Baby Back Ribs

BBQ Pitmaster Will Fleishman, author of Smoking Meat, stops by Good Day to make baby back ribs.

The Cut

Baby Back ribs are found just below the spine on a pig and above the spare rib.  They contain loin meat on the top of the rack that can be up to one inch thick. That alone can be reason to buy them if you have ever felt that ribs are less than satisfying in the amount of meat they deliver. Typically, butchers cut baby backs into 10-12 bone racks however 8 bone racks can be found commercially as well.  The bones are between 3 and 4 inches long as the rack tapers toward the back end of the pig. One rack of baby backs can feed two average adult appetites.

The Prep

1 hour total prep time

Bring your pit to 270 degrees and stabilize your temperature

2 racks of fresh baby back ribs

Rib Rub
2 cups dark brown sugar
¾ cup kosher salt
1 tbsp cayenne pepper
2 tbsp mustard powder
1 tbsp cumin

Sweet and Tangy Rib Glaze (optional)
4 cups pineapple juice
½ cup apple cider vinegar
2 tbsp honey
Tabasco (my favorite) sauce to taste

Brush or mop

Baby back ribs are a 3 to 4 hour cook, depending on how many racks are being put on your pit.  They are also one of the most likely suspects for a glaze or sauce application. On the back side of the rib rack, below the curve of the rib bones themselves, is a membrane that can cause hours of debate between barbecue cooks as to whether it should or should not be removed.  I am a firm believer in leaving the membrane intact to keep rendering fat from running off the racks and maintain greater moisture.  The other school of thought is that sauce being brushed onto the ribs cannot penetrate to the meat and impart flavor.  There is also a feeling that the membrane can become tough and leathery.

If you choose to remove the membrane from your racks, simply insert a knife under an exposed corner and create a large enough hole for your index finger. Then begin peeling it away.  This is not as easy as it may sound and takes practice.  If you are buying your ribs fresh from a butcher shop and prefer the membrane removed, ask that it be done for you.  I would recommend that you try cooking ribs both with the membrane and without to see which you prefer.

Mix the dry rub combining all ingredients and apply to both sides of the racks.  Allow them to rest at room temperature for at least 45 minutes before going into the pit. The glaze, if you are choosing to go this direction, can be mixed together as well.

The Smoke

Preferred woods: Oak or Hickory

3 ½ to 4 hours smoke time


Place rib racks into the middle of your pit-bone side down-- and be sure to have at least a fingers width between the racks to allow for god air flow.

At the 1 ½ hour point, the optional glaze can be applied with your brush or mop. The best method is to apply the glaze several times during the final cooking time.  This is really a personal preference. If you work quickly very little temperature change should occur on your pit.

I believe that ribs should not "fall off the bone" but instead should have a toothy tug and not feel "mushy" when being eaten.

Unlike other smoked meats, ribs will not require an instant read thermometer.  You must look for several indicators:  flex of the rack and the amount of rib bone that is exposed. 

*1/4 inch more or less exposed bone ends

*flex with some separation of the bark and meat

When you are satisfied with the doneness of your rib racks, remove them and let them rest for 15 or 20 minutes before cutting into individual bones.