It’s football season, which means tailgating for me! Ribs are a must, especially pork spare ribs. These are slow-smoked for tenderness and finished with nice flavorful crust on the exterior. The dry rub is excellent, meaning no sauce needed!
What Are Pork Spare Ribs?
The two most common types of pork ribs are baby backs and spare ribs. Baby backs are a Midwest and Northern phenomenon. Down South and in Texas spare ribs are king. Spare ribs are from the rib cage between the back ribs (near the spine) and the sternum of the pig. Butchers may cut the spare ribs a few different ways including St. Louis Style or Kansas City Style. Both are spareribs, but look very different in terms of how they’re trimmed.
No actually, spareribs are the section of the pork rib cage between the loin back ribs (near the spine) and the sternum or breast bone. Commercially, sparerib racks contain from 14 to 16 bones, but sometimes if bones are damaged at processing level (before they reach the supermarket), these may be removed before packaging, so a rack in your butcher’s meat counter might contain fewer than this.
Sparerib is commonly the name given to this entire ‘rack’ of ribs positioned as I have described, but it is often further portioned by butchers into a couple of other inventions, if you will, that are very popular among many shoppers. For a breakdown of the different types of spare ribs cuts check-out this article on The Many Different Cuts of Pork Ribs.
If you plan to do your own trimming feel free to follow this guide for St. Louis style ribs. This is a popular cut and presents well in terms of how they look when served as you get ribs that are pretty uniform.
How to prepare ribs for the grill
Should I Remove The Membrane?
If seasoning is the first consideration for smoking ribs, what to do about the membrane is a close second. The membrane is that thin skin that runs on the bone side of a slab of ribs. To remove or not remove is the great debate, and there are strong opinions supporting both views. For me, it’s a personal preference thing, so I’ll share both perspectives and leave it to you to decide. For the pro-membrane side, it comes down to texture. They like the “snap-like” quality it provides similar to the snap you get from a tight sausage casing.
There is also the feeling that the membrane helps the ribs retain the fat and meat juices which adds to the flavor and tenderness. The anti-crowd (most of the competition guys fall into this camp) remove the membrane because they believe it hinders the ribs from absorbing the smoke properly and thus hindering taste.
At the end of the day, you have to weigh convenience, taste, and texture. I can tell you unless you smoke ribs for a living and/or eat them quite regularly you’d be hard-pressed to tell the difference. If I’m cooking a slab or two I will more often than not remove the membrane, but any more slabs than that and I don’t bother.
Removing the membrane is not overly difficult, but it is another step and thus adds time. If you prefer or want to try without membrane feel free to read this article on removing membranes from pork spare ribs or watch this short video.
How to remove membrane
For instruction and/or video help in removing the rib membrane see links below:
Dry Marinade or Wet Marinade
Most meat recipes call for wet marinades and ribs are no exceptions. However, I subscribe to the Texas and Memphis way, i.e. strictly dry rub for ribs. No sauce for this boss, yet the ribs are on point like Phife Dawg. I prefer dry rubs for two reasons. One rubs depending on how you make them deliver more complex flavor. Two there is nothing like the experience of biting through a crusty exterior to get to that juicy interior. The rub, through the cooking process, creates that layer or crust.
Making A Dry Rub
Spice mixes and dry rubs are a passion of mine, especially for ribs. Rubs allow you to put your personality into the dish. Every rib guy I know has a secret dry rub for ribs that they guard stronger than Fort Knox. I tend to be a bit more open and generous with mine, with the exception of the signature rub. However, I always encourage people to start with a base rub and build on it to your own personal style and flavor. If done correctly, your ribs should not need any sauce.
Base Rib Rub
My base rib rub starts with coarse salt and coarse pepper. I like a peppery taste and the coarse grains add character and texture. I then add brown sugar and smoked sweet paprika. The sugar balances against the salt and also help with both color and caramelization during cooking. Paprika gives that dark red color along with an earthy flavor profile. That’s pretty much the base that I build from. Garlic powder and some heat via cayenne or chili powder are secondary spices I like to add. Anything beyond these are twists, spins, and pizzaz! Cumin, dry herbs, cinnamon, allspice, fennel seed, mustard powder, etc. provide that next level flavor.
How Do You Make a Dry Rub?
Dry rubs are incredibly easy to make in your own kitchen with a simple combination of herbs, spices, salts, and sugars you likely already have in your spice cabinet and can easily be adapted with a little more of this and a little less of that to suit your tastes.
Herbs and Spices: Start with your base and add varying amounts of different dried herbs and spices until you find a few combinations that work for you. Here are a few considerations for your custom dry rub:
Dark brown sugar
How to store your rib rub
Any rub can be made ahead in your desired quantity. They can also be stored for a good month or two. Just make sure to store them in airtight containers and keep in dark cool places. I keep these bottles on hand for my rubs
How long do you marinate the ribs before cooking?
I prefer to marinate my ribs overnight, but then again I’m a serious rib fanatic and tend to treat smoking spare ribs like its a holiday. If you don’t have the time, at a minimum you’ll want to marinate your ribs for a least 3 hours. I know there are those who cook the ribs as soon as they’ve rubbed them down.
How to cook pork spare ribs
Ribs are super simple to cook. They just need time, as there is no good way to speed up time in the smoker. Slow and low is the tempo! This is the key to getting moist juicy ribs as low heat over time is what breaks down spare ribs. Your dry rib rub marinade is critical as well, as the salt draws out the moisture as well as aids the flavors from the other spices in penetrating the meat below the outer surface.
Time, time, and more time plus a good rub is all you need. Gimmicks and “flavor enhancers” are unnecessary. “fall off the bone” ribs is not a good thing! It’s a marketing gimmick. If you have bones that can easily be pulled away from the meat without any resistance then you have overcooked or steamed ribs which is suboptimal flavor and texture. Bones should easily pull away, but there should be some effort required.
Smoked Pork Spare Ribs Cooking Tips
- Depending on preference peel the membrane from back side of ribs and trim any excess fat.
- For more even cooking cook the ribs upright using a rib rack
- Fill a spray bottle halfway with apple juice and spray each hour of cooking for additional moisture
- Do not, and repeat do not EVER PAR BOIL your ribs! It should be illegal!
- Cook between 250 – 275 degrees F
- Let ribs rest for 15-20 minutes before slicing
Can You Reheat Smoked Ribs?
Why of course! But I will say that cold ribs are every bit as good as cold pizza. I love leftover ribs. But if cold ribs ain’t your cup of tea, you can definitely and easily re-heat leftover ribs. I don’t bother with a microwave, as I find it alters the texture of the meat too much. Instead, I prefer to bake the ribs on low heat (225-240 degrees F) for about 20-30 minutes.
Making Dry Rubbed Smoked Pork Spare Ribs
If you make these delicious smoked ribs please come back and leave me a comment below with your feedback. Definitely take a photo of the dish and be sure to tag #foodfidelity so that I can see them.
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- 2 tbsp Kosher salt
- 2 tbsp Black pepper
- 3 tbsp Paprika
- 1 tbsp Chili powder
- 1 tbsp Garlic powder
- 3 tbsp Brown sugar
- 1 tsp Mustard Powder
- 1 rack pork spare ribs
- Mix rub ingredients well, cover completely over ribs. Refrigerate overnight.
- Remove ribs from refrigerate and let reach room temperature
- Prepare smoker for indirect smoking. Pre-heat to 250 degrees. You’ll want to maintain temps between 225-250 degrees for the entire cooking time.
- Place ribs in the smoker (bone side down if you don’t have a rib racand smoke 3-4 hours or to whenever internal temp is about 175 degrees. The ribs are done when the meat starts to retract or pull away from bone exposing the edge of the rib.