How to Get Perfectly Smoked Spare Ribs Every Time

rack of ribs being seasoned
The best method for smoked spare ribs on the grill is to smoke them at 225°F for about three to four hours. It is important to do this in order to ensure that the ribs are cooked through and juicy. If the ribs are particularly large or thick, an additional hour may be needed.

Can You Smoke Spare Ribs?

Spare ribs are ideal for smoking. Spare ribs contain a lot of tight connective tissue, which makes them a great candidate for cooking at low temperatures. Slowly smoking and cooking the ribs results in the meat tenderizing, and the tight tissues transforming into juicy, melt-in-your-mouth ribs that no one can resist.

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spare ribs

Pellet Smoker Spare Ribs Recipe

  • Total Time: 5 hours 30 minutes


The secret to getting the perfect smoked spare ribs is to cook them low and slow. If you start in the morning, you will have perfect ribs by dinnertime.


Units Scale
  • 4 lbs pork spare ribs with membranes removed ((2 racks weighing 2 pounds each))
  • 1/4 cup light brown sugar ((or substitute maple, date, or palm sugar))
  • 1 tbsp chili powder
  • 1 tbsp ground cumin
  • 2 tsp Kosher salt
  • 2 tsp mustard powder
  • 1 tsp garlic powder
  • 1 tsp onion powder
  • 1/2 tsp white pepper
  • 1/2 tsp cayenne pepper
  • 1 bottle Texas-Style Barbecue Sauce
  • 1/4 cup Apple Cider vinegar
  • 1/4 cup Apple juice


  1. Rest the ribs for at least 30 minutes at room temperature.
  2. Make the rub by combining sugar, chili powder, cumin, salt, mustard, garlic powder, onion powder, white pepper, and cayenne pepper in a small bowl.
  3. Dry the ribs with paper towels. Coat the ribs with the rub, using your hands to cover the meat completely.
  4. Smoke the ribs for 5 hours at 225 degrees F and spritz them with a solution of apple juice and apple cider vinegar every 30 minutes. Keeping the coals smoldering will prevent the ribs from burning, catching fire, or overcooking.
  5. Every hour, flip and rotate the ribs 90° to get crosshatch sear marks. When the meat releases easily from the bone and has an internal temperature between 198°F and 202°F, it's done.
  6. Remove from the heat and allow the ribs to rest for 10 minutes. Slather with your favorite BBQ sauce and serve!
  • Prep Time: 30 minutes
  • Cook Time: 5 hours

What are Spare Ribs and How are They Different From Other Ribs?

Spare ribs (also known as side ribs) are a variety of ribs cut from the lower portion of the pig, specifically the belly and breastbone, behind the shoulder. Spare ribs are cut from the ends of Baby Back Ribs and have 11 to 13 long bones. On top of the bones and between them is a covering of meat.

Spare ribs do not refer to extra ribs. In fact, the term stems from the German Rippenspeer, which means “spear ribs,” as this cut was traditionally roasted on a spit.

A St. Louis rib is essentially a spare rib that has been trimmed down (the sternum, cartilage, and rib tips have been removed) to a rectangular shape and uniform appearance that makes them easier to cook and eat for beginners.

Rib tips are found at the very bottom of the rib cage, where the spare ribs meet the sternum. There’s no bone in them, just cartilage, so while there’s still plenty of meat to be had, they’re trimmed away when preparing St. Louis-style ribs.

Setting Smoker Temperature for Spare Ribs

The best method for cooking ribs on the grill is to cook them at 225°F for about three to four hours. It is important to do this in order to ensure that the ribs are cooked through and juicy. You may need to add an additional hour to the cooking time if the ribs are particularly large or thick.

How to Trim Spare Ribs for Smoking

In a well-trimmed rack of ribs, the membrane, skirt, and sternum will be removed.

Trimming spare ribs properly requires an understanding of all the parts that make up the rack.

The spare rib rack consists of the following components:

  • Sternum
  • Rib tips
  • Membrane
  • Skirt
  • Flap

Let’s examine each of these in more detail.

The Skirt

The skirt is a flap-like part of the meat that sits around the middle of the back side of the rack. This remaining portion of the diaphragm can almost double the thickness of the rib rack. It is not edible and should be removed.

The Rib Tips and Sternum

There is often some belly meat on the tips of the ribs, which are found at the end of the rack. Cartilage and a part of the sternum are located at the tips. Due to the different textures, it must also be trimmed.

The sternum is likewise a thick piece of cartilage and connective tissue that should also be trimmed away.

The Membrane

A membrane is also sometimes referred to as the fell, and it is a thin layer of white skin that sits above the main rib area.

Most experts agree that you should remove it for a more thorough and even cooking. The membrane protects the ribcage of the pig, so leaving it on can prevent smoke from infiltrating the rib meat. Furthermore, it can obstruct the passage of rendered fat through the other areas of the meat.

Trimming the Ribs

Most of the trimming work will be performed on the back side of the ribs. This is where most of the bone, membrane, and excess fat is located.

In order to remove the skirt, you will flip the rack over to expose the back side.

How to Remove the Skirt

To remove it, use a sharp, narrow knife. The knife blade should be placed flat against the ribs and wedged underneath the flap. For an even rack of ribs, remove the skirt completely and trim any visible excess fat on the back section.

How to Remove the Rib Tips and Sternum

Next, focus on the hard rib tips and sternum that are situated on the edge of the rack. This is the thickest part of the spare rib.

You may find it easier to locate the point where the sternum meets the spare ribs if you fold the rack. The bones do not bend, so if you see the meat folding, then you will see where you need to focus your attention.

Cut along the length of the rack between the tips and sternum, separating it from the main rack. You should be able to remove it in one clean cut.

How to Remove the Membrane

The membrane is a white skin that covers the ribs. By removing it, BBQ rib rubs and marinades soak into the meat more effectively.

Make use of the knife to get under the corner of the membrane, and then use a paper towel to gain some purchase on the corner. Try not to tear the membrane as you slowly pull and peel it away from the ribs.

Once you have practiced this a few times, it will be easy.

In the event that the membrane tears, don’t panic. Use your knife and paper towel to find a loose point and continue to pull the membrane from the rack until it is gone.

How to Remove Excess Fat from Ribs

Once you have removed everything else, there should only be small pockets of fat and cartilage remaining.

You can remove these on both sides of the ribs by using a knife or a teaspoon.

Remove any stray pieces of meat from the edges as well. When cooked, these tend to burn quickly, so you should discard them.

You should now have a perfectly trimmed cut of pork spare ribs, ready for smoking.

321 Ribs: What Are They?

Using the 3-2-1 method, you smoke ribs for 3 hours, wrap them in foil and cook them for 2 hours, followed by an hour of cooking unwrapped and coated with BBQ sauce.

The method is simple to remember, but it is not the best method for smoking ribs. “321” is simply cooked for too long in the foil, which negatively affects the texture of the meat.

How Long to Smoke Spare Ribs

When smoked at 225°F the total time required for spare ribs is 6 to 7 hours.

In addition to some time in the foil, experts recommend a final cook with the sauce unfoiled. In this manner, the ribs will be thoroughly cooked and will acquire a smoky flavor.

How to Tell Ribs are Done Smoking and Ready for Foil

The easiest way to determine whether the ribs are done during the first smoke stage is to do the “bounce test” by picking them up with grill tongs and lightly bouncing them.

The ribs are done smoking when the meat begins to crack by the bone. It is now possible to begin the foil portion of the cooking process.

Ideal Temperature of Smoked Ribs

The ideal temperature to cook ribs is 225°F whereas the ideal internal temperature of the ribs when finished should be between 180°F and 190°F.

Measuring the internal temperature of the ribs and the temperature of the smoke box will help you reach the ideal temperature range without overcooking or undercooking your ribs.

There are many different thermometers on the market. Thermoworks’ Signals smoker/grill thermometer is a good choice to ensure that your smoker is kept at 225°F.

Marinating Spare Ribs Before Smoking

Ribs do not require marinating or being soaked in brine. Season a rack of ribs with kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper, smoke them low and slow, and top with your favorite barbecue sauce to bring out the best flavor.

Flipping Spare Ribs when Smoking

You do not need to flip your ribs while they are cooking when you use a rib rack. If you are not using a rib rack, you should flip ribs every 30 minutes or so after they have been cooking for the first hour.

How to Prevent Dry Spare Ribs

It is important to maintain a consistently low grill temperature in order to keep ribs moist. A high temperature will quickly dry out the ribs. You can also place a water pan in the grill or smoker, or use a mop sauce or spritzing solution to keep ribs from being dry.

Best Ways to Season Smoked Spare Ribs

Here is where the flavor begins. Always use a rib rub on your spare ribs.

A simple dry rub can consist of salt and pepper with a little cayenne pepper, or a more complex rub can contain paprika, cumin, onion powder, garlic powder, and brown sugar. Use your favorite spice blend or try a Pit Boss rub!

Hungry for More Recipes?

Add these smoked ribs recipes to your lineup for your next barbecue!

Smoked Pork Ribs

Low and Slow Smoked Spare Ribs


Florida native, home to the Sunday all-day poolside grilling party. When I’m not working, I’m either on the water, minding the grill, or trying to devote some time to help keep our oceans clean.

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