Pellet Grill Ribs are tender and can be made using many methods. This recipe leverages the low smoke setting of our MAK Two Star-General Grill (pellet smoker) combined with a Kansas City Style Ribs finish, without any wrapping needed.
Pellet grills offer great options when smoking ribs, and you can utilize many methods to cook them (like our 3-2-1 method.) In this recipe we are not utilizing the 3-2-1 method, and instead using the pellet grill’s ability to start with a low smoke setting and then finish at a higher heat. No wrapping involved. Here is how we approach smoking ribs on a pellet grill, using our American made MAK Two Star-General.
- Smoke – Start with leveraging the low temperature and high flavor elements of the smoke setting for about 3 hours. For most grills this will average 160 – 170 degrees ambient temperature. We do this to add smoky flavor and develop the flavor crust (otherwise known as the bark) on the outside of the ribs.
- Increase Heat – Simply by updating the temperature setting to 275 degrees after 3 hours we finish the ribs, unwrapped, for another 2 – 3 hours (depends on the size of the ribs).
- Glaze – After one hour before we think the ribs will finish, we glaze the ribs with our KC Style BBQ Sauce for added flavor and moisture. The glaze will harden up (or “tack up”).
- Finish and Rest – When we pull the ribs off, we glaze the tops of the ribs once more and let them rest. As the ribs rest, the fresh glaze of sauce will also thicken up adding to the flavor.
Having a high quality grill with a consistent temperature range is important. On our MAK, we use their remote probe that can be moved to sit right next to the ribs so the temperature is as accurate and consistent throughout the cook.
Read our review of the best pellet grills for more details with the MAK as our go-to for quality and consistency. We’ve been using it for years.
Types of Pork Ribs
All ribs will have two sides to them: the bone side with little to no meat, and the meaty side. There are a several style of ribs that can be purchased. What we recommend for this recipe is the St. Louis Cut, which are pre-trimmed spare ribs that remove cartilage. We recommend this cut because there is generally more meat on the bone vs Baby Backs (which will cook faster using this method).
- Baby Back Ribs – These ribs come from the upper portion of the ribs and connect to the backbone. Back Backs have less meat and a curved look from where they are on the pig. These cook faster than spare ribs (anywhere from 4-5 hours, vs 5-6).
- Spare Ribs – Spare ribs come from the lower portion of the rib. They are flatter, and have more meat, and will generally need a lot of trimming.
- St. Louis Cut – These are spare ribs that have been butchered to remove excess meat and cartilage, and have a rectangular look and uniformity. See our spare rib post on how to trim for St. Louis Style.
Buying Pork Ribs
No matter which cut you choose for pellet grill ribs, try to buy ribs that have good marbling and no large fat pockets. You can compare packaging to see that some ribs may have large pockets of thick fat on the meaty side. Those you will have to trim off, so try to buy ribs that have little of that excess fat and, instead, more of the even marbling throughout the cut.
Preparing Pellet Grill Ribs
The bone side of the ribs will have a thin paper-like membrane that should be removed. If you do not remove it, and smoke it for hours, the papery membrane will thicken and create an unpleasant texture when biting into the ribs.
Chef’s Tip: Use a sharp knife to start a small cut along one corner of the rib bone and membrane. Then use a paper towel to grab the slippery membrane. Pull that corner gently and remove the membrane. The towel helps avoids losing grip on the slippery membrane.
You can use our ultimate pork rub if you want some bold flavors, but for this recipe we ketp it simple with flavors inspired by Kansas City Style Ribs: Sweet and Heat. The ingredients include:
- Turbinado Sugar
- Kosher Salt
- Chili Powder
- Coarse Black Pepper
After combining the ingredients in a bowl, we coat the ribs with yellow mustard (this acts as a binder that will help the rub stick). You can use Dijon, or even olive oil. Either liquid works, but we like the look and minor flavor the mustard adds. Then they are ready to smoke.
You can season the ribs right before putting them on the smoker, or season them the night before for a little more flavor.
How to Make Pellet Grill Ribs
We are going for a smoky flavor while still having tender ribs starting with high quality and meaty ribs.
- Smoke: Preheat smoker using the “smoke” setting (the temperature will range between 160 and 170 degrees Fahrenheit). During the smoke phase we are adding smoke flavor as the smoke passes over the ribs and through the smoker. You’ll see the color change and the meat on the ribs slowly pull back exposing some bone.
- Increase the Temperature: Adjust temperature to 275 degrees Fahrenheit. The higher heat will speed up the cooking process without losing the smoke flavor.
- Glaze: After one hour smoking at 275, we add our glaze. One cup of glaze will work on two racks of ribs. Brush on our Kansas City Style Sauce (or your favorite style) on both the bone and meat side of the ribs. Let continue smoking for another hour.
- Finish: After that additional hour, this is time to check the ribs to see if they are done. The ribs will have a dark mahogany color and the bones of the ribs will be slightly poking out as the meat retracts while cooking. Using an instant read thermometer, gently probe the ribs between the bone. When probing, the texture should feel like you are inserting the probe into room temperature butter. The temperature of the ribs will hover between 195 and 205 degrees. If the probe feels tension, then check again in 30 minute increments.
- Glaze Again – After you have determined the ribs are done, remove them from the smoker and glaze one more time with the remaining sauce. At this point we just glaze the top (or meaty side) and let rest for 10 – 15 minutes.
- Slice – Using a sharp knife, slice in between the bones. We will stand the ribs up vertically, looking at the bone side, and slice evenly along the bone.
Other Popular Rib Recipes
Great Sides for Smoked Ribs
Pellet Grill Ribs Recipe
Kansas City Style Pellet Grill Ribs Recipe
- ⅓ cup turbinado sugar (dark brown sugar works as an alternative)
- 2 tablespoons kosher salt
- 1 tablespoon chili powder
- 1 tablespoon coarse black pepper
- ½ teaspoon cayenne pepper
- Combine all ingredients together in a bowl.
- Using a sharp knife, gently cut away a corner of the membrane on the bone side of the ribs. Then remove the membrane with a paper towel.
- Trim excess fatty pockets that may be on meat side of the ribs. Also remove any flap of meat that is on the bone side of ribs after removing membrane.
- Place 1 tablespoon of yellow mustard on each rib and coat both sides of ribs. Liberally apply the dry rub to both side of the ribs.
Smoking the Ribs
- Preheat smoker to the "SMOKE" setting. The temperature will range between 160 and 170 degrees Fahrenheit.
- Place the two racks of ribs on the smoker, and close the lid. During the smoke phase we are adding smoke flavor as the smoke passes over the ribs and through the smoker. You’ll start to see the color change, and the meat on the ribs will slowly pull back exposing some bone. Cook the ribs for 3 hours on the "SMOKE" setting.
- After 3 hours, adjust temperature to 275 degrees Fahrenheit. The higher heat will speed up the cooking process without losing the smoke flavor.
- After 1 hour smoking at 275, add some glaze. One cup of glaze will work on two racks of ribs. Brush on the Kansas City Style Sauce (or your favorite style) on both the bone and meat side of the ribs. Continue smoking for 1 more hour.
- After that additional hour, it is time to check the ribs to see if they are done. The ribs will have a dark mahogany color and the bones of the ribs will be slightly poking out as the meat retracts while cooking. Using an instant read thermometer, gently probe the ribs between the bone. When probing, the texture should feel like you are inserting the probe into room temperature butter. The temperature should hover between 195 and 205 degrees. If the probe feels tension, then check again in 30 minute increments.
- After you have determined the ribs are done, remove them from the smoker and glaze with the remaining sauce. At this point we just glaze the top, or meaty side and let rest for 10 – 15 minutes.
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