The simplest way to get tender ribs when smoking pork ribs is by using the 3-2-1 method. The 3-2-1 method specifically applies to spare ribs (the same effect can be achieved with babyback ribs using a 2-2-1 method). This means that the ribs are smoked for 3 hours-then wrapped in foil with liquid for 2 hours-then put back in the smoker for 1 more hour. Baby backs follow the same procedure but using 2 hours in the smoker, 2 hours in the foil, then 1 hour back in the smoker. I like to run temps around 230-250 degrees. Some like temps a little lower or a little higher, you will just have to find what works best with the smoker you are using.
Here is the basic procedure from start to finish. Starting with a few slabs of babyback ribs
To prep the ribs for the smoker, I like to rinse them under cold water after removing them from the cryopac. Then remove the membrane from the back side of the ribs. I start by sticking a butterknife between the rack and the membrane.
Then grab a hold of the membrane and lift up.
Then pull the membrane off all the way.
Here is a pic to see the difference. The rack on top has the membrane removed. The rack on bottom does not yet.
Then cover the ribs in your favorite dry rub.
And put them in the smoker.
Now leave them alone for the first 3 hours for spare ribs or the first 2 hours for babyback ribs. After that time, you will see some color change on the outside surface and some meat pulling back from the bone. They are now ready for the next phase. Here is a pic of the pullback you are looking for.
Now wrap them in foil adding a few ounces of liquid. Apple juice is the standard. Some will mix apple juice with other ingredients like whiskey. In this case I am using Woodchuck's Draught Cider. One beer bottle is enough for all 3 racks of ribs. I wrap them with the meat side down because I have had bones poke the foil while taking on/off the smoker causing me to lose the liquid.
Now back onto the smoker all wrapped up
This is the part of the cook where you can determine how "fall off the bone" you want them to be. The longer they spend in the foil, the more tender they will be. After the time in the foil they are ready for the 3rd phase of the cook. You will pull them out of the foil and put them back on the smoker to firm up.
Another pic of them out of the foil
You will now leave them in the smoker for the last hour to firm up because when coming out of the foil they will be VERY tender. But after a little more time in the smoker they will be just right.
Please keep in mind that the "3-2-1" or "2-2-1" times are just a guideline. These times can be adjusted to suit your personal preference. Personally I lilke to do babyback ribs at 2-1.5-.75. Meaning that they are in the smoker for 2 hours, then foiled for 1 1/2 hours then back in the smoker for about another 45 minutes. But it is all up to you and what kind of tenderness/texture you prefer.
Thanks for checking out the pork rib tutorial