Traeger folklore states that the love of ribs and barbecue in general dates back to homo erectus, dragging his knuckles and a dead animal carcass across the floor. Shortly after discovering fire, the greatest discovery of all was made. Meat that is charred and kissed by fire and smoke tastes so much better than raw meat and in fact is almost intoxicating. And so from there one of the pinnacles of barbecue was born:
Every time we gnaw on and obliterate those succulent, messy bones we hearken back to those primal roots and feel that same ancient, warm-bellied satisfaction. Rib success and pure joy is found in the harmony of balanced seasoning, smoke, sticky sauce and a bite of bark.
With a few key tips in your arsenal, producing these competition-quality ribs is easy as 1 2 3...or should we say 3-2-1? (If you haven't tried our 3-2-1 rib recipe, you just gotta!) So here's what you need to know to make those meaty ribs that would make even the choosiest of pit masters proud.
TRAEGER TIPS FOR PIT MASTER-WORTHY RIBS
1. Do NOT boil your ribs. Some folks think that a boil on their ribs will make them tender. Just say no. All of the flavor leaches out of the ribs and into the water, which is just a travesty, quite honestly. You're making ribs, not soup. (And never, ever microwave them...EVER! It's just a crime against pork-kind.)
2. On a related note, avoid buying ribs packaged with added liquids or solutions. (If they are, it will be in small print on the package. But beware any ribs that look too “wet”.) You want to have control over the seasonings and flavor that you add to wake up your anxious taste buds.
3. Different cuts of ribs produce (wait for the surprise) different textures and tasting ribs. Makes sense, right?
Baby backs, also called top loin ribs, are a good example of what it means to eat “high on the hog”. They are tender, and respond well to either “low and slow” or higher, faster-cooking temperatures.
Spare ribs, on the other hand, come from lower on the beast’s ribcage, and are bigger, meatier and more porky-tasting. Because they are "meatier", they turn out to be a thicker and denser rib. Spare ribs respond better to “low and slow” cooking methods at temperatures between 225 and 250 degrees F—easy to maintain on a Traeger.
4. Prep your ribs. Whether using baby backs or spare ribs, always remove the first membrane (called the pleura) on the back of the bones. Starting on one of the middle bones, use a screwdriver or other thin, blunt implement to pry the membrane up. Then use paper toweling to get a firm grip before pulling it off. Sometimes, this has already been done for you. Do not remove the membrane that connects the bones or your rack will fall apart.
5. Season wisely and judiciously. Using Traeger’s Pork and Poultry Shake (or your favorite rub), season the ribs on all surfaces right before cooking. Many recipes recommend leaving a rub on for 24 hours, but any salt in the rub will act as a cure on the meat, drawing out moisture and changing the ribs’ texture.
Marinades or wet rubs (also called slathers or pastes) are usually not as salty as dry rubs and can be left on the ribs for several hours prior to grilling. Even common yellow mustard, spread thinly on the meat, works well.
6. Don't forget your mop. Very thin liquids such as broth, beer, apple juice, or cola—can be “mopped” or sprayed on baby backs or spares to keep them moist during long cooks. A diligent mopping makes a difference in the finished product.
7. TOOLS: Use a rib rack to increase the number of racks you can cook at one time. If you don’t have one, you can wing it by forming each rack into a space-saving circular “crown”, bone-side facing in; secure it with skewers.
8. Not all good ribs have to "fall off the bone" to be successful. It's all personal preference, truly, and the texture of the finished charred and smoky rib also depends on the cut of the rib (see #3). There are quite a few insanely delicious and properly roasted ribs that are tender but still have some chew, similar to a tender steak, and that don't fall off the bone.
If fall-off-the-bone tender ribs are your goal, smoke the ribs for 3 hours, then wrap them tightly in foil along with some apple juice. Cook for 2 to 3 additional hours at 225 to 250 degrees F. Then carefully remove the ribs from the foil and brush with barbecue sauce. Return the ribs directly to the grill grate for the last 30 minutes to 1 hour to “tighten” the sauce. This is our outrageously yummy and popular 3-2-1 rib recipe (in Traeger's Everyday Cookbook).
9. How do you know when your ribs are done?? There are several ways to gauge doneness: Insert a toothpick between the middle bones—it should penetrate easily; the ribs should begin to flex and tear in the middle when lifted on one end with tongs; an instant-read meat thermometer inserted in the meat between bones should read 190 degrees F; the meat will have shrunk away from the ends of the bones by 1/4- to 1/2-inch. (Please note: ribs cooked on a Traeger will not shrink as much as ribs cooked on conventional grills, so the other doneness tests are preferable.) A thin pink ring just under the meat’s outer surface is called a “smoke ring,” and it is a griller’s badge of honor.
10. Bring your own wet naps cause ribs love a good sauce. And luckily for you, we have a rainbow of sauces for you to choose from or you could just make your own. There's just something primally satisfying about ripping into Traeger'ed ribs and smearing that sauce all over your face.
It just feels (not to mention tastes) so good!