
- Once the ribs have cooked for 2 hours in the foil remove from smoker and transfer to baking sheet, unwrap ribs from foil and return to smoker for 1 hour at 225 degrees, brush the ribs with BBQ sauce 15 minutes before removing from smoker with food grade basking brush, remove ribs from smoker onto sheet pan and let rest 10 minutes before serving.