We have a hunch a significant number of Traeger owners purchased their grills after tasting a recipe for baby back ribs or spare ribs cooked on a Traeger. Those meaty, succulent bones, treated to the perfect amount of spice, smoke and sauce, are darn near irresistible to anyone who appreciates great barbecue.
Why are ribs in general so appealing? One, they are just plain fun to eat, the ultimate finger food. You can’t gnaw on a bone and not feel a connection to our cave-dwelling ancestors. Two, they taste good. Meat cooked on the bone is always more flavorful. Three, they’re relatively inexpensive. Four, pork ribs are one of those iconic barbecue foods that makes you think “Mom and apple” pie thoughts. It seems patriotic to eat them. Five, ribs go exceedingly well with cold beer.
It’s easy to produce competition-quality ribs on a Traeger — ribs that would make any pit master proud.
It’s easy to produce competition-quality ribs on a Traeger—ribs that would make any pit master proud. (You can use your own rib recipe, of course, but please check out the rib recipes we’ve posted on our website, including the popular 3-2-1 method. With that in mind, there are a few things the pros know about barbecuing pork ribs that you’ll want to know, too:
- Baby backs, also called top loin ribs, are a good example of what it means to eat “high on the hog” (eat well, in other words). They are tender, and respond well to either “low and slow” or higher, faster-cooking temperatures.
- Spare ribs come from lower on the beast’s ribcage, and are bigger, meatier and more porky-tasting. They respond better to “low and slow” cooking methods at temperatures between 225 and 250 degrees F—easy to maintain on a Traeger.
- If buying ribs in vacuum-sealed packages, make sure they haven’t been 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”.)
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- Never boil pork ribs before bbq’ing or their flavor will be lost to the water. Similarly, never microwave them. (You’re making ribs, not soup.)
- Use a rib rack to increase the number of racks you can cook at one time. If you don’t have one, you can form each rack into a space-saving circular “crown”, bone-side facing in; secure it with skewers.
- If fall-off-the-bone tender ribs are your goal, smoke the ribs for 2 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 the popular 3-2-1 rib recipe referenced above.
- 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.
Our new cookbook, “Traeger's Everyday Cookbook”
, features two terrific rib recipes (3-2-1 Baby Backs and Memphis-Style Baby Backs).