Smoking ribs on your Traeger Pellet Grill is a great way to cook tender ribs at home. With just a little prep and know-how, your pellet smoker can produce the most delicious ribs in the neighborhood. So prepare for your next barbecue or game day gathering and your new legacy as the king of ribs.
Pork ribs only have three kinds of ribs. From the upper portion of the ribs you have the Pork Back Ribs, lovingly called Baby Back Ribs. Down from there you then have Pork Spare Ribs, which are the remainder of the rib down to the belly. When you trim Spare Ribs, removing the Rib Tips, you end up with St. Louis Style Ribs. I rarely see whole spare ribs at the market so the chances of you needing to trim ribs are pretty minimal. I avoid it when I can as there is not a good use for the trimmings that come off spare ribs.
Unlike pork ribs, Beef Back Ribs are not the desired cut. Since these ribs are coming off the Ribeye they are trimmed very close to the meat leaving minimal meat on a fatty rib.
The Short Plate, or Short Rib is the famous cut that people are going for. This is where the famous Dinosaur Ribs come from.
The Chuck Ribs are going to be similar to the Short Plate but they are a little thinner and more commonly cut down to flanken ribs. Flanken, sometimes called English Cut, is a cross-cut rib and is commonly found in Asian and Hispanic meat markets. These are great additions to when you are grilling up fajitas for a large group. This is one of my wife and I’s favorite types of beef ribs to grill up at home.
If you want to make a homemade dry rub for your ribs try out my Red Chile Rub which goes great with all things pork. It is a simple combination of brown sugar, chile powder, garlic powder, and a few other ingredients. Check out the link to see the breakdown and links to other recipes I use it in.
If premade dry rubs are more of your thing then by all means go for your favorite. If you are looking for a new rub you really can’t go wrong with anything by MeatChurch. For pork try either Gospel BBQ Rub or Honey Hog BBQ. Use their Dia De La Fajita for beef flanken ribs. Regardless of the seasoning, you are going to use, do not be shy when seasoning. You want to get an even coat from top to bottom. Hold the shaker about 8 inches above the rib rack and use your wrist to gently shake from left to right while moving your way down. Season the back of the ribs first then the meat side.
When you are selecting a rack of ribs, look for one that looks and feels heavy for its size. Don’t think about how long it is going to take to cook yet. Picking a rib with plenty of meat to it is more important to your overall experience than how long it will take to cook.
Now that you have the rack of ribs remove them from their packaging over a trash can then pat the rack dry with a paper towel.
So the next big question is do you take the thin membrane off or leave it on? If you are smoking beef ribs then the answer is absolute yes! The membrane on the back of the ribs is much thicker than beef ribs. Pork ribs, it is a personal preference. I prefer to take the membrane off so that my guests do not have to deal with it. It just adds to a better smoked rib eating experience. The best way to remove the membrane is to use a small sharp knife to peel back a corner and then using a firm grip, pull across the back of the ribs. When you get it down, you can get the thin membrane off with one shot. Beef ribs can take a little more work.
If you are going to use yellow mustard as a primer to help keep the seasoning in place during the smoke then use this rule. A little goes a long way! Remember, you are just wanting to get a light even coat that creates a stick for the spice rub. Too much mustard and you will know, and not in a good way. It is not required either but with all things barbecue, it is a personal preference so take your shot at it and see if you like it. Just put a small amount and then use your hand to rub it around the entire rack. It will take no more than 2 teaspoons of yellow mustard to cover the entire rack.
Assuming you working on a Traeger Grill, set the temperature to 225º. Once at temp place the ribs directly on the grill grates, bone side down and uncovered. For your first cook, look for an initial cook time of roughly 3 to 4 hours at 225º. Check for doneness at the 3-hour mark. Use the bend test to see how firm or tender the ribs are. As the connective tissue breaks down, you will see the meat want to pull apart when you lift one side of the rack. At this point, I will pull the racks off and turn the Traeger temperature up to 250º to finish. I will reapply a little seasoning and give a light spritz of apple juice from a spray bottle then wrap in aluminum foil. Place them back on the Traeger Grill, this time meat side down. Cook for another 30 minutes and then give them another bend test. After some time you will know exactly how much time they need after your first doneness test. If you want to fall off the bone ribs then give them about an hour more. Fall off the bone ribs is just overcooked ribs compared to the ribs you get from top-tier bbq restaurants. This is why we are also wrapping the ribs. Another alternative to wrapping your ribs is to baste them every 30 minutes with barbecue sauce after the first 3 hours. This will lock in the moisture and create a nice glaze on the ribs. Basting ribs on the grill until they fall off the bone is not recommended as you will struggle to get them off the grill in one piece.
Some people swear by this method but I don’t follow it myself. This method of smoke ribs is designed for St. Louis and spare ribs. If you are cooking baby backs then I would cut these times in half. If you want to try it to see if it works for you then go for it. This is all about learning and creating your signature style. So for this method, you are going to smoke the rib racks for 3 hours and uncovered. Wrap them with bbq sauce or margarine and brown sugar in aluminum foil and continue to cook for another 2 hours. The final step is then to unwrap the bbq ribs and then smoke for an additional hour. 5 hours of total cook time will give you tender, juicy fall off the bone ribs. I’m just not sure if the extra time is worth it.
Experiment with different barbecue sauces from the store to use as a baste and glaze. If you are up to it make your barbecue sauce. I make my homemade bbq sauce using ketchup as my base so it takes minutes to throw together in a small bowl. I prefer Central Texas bbq sauce as it is not as sweet as KC or Memphis style barbecue sauce which is heavy on brown sugar and molasses. If that is your thing then go for it. It is a personal preference rather than a right way vs wrong way. Just be careful when basting with a sauce heavy in brown sugar and molasses as it will burn easily. If you prefer a thinner barbecue sauce then a little apple cider vinegar is a great way to thin it out and balance out the sweetness.
When making ribs I will usually do a few extra racks of ribs more than I need to use for dinner later in the week. My version of meal prepping I guess. To reheat them you can place them with the bone side of the ribs down on a rimmed baking sheet and then lightly cover with some more foil. Bake at 325º for about 20 minutes. Careful about reheating at too high of a temperature as this can cause the sugars to burn before the ribs have warmed through. Brown sugar begins to burn at 350º so it won’t take long at this temperature to end up with an unwanted burnt glaze. https://chefmadehome.com/quick-alfredo/
If you are like me and hate turning the oven on during the summer then fire up your Traeger grill to 325º and place the ribs, bone side down on the grates. No need for a lined baking sheet.
Pro Tip: When the bone marrow begins to bubble, the ribs have warmed through.
The type of pellet is a pretty hot topic with those that use pellet grills. Everyone has their opinion but the one they can all agree on is that make sure you are buying a quality wood pellet that does not have any filler. I like Knottywood Plum and Almond wood pellets. They produce a clean smoke light smoke that works well with poultry and pork. If you want more aggressive flavors then look for mesquite blended with a little hickory. This will give you a more distinctive smoke flavor.