Smoked Pork Ribs – trial 1

For Thanksgiving 2021 we opted for pork ribs. Wife likes to shop early, and at the time there were no turkeys in stock. I looked around at what was available and pork ribs were plentiful so I picked up 4 racks. Plus, I hadn’t yet smoked ribs on my Traeger (Ironwood 650), so might as well give it a shot.

I’m actually not a big rib fan/cooker. They’re fine and all, but for whatever reason I’ve just not smoked ribs all that much. So this would be an adventure.

I started with Traeger’s “Smoked Pork Ribs by Timothy Hollingsworth“. In case that recipe goes away, here’s the gist of it:

Ingredients

  • 1 Rack pork spare ribs
  • salt & pepper
  • 2 cups ketchup
  • 2.5 cups apple cider vinegar
  • 1 cup dark brown sugar
  • 1.25 cup molasses
  • 0.33 cup Worcestershire sauce
  • 3 tbsp yellow mustard
  • 3 clove garlic, chopped
  • small yellow onion, sliced
  • 1 tbsp Tabasco pepper sauce
  • 1 tbsp crushed chile flakes
  • 1 tbsp kosher salt
  • 1 tsp mustard powder

Now, that’s a LOT of sauce. I had 6 racks of ribs. Mrs. Hsoi prepared a double of that sauce, and I still had a little over half left over. So… adjust as you see fit.

Here’s what I did, which is a combination of the original recipe plus the stuff I did to make it go.

  1. Remove ribs from the fridge, let come to room temperature. Trim off any excess fat, and remove the silverskin on the back side of the ribs. Season evenly with flake kosher salt and pepper. Let sit for a bit while things come up to room temperature and the grill is made ready.
  2. Set the grill at 220º. I turned on Super Smoke. I used hickory pellets. Let the grill come up to temperature.
  3. Place the ribs on the grill. I used one of those “rib racks” that position the ribs upright so you can fit more into the smoker – 5 of the racks went in there, 1 was flat on the grill surface.
  4. Leave them in for 1.5 hours.
  5. After 1.5 hours, baste generously in the sauce. Put them back in, rotated/flipped from how they were.
  6. Leave them in for another 1.5 hours (3 hours total).
  7. After 3 hours, take the ribs out and wrap each rack individually in foil. Return to the grill. Stick the probe thermometer in somewhere.
  8. According to the recipe, it should take an additional hour to get up to temp, but that wasn’t happening. Maybe because it was cool out? I don’t know. But when I first inserted the probe the temp of the meat was about 135º and not moving. So I cranked the grill temp to 275º and sure enough the meat temp began to steadily climb.
  9. When the meat hit 200º I took them off. NOTE: there was a LOT of liquid inside the foil, so had to be mindful when I was removing them because draining happened.
  10. I left them wrapped in the foil and let it rest for about 15-20 minutes.
  11. Unwrap, slice, eat.

Results

Wow.

This was fantastic.

The meat was cooked and tender. A couple of the racks simply fell apart so there wasn’t any cutting/slicing to do. The sauce didn’t form a layer – it was nice and worked into the meat. There was good caramelization, just not a crust – which I like, because to me sauce should complement, not cover nor be the focus. In fact, I’m generally reluctant to use sauce, but I gotta admit that here it worked quite well.

Cooked way too much. Completely overestimated how many racks I would need to feed 5 people, then adding 2 last-minute guests (picked up 2 racks simply because of that). I think for our family we could get away with 2 racks, maybe do 3 because there will be the grill space and leftovers are always good. If we did just 2-3 racks, I’d want to cut the sauce recipe in half from how it’s written – I don’t know how in the world they figured those amounts, but as written it’s way too much.

Would absolutely do this recipe again.

Random thoughts about it

The recipe itself was geared towards 3 hours unwrapped, 1 hour wrapped, and that should get it up to 202º internal temperature. That was NOT happening. Not sure why, but not sweating it too much. I think the crank to 275º was fine to finish things.

There was a LOT of liquid in the foil, which stands to reason. I wonder what would happen if I used butcher paper instead of foil. I mean, that helps a bit on the smoke side, but might there be so much moisture that the paper “melts”? Or that too much moisture is lost and the meat won’t be as moist and tender?

I think hickory wood was the best/right choice. I’m not sure any other wood would work here.

Kosher flake salt is a wonderful thing. I’ve found being moderate with it on the raw meat (any meat, not just this recipe/instance) for a little bit before cooking to be great. Not too much, not too little either. And not too much time needed – simply putting it on as the meat comes up to room temp and the grill is heating up is generally enough.

I continue to be impressed with the Traeger. Sometimes I still wish for a more pronounced smoke flavor, but the smoke flavor you get is present and not overpowering. The fact you get this flavor coupled with really even and controllable temps, and then the probe thermometer – it just makes cooking go well and product generally great results. I do wish the pellets “drained” a little better, because it just creates a big funnel hole and then the hopper indicator beeps that it’s almost empty when a simple redistribution “fills it” back up; small gripe. Oh and cleaning up after these ribs was a pain – all that sauce drip, pork fat, all baked onto stuff pretty good. Got it cleaned up, but sure was more work. Still tho, the Traeger is great.

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