Pork Ribs can be done in so many styles based on where you are around the country. But there is something about smoked spare ribs we get excited about. Add a vinegary and spicy mop and it’s the best of tender pork and savory tangy flavor.
Looking for an easy starter guide to ribs? Check out our 3-2-1 method also.
Spare Ribs versus Baby Back Ribs
A rib isn’t just a rib. It’s either a baby back or a spare.
Baby back ribs come from the upper rib cage, just off the spine. These tend to be distinctly curved and have less meat than spares. Also tender, these tend to cook faster because they don’t have as much meat on them.
As you continue past the baby back ribs, you then hit the spare ribs. These are from the lower portion of the rib cage. Spares tend to have a greater concentration of meat and are flat. We love spare ribs because they have more meat and where we start with most of our rib cooks.
You can buy an entire spare rib rack which includes the bone, and additional slabs of meat on them. From the spare rib cut, you can then trim it to a more uniform shape which is called the St. Louis Cut. This has removed most of the cartilage and other meat that is not connected to bone so the shape allows for an even cook.
You can buy a whole rack and cut up to a style you like, or just pre buy the St. Louis cut, which is still a spare rib. Save the extra meat and smoke with the spares for rib tips. Great for sandwiches with a little sauce.
Our go to for ribs is Snake River Farms Spare Ribs. Be sure to find spares with a good amount of meat.
St. Louis Style Ribs
A well cut slab of St. Louis Ribs will have a rectangular shape that is even in size when looking top down. One end of the ribs will have slightly more meat than the other.
The top of the rib is meat, the bottom is a bone side with a membrane. The membrane will be removed prior to smoking.
How to Trim Spare Ribs
This summary is assuming you have purchased an entire spare rack and wanting to make a St. Louis cut. Start by laying out the ribs bone side up on a cutting board and grab a sharp knife.
- On one end of the ribs will likely be a flabby piece of meat with no bone. Cut this off parallel to the bones leaving about 1/4 inch of meat from the last bone.
- Next, using your knife, you are going to separate the cartilage and meat from the actual bone. Probe to find the area where the bones end, and the cartilage begins (there are typically two). Make a cut along a perpendicular line from the bones.
- Still on the bone side of the ribs, some racks will have a hanging slab of meat where the bone meats the flesh. Remove all of this hanging meat (it’s on the bone side) so it’s flush along the bottom of the ribs.
- The final step is to remove the membrane from the ribs. Make a small cut between the bone and membrane in the corner of the ribs, and then using a paper towel and holding the ribs down with the other hand, gently pull off the membrane. (It’s slippery if using your hands).
Now you have St. Louis trimmed spare ribs and are ready to season.
For seasoning we’re using our Ultimate Dry Rub which has great paprika and savory notes. Slather the ribs with Dijon or Yellow mustard as a binder for the dry rub. Then season the ribs liberally.
How to Smoke Pork Spare Ribs
- Preheat Smoker: Start by preheating the smoker to 250 degrees Fahrenheit. We love using fruit wood because it’s what is local to us (Apple and Cherry). However, oak, hickory and other hard woods are great too.
- Smoke Ribs: When the smoker has come to temperature, place the seasoned ribs bone side down into the smoker. Close the lid and smoke the ribs uncovered for 3 hours.
- After three hours, the color of the ribs will have darkened to a mahogany color and the bones should be slightly protruding from the rib meat as the meat has begun to shrink. That is a good sign.
- Mop Ribs: Using a mop mix and a mop or brush, apply every 30 minutes for an additional two hours.
- After the second hour, use a thermometer probe like the Thermoworks MK4 Thermapen in between the bones. The probe should insert easily into the ribs like inserting into room temperature butter. Another option is to gently wiggle the ribs. They should move slightly but not come out of the ribs.
- Once that has been achieved, remove the ribs from the smoker and let rest for 15 minutes with one last mop application. Slice and eat with your favorite sides and sauces.
A mop is a basting technique to add flavor. Our mop consists of apple cider vinegar, barbecue sauce, Dijon mustard, and the dry rub. You can adjust in any way you like.
We apply the mop after the third hour of smoking by gently dabbing the ribs in an up and down motion to avoid losing bark or pushing off the dry rub. A brush is fine, just be gentle when applying the mop.
The easiest way to slice ribs is to have the bones that have retracted facing you on cutting board, and gently cutting down. Spare ribs are slightly angled, so to get an even amount of meat between the bones, you’ll want to eye ball the angle of the bones.
Smoked Spare Ribs Recipe
Smoked Pork Ribs with Tangy Mop Sauce
- Preheat the smoker to 250 degrees Fahrenheit using fruit wood like apple or cherry.
- Prepare the ribs. Make a small cut with a sharp knife along the corner of the bone side of ribs to get a small piece of the membrane lifted. Then using a paper towel, gently pull on the membrane to completely remove it.
- Place one tablespoon of Dijon mustard on each rib rack and slather. Add one tablespoon of dry rub to each side of the ribs. Place the ribs on the smoker and close the lid. Make the mops sauce by combining all ingredients and set aside.
- Smoke the ribs for three hours, after three hours the rib bones should be showing as the meat retracts along the bone and a mahogany color develops on the ribs. Begin mopping the ribs by gently dabbing the ribs with your baster or brush. Do this every 30 minutes for 2 hours.
- After the second hour and using an instant read thermometer, probe between the bones. The probe should easily insert with little effort. Gently move the bones, they should wiggle but not come clean out of the meat. This is when the ribs are done and tender. If they are not quite done, continue smoking and check at 15 minute intervals.
- Remove the ribs from the smoker and let rest for 15 minutes. Slice and then serve with your favorite sides or sauces.
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