Most everyone loves smoked pork ribs, and just as with anything everyone loves, opinions vary widely (and deeply) on the best way to prepare them. Some folks prefer baby backs and others spares. Some like them dry, others want a nice sauce. Some want sweet, others spicy. Some…well, as we said – so many opinions.
None of them, of course, are wrong. Food preferences are just as unique as music preferences, and everyone has a right to their own. But when it comes to competition-style ribs – the kind you see at the hundreds of barbecue events all over the country, there is a gold standard – for texture anyway.
One of the main criterion certified barbecue judges look for when judging ribs is a “clean bite.” That means the meat texture should not be fall-off-the-bone tender; neither, of course, should it be tough. Instead, it should pull cleanly away from the bone, leaving a perfect (depending on your teeth) bite mark on the rib. Something like this:
Getting the perfect bite on your ribs doesn’t just happen; it requires some technique. Fortunately, the technique is pretty easy, and we are going to delve into it for you here.
First, start with a rack or two of your favorite cut of ribs (we used baby backs for this demonstration).
Flip the ribs over and, using a dull knife to get it started, remove the thin membrane that runs along the bones. The membrane doesn’t render down during the cooking process and will make for a chewy texture if not removed.
Now apply a coating of yellow mustard to the ribs, followed by a generous dusting of your favorite rub. In this case we used Dizzy Pig's Dizzy Dust seasoning, one of our favorites for pork. The mustard forms a glue that will help the rub stick to the meat and create a nice crust.
Set up your smoker for indirect heat and bring the temp into the 225 – 250 F range. Add a couple of chunks of your favorite smoking wood (we like hickory and apple for pork ribs) and let the smoke clear to a bluish-haze. Then place the ribs directly on the grate (or in a rib rack if you prefer) and let ‘em roll.
After the ribs have smoked for three hours, pull them off and prepare a foil wrap for each rack. We use two sheets of foil per rack and create “foil boats” by crimping the foil at each end.
Now here’s the most important part to get that perfect bite:
Add a small amount of apple juice to the bottom of each foil boat. You only want to use a few (like 3 to 4) ounces of apple juice. Essentially, just enough liquid to coat the bottom of the foil boat. What we are doing is braising the meat, which is a cooking technique that combines wet and dry heat to both brown the meat and tenderize it at the same time. Too much liquid and you’ll end up stewing or even boiling the ribs, and that makes for a mushy texture.
Now add a heaping tablespoon of the same rub you used on the ribs to the apple juice. Swirl it around so the rub dissolves and the liquid evenly distributes across the bottom.
Next, place the ribs meat-side-down in the foil (so that the meat is in contact with the liquid) and wrap them up tight. Place them back on the smoker at 225 – 250 F. Be sure the ribs are upside-down so that the juice doesn’t leak out of the foil wrap.
After an hour, remove the ribs from the foil. They should have a nice, golden brown color:
(If you are planning on using a finishing sauce, reserve the liquid from the foil in a measuring cup and add it to the sauce later.) Now it’s time to return the ribs, unwrapped, to the smoker. Continue smoking them with your indirect set up for 45 minutes, then switch to direct heat (if your smoker allows it) for the final 15 minutes. We apply a sauce over direct heat the last 15 minutes of the cook to put a nice, crusty glaze on the ribs. In this case we used Papa’s Semi-Famous Sweet And Savory BBQ Sauce recipe.
Here is the final result - tender, succulent meat that pulls cleanly away from the bone but doesn't fall apart when you bite it. Even if you never enter your ribs in a barbecue competition -- now you'll be able to brag to your friends and neighbors about how you get that perfect bite every time!