3-2-1 Smoked Pork Spareribs


Makes 8–10 ribs


3-2-1 Smoked Pork Spareribs


For 1 Batch(es)

Equipment needed

  • Smoker or grill (we used a Weber kettle grill)
  • External thermometer
  • Charcoal chimney starter
  • Paper for starter
  • 4 bags charcoal
  • 1 large bag wood chips (mesquite, hickory, apple-wood, etc.)
  • Basting brush
  • Unwaxed butcher or parchment paper
  • Masking tape
  • Kitchen string
  • 1 rack of spareribs

For the brine

  • 1 gallon water
  • 1 cup kosher salt
  • 1 cup brown sugar

For the rub

  • 3 tablespoons coarse black pepper
  • 1 tablespoon kosher salt
  • 1 tablespoon onion powder
  • 1 tablespoon garlic powder
  • 1 tablespoon paprika
  • 1 teaspoon cayenne

For the sauce

  • 2 cups ketchup
  • 1/3 cup cider vinegar
  • 1/3 cup white vinegar
  • 1 tablespoon brown sugar
  • 2 garlic cloves, finely minced
  • A few healthy dashes Worcestershire sauce
  • A few healthy dashes hot sauce
  • 1 tablespoon ground cumin
  • 1 tablespoon chili powder
  • 1 tablespoon butter
  • Salt and pepper, to taste
  • 3/4 cup water (or enough to thin to desired consistency, added a little at a time)

3-2-1 Smoked Pork Spareribs Directions

  1. For the brine:
  2. In a large pot over medium heat, dissolve the salt and sugar in the water, then let it cool. Using a deep-sided casserole dish, submerge the rack, meat-side down, in the brine, cover with cling wrap and store overnight in the fridge. In the morning, pull the rack out, pat it dry with paper towels and apply the rub paste. Allow at least 6 hours cooking time, so get the rub on them early.
  3. For the rub, mix together and rub all over the ribs.
  4. To start the ribs:
  5. Soak the wood chips while lighting the charcoal. Once the coals are ashy, spread them evenly on one side of the grill. Put the lid on with the vents partially open and let the grill heat up. Once the temperature reaches about 240°, you’re ready to go.
  6. Spread the soaked wood chips over the hot coals and replace the grill grate. Place the ribs, bone-side down, on the cool side of the grill. This process requires indirect heat to cook the ribs low and slow. Once the chips are smoking, replace the lid with the vents mostly closed.
  7. Get another round of charcoal going in the chimney. Periodically, monitor the temperature of the grill—for the majority of the cook, you want it to be around 225°. When it starts to cool off, add more hot charcoal and soaked wood chips, then seal up the grill. You might have to repeat this process 4 or 5 times during the cook. Don’t worry if the grill gets a little hotter than desired—it just takes practice to keep the heat consistent. If it gets too hot for too long, you might consider cooking for less time.
  8. Some pitmasters—like Garcia at Micklethwait Craft Meats—flip their ribs halfway through the smoking process. He says that it creates a more robust bark on the meat side, and renders out some unwanted fat. Others just leave them alone and never flip them.
  9. While the ribs are smoking for 3 hours, make the sauce. We've included a basic sauce recipe; it’ll satisfy the palates of most Texans, but think of it as a starting point. Add molasses or honey for something a little sweeter; add cooked apple and onion for some fall flavors; or add soy sauce and fresh ginger for an Asian twist.
  10. For the sauce:
  11. In a large pan, gently heat all the ingredients except the butter, salt, pepper and water over medium-low heat—being careful not to let it boil. Stir occasionally. Once the sauce is warm and the garlic has cooked into the liquid (about 10 minutes), stir in the water until the sauce has the consistency of a thin tomato soup. Bring it back up to temp and whisk in the butter. Season with salt and pepper, then let cool. The sauce will keep in the fridge for up to a month.
  12. To finish the ribs:
  13. After 3 hours of smoking, it’s time to get the ribs tender. Some pitmasters wrap their ribs in foil at this point. While this will certainly work to tenderize the ribs, it may trap too much steam—running the risk of overcooking. Garcia recommends wrapping them in unwaxed butcher or parchment paper instead.
  14. Just before wrapping the ribs, Gonzalez of Gordo’s Tortas & BBQ recommends adding a little sugar and vinegar to the ribs. It introduces yet another layer of flavor, but be careful not to add too much vinegar—the steam it produces could overcook the ribs, and the flavor might become overwhelming.
  15. To wrap the ribs in butcher or parchment paper, lay out the paper in a diamond shape. Place the rib rack horizontally in the middle of the paper, and fold the bottom corner up over the middle of the rack. Holding the folded bottom corner in place, fold the 2 side corners over then pull the top corner up and over. You can use a little masking tape to hold it in place while you wrap some kitchen string around the whole thing and tie it off.
  16. Place the wrapped rack of ribs into the grill and cover. You’ll need to maintain the 225° heat for the duration of the 2 hours, so keep some charcoal going as backup. No more wood chips are needed at this point—the ribs are already smoked!
  17. After 2 hours, the last step is all about letting the ribs rest and develop the last bit of bark. To do this, remove the ribs from the grill and unwrap them. (They should still be holding together just fine.) Put them back in the grill and cover—leaving the vents open. Let the grill cool off but try to keep it around 170°. After about 30 minutes, take a basting brush and spread a thin layer of sauce over the ribs.
  18. If the ribs are starting to fall apart at the beginning of this step, get that sauce on there right away and only let them rest in the cooling grill until the sauce is caramelized. If they’re still holding together, though, rest them for the recommended 30 minutes so the bark develops, and then glaze them. It should take about 20 to 30 minutes for the glaze to turn a glistening dark-amber color.
  19. Once the hour is up, rest the ribs at room temperature, uncovered, for another 10 to 15 minutes before cutting and serving.

Recipe notes

There are generally two different styles of ribs: Spareribs (aka St. Louis spares or side ribs) and loin backs (also known as baby back ribs). Loin back ribs tend to be smaller and don’t have as much meat on them, but the meat is really tender. Spareribs are meatier, have a higher fat content and do well cooking for long periods of time. We’re using spareribs for this recipe.

Start working with 1 rack of spareribs (usually includes about 8–10 ribs, total) at least 12 hours before they come anywhere near smoke. Remove the silver skin from the bone-side of the rack (or have the butcher do it when purchasing). To remove it, take the tip of a sharp knife and nick it at the edges of the skin, just underneath. Start pulling it back, nicking as you go. If it’s coming up pretty easily, take a butter knife and run it between the silver skin and the bones. You should be able to just pull it away at that point.

If you choose to brine your ribs, now is the time. Otherwise, skip to the dry rub, and cure your ribs overnight in the rub. We've included a basic brine recipe but feel free to experiment! Add a little cider vinegar to the water or switch out some of it for fruit juice. Add fresh herbs, such as thyme or rosemary, or whole spices, such as black peppercorns, star anise or mustard seeds.

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