7 Easy Steps to Smoking the Perfect Ribs This Independence Day

Chow on 07.01.11
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Image: John Cave Osborne — all you'll need: ribs, apple juice, a spray bottle and rub. Child sold separately. 

You're not still at work, are you? Because you really shouldn't be. After all, the Fourth of July weekend is about to kick off and it's probably time for you to start figuring out what you're going to do on the big day.

And I'm here to help. Because nothing says Independence Day quite like a successful cookout. So this year, why not let freedom ring by delivering your family perfectly smoked barbecue ribs? Don't really barbecue that much? Don't worry. Follow these seven simple steps and I'm guaranteeing you'll have success.

1. Initial Prep

peeling ribs

To get started, you'll need 2 or 3 slabs of baby back pork ribs, a barbecue rub, hickory chips, apple juice and a vinegar sauce. As far as the rub and sauce? There are countless you could use, and I've tried a bunch. But the rub / sauce combo I've liked best is this one from Southern Living. So good. 

Start by peeling off the white membrane from the back of the ribs. This will not only allow the ribs to absorb more of the rub and smoke, but it will also allow them to fall off the bone easier. Apply generous amounts of rub to each rack and then wrap them in aluminum foil and refrigerate overnight. 

Before cooking, you'll want to make sure that the ribs have come down to room temperature, so allow plenty of time between pulling them out of the fridge and throwing them on the grill.


2. Choose Your Weapon


Image: John Cave Osborne — note the drip pan filled with apple juice that's cut with water.

What if you don't have a smoker? What if all you have is a charcoal grill? Or an electric grill? Fear not. Because either one will allow you to smoke the perfect ribs. First, make sure your hickory chips have been soaking for at least an hour. Then, if you're cooking on a charcoal grill, only put charcoal on one side of the grill. If you're cooking on an electric grill, simply ignite only one side of your grill. In either case, you'll throw your hickory chips atop the heated side and place the meat on the non-heated side, thus smoking your ribs and cooking them with indirect heat. 

If you've got a smoker, better yet. I cook on a Big Green Egg which is a grill and a smoker. Regardless of what you're using, if you're able to put a drip pan under the ribs, I highly recommend doing just that. And be sure to fill your drip pan with apple juice that's cut with water. The steam emanating from your drip pan will make for even tastier ribs.


3. Cook 'Em Up

big green egg

Image: John Cave Osborne

Get the temperature to around 225 degrees and throw on the meat. Make sure you keep the fire going by adding charcoal as you need it, and, just as importantly, be sure to continuously feed that fire some soaked wood chips so the meat is always privy to a healthy amount of hickory smoke. 

Also, reposition the ribs from time to time, especially if you're smoking on a charcoal or electric grill. Move the ones closest to the heat source to the position furthest away and vice versa. 

Each time you manipulate anything, whether it's the charcoal, wood chips or meat, take time to spritz the ribs with apple juice. The best way to do this is by pouring some in a spray bottle and spraying it generously and often on your slow-cooking delight.


4. Change It Up

cover with foil

Once they've been cooking at 225 degrees for four hours, pull them off, but only long enough to wrap them in heavy industrial foil and then put 'em right back on. The other option here is to place them in some oven bags. Once you've got your ribs either wrapped up, or placed inside an oven bag, throw them back on for another two hours at 225 degrees.


5. Uncover and Baste

smoking ribs

Image: John Cave Osborne

This is my favorite part. If you've opted for a vinegar sauce, bring it to a boil, then let it simmer for a bit and baste your racks of ribs generously after they've been cooked for two hours inside the foil / oven bag. By this point, you've been smoking them for six hours, and you're almost done, as evidenced by the fact that the meat is starting to creep up the bone and is easily separated from the bone.

After a good basting, put them back on the grill (don't forget to add that last handful of hickory chips for good measure) and cook for 15 or 20 more minutes, again, at 225 degrees.


6. Cooler Ribs

cooler ribs

Image: John Cave Osborne

Pull the ribs off the grill and spray them with an extra-generous amount of apple juice, then wrap them up one more time and throw them in a cooler. I know, weird, but just do it. It's a similar process to letting them cook inside the foil on the grill only this time, the ribs are not exposed to as much heat, so they won't be cooking quite like they were. But they will still be getting plenty of heat and moisture which is going to make the meat continue to separate from the bone. After 20 or 30 minutes in the cooler, they're good to go.


7. Serve 'Em


Image: John Cave Osborne — clean bones are a good sign.

You're done dot com. So serve 'em up. We like ours with baked beans and slaw, but you rock 'em any way you wanna rock 'em. And then, when you go to cook the leftover rack? Make sure that you wrap it in foil with tons of apple juice squired on it (I actually line the bottom of the foil with a trail of apple juice, but either way), then heat in the oven on 150 to 175 degrees 30 minutes or so. They're just as good the next day. Maybe even better. 

So there you have it. Seven easy steps to smoking some award-winning ribs. Try them out on the Fourth and you might even upstage the fireworks. 

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