How to cook spare ribs

Even better, they are an easy BBQ pork spare rib recipe to make on a smoker or in the oven.


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What are BBQ Spare Ribs?

BBQ pork spare ribs are spare ribs grilled on the smoker or cooked in the oven. They are deliciously covered in yellow mustard, brown sugar, apple cider vinegar, and whiskey BBQ sauce (or any other BBQ sauce you may prefer). The spare ribs are easy to make and go well with salads to make a great summer combo!


How do you cook pork spare ribs in the smoker?

You will want to smoke the ribs for 3 hours, so set your smoker to smoke and use hickory pellets. Afterwards, you will need to increase the temperature of the smoker. When you’ve done this you will put the ribs in Heavy duty foil with the apple cider. After two hours, cover the pork spare ribs with BBQ sauce and then cook them for another hour. In the end you’ll get some delicious, tender smoked spare ribs.


Watch me make some babyback ribs in the recipe video below:

Nothing says summer quite like a slow cooked, delicious, tender slab of BBQ Pork Spare Ribs. Even better, they are easy to make on a smoker or in the oven. Total Time 6 hours 15 minutes

  • 1 rack pork spare ribs
  • 1 cup yellow mustard
  • 1 cup brown sugar
  • 1 cup apple cider vinegar
  • 1 cup barbecue sauce whiskey barbecue sauce recommended, link in notes
  1. Prepare ribs by removing membrane which is usually attached to the underside of the rib cage. Sometimes the butcher does this before you buy them. Rub both sides of ribs with mustard and brown sugar. Wrap tightly and store in the refrigerator 6 hours to overnight. If you're in a real hurry, you can skip the refrigeration and just start the cooking process.
  1. Using hickory pellets, set smoker to smoke with the lid open for 5 minutes. Smoke ribs for 3 hours.
  2. Open lid. Increase temperature from smoke to 225 degrees F. Line a baking sheet with heavy duty aluminum foil (the thin stuff will tear) twice the length of the ribs and transfer the ribs to the foil using tongs. Wrap the foil up around the ribs to make a bowl. Pour the apple cider vinegar over the ribs. Apple juice works as well, but I find the vinegar makes the meat even more tender. Wrap the ribs in the foil taking care not to let the vinegar spill out. Cook for 2 hours.
  3. Remove ribs from foil and place back on the grill. With the heat still still set at 225, cover the ribs with the barbecue sauce and cook for one additional hour.
  4. The ends of the bones should be exposed and the meat should be extremely tender. Take great care lifting them off the grill so as not to have them fall apart.
  1. Wrap ribs in heavy duty aluminum foil in such a way that the package can hold liquid. Before sealing up, pour vinegar over ribs. Bake in preheated 250 degree F oven for 3 hours.
  2. Remove the ribs from the oven and place on a foil lined baking sheet. Cover with barbecue sauce.
  3. Set the oven to broil and place ribs back in oven until sauce is slightly browned and firm but not burned.
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Whiskey BBQ Sauce Recipe:

BBQ Pork Spare Ribs Recipe Calories 441 Calories from Fat 63 Total Carbohydrates 86g 29% * Percent Daily Values are based on a 2000 calorie diet.

This post was originally created in August 2014 and has been updated with more fun facts and tidbits for your reading pleasure.

Spare Ribs vs St. Louis Style Ribs

bbq spare ribsImage courtesy of

Pork ribs are divided into a few different cuts (see diagram to the right). The top ribs near the spine are baby back ribs. Baby backs are fairly lean, and need special attention so they don’t dry out. The spare ribs run the remaining length of the ribs near the pig’s fatty belly. Full spare ribs contain the brisket bone and surrounding meat and can weigh upward of 5 pounds. Most grills aren’t large enough to accommodate this cut. St. Louis-style spare ribs have the brisket bone and surrounding meat trimmed off for a more manageable cut in the range of 3 pounds. We used St. Louis-style ribs for our cook.

Why Low and Slow?

Spare ribs are most often the choice for barbecue because they are thicker and meatier than baby back ribs. This cut is tough with ample amounts of connective tissue. Cuts of meat with collagen-rich connective tissue need to be cooked low and slow for the collagen to dissolve into gelatin, giving barbecue meats their signature lip-smacking succulence. The safe doneness temperature for pork is 145°F (63°C), but the connective tissue in ribs doesn’t begin to dissolve until the meat is in the range of 160-170°F (71-77°C).

ChefAlarm ThermometerHigher Doneness Temps for Tough Meats

Slowly cooking the ribs at a lower heat, and pulling them from the cooker at a temperature of 180-195°F (82-91°C) gives them plenty of time for the gelatin to work its silky, juicy magic. This low and slow method of cooking turns otherwise inedibly tough cuts of meat into some of the most tender, juicy, and flavorful cuts you’ve ever experienced. Smoking at low and slow temperatures is at the heart and soul of traditional American barbecue.

3-2-1 Method

This is a great method to follow for a novice, a good starting point to learn more about your smoker, functionality of thermometers, and how times and temperatures can be adjusted to your liking as you gain more experience. If you’re looking for a foolproof way to make some of the best ribs you’ve ever had, this well-known 6-hour cooking method is for you. In a nutshell, the cook is separated into three chunks of time:

  • 3 hours in the smoker, uncovered
  • 2 hours wrapped with liquid or sauce
  • 1-hour cook, unwrapped and brushed with sauce

The Cook

Ingredients and Supplies

  • 3 lb. rack of St. Louis-style spare ribs
  • Dry rub of your choice *
    • 2 parts ground black pepper to 1 part kosher salt as recommended by barbecue expert Aaron Franklin.
  • Barbecue sauce of your choice *
    • We used Bull’s Eye barbecue sauce on its winning product recommendations from both America’s Test Kitchen (subscription required to access product reviews) and Serious Eats.
  • Apple juice in a spray bottle
  • Charcoal briquettes
  • Wood chunks
    • We used hickory. Oak, pecan, and mesquite also work well for ribs.
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➠ 3

  • Rinse ribs and remove any bone fragments left from fabrication, pat dry.
  • Remove the membrane that covers the bone-side of the ribs by prying it up at one end with a butter knife, grip the membrane with a paper towel and peel it off while holding down the ribs with the other hand.

bbq spare ribs

Removing the thin membrane lining the concave side of the rib rack makes the ribs easier to manipulate and allows smoke to penetrate both sides of the rack directly. —Cook’s Illustrated Meat Book, America’s Test Kitchen

  • Apply dry rub and allow ribs to rest at room temperature while firing up the cooker.
  • Preheat smoker to 225-230°F (107-110°C) with charcoal then add wood chunks. Using a grate clip, attach an air probe to the smoker’s grill grate and set ChefAlarm®‘s high alarm to 240°F (116°C) and the low alarm to 220°F (104°C).

spare ribs barbecue

  • Place a needle probe into the thickest part of the meat away from bones. Transfer the prepared ribs to the smoker rib-side up, and attach the needle probe to a DOT® alarm thermometer. Set the high alarm to 195°F (91°C).

how to bbq spare ribs

  • Set a timer for 3 hours and allow ribs to cook, adjusting the coals or your smoker’s vent as necessary to maintain the correct cooker temperature.

what temperature to smoke ribs

bbq spare ribsSpritzing

There are 2 reasons to spritz your ribs with water, vinegar, or juice during the cook:

  1. A wet exterior acts as velcro for the smoke, and this is especially important during the first part of the cook when most of the smoke will be absorbed.
  2. If spritzing with apple juice, the intermittent applications will create a sweet, sticky surface that enhances the flavor and provides a sweet, tacky surface ideal for barbecue sauce to adhere to.

Quickly spritz the surface of the meat with apple cider vinegar or apple juice (we used apple juice) once every hour. Some like to spritz once every half hour—be sure not to open your smoker’s lid so frequently that an adequate cooking temperature cannot be maintained.

➠ 2

  • After the 3-hour cook has finished, remove the ribs from the smoker. The rib’s internal temperature should be around 160-170°F (71-77°C) at this point.
  • Arrange a piece of heavy-duty foil large enough to wrap the entire rack. Spread sauce or other liquid ingredients onto the center of the foil where the ribs will be placed. Lay the ribs bone-side down over the sauce, evenly apply more sauce to the top of the ribs, and fold to seal.
    • The bones can break through the single layer of foil. Wrapping the ribs in a second layer of foil is helpful.

bbq rib temperature

  • Transfer back to the smoker and let cook low and slow for 2 hours.
  • During this portion of the cook, the wrap will help push the meat through “the stall,” and its connective tissues will continue breaking down to create the moist and silky texture we’re after.

➠ 1

  • Once the 2 hours are up, remove wrapped ribs from the smoker, and transfer to a sheet pan to catch liquid that will escape. Unwrap the foil packet and discard foil.

spare ribs barbecue

  • Brush ribs with barbecue sauce, set a timer, and cook for 1 hour longer. During this last hour, the barbecue sauce will “set”, giving the exterior of the ribs a glazed, sticky surface.
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what temperature to smoke ribs

  • Once the 1 hour is up the ribs’ internal temperature should be about 180-195°F (82-91°C). If the ribs haven’t reached this temperature range yet, cook them a bit longer.
    • This stage of the cook can easily be adjusted to suit your personal liking. If the ribs are cooked for the full hour, they will be very tender. If you prefer the meat’s texture to have a bit more chew to it, increase your smoker’s temperature and cook for a shorter period of time until the sauce sets.

how to bbq spare ribs

➤ Two Different Cookers

We smoked one of our three racks of ribs in a drum-style cooker (Pit Barrel Cooker). The meat was prepared in the exact same way with a dry rub and probe placement as for the ribs smoked in the Big Green Egg, and smoked at the same temperature. We did not wrap the ribs smoked in this cooker, rather we allowed the ribs to cook for about 3-4 hours with the first part of the cook, then basted with sauce as soon as the internal temperature reached 170°F (77°C), then cooked for about another 2 hours until the internal temperature reached our target range of 180-195°F (82-91°C). This type of smoker is another great option for beautifully barbecued meats.

how to cut spare ribs

Slice and Serve!

  • Remove ribs from the smoker and allow to rest for about 20 minutes. Apply more barbecue sauce, carefully slice with a sharp knife between each of the bones (it can be easier to slice down between the ribs when held up on its side), and serve.

These ribs are sure to be a crowd-pleaser! Careful temperature tracking with the smoker’s temperature, and the meat’s internal temperature is critical to ensure tender, juicy results. Quality temperature tools (like the ChefAlarm) along with a bullet-proof cooking method will yield fantastic results time after time, and may turn into one of your favorite barbecue projects!

Products Used:

ChefAlarmChefAlarm Red Thermoworks DOTDOT Thermoworks RT600cRT600C

Resources: Franklin Barbecue, Aaron Franklin Cook’s Illustrated Meat Book, America’s Test Kitchen Best BBQ Ribs Ever, Amazing Ribs, Meathead Goldwyn  Pork Ribs, Pit Barrel Cooker Smoked 3-2-1 St. Louis Style Spare Ribs,

* Other Recipes Used:

Printable Recipe Card for Honey-BBQ Oven-Baked Ribs:

Honey-BBQ Oven-Baked Ribs

  • 1 slab pork ribs, approximately 4 pounds (This recipe works best with pork ribs, not beef ribs. If you're not sure about the difference, check out this post.)
  • 2 Tablespoons honey
  • 2 Tablespoons barbecue sauce
  • 1 Tablespoon paprika
  • 2 Tablespoons brown sugar
  • ½ teaspoon salt
  1. Line a lipped baking sheet with aluminum foil. Place ribs, meaty side up, on foil.
  2. Combine honey and barbecue sauce in a small bowl. Brush sauce over ribs.
  3. Combine paprika, brown sugar, and salt in a small bowl. Sprinkle sugar mixture evenly over sauce on ribs. Using your fingers, rub sauce and sugar mixture around to evenly cover ribs.
  4. Bake ribs, uncovered, at 300 degrees for one hour.
  5. After one hour, loosely cover with aluminum foil. Bake for another 30-60 minutes, until ribs are fork-tender.
  6. Let stand for 3-5 minutes. Slice between ribs for single-bone sections.

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