How to Smoke Ribs

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How to Smoke Ribs - A complete step-by-step photo tutorial for cooking long, slow smoked ribs, the quintessential barbecue food.
Smoked barbecued ribs are a favorite food of many, but a lot of folks would never have them except for restaurants. But I maintain that rib aficionados should attempt making the quintessential American dish at home. Smoking ribs is one of those satisfactory cooking experiences, similar to baking baking bread, that gives a real sense of accomplishment.

We used a water smoker to make our ribs. These are available wherever barbecue grills are found, but here's an economical secret: start going to garage sales. For some reason, smokers seem to be a popular item, possibly because a lot of folks don't know how to use them. I purchased my smoker, almost new, for a measly seven dollars, and I see them often while on my regular Saturday garage sale runs.

Water smokers are available in electric, gas or charcoal model, and all work well. Charcoal smokers have two pans - one for charcoal and one for liquid which creates the moist, hot smoke needed for cooking.

If you don't own a water smoker, you could also smoke your ribs on the grill using the Indirect Smoking Method.

Important Points
Food safety is of primary concern when smoking any meats. The "danger zone" is the temperature range between 40 and 140 degrees F. When uncured meat remains in this range for more than 2 hours the growth of bacteria increases to a dangerous level. When meat is smoked, the environment is robbed of most if its oxygen. If this is combined with temperatures in the danger zone, the growth of the bacteria that causes botulism is increased. Use an oven thermometer to monitor your smoker or grill's internal temperature.

Rib Rubs
Most rib recipes will have you first cover the ribs with a "rib rub" or seasoning mixture. You should let the meat "marinate" in the rub for several hours to a day or so before smoking. You can find some great rib and rib rub recipes below.

Also, instead of smoking with water, try wine, juices or even beer. Whatever liquid or liquid combination you choose to smoke with, first soak your wood chips in this liquid. Depending on the flavor you want, you can vary the type of chips used. Mesquite and hickory are two of the most popular. After soaking the chips, the same liquid was then poured in the water pan and used for the smoking process.

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After setting your wood chips to soak (photo 1) it's time to start building a fire. We used a chimney starter (photo 2) and a good quality charcoal. After the coals were well lit, we dumped them into the charcoal pan and added more (photo 3).

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Once the fire was going nicely, we set the water pan in place along with the smoker's cylindrical body. We strained the wood chips out of the soaking liquid (photo 4), adding the liquid to the water pan, then filling the pan with additional liquids.

Place the lower rack inside then the lid on the smoker and wait for the internal temperature to reach 250° F to 300° F. Some smokers have built in temperature indicators, if not use an oven thermometer to determine temperature.

Once you have the right heat, quickly place the seasoned ribs on the lower grill racks, then the upper, and replace the cover (photos 5 and 6). Add soaked wood chips to the charcoal through the side door of the smoker.

Add charcoal every hour, as necessary, to maintain 250° F to 300° F. Keep an eye on the liquid level to insure it doesn't boil out. Replenish the liquid as necessary. Place a handful or so of wood chips on the coals every hour or so. Be sure not to over smoke the meat. It takes a few times but you'll get the right ratios for good flavor soon enough. Heat and liquid are critical to maintaining the hot smoke that cooks the turkey.

Helpful Hints
The ribs are technically done when they reach an internal temperature that's out of the danger zone, but for smoky flavor you'll want to cook them much longer. Three hours us usually the minimum amount of time our ribs spend in the smoker, but some recipes call for much longer.

Add barbecue sauce after the smoking process.

Unless you have a sheltered outdoor spot, avoid smoking on windy days as this can effect the temperature, or even put out the fire. Luckily, our Los Angeles apartment balcony is completely sheltered from the wind, so I rarely have this problem, but it is probably the biggest obstacle facing would-be smokers.

Also, avoid opening the cover or door as much as possible. Smoking takes place at low temperatures and opening the lid or door causes quick heat loss. If you must open the door to add charcoal, chips or liquid, do it as quickly as possible and close it and avoid the urge to peek at the turkey during cooking!

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