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Smoked St. Louis style pork spare ribs - to mop or not; to sauce or not?

We'll be smoking our first of these tomorrow. Generally if we have these in a restaurant I don't like that a bunch of sauce has been added just before serving. But the recipes I'm reading are indicating that even the saucing is done as part of the cooking.

Anybody have any strong opinions one way or the other? Or a mop or sauce that you think is just the best? I'm leaning towards traditional barbecue flavor but saw an Asian one that also looks appealing. TIA.

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  1. I rarely sauce my ribs while cooking. Everyone has their own sauce preference. I like Bryant's, my daughter likes Blues Hog, my wife likes Sweet Baby Ray's. What to do.

    If I do sauce it's during the last 20 minutes of the cook.

    2 Replies
    1. re: chileheadmike

      Thanks. Whatever method I go with, I'd probably make my own sauce.

      1. re: chileheadmike

        Blues Hog is always worth having on hand. My favorite commercial sauce.

      2. Do you mean St. Louis style in the cut of the ribs, or in the St. Louis BBQ style? St. Louis style cut is a trimmed rack of spare ribs. The St. Louis style of BBQ is lots of sauce. Marinate the ribs, actually pork steaks is more typical, and grill, not smoke them.


        2 Replies
        1. re: JMF

          The cut of the ribs (as described by Costco! but also by "Smoke & Spice). S&S describes as pork spareribs "trimmed of chine bone and brisket flap, preferably 3 pounds each or less." Like this: http://www.trim-rite.com/images/st-lo...

          Their pretty standard instruction is to apply the rub the night before, cover, etc. Smoke at 200 to 220 for about four hours. I believe I read that IT of 180 is the goal. They have variations as far as 'flipping' them halfway through and reapplying the dry rub or mopping and/or applying sauce the last 45 minutes or so of cooking time.

          I'm generally of the 'less is more' when it comes to cooking (and fashion!) but figured I'd ask around. TIA as always.

          1. re: c oliver

            I have never taken an IT on a rack of ribs...I actually have never heard of anyone doing that.

            You can check ford oneness by grabbing the rack from one end with a pair of tongs...straight from the end so the tongs are parallel with the rack. Pick up the rack and look at how much it bends. If the bend is nearing the 70-80 degree mark, then they are done.

            That's the easiest way to check them.

            Saucing is all personal preference.

        2. I dry rub, let sit in fridge overnight, then smoke them. If I sauce them it means putting them on the grill with coals only on one side, for a few minutes with sauce, flip the ribs back and forth between coals and no coals so they don't burn, and let the sauce cook until the right sticky texture.

          4 Replies
          1. re: JMF

            So you're saying, I believe, that you smoke them but when adding sauce you take them out of the smoker and onto the grill for a short time? Not a problem and I like the idea of not opening the smoker door unnecessarily.

            1. re: c oliver

              Yes, and putting sauce into the smoker makes a mess. You have to have a aluminum tray under them, and you don't get the caramelized taste to the sauce that you get on the grill.

              If you can stand the attention to detail, and heat, you can caramelize the sauce very quickly and easily.

              I remember grilling up hundreds of racks of rubs on the grill at events working with Adam Perry Lang. He once took one of the top competitive BBQ champs off his grills at an event and kept me on because I "had the touch" on the grill, and caramelized the ribs perfectly. The first time I did it I didn't have gloves, and a short pair of tongs, and lost all the hair on my hands and arms. After that I made sure I had extra long tongs and those great grilling gloves that Brinkman makes. They have silicone "mittens", and are nicely insulated inside and up the sleeve.

              1. re: JMF

                Oh, fine, more things to buy. There goes the grandkids college funds :) But seriously good tips. Especially since Bob has particularly lovely hair on his arms that I and he would prefer that he keep.

                1. re: c oliver

                  I don't often use those acronyms but, LOL!

          2. I think its really what you're in the mood for.
            Me, I'll have a long run of marinated, dry-rub, grilled ribs. Then I get a hankering for smoked ribs finished with sauce and grilled. Then smoked ribs, finished dry, on the grill.
            In general, I don't care for a sauce that is simply added at the end: I'll sauce at the end, but *caramalize* over hot coals.

            1. Have you heard of the 3-2-1 method?
              Theres slight variations and different finishes, but a good method to start from.

              16 Replies
              1. re: porker

                No, porker. Gotta a link please?

                1. re: porker

                  The 3-2-1 method works well. I've used that, but the meat can get too tender, almost mushy, from steaming for 2 hours in the foil. Many people think falling off the bone means it's good. But I like ribs to have a bit of firmness to them.

                  When I do ribs I do the 3-1-1. But the foil time can vary. I like to feel the rib ends through the foil and when the first bone starts to poke through the meat end I pull them out. Some folks say it is best to pull out when the bone shows 1/4" or even 1/2", but at 1/2" I think that's when they have been over steamed. Also, you don't get the caramelized sauce that you do when finishing on the grill.

                  3-2-1 method for spare ribs.

                  Great pictorial of 3-2-1 method. This guy really describes the process well!

                  1. re: JMF

                    That pictorial is super and I think I want to play with this tomorrow. Should be fun. Like he prefers, I'll likely serve sauce on the side. Way cool. And the arm hairs will stay intact to fight another day!

                    1. re: c oliver

                      When racks of ribs are on sale I buy enough to fill the smoker. After the smoking/cooking is finished I cut the racks in half and vacuum pack and freeze. Then I let one defrost in fridge overnight, throw on a hot grill, and either sauce or not. They are done after flipping a few times over a few minutes. They freeze great.

                      I actually have to get a second set of racks for the Bradley. For thin things like ribs you can put a rack upside down over another rack and get twice as much meat in the smoker. So you can smoke a lot of ribs at once, which works out well since they take so long to smoke that you might as well make a heck of a lot.

                      1. re: JMF

                        I'd suggested that we invite a couple of friends over who we haven't seen in too long but Bob was reluctant, after the pork shoulder, fearing they wouldn't get done in time. But your suggestion definitely works.

                        1. re: c oliver

                          I freeze a major portion of all the meats, fish, and cheese I smoke. A vacuum sealer is almost mandatory equipment if you have a smoker. I think I remember you saying you had one, right?

                          1. re: JMF

                            Yep. I've had one for some years now. Took the remainder of the pork, cut in half pound chunks and FS'd. I DO think an occasional hostess (or host) gift to the right person isn't out of the question. One of our dearest friends seems to like my cooking and we made sausage together earlier in the year. Mike may be happy soon :)

                    2. re: JMF

                      I agree that 2 hours in foil can be too long, and I do 1 hour if I use this method.

                      I much prefer to cook ribs without foil...no matter if it's for 5 hours over a low fire or for 2 hours over a hot fire.

                      1. re: JMF

                        I like the 3-2-1 method as a starting point then change-up according to personal tastes - smoke longer or shorter, into foil longer or shorter (falling off-the-bone or pull-away from the bone) etc etc.
                        I've been doing a 4-1-G variation - smoke for 4 hours, foil in conventional oven (no longer need smoker) for an hour, sauce and grill until caramalized (the ribs back and forth between coals and no coals as you approporiately describe).
                        Theres lots of 3-2-1 variations described on various BBQ forums.

                        1. re: porker

                          And I'm likin' them. That 4-1-G sounds interesting. Is it more energy efficient to heat up the oven than continue with the electric smoker that's no longer smoking. Opening the smoker to remove the meat and then again to put it back in loses heat. That makes sense. Thanks, porker. I've admired your 'work' for years. Glad to get your perspective.

                          1. re: c oliver

                            I think the smoker is more efficient since it only has a 500 watt element.

                            1. re: JMF

                              Excellent point. AND the oven is a larger 'space.' The smoker's heating up as I type this. Woohoo :)

                            2. re: c oliver

                              I don't have an electric smoker (nothing wrong with them, but Mrs. Porker won't let me put a 5th BBQ on our deck...).
                              I usually smoke ribs in an offset smoker using lump charcoal as the heat source and chips and/or logs for smoke. Once you wrap in foil, there is no need for smoke, so I use a conventional oven to save my lump.
                              I assume the electric smoker might be more efficient.

                              Speaking of Mrs. Porker, she wants me to BBQ-bake a whole pig leg for Thanksgiving this Monday (we're in Canada). I did this a few times, including a FRIGID new years day (I had the fire going before dawn during a howling storm - it was bleak...)
                              I posted a coupla picts last year here
                              and also describe a 3-3-G method...

                              1. re: porker

                                Now isn't that a gorgeous piece of pig! We awoke to a few snow flurries but it's mid40s now. Not ready for winter yet.

                                Happy Thanksgiving. We had a glorious Canadian Thanksgiving dinner in Banff some years ago. Don't remember specifically but it was some kind of 'game.' And I know I had my first glass of ice wine at the end. Mmm.

                          2. re: JMF

                            I've been going 2-2-20 min

                            This is what I get:

                        2. Some spritz with apple juice while the ribs are cooking

                          1 Reply
                          1. re: scubadoo97

                            We've lost so much heat when opening the smoker that I don't really want to do any more than absolutely necessary. But I love the idea.

                          2. If I read this right, you cooked the ribs tonight. How were they?

                            I agree with a number of things mentioned here.

                            The bend test for doneness. I've never tried to take the IT of ribs either. I can't imagine you could do it accurately, as you could stick them in so many places that you are bound to get conflicting results. Adding to this, it may happen that you find you have gone a bit far, and the bend test becomes the "break test". Yeah, they are probably a bit over done then, but they will still be tasty. And you will learn how they look and feel for next time. That learning is important. Not a lot of barbecue can be done by time, and some just can't be done by temp either. Don't be afraid to make little mistakes and learn from them. This goes for time in foil too, like the 3-2-1 method. Go ahead and try it. If you find that you don't like it, adjust, as others suggest. The "mistakes" will still taste good.

                            Sauces. You will find so many opinions that you may not know where to start. Think instead about what you like - sweet, spicy, thick, thin, etc., then start there. Or of course the no sauce "dry" ribs. I like them a lot, but it seems to me that most people around me (and I'm in Ohio, not some great barbecue location) want sauce on their ribs. My favorite "store-bought" sauce is a little spicy, mostly peppery in my opinion. I love it, and wish I could buy it locally, instead of relying on my out-of-state relatives to keep me supplied.

                            When/how to sauce. I agree with not saucing on the smoker. I am another who prefers to sauce them on a grill, with higher heat than in the smoker. Hehe, if necessary, I would sauce on a gas grill before I'd do it in the smoker :-)
                            I also agree with the mostly indirect method, or flipping, or moving them, or whatever. Carmelize the sauce a bit, but don't burn it. Of course, the sweeter the sauce, the easier it will burn.

                            I hope your ribs were delicious!

                            7 Replies
                            1. re: Cheez62

                              Busy day today and last night I didn't want to put my ribby fingers on the keyboard :) The ribs turned out great despite our worrying. We had the smoker cookin' along at about 220 when we put the ribs in. It dropped to 145!!! and rose painfully slowly. We'd originally planned on three hours but went with four cause it too so long to get back up again. When we took them out after four I checked the IT in several places all were about 180. Damnation :) But they clearly weren't tender; good but chewy (had to try a little bite). So we wrapped in foil and I DID put the thermometer in a pretty meaty part just to see. Did two more hours and the IT pretty much topped out at 188. And the ribs were perfectly cooked, tender but not falling off the bone. In order to keep them warm, we did the FTC (foil/towel/cooler) thing til the rest of the dinner was ready. Then lightly basted with sauce and put them on the grill literally minutes on each side. We couldn't have been more pleased. And again I have y'all to thank. I got A LOT of help on the thread. I guess I'm figuring that you really have to wing it a bit as far as time and temp. And I'm not afraid of that (as much!) after last night. Served these with just a baked potato and a big helping of all manner of roasted (in the oven in a CI skillet) vegetables. I said after dinner that if I'd had this in our fave restaurant, I'd have said "wow." Here are some pix, pre - during - end - ready to eat.

                              1. re: c oliver

                                Dang, they look good!
                                Simply getting one under the belt is a great confidence booster - pretty soon, you'll be making them for friends!

                                I like to make notes (temps/times/smoke/methods etc etc) whenever BBQing new things. It helps me to improve and hone all the time.

                                I just asked Mrs Porker to pull a rack outta the freezer. I don't have time for BBQ, but I'm gonna grill them

                                1. re: porker

                                  Making notes is a super idea! Hopefully as we progress, we'll start seeing some patterns.

                                  And, yeah, there really did taste good. And now we have two 1/2 racks FoodSavered (sans sauce) and frozen. Mmm

                                2. re: c oliver

                                  Why 188 degrees, that seems pretty high?

                                  1. re: James Cristinian

                                    What I'd read said 180. But we were suddenly at 180 and they were nowhere near tender. I'd also read that at 180 they're tender but not falling off the bone but at 200 they ARE FOTB which isn't something we like. What IT do you smoke to? It doesn't seem high to me cause I do pork shoulder to well above that. Get all that good fat and connective tissue all gooey and wonderful :)

                                    1. re: c oliver

                                      I don't check the temperature but look at the bones on the end, the bend test, the wifeacita test, she's pretty good, wind direction, barometric pressure, cows standing or sitting, moon phase, it's all very scientific. By the way, I use spareribs, unsauced, salt and pepper, cooked off to the side of a small amount of coals with pecan wood, generally 30 minutes a side for three hours on a Weber kettle. They're covered but I crack the lid a bit opposite of the fire side to draw smoke over the meat, keep the bottom vent covered, and keep a close eye on the top vent so it doesn't get too hot.

                                  2. re: c oliver

                                    They do look good, and most importantly, you liked them! I'm glad that we could help.