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Diagnose my rib problem

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Post Mon Apr 19, 2004 12:02 am
Zeke rare

Posts: 36
Location: Ashburn, VA
Hi everyone,

Since we had a nice weekend on the North Shore of Boston, I decided I'd clean out my smoker today and fire it up for the season.

I went to my butcher yesterday and bought a 7 pound brisket - after reading all the posts here I had to try one for the first time. (I'm still planning to do the bacon-over boston butt...but the brisket was calling me). Unfortunately, when I opened the brisket last night it gave off a pretty foul odor so I wrapped it back up. When I took it back to my butcher, he apologized and hooked me up with a nice big steak and a rack of baby back ribs.

I normally cook ribs on my weber kettle using indirect grilling. Most of the time, they come out perfect. (When my wife likes bbq, I know I've done something right.)

But tonight I tried them in my smoker (Brinkmann horizontal offset) and they really weren't that good. Taste-wise, they were full of flavor. However they had a lot of chew and there was much gristle left attached to the bone after we ate them. I don't think the ribs were that great quality (I might need a new butcher) but I know a good part of it was my fault.

If any experienced rib smokers can help me diagnose my problem(s) - I'll be grateful.

I prepped the rack by tearing off the sheath, and then squeezing lemon juice all over them. I then applied a bbq rub (pretty standard paprika, salt, pepper, brown sugar, etc) to the rack. I let them sit for a half hour in the fridge then brought them to room temperature.

I fired up the smoker to roughly 225, initially using kingsford coals. (hard to tell exactly how hot the cooking area is, as my thermometer is 4" long and is at the far end of the smoker near the chimney). I assumed that 250 on the thermometer was 225 in the area where the ribs were.

I put a pan of water with cut-up apples in it next to the firebox to act as a baffle. I soaked some nice big hickory chunks for an hour or so and tossed them on the coals. I kept a steady stream of smoke going, witout over-doing it. I've learned the hard way to use restraint when creating smoke.

Every half hour, I mopped the ribs with a mixture of cider vinegar, Jim Beam, a splash of apple juice, salt, pepper, tabasco, garlic flakes and onion flakes. (I think one problem might have been that there wasn't enough juice or water in my was basically vinegar and booze - probably evaporated the moisture in the meat)

I replenished the coals every hour or so with Cowboy brand lump charcoal. (I like to get a long, consistent fire going w/ briquettes then go with the lump later on cause it burns cleaner and heats up faster) As the temperature went into the 50's in the evening, i replenished the coals more frequently. The fire never spiked about 250 on my thermometer.

I watched the ribs and after 4 hours the meat appeared pulled back from the bone. They looked done, so sprinkled them with rub, wrapped them in foil and brought the smoker temp down to 140 or so...I put them in the coolest spot of the cooking area.

As luck would have it, 2 neighbors dropped by. One had a round of beers and two kinds of sauce he had been cooking all day. The other had a handful of ribs he just pulled off of his weber bullet smoker. As always, they were insanely good - unlike mine :oops:

Along with the ribs, I made a few pans of smoked salt which turned out great. (Followed Steven's recipe in his Sauces book - awesome stuff!). I put some in jars and gave it to my neighbors as a token of thanks for the beer, company, ribs and sauce.

When they left a half an hour later, I pulled the ribs out of the smoker. I unwrapped the foil and dug in. They weren't juicy at all...I'd say they were sinewey with a lot of chew. It was almost as if they had that paper-like sheath running all through the meat. I think I over-cooked them and my mop acted to dry out the meat. However, the rub was tasty - my neighbor's sauce was insanely good and the smoked salt tasted great sprinkled on asparagus.

While I had a really great day bbq-ing, I'm disappointed in my baby back ribs. I can nail them everytime in my weber kettle, but each time I've tried to do them in the smoker - I turned them into pork jerky.

Any tips, advice or lambastings you can pass along would be most welcome.

Fire away.

"Life is a case of mind over matter. If you don't mind - it doesn't matter"

Post Mon Apr 19, 2004 7:02 am
BBcue-Z well done
well done

Posts: 3209
Location: Atlanta-GA
I don’t think you cooked the ribs long enough. I usually cook ribs for 6 hours or longer and wrap them in foil during the last hour. You said you wrapped the ribs after 4 hours, and then you dropped the temp to 140 and kept them in a cool spot. What you did here is kept the ribs warm and didn’t continue cooking them. I would have kept the temp around 225-250 and continued cooking until the six-hour mark, and then check for doneness. Ribs have a lot of fat and tough connective tissues, which require long and slow cooking in order for them to melt.
Try again, I’m sue you’ll succeed.

Post Mon Apr 19, 2004 9:56 am
Zeke rare

Posts: 36
Location: Ashburn, VA
Thanks for the reply!

I read on this board that most people thought that 6 hours was too long for baby backs....which is why I went for hour hours. Also, my neighbor who visited did his ribs for 4 hours at 225 and they were succulent.

My ribs weren't juicy at all....they were pretty dry. I still think the mop I used is a big part of the problem.
"Life is a case of mind over matter. If you don't mind - it doesn't matter"

Post Mon Apr 19, 2004 10:04 am
Grand Scale BBQ Deputy
BBQ Deputy

Posts: 4272
Location: York, PA
I'm not a rib pro...but I've had similar results with drying out. I attributed it to the vinegar in my mop. Maybe I used too much.

To those of you who are rib guys (Dkirn where are you) will too much vinegar dry out the ribs?

Post Mon Apr 19, 2004 10:05 am
Bob-BQN User avatar
well done
well done

Posts: 13157
Location: Texas
Zeke, after reading your post it looks like you did everything right. Like BBcue-Z mentioned I would have gone a little longer too. Longer usually lends a more tender meat as long as you're not drying them out.

Since you touched and tasted the ribs, you'd be a better judge of the effect your mop was having on them.

Post Mon Apr 19, 2004 10:17 am
YardBurner BBQ Deputy
BBQ Deputy

Posts: 5469
Location: Damascus, Maryland
I think the problem here is in treating baby back ribs the same as spare ribs. Baby don' have as much fat to self baste. A mop should IMHO contain at least some oil. This helps make it hang on and substitutes for the missing fat. Did you pour some mop or sauce of any kind in the foil wuth the ribs? I also agree with above posts that the 140 is a holding temperature and contributes nothing to further cooking. I have had good luck holding ribs by placeing them in a middle sized cooler to hold. If I'm doing just a couple of racks I'll foil wrap each rack. Then fill up the empty space with crumbled newspaper. When doing 10 or so I just toss them in the cooler with a couple of foil wrapped bricks that have been heated in the smoker to help hold the heat. Cover the top of the cooler with wide plastic wrap to form a tighter seal and slap on the lid. On a warm day they can hold for several hours. A Polder therm. probe in the cooler keeps you up on the temp without having to open it and loose heat.


Post Mon Apr 19, 2004 12:44 pm
RichD medium-well

Posts: 280
Location: New Jersey
Hey Zeke,

I too did the rib thing this weekend only I did 4 racks of spare ribs. Did everything needed to prepare the ribs. Used two different rubs from Steve's Sauces book. Put them on my Silver Smoker (very similar to your Brinkmann), temp apprx. 225.
Didn't give myself enough time. Wound up wrapping them in foil and finishing them on the gas grill (had company and couldn't wait). They came out ok and the taste was good, but I have to remember the time thing.


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