There are a lot of different ways of cooking baby back ribs on a pellet grill but one of the most reliable is the “2-2-1” method. The framework for this method is to smoke the ribs for two hours, wrap them in foil and cook for two more hours and then take them out of the foil and smoke for one last hour.
Keep reading and we will cover exactly how to smoke 221 baby back ribs on a pellet grill. This recipe will cover:
- Prepping the Ribs for the Smoker
- Smoking Instructions (Temperature and Wood Choices)
- How to Foil the Ribs
- Finishing the Baby Backs
Let’s get started!
Prepare the Baby Back Ribs for the Smoker
Prepping the baby backs involves three simple steps:
- Remove the Membrane
- Lightly Trim
- Season with a Dry Rub
Remove the Membrane from the Ribs
There is a silvery membrane on the back of the ribs that we need to take off. The membrane will not render out during smoking and will prevent smoke and seasoning from reaching the meat on the back side of the ribs.
The three minute video below is an excellent guide on how to get the membrane off.
Lightly Trim the Ribs
Every rack of baby backs is a little different in terms of what needs to be trimmed.
Sometimes there is a fat pocket on the top of the ribs that needs to be sliced off. Sometimes there is an add shaped piece of meat dangling off the side. Sometimes the ribs are absolutely perfect and don’t need any trimming at all.
Just take a minute to look the ribs over and don’t be afraid to cut off anything that doesn’t look right to you.
Here is what the ribs should look like after they have been cleaned up.
Season the Baby Back Ribs with a Dry Rub
After the ribs have been cleaned up it is time to season them with a dry rub. You have lots of choices when it comes to rib rubs including:
Here is a great rib rub that Myron Mixon uses in competitions:
- 1 cup (packed) light brown sugar
- 2 tablespoons chili powder
- 2 tablespoons dry mustard
- 2 tablespoons onion powder
- 2 tablespoons garlic powder
- 2 tablespoons cayenne pepper
- 2 tablespoons kosher salt
- 2 tablespoons coarsely ground black pepper
Season both side of the ribs generously and let the ribs sit at room temperature for at least 30 minutes to give the rub time to fully bind to the meat.
Set Up Your Pellet Grill for Smoking
Turn on your pellet grill at set the temperature to 225F. I was cooking on a Z Grills pellet grill but this technique will work on your Pit Boss or Traeger just fine.
You have a lot of choices when it comes to the type of wood pellets you can use for this recipe. Most competition cooks use fruit wood (Apple, Peach) for ribs but they are cooking on offset smokers where they get a lot of smoke flavor. On a pellet grill, where the smoke flavor is lighter, I go with a stronger wood pellet like hickory.
Place an aluminum foil pan with 2-3 cups of hot water onto the lower cooking grate. Place a six inch smoke tube filled with smoldering hickory pellets beside the foil water pan.
The seasoned baby back ribs go on the top cooking grate over the water pan and smoke tube.
Smoke the Baby Backs (2 Hours at 225F)
Once your pellet grill is setup for smoking and the ribs are on the pit it is time to close the lid and walk away.
You are going to let the ribs smoke at 225F for two hours and will keep the lid closed the whole time.
If you were working with spare ribs instead of baby backs you should increase the time to three hours. For more details check out this recipe for 3-2-1 Ribs on a Traeger.
During the first part of this cooking process the ribs are going to take up smoke flavor and will develop beautiful color. Here is what the ribs will look like after two hours of smoking.
After the ribs have taken on some smoke flavor and developed the right color it is time to move on to the next step of the process.
Wrap the Ribs in Aluminum Foil (2 Hours at 225F)
You are going to need two large sheets of heavy duty aluminum foil for this step.
Place one sheet of aluminum foil onto a cookie sheet and evenly spread out three tablespoons of margarine and a half cup of brown sugar.
Take the ribs off the smoker and put them onto the margarine and brown sugar with the meat side DOWN. Add a quarter cup of a sweet liquid to the ribs. Popular choices include apple juice, white grape juice and peach juice.
Tightly wrap the ribs in the aluminum foil. After the ribs are wrapped, wrap them in the second sheet of aluminum foil. The second sheet is going to trap any liquid that might want to escape in case you punctured the first sheet with one of the rib bones.
Return the wrapped ribs to the smoker and cook them meat side DOWN for two more hours at 225F.
At this point in the cooking process the ribs are becoming tender and taking up the sweet, rich flavors from the margarine and brown sugar.
After the ribs have cooked two hours in the foil remove them from the grill and place them on a baking sheet. CAREFULY open the aluminum foil to expose the ribs.
Seriously, be careful at this step because the foil is full of steam and hot liquids that can burn you.
Use a set of tongs to remove the ribs from the foil and return them to the grill with the meat side UP.
Finishing the Baby Backs (1 Hour at 225F)
Once the ribs are back on the smoker we are going to let them cook for one more hour at 225F.
Now is the time to baste the ribs with your favorite barbecue sauce. For a special treat you might want to skip using a traditional sauce and baste the ribs with some melted peach preserves.
Let the ribs cook for one hour or until your desired level of tenderness is reached. The ribs are done when you can easily slide a toothpick through the meat and the meat has pulled back from the bones.
People debate of the “right” level of tenderness. Some folks like to cook these until they are “fall off the bone tender” while other people insist that the ribs should still have a little chew to them. The 221 method usually makes ribs that are right in the middle of this scale so cook them a little longer if “fall off the bone” is your goal.
Once the ribs are done take them off the smoker and put them on a cutting board.
Flip the ribs over so they are meat side down. The ribs are much easier to slice when the meat side is down because you can see exactly where the rib bones are and make clean, pretty slices between them.
After the ribs are sliced dig in, enjoy and try not to get too much barbecue sauce on your shirt!
221 Baby Back Ribs Smoked on a Pellet Grill
- Pellet Grill
- 1 rack Baby Back Ribs about 3 lbs
- Rib Rub Ingredients
- 1 cup Light Brown Sugar
- 2 tbsp Chili Powder
- 2 tbsp Mustard Powder
- 2 tbsp Onion Powder
- 2 tbsp Cayenne Pepper
- 2 tbsp Kosher Salt
- 2 tbsp Black Pepper
- Foil Pouch Ingredients
- 3 tbsp Margarine
- 1/2 cup Brown Sugar
- 1/4 cup Apple Juice
- Remove the membrane from the back of the ribs and trim off any loose pieces of meat.
- Season both sides of the ribs with the dry rub and let them sit at room temperature for 30 minutes.
- Set up your pellet grill for smoking at 225F with hickory pellets.
- Smoke the ribs for two hours.
- Prepare the foil pouch with the margarine and brown sugar.
- Place the ribs, meat side down into the foil pouch, add the apple juice and tightly seal.
- Return the ribs to the grill, meat side down, and cook at 225F for another two hours.
- Remove the foiled ribs from the grill and carefully open the aluminum foil to release the hot steam.
- Return the ribs to the grill, meat side up, and baste with barbecue sauce.
- Cook the ribs for one more hour until they are tender enough for a toothpick to slide through the meat.
- Remove the ribs from the grill, place meat side down on a cutting board and slice cleanly between the bones.