Beef ribs are easy to cook and look amazing coming off of your barbecue pit! Let me walk you through how I cook these and give you a few ideas to try when you are cooking yours!
Smoked Beef Rib Recipe
The general steps for smoking beef ribs are pretty simple.
- Remove the membrane from the bone side of the ribs
- Season the ribs with salt and pepper (or other rubs I will share below)
- Let the ribs sit for an hour to let the seasoning start to melt into the beef.
- Set your barbecue pit to 250F using hickory for the smoke wood
- Spritz the ribs every 30 minutes after the crust has set.
- Smoke for 4-6 hours until probe tender.
This is the method I use to smoke ribs on my pellet grill. If you are using an electric smoker then you can follow this guide but will need to replenish your wood chips every 30-45 minutes.
Okay, those are the general steps, let’s look at some more details.
How Long to Smoke at 250F
How long it will take to get the ribs cooked will heavily depend upon whether you are cooking thin Back Ribs or thick Short Ribs. In general, it will take about 4 hours to smoke back ribs at 250F while short ribs will take about 6 hours.
By the way, if all you can find at your grocery store are sad slabs of back ribs that barely have any meat on them and you want to get your hands on some beautiful, thick and meaty short ribs then here is a great guide to some online sources.
My cook times are for ribs smoked at 250F on my pellet grill.
Some folks prefer to cook beef ribs at 225F to get them a little more time in the smoke. If you go that low then you should expect the cooking time to get longer by about an hour. Other folks like to cook beef ribs at 275-300F to get a better bark. If you go that high then you should expect the cooking time to be about an hour shorter.
Of course factors like how often you are opening the lid on your pit, quality of the beef, etc. will come into play as well.
If you do not have 4-6 hours and want something that you can cook faster than that then check out this list of Ten Easy Meats You Can Smoke in Under Four Hours.
Preparing the Ribs for the Smoker
The front or “meat side” of beef ribs are usually pretty clean, free or fat deposits and do not need much prep work. Here is what a slab of back ribs will look like.
The back “bone side” of the ribs is a different story. There is a tough membrane on the back of the ribs that needs to be removed. I grab and edge with some paper towels and give it a good tug. Sometimes I can get it off in one large piece but more often that not it takes me a few tries to get it all.
This membrane needs to be removed as it will only get tougher when cooked and will feel like chewing rawhide if you attempt to eat it. Additionally the membrane prevents any seasoning or smoke from reaching the back of the ribs. This membrane is present on both back and short ribs.
There will sometimes be large packets of fat under the membrane. I go ahead and trim the fat deposits out although it isn’t completely necessary.
The Dry Rub
When it comes to dry rubs for beef ribs you have a lot of options. One of the best rubs is a staple for beef and simply consists of salt, pepper, onion and garlic.
Classic SPOG Beef Rub
- 1/4 cup kosher salt
- 1/4 cup ground black pepper
- 1 tablespoon granulated garlic
- 1 tablespoon granulated onion
When I cooked up these meaty beef short ribs I used another classic, Montreal Steak Seasoning.
Another name for these meaty beef ribs is “Brisket on a Stick”. With that in mind it would make sense to use any of these competition winning brisket rubs on your ribs. Personally I think beef ribs taste more like smoked chuck roast instead of brisket.
Some people like to coat the ribs in a binder like mustard, mayonnaise or olive oil before applying the rub to help the rub adhere better. I haven’t found that a binder is really needed when smoking ribs but you are welcome to use one if desired.
Ideally you will let the rub melt into the meat for about an hour before the ribs go onto the smoker.
You can always tweak a few extra things to make these ribs suit your flavor profile and create your own classic barbecue recipe.
Choice of Smoking Wood
Oak and hickory are generally accepted as the best wood for smoking brisket and they are perfectly fine for beef ribs. However, you have got other options to play with that will also make great barbecue. I am a raving nut for smoking beef with cherry wood and, when I lived in Texas, smoked with pecan and loved the results.
One of the nice things about smoking with a pellet grill is trying out all of the wood flavor blends that are available. If you want to see some good ones then check out the article, “Best Wood Pellets for Smoking Meat”.
After about two hours in the smoker start checking to see if the rub has set. The rub has “set” when it has formed a crust that makes some noise if you tap it with your tongs.
Once the rub has set start spritzing the ribs about every thirty minutes. A real simple spritz that adds some nice complexity is a 50:50 mix of apple juice and black coffee although a lot of folks go with straight apple juice or even plain water. The spritz keeps the surface of the ribs from drying out and, some claim, helps the smoke stick to the meat better.
How Do You Know When the Ribs are Done?
There are three ways that you will know when the ribs are finished cooking and are ready to eat.
- Internal temperature
- Exposed bone
The internal temperature of your finished ribs will be in the 205-210F range. While going by internal temperature is a handy guide, the real test is when you insert the thermometer into the meat.
If the thermometer simply slides into the meat like it is going into warm butter then you know that all of the tough parts have melted away and the ribs will be fall off the bone tender.
In addition to tenderness and internal temperature, another excellent way to check for doneness is to see if the meat has pulled back from the bone. This is not a definitive test though as every slab of ribs pulls back to a different degree. Here is an example of the meat really pulling back on a slab of finished short ribs.
In contrast, here is a look at the much smaller pullback I got on this slab of back ribs.
When the ribs are probe tender go ahead and pull then from the pit and let them rest a minute before slicing. The resting doesn’t really help with “letting the juices distribute through the meat” but it sure helps slow things down and keeps you from burning your mouth on a big pile of hot beef!