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10 Tips For the Perfect Baby Back Ribs - Pickin' N Grillin

10 Tips for the Perfect Baby Back Ribs

August 07, 2019

Barbecue, at least for us, is about more than just the food.  Its a way of life... a labor of love.  With these tips, you too can create mouthwatering baby back ribs your backyard cookout crew won't be able to resist.

Whether you're prepping for the ultimate Labor Day cookout or just trying to celebrate the end of summer with good food, you can't go wrong following these simple steps at the grill.

1. Finding the Perfect Rack

When selecting ribs, there are three different cuts to choose from – baby backs, spare ribs, and St. Louis spare ribs. In Memphis BBQ, baby back ribs rule but in most parts of the country, meatier spare ribs are the cut of choice.  

Top tip: meet your butcher.  A butcher is your best friend when it comes to cooking meat of any kind.  Tell them what your end goal is and take their advice.  

2. The Perfect Prep 

Once you have chose your perfect rack of ribs, flip them over and you’ll notice a shiny thin layer of membrane covering the bones.  Many people, especially restaurants, will leave this on.  But lemme tell you... it’s tough!  In my opinion, its a MUST that it be removed. 

To remove, simply take a butter knife and insert it between the bone and membrane in one corner of the rack of ribs, use your fingers to separate the membrane slightly, then grasp the membrane with a paper towel and pull the rest of the membrane from the rib bones.

Then TRIM YO RIBS!  Trim 1 bone from the large end of the ribs and 2 bones from the small end in order to create a consistent sized rack for smoking and remove any additional silver skin (tough shiny white membrane) from the ribs before seasoning. This makes them pretty. And we eat with our eyes first!

3. Apply the Perfect Seasoning Blend

Once the membrane has been removed, it’s time to pump up the flavor with some seasoning.  Simply sprinkle your favorite BBQ dry rub seasoning such as my Pickin' N Grilling All Purpose Rub on each side of the ribs.  Also remember that yellow mustard is your friend at BBQ time!  A light coat of mustard after seasoning your meat will help tenderize as well as adding some flavor- but you won’t get the “mustard” taste.

4. Wait for the Perfect Marinade

Once the ribs have been seasoned, allow the ribs to rest in the mustard and dry seasonings for 20 minutes to an hour at room temperature to let the meat sweat.  The flavor is able to fully penetrate the meat.  

5. Prepare the Perfect Grill Space

While a smoker is the most common way to prepare ribs, almost any grill can be made in to an indirect smoker for longer cooking times.  For a charcoal grill, simply build your fire to one side of the grill and cook on the other.  Placing a small pan with water or apple juice underneath your food will also help with this effect.

6. Smoke to the Perfect Temp

For most BBQ recipes, I find 250 degrees is a great temperature for smoking at the house.  At this temperature, baby back ribs will cook in approximately 4 hours while a St. Louis cut rib will cook in approximately 5 hours.

7. Perfect the Smoking Technique

When smoking meats such as ribs, the smoking wood you use should be used in moderation, just like salt.  Too much smoke will overpower your product.  A milder fruit wood such as apple or cherry is typically the best choice for the backyard cook - you won’t run as much of a risk of overpowering the meat or making it bitter.  When your cooker comes to temperature, simply add four chunks of wood to the charcoal for the perfect amount of smoke.

8. Wrap Your Ribs Perfectly

Ribs benefit greatly from cooking low-and-slow. For cooking times longer than 2 hours, most meat will benefit from wrapping in foil.   For example, baby back ribs will take roughly 4 hours while spare ribs will take closer to 5 hours and both should be wrapped after 2 ½ hours.  This will help tenderize the meat, and maintain a beautiful color to the product rather than it becoming too dark or black. 

To wrap the ribs, lay them meat side down on top of a sheet of heavy duty aluminum foil, add flavor enhancers if desired (see some popular additions below), then loosely wrap the ribs so that steam can escape from the packet.

9. Perfect Flavor Enhancers

When wrapping the ribs, feel free to add a light dusting of dry rub seasoning as well as a 1/2 cup of apple juice, grape juice, or even cola to add a richer depth of flavor and to help achieve that beautiful tenderness you are looking for in the perfect rack of ribs (and despite what you may have heard, “fall of the bone” ribs are overcooked.  Look for a rib with a bite that pulls cleanly from the bone and doesn’t take all of the meat with it!).

10. Sauce: the Perfect Finishing Touch

If you want to add sauce, only add it during the last few minutes of cooking and allow it to “set” on the meat.  Too much heat or adding sauce too quickly will over caramelize the sauce and add that burnt sugar flavor. 

To sauce, simply remove the ribs from the smoker, carefully open up the foil and allow all of the liquid to drain out.  Brush sauce on the bone side of the ribs, then use the foil to roll the ribs over and brush the top side with sauce.  Place the ribs back on to the smoker for 15 minutes so the sauce can set and the ribs can tighten up.  Remove the ribs from the smoker, allow them to rest for 5 minutes, and apply another thin coating of sauce before serving your perfect rack of ribs.


Stay tuned for the PERFECT SIDES for your BBQ coming soon right here.


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