memphis style baby back ribs laid on on a wooden cutting board.

Smoked Baby Back Ribs Recipe

Smoked baby back ribs are one of the quintessential meats that make up backyard barbecue as a whole.

Not all ribs are the same. Spare ribs are different in many ways than baby back, but both have their place in the arsenal of the backyard barbeque master.

Also, regional barbecue types vary wildly and will give you all sorts of different experiences.

Any particular kind of rib is not better, but knowing the difference between the types of ribs and barbecue styles is the knowledge that a true craftsman of the coals will want to know.

With all that said, let’s talk about some fabulous Memphis Style baby back ribs!

Memphis Style Baby Back Ribs

Over time most people come up with a good way to make ribs that satisfy their perspective family and friends. I know I certainly have.

I cannot begin to calculate the number of racks of ribs I have smoked over the last 20 years. But it wasn’t until the last few years that I decided to delve into regional barbecue and explore the subtleties between them all.

Memphis style baby back ribs cut out and laying on a wooden cutting board.

What I found is that I have always leaned towards Memphis-style barbeque.

There are two ways to prepare Memphis-style ribs: wet or dry. Both are prepared similarly up to the point of finishing them up on the smoker.

A dry rib will not be sauced, whereas a wet rib will have sauce applied and allowed to tack up for a few minutes.

Memphis Rub For Ribs

Memphis style uses a forward heavy hand on the paprika. Typically, it’s two to one part paprika to brown sugar. After that, additional spices are added to suit the particular cook whipping up the ribs.

The rub is not overly sweet, with hints of heat from cayenne pepper. This type of rub lends itself well to ribs and pork butt (shoulder).

Our rub for this recipe follows the same path. It also contains all the usual suspects: salt, pepper, garlic powder, onion powder, etc.

We have worked on this rub to create a well-balanced flavor. You will get a touch of sweet, savory, and heat without overpowering the ribs themselves.

We use this same rub on our smoked pork shoulder as well.

Memphis rub with a finishing powder of the same rub.
The Rub and the rub run through a spice grinder for finishing dust.

We also take some of our Memphis rub and toss it into a spice grinder to make finishing dust. When they’re done, you sprinkle this magic dust on your ribs, and it is a blast of fantastic flavor.

This will elevate your ribs over all your competition. If you don’t have a spice grinder, get one! They’re super cheap and will change up many of your dishes when you start using them.

St Louis Ribs Vs Baby Back Ribs

Which is better, you ask? Whichever is your favorite. The difference between these two racks of ribs is that spare ribs (St Louis ribs are spare ribs) contain less meat and have more fat in them than baby backs.

The fat renders down in the spare ribs making for a juicier rib. The baby backs have much more meat giving you a meatier bite. This is not to say that baby back ribs are not moist.

It boils down to what you want, when you want it. Sometimes I want St Louis style ribs, sometimes I want baby backs.

Preparing The Ribs

Remove the baby back ribs from the packaging. Dry them off with some paper towels and place them onto a large baking sheet.

Drying baby back ribs off with a paper towel.

You may notice right off that there isn’t much fat on baby back ribs compared to spare ribs. As such, there won’t be much need of trimming.

Trimming the ribs so little bits and pieces don't get burnt up in the smoking process.

You may want to remove any loose bits hanging off from the processing and at the end of the rack, where it’s very thin. These pieces will burn up during the smoking process.

Turn them over so they are bone-side up. Taking a knife or edge of a spoon, work some of the membrane (silver skin) off of the bone.

Once you have a little to grab hold of, pull and remove the membrane using a paper towel.

Some racks of baby backs will already have this removed for you, so if you don’t see any, don’t worry about it.

note

You may have heard about putting a binder on your ribs, such as mustard. You can certainly do that, but it’s not required. In fact, the mustard can prevent the spice rub from penetrating sufficiently into the ribs. I used to use a binder, but I don’t anymore.

Apply a generous amount of rub on the back sides of the ribs. Pat the rub in and flip them over so the ribs are bone side down.

Applying the memphis style rub on baby back ribs.
My cool black disposable gloves were getting low.

Apply more rub very liberally, pat it into the ribs, and set aside an hour before smoking.

We’re basically going to give it a quick dry brine. This will help the ribs retain moisture during the smoking process and introduce the spices from the rub into the meat of the ribs.

Smoking Memphis Style Ribs

Get your smoker to 250 degrees Fahrenheit and add your favorite kind of wood.

Memphis-style barbecue uses hickory wood to smoke their pork. I am a massive fan of hickory. I like an aggressive smoke on my pork ribs and pork butts. If you can’t get your hands on any hickory, oak and pecan are good options.

I also throw a couple of hunks of cherry wood on as well. Cherry adds some good color and actually tosses a sweetness on the ribs that make it all the better.

Placing baby back ribs onto the smoker.

When your smoker is ready, place the ribs on. Put them as far away as you can from the heat source. If you’re doing more than one rack, put the smaller racks further away from the heat than the larger ones.

Spritzing the ribs with an apple cider vinegar and water mixture.

Cover and smoke for an hour. After the first hour, spritz the ribs with a 50/50 mix of water and apple cider vinegar. Continue to spritz every thirty minutes after that for the first three hours.

Removing the ribs from the Masterbuilt smoker after three hours of smoking.

After three hours, remove the ribs.

Next, tear off two large pieces of aluminum foil. Onto the aluminum foil, place three pats of butter (1 tbsp each), a tablespoon of apple cider vinegar, and a healthy squeeze of honey (about 3 tbsp).

Place the ribs on top of the butter mixture, bones side up (upside down), and wrap the aluminum foil fairly snug around the ribs without ripping it.

Place the ribs (still upside down) back onto the smoker and continue to cook for an additional hour.

Baby back ribs coming out of the aluminum foil after cooking for an hour or so.

After an hour, remove the ribs from the aluminum foil and place them back onto the smoker, this time right side up.

At this point, you want to start looking at the temperature of the ribs and see how the rack of ribs bends. As sizes can vary wildly, so will the amount of time that these need to cook.

Dry rib vs. Wet rib

If you opt for a Memphis wet rib vs. a Memphis dry rib (which these are), when you feel the ribs are almost done, apply a thin layer of your favorite barbecue sauce across the ribs and allow them to set up for about 15 minutes on the smoker.

For a clean, tender bite of the rib without all the other meat coming off, you want to pull your ribs off at 195 degrees F. Use an instant-read thermometer if you’re unsure where they’re at. You can also use the ‘rib bend’ test.

Doing the rib bend test to check for doneness.

Pick the ribs up in the center and allow the ribs to hang. The ribs should bend significantly to the point where it feels like they’re going to fall apart. The angle should be similar to a half circle.

I will always use the bend test with the internal temperature check. Leigh likes her ribs with a bit more tug than I do, so I do my best to find a happy medium.

At 195 degrees F, pull the ribs. Take some of the ground spice rub (if you did that) and finish the ribs by sprinkling the dust over the ribs. Allow them to rest for at least 20 minutes. Don’t worry, they’ll still be nice and hot.

Two racks of baby back ribs, one of which is cut up on a wooden cutting board.

After 20 minutes, flip the ribs over so you can see the bones better. Cut the ribs with a sharp knife and plate them up!

Time To Eat

Serve up these smoked baby back ribs with all your favorite sides. There’s always the barbecue baked beans that scream barbecue. Want some color? Summer succotash or a street corn salad would go great with these ribs.

Or you can be like me and just cut ’em and eat them right off the board. 🙂 Whichever you decide, you will love these Memphis-style dry ribs!

FAQ

What is the 3-2-1 rule for smoking ribs?

A technique of preparing ribs where they are smoked at a low temperature for three hours. They are then wrapped in foil to gently braise in their own juices for two hours. Lastly, they are removed from the foil and finished for one hour, typically sauced or glazed.

Do you recommend the 3-2-1 method when smoking ribs?

If you enjoy a fall-off-the-bone experience, then this is your method. We personally like a little pull on each bite. It should be a clean bite, but the remainder of the meat remains on the bone.

Should I wrap my ribs in foil when smoking?

The quick answer is yes. After about 3 hours of smoking, you wrap your ribs, flip them over, and allow them to braise for 30 minutes up to 2 hours, depending on how tender you want the pork.

What temperature should I pull my ribs off at?

The ribs are cooked when they reach 145 degrees F, but the fat and collagen begin to break down at 190 degrees. I pull my ribs off at 195 degrees F. This ensures a clean bite with a slight tug. If you want ‘fall off the bone’, pull the ribs at 205 degrees F.

Should I spray my ribs while smoking?

Yes. Spritz the ribs with a mixture of apple cider vinegar and water after the first hour, then every 30 minutes until you are going to wrap. Alternatively, you can use a mop to add additional flavors to the ribs.

What kind of liquid should I add when wrapping my ribs?

Apple juice is always a good choice. You could add beer, Dr. Pepper, apple cider vinegar, or even water depending on your preferences. The options are endless.

What’s the best kind of rub for ribs?

It depends on what kind of regional BBQ you are going for. Our favorite regional type of barbecue is Memphis style. It offers a decent spiciness and is not overly sweet.

Other Barbecue Recipes

memphis style baby back ribs laid on on a wooden cutting board.

Memphis Style Baby Back Ribs Recipe

Smoked baby back ribs, Memphis-style. If you haven't tried this yet, you may have been missing out. Tender, smoked goodness! 😋
5 from 3 votes
Print Pin Rate
Course: barbecue
Cuisine: American
Keyword: pork, ribs
Prep Time: 15 minutes
Cook Time: 5 hours
Quick Dry Brine and Rest (explained in recipe): 1 hour 30 minutes
Servings: 4
Calories: 495kcal

Equipment

  • Smoker We use a Masterbuilt Gravity Series 1050

Ingredients
 

The Ribs

  • 1 rack Pork baby back ribs

Memphis Style Rub

  • 1/2 cup Paprika
  • 2 tbsp Smoked paprika
  • 2 tbsp Garlic powder
  • 1/4 cup Chili powder
  • 3 tbsp Kosher salt
  • 3 tbsp Black pepper
  • 3 tbsp Brown sugar packed
  • 2 tbsp Onion powder
  • 1 tbsp Dried oregano
  • 1 tbsp Cumin
  • 2 tsp Dried mustard
  • 1 tsp Cayenne powder

The Wrap

  • 2 tbsp Apple cider vinegar
  • 3 tbsp Butter
  • 3 tbsp Honey

Instructions

  • Remove the membrane (silver skin) from the back side of the ribs.
  • Trim off any bits and pieces that will will burn off during the smoking process.
  • Generously apply rub on both sides of the ribs, patting in the rub.
  • Allow ribs to rest for one hour before smoking (dry brine).
  • Get the smoker to 250 degrees F and use your preferred wood (we recommend hickory).
  • Place ribs into the smoker and allow to smoke for 3 hours.
  • Wrap the ribs in aluminum foil with the apple cider vinegar, butter, and honey. Make sure the ribs are bone side up so the meaty part of the ribs are in the braising ingredients.
  • Place back onto the smoker for one hour.
  • Remove the ribs from the smoker. Take them out of the aluminum foil.
  • Place back onto the smoker for an additional hour.
  • Check for doneness by using an instant-read thermometer. Pull the ribs off at 195 degrees F. For fall-off-the-bone, pull them at 200-205 degrees F.
  • Allow to rest for 20 to 30 minutes then cut them into individual ribs.
  • Enjoy!

Notes

The rub ingredients make almost 2 cups.
This recipe is for Memphis Style Dry Ribs. If you want a Memphis Wet rib, apply your favorite sauce thinly to the ribs 20 minutes before pulling them off the smoker.

Nutrition

Calories: 495kcal | Carbohydrates: 36g | Protein: 34g | Fat: 29g | Saturated Fat: 9g | Polyunsaturated Fat: 7g | Monounsaturated Fat: 11g | Trans Fat: 0.2g | Cholesterol: 98mg | Sodium: 5622mg | Potassium: 1247mg | Fiber: 14g | Sugar: 12g | Vitamin A: 13062IU | Vitamin C: 2mg | Calcium: 217mg | Iron: 10mg

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One Comment

  1. I am not good with grilling but I followed this recipe to the “T” and these ribs came out AH-MAZING!! I’m going to try some of the other grilling recipes on this site. Thank you for helping me master the grill!!5 stars

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