Types of Pork Ribs
Pork ribs only have three kinds of ribs. From the upper portion of the ribs you have the Pork Back Ribs, lovingly called Baby Back Ribs. Down from there you then have Pork Spare Ribs, which are the remainder of the rib down to the belly. When you trim Spare Ribs, removing the Rib Tips, you end up with St. Louis Style Ribs. I rarely see whole spare ribs at the market so the chances of you needing to trim ribs are pretty minimal. I avoid it when I can as there is not a good use for the trimmings that come off spare ribs.
Types of Beef Ribs
Unlike pork ribs, Beef Back Ribs are not the desired cut. Since these ribs are coming off the Ribeye they are trimmed very close to the meat leaving minimal meat on a fatty rib.
The Short Plate, or Short Rib is the famous cut that people are going for. This is where the famous Dinosaur Ribs come from. For one of the best smoked beef ribs, you have to try it with Snake River Farms American Wagyu.
Chuck Ribs are going to be similar to the Short Plate but they are a little thinner and more commonly cut down to flanken ribs. Flanken, sometimes called English Cut, is a cross-cut rib and is commonly found in Asian and Hispanic meat markets. These are great additions to when you are grilling up fajitas for a large group. This is one of my wife and I’s favorite types of beef ribs to grill up at home.
When you are selecting a rack of ribs, look for one that looks and feels heavy for its size. Don’t think about how long it is going to take to cook yet. Picking a rib with plenty of meat to it is more important to your overall experience than how long it will take to cook.
Now that you have the rack of ribs remove them from their packaging over a trash can then pat the rack dry with a paper towel.
So the next big question is do you take the thin membrane off or leave it on? If you are smoking beef ribs then the answer is absolute yes! The membrane on the back of the ribs is much thicker than beef ribs. Pork ribs, it is a personal preference. I prefer to take the membrane off so that my guests do not have to deal with it. It just adds to a better smoked rib eating experience. The best way to remove the membrane is to use a small sharp knife to peel back a corner and then using a firm grip, pull across the back of the ribs. When you get it down, you can get the thin membrane off with one shot. Beef ribs can take a little more work.
Using Mustard as a Primer on your Pork Back Ribs
If you are going to use yellow mustard as a primer to help keep the seasoning in place during the smoke then use this rule. A little goes a long way! Remember, you are just wanting to get a light even coat that creates a stick for the spice rub. Too much mustard and you will know, and not in a good way. It is not required either but with all things barbecue, it is a personal preference so take your shot at it and see if you like it. Just put a small amount and then use your hand to rub it around the entire rack. It will take no more than 2 teaspoons of yellow mustard to cover the entire rack.
The Pellet Grill
Assuming you working on a Traeger Grill, set the temperature to 225º. Once at temp place the ribs directly on the grill grates, bone side down and uncovered. For your first cook, look for an initial cook time of roughly 3 to 4 hours at 225º. Check for doneness at the 3-hour mark. Use the bend test to see how firm or tender the ribs are. As the connective tissue breaks down, you will see the meat want to pull apart when you lift one side of the rack. At this point, I will pull the racks off and turn the Traeger temperature up to 250º to finish. I will reapply a little seasoning and give a light spritz of apple juice from a spray bottle then wrap in aluminum foil. Place them back on the Traeger Grill, this time meat side down. Cook for another 30 minutes and then give them another bend test. After some time you will know exactly how much time they need after your first doneness test. If you want to fall off the bone ribs then give them about an hour more. Fall off the bone ribs is just overcooked ribs compared to the ribs you get from top-tier bbq restaurants. This is why we are also wrapping the ribs. Another alternative to wrapping your ribs is to baste them every 30 minutes with barbecue sauce after the first 3 hours. This will lock in the moisture and create a nice glaze on the ribs. Basting ribs on the grill until they fall off the bone is not recommended as you will struggle to get them off the grill in one piece.
The 3-2-1 Rib Method on your Traeger Grill
Some people swear by this method but I don’t follow it myself. This method of smoke ribs is designed for St. Louis and spare ribs. If you are cooking baby backs then I would cut these times in half. If you want to try it to see if it works for you then go for it. This is all about learning and creating your signature style. So for this method, you are going to smoke the rib racks for 3 hours and uncovered. Wrap them with bbq sauce or margarine and brown sugar in aluminum foil and continue to cook for another 2 hours. The final step is then to unwrap the bbq ribs and then smoke for an additional hour. 5 hours of total cook time will give you tender, juicy fall off the bone ribs. I’m just not sure if the extra time is worth it.
Experiment with different barbecue sauces from the store to use as a baste and glaze. If you are up to it make your barbecue sauce. I make my homemade bbq sauce using ketchup as my base so it takes minutes to throw together in a small bowl. I prefer Central Texas bbq sauce as it is not as sweet as KC or Memphis style barbecue sauce which is heavy on brown sugar and molasses. If that is your thing then go for it. It is a personal preference rather than a right way vs wrong way. Just be careful when basting with a sauce heavy in brown sugar and molasses as it will burn easily. If you prefer a thinner barbecue sauce then a little apple cider vinegar is a great way to thin it out and balance out the sweetness.
Wood Pellets for Pellet Grills
The type of pellet is a pretty hot topic with those that use pellet grills. Everyone has their opinion but the one they can all agree on is that make sure you are buying a quality wood pellet that does not have any filler. I like Knottywood Plum and Almond wood pellets. They produce a clean smoke light smoke that works well with poultry and pork. If you want more aggressive flavors then look for mesquite blended with a little hickory. This will give you a more distinctive smoke flavor.
How to Reheat Ribs
When making ribs I will usually do a few extra racks of ribs more than I need to use for dinner later in the week. My version of meal prepping I guess. To reheat them you can place them with the bone side of the ribs down on a rimmed baking sheet and then lightly cover with some more foil. Bake at 325º for about 20 minutes. Careful about reheating at too high of a temperature as this can cause the sugars to burn before the ribs have warmed through. Brown sugar begins to burn at 350º so it won’t take long at this temperature to end up with an unwanted burnt glaze.
If you are like me and hate turning the oven on during the summer then fire up your Traeger grill to 325º and place the ribs, bone side down on the grates. No need for a lined baking sheet.
Pro Tip: When the bone marrow begins to bubble, the ribs have warmed through. Give them a quick baste of BBQ sauce and they are ready!
Burnt End Syle Ribs
Cut the cooked, and chilled, ribs down into individual ribs and then toss them with BBQ sauce and brown sugar in a medium sized bowl. Smoke, super smoke if that is an option for you, uncovered at 275º for 30 minutes. Stack ’em on a plate and enjoy!
More Recipes for Traeger Grill
Check out our other recipes that work great on pellet grills. A lot of my recipes that I develop during the summer I create using my Traeger Pellet Grill so I don’t have to turn the oven on in the house. So next time you need to crank on the oven ask yourself, “Can I throw this on the Traeger?” Chances are the answer is yes.