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Can we talk about ribs?

It's spring. That means every girl's heart turns to the BBQ, right? Well, some of us.

I want to be able to make delicious BBQ pork spare ribs, but my last 3 tries have been epic failures. I just can't keep wasting this much meat, so I am turning to you all for help. I know pork ribs are supposed to be cooked low and slow. I am cooking on a propane gas grill and my ribs are completely drying out before they get tender.

I don't like how they taste if I finish them off covered in foil in the oven (but if I do that, they are tender). I want the outdoor smoky grill flavor. I am using a dry rub on the ribs, letting them sit overnight, and then grilling them over indirect low heat. Do I need to switch to charcoal, is that it? Why am I making so much jerky?

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  1. My experience recommends a two-stage cooking process (after the time that you already spend letting the ribs sit with a rub in the fridge). First, lay out a big sheet of heavy foil for each rack of ribs, then put the ribs on the foil, pour a up to about a cup of liquid (water, whatever) into the foil, and then seal everything up and cook at 300 or so for at least 2.5 hours, at which point the meat should be tender and fall-off-the-bone. Second, take the ribs to a grill (or if need be, a broiler), apply a thin layer of your favorite bbq sauce, and then sear on the sauce, turning and saucing some more to add layers of sauce without totally burning any of it. Never fails for me.

    When I have time, I often do an earlier stage with charcoal grill smoke (I toss in some chunks of cherry wood I have around), but for the main event of cooking to tender, nothing beats foil for keeping things moist.

    I look forward to others' ideas.

    3 Replies
    1. re: Bada Bing

      Yeah, this is good advice. Give the ribs your favorite spice rub, seal them in a roasting pan with some flavorful liquid, and slow cook for about 3 hours wrapped in foil. I prefer to do the initial slow cooking in the oven since it's easier to control temperature, and because the foil-wrapped meat is not going to pick up any flavor from the grill anyway. While you are finishing the ribs on the grill you can simmer the roasting pan juices to form a base for a really tasty sauce.

      This is of course different from true wood-smoked ribs, but just as tasty in a different way.

      1. re: Bada Bing

        Ah, I was not liking them when I braised them after I grilled them. It of course would taste better to braise them before! Thank you.

        1. re: Bada Bing

          This is how I make my ribs and they always come out great.

        2. I have used this recipe many times because people have started requesting them. It is just as Bada Bing states - ribs are a two stage dish and steaming is the answer. Grilling is only to heat the sauce. As a result, they are great for entertaining a crowd, since they can be cooked ahead and grilled at the last minute. Try this - you'll love it.

          Re the recipe I do tey and remove the membrane but if pressed for time I just score it and it seems to make little difference. I also use apple juice instead of the cider. As Bada Bing says, it doesn't matter that much. And I have never used the cinnamon stick.


          1. Go here:

            We do them on charcoal, but he tells you how to do it on a gas grill. Don't skip the "Texas crutch" step. It makes a WORLD of difference.

            We've always managed to do good ribs. But, once I discovered this site, we got much better at it!

            3 Replies
            1. re: onrushpam

              onrushpam, WHAT an amazing site! thank you for the reference. Everything is explained perfectly. I looked around the web and mostly I found discussion boards about smoking ribs while you ran your illegal still. This is the site I was looking for. I especially like this quote: "If you boil ribs the terrorists win."

              As an aside there are also the best instructions for trimming the ribs before you cook them. Thank you so much.

              1. re: onrushpam

                Lately, instead of doing the foil wrap during the last hour or so I have been leaving them uncovered but spraying them with apple juice/water/vinegar every 30 minutes. They stay moist, and pick up a nicer bark on the outside.

                1. re: TongoRad

                  This is a good suggestion. I've also used mixtures of vinegar, apple juice, salt, and spices to good effect (though you might have to strain such a mixture to keep it from clogging a spray bottle).

              2. if your rub has salt in it, i wouldn't let them sit overnight, as that will draw out moisture.

                if you want smoky flavor, you have to use wood, as grilling or using charcoal doesn't add any smoky flavor. smoky flavor comes from burning wood. as suggested below, use wood chips or chunks. put chips in a tin foil pouch and let them smolder as you cook the meat.

                filling a pouch with a liquid and cooking the ribs in it will essentially braise the meat, just as it would in an oven.

                widely accepted wisdom suggests that ribs shouldn't be "fall off the bone tender." but if that's what you are looking for by all means just braise them. braising is a fool-proof way to get that result.

                2 Replies
                1. re: tommy

                  I think you are right about the salt. I was blindly following a Neely's recipe.

                  1. re: tommy

                    tommy makes a good point about "fall-off-the-bone. While I think that tastes fine, I'd actually prefer to stop a bit short of it, just because it's hard to flip the racks on the grill during the last stage of cooking without them falling apart.

                    About salt, I would think that up to 24 hours with salt in the rub would have an effect like brining or koshering, which would help to retain moisture, no? (Something makes me doubt that the same applies to eggplant, though!)

                  2. One method I've seen is cook on the grill (smoker is better) low and slow, then wrap in foil for a couple hours in the oven, then return to the grill to 'set up'.

                    3 Replies
                    1. re: amokscience

                      Basically how I do mine. One hour in the smoke. Three hours wrapped in the oven and then finished on the grill. They're fantastic.


                      1. re: Davwud

                        When you put the ribs in the oven, do you add liquid or no?

                    2. "I am using a dry rub on the ribs, letting them sit overnight, and then grilling them over indirect low heat." The best way to dry out your ribs is to cook the "slow" over "low" heat. That's the same process you'd use if you wanted to make jerky. I suspect some of your problem is that your heat isn't high enough. "Low and Slow" doesn't mean cooking for a long time, it only means you want to avoid charring the surface.
                      I agree with the remarks recommending reconsideration of how much salt you use and when it is applied. Unless you're brining the ribs, I wouldn't use any salt until just before they come off the grill.

                      1. I successfully make ribs on a gas grill by smoking them. Get a small cast iron pan (the aluminum foil packets burn up and don't work for me) and put it directly on the flame of the gas grill. Remove the deflector if there is one if you have to. Then put small wood chips/shavings that have been soaked in water in the cast iron pan. My grill has three burners, left to right. I turn on one of the end burners and put the wood chips on one end. Put the ribs on the other side without the direct flame underneath and then put a sheet of aluminum foil over the entire grill to get the smoke to linger over the ribs as much as possible. Then cover the grill with the flame on low for as long as it takes for the chips to burn up and then add some more soaked chips. This process doesn't work as well as soaked wood chips on a charcoal grill with indirect heat, but it does work.

                        1. To avoid drying out your ribs, you need water.

                          This is what I do when using a gas grill (as you are using).

                          The key is to put water under your meat. But this is NOT an invitation to steam your ribs.
                          The way to do it is to use water pans underneath your ribs.

                          Use an aluminum roasting pan and fit it underneath your grill on top of the flavor bars. Make sure the pan is not directly over the gas burners. Fill it with water -- just regular water -- then place the grill grate over the roasting pan. So essentially you have the water pan sandwiched between the bottom of your grill and your grill grate on top.

                          Then close the grill and let the temp stabilize at 225F. Then place your ribs on top of the grate. Close the lid and do not open for at least an hour, at which time you can open it to see if you need more water. If you need more water, add boiled water so as not to drop the temp too much. Your ribs will done usually anywhere from 3-5 hours, depending on the style and cut of your ribs (e.g. babybacks usually take 3 hours).

                          Once the ribs are done, remove and sauce.

                          12 Replies
                          1. re: ipsedixit

                            Ipsedixit said most of what I was going to say. I suspect your problems were that you didn't have any source of humidity, and you may well have gotten the temp too high as well, even using indirect heat.

                            I can tell you from experience that using a dry rub with salt overnight was not your problem. Yes, salt can pull small amounts of water out of the ribs. And no, that is not why they were dry. Of course, it is possible to overdo it.

                            I can also tell you from experience that cooking ribs 'low and slow' does not lead to dry ribs. Otherwise, real barbecue would be dry. It's not. You just have to do it right.

                            On the other hand, if you're not using any smoke, you may want to consider simply braising your ribs, briefly cooling/chilling them, and then finishing on the grill over direct heat. I've gotten good results from this method as well. And it would make better use of an electric grill's flavor bars.

                            1. re: ipsedixit

                              I agree with ipsedixit that, if you have a good grill and the time, it is optimal to do the whole thing in a charcoal grill with a water pan below the ribs. I cook brisket this way pretty much all day, but all that makes it possible is very regular monitoring of the temperature. (I stick the end of a probe thermometer through the top vent so I can see the temp and also get an alarm if it goes too high. You need a coal strategy and time and some practice to maintain a temp between 225-75. But it is the absolute best!

                              Even still, last time I did the brisket, I grilled it low for maybe 9 hours but still ended up finishing it in foil in the oven for a couple more hours. Tending those coals with company around is a drag! Of course, ribs do not take quite so long.

                              1. re: Bada Bing

                                Based on much experience I must respectfully disagree - water is absolutely not necessary to smoking good ribs. The key is the selection of the meat itself. I've done countless racks of baby backs on my Weber gas grill, using plenty of wood chips in trays and a steady, indirect heat at about 225° for five hours or so. They have always come out moist and tender - except the one time that I really wanted to impress some friends and used Niman Ranch ribs instead of the usual shrink-wrapped supermarket racks. I did everything else exactly the same - dry rub, refrigerator aging, slow smoking - and ended up with inedibly dessicated fossils. The expensive designer meat just didn't have the right fat and cartilage content for smoking.

                                1. re: BobB

                                  were those shrink-wrapped ribs enhanced? the usually are by me. I'm guessing the Niman Ranch weren't.

                                  As far as a water pan goes, if water was that important, the great BBQ restaurants would have big ol' pots of water in their smokers. from what i've seen, they don't. that said, i don't think it hurts, so i routinely add a pan of water to my smoker, but i've had success without as well.

                                  i think the larger advantage to a water pan in a bullet-style smoker, which is what may people use, is that it shields the meat from direct heat. BBQ restaurants don't typically cook over direct heat, so they don't have that issue.

                                  1. re: tommy

                                    Not sure what "enhanced" is in this context - I'm guessing water or brine added? - but my usual supermarket brand is Swift's Premium. Probably enhanced, but is that going to make a difference after five hours of smoking? I've always assumed that it was just a way of adding weight so the producer can charge for water as if it were meat.

                                    1. re: BobB

                                      'enhanced' means that it has been injected with and packed in a saline solution. yup, brined.

                                      i think brining makes a difference. i brine all pork and poultry, _especially_ for long cooks.

                                    2. re: tommy

                                      "i think the larger advantage to a water pan in a bullet-style smoker, which is what may people use, is that it shields the meat from direct heat. BBQ restaurants don't typically cook over direct heat, so they don't have that issue."



                                      No one said water is crucial. But for the homecook, using a gas grill, water can be a savior.

                                      1. re: ipsedixit

                                        I agree.Plus it keeps drippings off chips/burner.

                                        1. re: ipsedixit

                                          That explains my experience. I have a three-burner Weber Genesis, and by using only the front burner I have room to smoke three or four racks of baby backs well clear of direct heat. Plus the Weber can easily hold a 225° setting for hours, so no need to moderate the heat with a water pan.

                                      2. re: BobB

                                        A water pan is at best a gross waste of fuel...Probably takes as much heat to boil a gallon of water as it does to cook a 8 lb. pork butt to 190*, and what do you get in return? Nothing of value! They were introduced by the manufacturers of the tin can cookers. Without a means of air flow control the water pan acts as a heat sink...As long as there is water in the pan the temperature (at meat level) will not rise much higher than the boiling point of water...Filling the pan with masonry sand is a better option. Water has no place in BBQing until it's time to wash up, or maybe a couple of spoonfuls in a glass of bourbon.......

                                        1. re: Uncle Bob

                                          would the sand not also take energy to heat and thus be a waste of fuel?

                                          a water pan adds water to the system. sand will not. plenty of people spritz their meat occasionally throughout cooking. it seems to me that having a moist cooking environment would be similar.

                                          i would suggest they were introduced to buffer the meat from direct heat of the coals.

                                          additionally, i've cooked on weber smoky mountains, loaded with water, and the grate temp was well above 212. in fact it was wherever i wanted it to be. i'm not sure why the temp wouldn't get much above 212: the fire is clearly hotter than that, and heat is whipping up and around the pan.

                                          i totally agree that a drop or two of water in a snifter of bourbon helps. helps just about everything. :)

                                          1. re: tommy

                                            "would the sand not also take energy to heat and thus be a waste of fuel"?
                                            Yes...at first. Also you don't have to repeatedly add additional water

                                            a water pan adds water to the system. sand will not. plenty of people spritz their meat occasionally throughout cooking. it seems to me that having a moist cooking environment would be similar.

                                            A BBQ pit does not need water in it's system...There is enough in the environment...BBQ is meat cooked in the dry heat of wood coals/charcoal...Basting is as old as BBQ itself...

                                            i would suggest they were introduced to buffer the meat from direct heat of the coals.

                                            I know they were introduced as a heat sink..."buffer"... is acceptable.

                                            The WSM is a modern day improvement over the first ECB that had NO means of air flow control...I didn't say the temperature was not, nor would not rise above 212* only that it would not rise much above 212* thereby protecting the meat from the direct high heat.

                                            "As far as a water pan goes, if water was that important, the great BBQ restaurants would have big ol' pots of water in their smokers. from what I've seen, they don't...

                                            You are right...and I completely agree....

                                  2. I forgot to mention that after I get smoke on the ribs for a few hours I wrap them in foil and finish them in the oven or on the grill. I think it's easier than messing with a pan of water and I also think they are more moist using the foil method. (I first saw this method on America's Test Kitchen).

                                    1. Bing has it right...Maybe you should invite us all over to taste the next batch...just to be sure, of course!

                                      4 Replies
                                      1. re: BiscuitBoy

                                        Oh, BiscuitBoy, I am not your typical Chowhound poster, I am not too sure you would enjoy what you would have to endure to visit. To say that I am in a rural location is being kind. Our water is spring fed. It flows through 3 sedimentation tanks. In the first tank, the crawdads eat most of the bacteria. In the second tank, the water is filtered through sand. In the third tank, UV light deals with the crawdad piss. Still wanna visit? ;)

                                          1. re: runwestierun

                                            I'm a country boy myself, can't see my closest neighbor, and fire the shotguns on new years....however I WILL be bringing beer, instead of the drinking the crawdad water!

                                            1. re: BiscuitBoy

                                              Well bring that gun then because we can use it to scare the coyotes that keep trying to haul off my dog. Hence my moniker.

                                        1. I don't like gas grills but what I would do first is remove the membrane from the back of the ribs to expose the meat. I would brine the ribs. I brine all pork and poultry. After brining, I would rinse the ribs and put a light rub on them and return them to the fridge for a few hours if I could.

                                          As far as the grill, I would turn 1 burner on as low as I could make it. I would put water soaked wood chips near that burner. if there is an open flame, I would wrap the wood chips in aluminum foil and poke holes in it.

                                          Put the ribs as far from the live burner as possible. Hopefully you can elevate the ribs with a shelf or maybe a rib rack. If you can put a thermometer in there, that would be great. You don't want the temperature to go above 300 degrees, preferably closer to 225 degrees. If the temperature can be maintained at around 225 or so, you can leave them in there for about 3 hours. If it is closer to 300, I would take them out after 1 hour and finish them in the oven at 225. The 1 hour will still give you a smoke ring and flavor. After the 3 hours, I would mop them with bbq sauce and bake until the sauce gets hot and serve.

                                          If you want to insure a smoke taste you could put liquid smoke in the brine.

                                          That should help a lot. If your gas grill isn't a very good one, you might want to consider a weber charcoal grill for bake up.

                                          9 Replies
                                          1. re: tonka11_99

                                            About liquid smoke, I recently heard someone tell of making pulled pork from pork shoulder in a crockpot (no grill at all), and the liquid smoke was supposed to have done an awesome job at getting great flavor. And liquid smoke is, after all, really a natural product from smoke, so, why not? Haven't tried it yet, though. And I would not know how much to use.

                                            1. re: Bada Bing

                                              Use very little. A little goes a long way.

                                              I would never do this. I'm not against LS as some are but I just don't think it would be all that great.


                                              1. re: Bada Bing

                                                Please please do not use liquid smoke for barbecue.

                                                1. re: ipsedixit

                                                  The person recommending it was on the NPR radio show "Splendid Table" sometime last year, and he (maybe she?) insisted that it worked great, surprisingly.

                                                  1. re: Bada Bing

                                                    I think there is a time and place for liquid smoke -- e.g. sauces, veggie burgers, etc.

                                                    I just find that liquid smoke provides an "off" taste to BBQ.

                                                    And if you are going to use it, use it judiciously -- almost as if were saffron ... but about 10x cheaper.

                                                    1. re: ipsedixit

                                                      I've never used the stuff, though I bought a bottle a while back after I saw a Cooks Illustrated test of different brands. (I recall liking a friend's burgers last year, which had liquid smoke and spices, though frankly I still prefer chuck with salt and pepper.) Cooks Illustrated also did not like most brands, but found one--Wright's All Natural Hickory Seasoning--to pass muster. The more acrid brands were adulterated with various chemicals and sugars and what not.

                                                      1. re: Bada Bing

                                                        We won't dare admit to bbqing something in the oven because it was raining or because it was 110 degrees out side. But just in case you run into a friend that is about to ignore your sage advice against it and bbq in the oven. He can use a little liquid smoke in the bbq sauce and it will taste better than if he didn't use it.

                                                        I know the taste police will be able to taste a chemical taste or something so don't invite them and don't tell them.

                                                        By the way, liquid smoke is just that. smoke run through water to filter out a lot of the smoke. It isn't made by monsanto. You could make it yourself if you had several hours.

                                                        1. re: tonka11_99

                                                          I've made the pulled pork in a crock pot with the liquid smoke. Yes, it tasted better than if I hadn't used it. I did it for a giant party so I borrowed all the big crockpots I could and I ran an experiment at the same time. Stubbs makes several different flavored liquid smokes (hickory, mesquite, etc.). I tried a different one on each shoulder. I could taste the difference. I liked it, and in the same situation (the house will soon be full of bottomless boys and I don't want to buy a grill bigger than my garage), I would do it again.

                                                  2. re: ipsedixit

                                                    That's all right...nobody 'cept tommy is talking about real barbecue, anyway.

                                              2. I cook mine in a propane bullet smoker.I like St.Louis style ribs.I ruined several racks of ribs until I arrived at this method.If they are enhanced with a salt solution I don't use salt in my rub.Ribs on top rack,tray of water on bottom rack.I use hickory chips smoker set on temperature just high enough to make smoke.You should be able to do same way if your bbq has 2 burners.One burner set on low ,just enough to make smoke .Ribs on other side of grill over pan of water..Be patient.I smoke mine between 6 to 8 hours.Outside temp.effects how long it takes them to cook.

                                                1 Reply
                                                1. re: davecrf

                                                  I guess the most important thing is to find things that work best for you.Take tips from posters and try the ones that you think make sense.

                                                2. This last weekend I was at my son's bbq. This was a meat lovers dream come true kind of bbq. All of it cooked on charcoal and I have to admit, there is not a flavor around that can match it. Unless we're talking mesquite, that's right up there. Anyway, baby back ribs are the way to go. They used a dry rub first really really rubbing it in, then letting it sit first to dry out. Then they bbq'd the baby backs, then slathered this kick your butt, best hot sauce I've ever had. A mix of mango, scotch bonnets, garlic. A homemade sauce that's botteled and sold on the internet. Delicious!!!

                                                  Whatever sauce is your pleasure, cook baby back pork ribs with a dry spice rub first, and do use charcoal! The one thing I did notice, is that they let the coals go for quite some time before the meats touched the grill. Then they were placed to the side considered indirect heat. They were delicious and moist, not fall off the bone tender but not tough either, a perfect chew.

                                                  1 Reply
                                                  1. re: chef chicklet

                                                    Your description of your son's BBQ made me hungry Chef Chicklet! The loin back ribs over charcoal can be, and are delicious...Their popularity has earned them the title of "America's Ribs ~~~ I do hope however that sometime, somewhere in the not so distant future you can experience spare ribs cooked over wood coals...Oh my!!


                                                  2. I've tried many spare/StLouis/baby back rib recipes (Weber books, Steve Raichlen, internet, etc) and have learned a few things:

                                                    -Smoke is good, but not too much.

                                                    -Harder to smoke on gas vs coals. I had problems with flameouts when using a smoker box with a gas grill.

                                                    -Low, indirect is the way to go. S. Raichlen prefers higher temps & shorter cooking times.

                                                    -Dry rub=good. The recipes I've tried do not leave a dry rub on longer than a few hours (because flavor doesn't need to penetrate very far?). Some applied rub just before cooking. Only Chinese & Vietnamese recipes I've tried call for overnight seasoning but in a liquid marinade.

                                                    -Remove the membrane. Just me, or do others get a great sense of satisfaction when able to remove it all in one piece? For some reason, I could never do this with ribs from Costco.

                                                    -Most recipes apply mop sauce after initial hour or so of cooking to keep meat moist.

                                                    -Can tell a rib's ready when meat's tender & pulls away 1/4" or so from the bone end.

                                                    -Most important lesson, is proper meat selection and trimming. Know the cuts (bb vs st louis vs spare). Trim off the darker gamey chunks. I've had better luck with smaller less thick/meaty cuts. Probably the store I frequent, but have never had luck with ribs (baby back) from Costco.

                                                    -I only recently started using a water pan placed under ribs, so haven't formed an opinion about this.

                                                    From what I know, my guess is your ribs are overcooked (either temp too high or for too long) and/or leaving the rub on too long and/or need a mop sauce and/or poor cut/trimming. Good luck.

                                                    1. I have a question about ribs and fat -- we made pork spareribs this weekend that were delicious, but too fatty. I cooked them in a low oven, covered, with a dry rub, and then finished them on a charcoal grill. I left all the fat on, figuring it would provide moisture/flavor and also that the steam would remove some of it, but it was still too much. Do I just need to trim the fat more carefully beforehand, or is there a preferable method? What's a good ratio (before cooking) of fat to meat?

                                                      1 Reply
                                                      1. re: Eloise

                                                        I'm not sure about a ratio. Especially since everyone's acceptance level of fat is different. If it's too much in your opinion, trim some off. You can even slow roast, then trim before final dressing.


                                                      2. Try the oven first. Dyno ribs from Shop Rite last weekend. I use "3 downs". or, each rack of spare ribs weighs 3lbs or less. Oven at 240 degrees. Trim pork and massage w/ dry rub. I've been using Stubbs', but I think it's a bit salty. Wrap in heavy foil and bake on a sheetpan for 2.5 hrs. Turn oven off and let ribs stay in another 30 mins. Light the grill, hopefully Weber using charcoal. Still using Kingsford at my house w/ 3 large hunks of hickory. Carefully remove ribs from foil. Slather w/ sauce and finish on the grill, indirect, for about 30 mins. I've been using Sylvia's moppin' sauce for the last couple of years. Serve a little of the sauce on the side.

                                                        1. Here's what I do for spare ribs...
                                                          Prep: Pull off the membrane on the back of the ribs and trim off the breast bone a la St Louis Ribs.

                                                          Seasoning: Montreal Steak seasoning with added brown sugar (3 parts Montreal to 1 part brown sugar)

                                                          Smoking: Offset Charcoal Grill using hickory in a foil pouch with a small hole (made by a skewer). Temperature around 200 to 250F for 2 to 3 hours.

                                                          Baking: Spray/sprinkle the ribs with a little apple juice or apple juice/broth mixture... bake 325 for about 30 to 45 minutes.

                                                          The main reason I bake is to speed up the cooking process. I get impatient waiting.

                                                          Add a little more liquid and bake longer if you want "falling off the bone ribs".

                                                          4 Replies
                                                          1. re: dave_c

                                                            What a great thread! I'm just getting started and have found plenty of information to make the jump. One question.....when smoking...are rib 'racks' required or can one just lay them directly on the cooking surface? Thank you.

                                                            1. re: jaykaysr

                                                              I always place them directly on the grill and not too close to the heat source.

                                                              1. re: jaykaysr

                                                                A good reference website is "The Virtual Weber Bullet". There's lots of good info on smoking/barbecue there.

                                                                Rib rack are not required. They're good when you have limited space on a grill and multiple racks of ribs. The rack takes advantage of the vertical space in your grill. I purchased on this year and it worked well. Prior to that, I just layed ribs on the flat on the grill.

                                                                1. re: jaykaysr

                                                                  Either way works - the advantage of racks that hold them up on edge is that you can fit more ribs into a given area. On my grill I can fit two or three racks of baby backs flat on the grill surface (need to keep them well back of the actual heat source for indirect smoking), but If I use racks I can fit in twice as many.

                                                                  The downside is, it's harder to baste them evenly (if that's part of your process) when they're standing up in a rack.