Giving up on smoked ribs unless someone can help!!

Discussion in 'Pork' started by savvycountryboy, Aug 31, 2014.

  1. Newbie here. I have been smoking ribs for about 4 months. Pork Spare ribs and Baby Back Ribs. I don't mean every weekend. I mean 1 to 2 racks of ribs 2 to 4 times a week ,every week for my wife and I or family/friends.

    Anyways, I've hit a roadblock and I need some serious help or my wife is instructing me to give up. The more I look at it, I think there hasn't been something right from the beginning. I'll summarize it below. Any help is so appreciated, she may send you a Valentines day card.

    Meat - 2.5 to 3.5 pound slabs of pork spare ribs or baby back ribs.

    1 - I have a Brinkmann Trailmaster Smoker. I have used a oven thermometer to guage the "real" temperature during the cook. The smoker therm may say "300", but the real temp at the rib level is 250.

    2 - I use fresh pecan wood the first 1 hour of the smoke and then charcoal the rest. I tried using pecan for more than an hour and the smoke overpowers the ribs so based on feedback, one hour of heavy smoke does the work.

    3 - I usually cook at a temperature between 210 and 275. The average would be 250. That's based on the 50 degree difference between the smoker therm and the "real therm". So if my smoker therm says 300, I know it's 250. I double check that with the oven thermometer to make sure that stays consistent.

    4 - I always cook one pork spare rib and one baby back rib. Bought fresh. I mix it up and put a rub on one and not a rub on the other.

    5 - I smoke it for 1 hour in pecan wood

    6 - For the rest of the cook (Ill get into that below), I use charcoal from the Chimney Starter. I keep the temperature within that 210-275 range although it may dip up to 300/325 for 10-15 minutes before settling down.

    7 - After 3 total hours of cooking (1 in smoke and 2 without), I wrap one in foil with applejuice and a few tablespoons of butter and the other I don't wrap. Usually the baby backs are the ones I wrap but I vary it. I like to see the differnce between the two when it's all done and the taste pattern is much different for some reason. I've experiemented with peach pie filling (turned out very well) also.

    8 - I cook for another 2 hours in the foil and then unwrapWe are now at 5 total hours.  At this point, the ribs coming out of the foil are starting to pull away from the bone, usually on the ends. The ribs that were not wrapped are very slightly pulled back. The bend test here would not result in the appropriate bend on either rib.

    9 - This is the kicker: What I have found is that my ribs do not pass the "bend test" until they are cooked for another 1 to 3 hours. I won't put any sauce on them until I get a feel for their doneness using the bend test and that means a nice burgandy color when they come off the smoker without any of the black untasty carmelization.

    10 - That is a total of 6 to 10 hours. The average being almost 8. However, those ribs are SUPER good, some of the time there is a nice smoke ring but most of the time there isn't a smoke ring but rather the ribs are nice and red from top to bottom with a thin strand of gray in the meat. Not the best looking but very tasty. The ones that were in foil are close to "fall of the bone" usually and the ones not wrapped are easy to bite off the bone. You could eat them with just a few front teeth left. If I wanted them a bit less cooked, I would pull them off sooner for those who like to bite it off hard core. Everyone loves these ribs...even my wife thinks they are good. They are a bit fatty in spots but overall good.

    11 - I have experimented with eating the ribs at different times after the 5 hour cook mark to guage the taste and texture no matter what the bend test says. They are literally the best when they are in the 8 to 10 hour range but I'm finding this difficult to understand.

    Why does it take so long???

    12 - However, it's a 50/50 shot as to whether the ribs are fatty. I mean, fatty enough that I don't even want to eat them. The longer they cook, the less fat they have, but after 8 to 10 hours, I'm done cooking them and it's getting tiring.

    13 - The real kicker came last night: I did the same thing as above and out of 2 slabs, my wife and I could only eat 7 of them. That was 6.5 hours of cooking in the recommended range. Same size ribs. They had a beautiful smoke ring. Cut so easily. Not fall off the bone. But fatty as HELL. The dogs ate the rest. They loved it of course but now I'm tired of it. I dont' know what I'm doing wrong.

    14 - The best ribs I have ever make were cooked in foil with coke in an oven at 375 for two hours and then put over hot coals for an hour while flipping them. Those were truly the best but I refuse to give up...until now.

    Can anyone help this country boy? I am so truly trying to get this right but when I don't even want to eat them, I have no idea what to do. Is it me? Is it the cut of the meat? Is it me? I hate it when I buy ribs from the Rib Shack in town and he uses a rotisserie for one hour with pecan smoke and his are the best I've ever had, smoke ring and all.

    Thank you for any help. I've tried to give you all the info I have.

    Russ C.
  2. alblancher

    alblancher Master of the Pit Group Lead OTBS Member

    Just taking a shot at this but if it's taking 10 hours to cook ribs your temps are wrong.  If the meat if fatty you can either trim better or buy better ribs.

    I would consider smoking for 2-3 hours at 225  then wrapping in foil with apple juice and going into a 250 degree oven  until you get the tenderness and bend you are looking for.  Shouldn't be any more then 2 hrs and probably less for the smaller ribs.  You can take them out of the oven and go back on the smoker or grill to tighten them up and crisp the sauce a bit.  I think tenderness comes from the braising in the foil.

    Why not try this way first and if you get what you are looking for make adjustments to your smoker.

    Good luck and welcome to the forum
  3. tropics

    tropics Smoking Guru SMF Premier Member

    Russ welcome to SMF, I would recommend getting a Probe to monitor the temp, sound like a lot of heat is being lost, opening to check temp. making it take so long. As for the pecan wood use smaller pieces.

  4. daveomak

    daveomak Smoking Guru OTBS Member SMF Premier Member

    These beef short ribs, I did a couple days ago, could have had another hour or two to cook.... the meat has pulled back but not quite far enough.... 7-8 hours at 235 would have been perfect... They were good but still a little tough for Bride.. As far as the fat goes, without the fat, they would not have been good.... Fat is flavor...

    They sure look good to me.... Almost done....... 4 hours of Pitmasters Choice pellets from Todd...... 7 hours total cook time..... 2 hours at 120 ish.... crank the temp up to 235 and finish the cook/smoke cycle... dampers wide open so there is lots of air flow.... salt, pepper and Montreal Steak seasoning....

  5. mdboatbum

    mdboatbum Master of the Pit OTBS Member

    Sounds like we have similar taste in ribs. I absolutely loathe that fatty, greasy flavor from some ribs. What's worked for me is to trim off the rib tips, everything past the joint where the cartilage begins. I then use a little ginger or citric acid in my rub. Lastly I smoke them at 275-300. These three things have pretty much fixed the flavor part. The rib tips contain a lot of the fat, so removing them is a great start. The ginger and/or citric acid's bright flavor counteracts the heavy greasy flavor, and lastly the higher heat renders a lot more fat.
    I still don't nail it every time, such as the last time when I burnt the crap outta the ribs, but if I do my part correctly the odds are they'll turn out great. Good luck and keep trying!!
  6. Thanks for the reply everyone. I always believed it was the temperature too so I took the therm off the smoker and put in an oven thermometer and measure the temp at each level of the smoker along with the different areas of the smoker. What I found is that if the smoker therm that comes with the smoker says "300" at the top, then below the grate, it was 75 degrees lower using the oven therm and at the rib level, it was 50 degree lower. I've used that oven therm to check the oven before too and its accurate to the oven temp registered on the console. I cooked my last batch of ribs based on that oven therm temperature, not the stock smoker, and they turned out more tough and fatty than ever before.

    So we're saying a digital therm is even better? I'll get a digital therm next week and give it one more try.

    Also, as to the cut of meat, I'm not sure what to do about it. I've tried 4 different stores (from publix to walmart to a more traditional butcher shop to piggly wiggly). They all look the same for the most part. The ends are more fatty and I trim off what I can. If I cook it at higher temps according to the oven therm at the rib level (250/275), they turn out tougher and still fatty after 6 hours. If I cook them at lower (200/225) for 8 to 10 hours, they turn out a lot less fatty but pink all through the meat.

    As for the pecan wood, it's small. I have a pecan orchard in my yard (we live on a farm in the woods) so wood is easy to come by and it's always small enough to break against your knee.

    If it's as simple as everyone says, then this looks like I'm cooking them VERY low for 8 to 10 hours and they turn out respectable but with mainly pink meat OR I am cooking some crappy meat and there is no help for it unless I keep on cookng it a long time OR I'm just screwed up on the temperature reading altogether and I need a better measuring mechanism.

    I'll re-try the temperature thing first and sling another stash of cash at my attempts.

  7. damon555

    damon555 Smoking Fanatic

    You need to start from the beginning and keep it simple.....Smoke the ribs at a known temperature (forget the oven thermometer) using a quality probe to monitor the temps at the grate level that the ribs are on. Use the rub you want to use, put them on the smoker and don't bother opening it for at least 4 maybe 5 hours. No foiling, no spritzing, no turning, no poking, no prodding and no peaking at all.

    I'm not sure what you mean by smoking them with pecan for an hour and then using charcoal for the remainder of the cook. Are you not using charcoal all along?...There should always be some charcoal in there as that what provides the heat. Are you using chips? If you are switch over to chunks and mix a few fist sized pieces throughout the charcoal and just let them burn along with the other fuel.

    You've got so much going on that it's almost impossible to nail it down to one issue. I'm no expert but ribs are pretty straightforward if you stick to the basics.....And one last thing....I've had racks that took 8 hours to finish up, that's not out of the ordinary. Every rack is different. When you are smoking for a meal make sure you start them well in advance....letting them sit wrapped in foil in an insulated cooler will allow them to keep for quite some time.
    Last edited: Aug 31, 2014
  8. Oh, one thing on how I check temp.

    What I do is register the temp on the smoker using the stock smoker therm. I unscrew it (it's a small hole) and insert the oven therm as it has a long metal probe on it to get the real temperature. It's always a consistent difference. I do not open the smoker ever until I put in foil. So, the heat loss by opening isn't an issue. It get's opened 3 times in 8 hours at most.

  9. wade

    wade Master of the Pit OTBS Member SMF Premier Member

    I am the same. Biting into a fatty mass when eating ribs is not pleasant. To avoid this trim off any visible lumps of fat from the ribs and then, as Md says, trim off the rib tips at the bone/cartilage joint. Don't throw these tips away though as there is a lot of good tasty meat there - coat them with the same rub that you put on your ribs and cook them alongside. The 3:2:1 method is ideal for pork ribs and even the last 1 hour is not always required. Eat the ribs but let the cooked tips get cool. You can then easily pull the meat away from the fat and the cartilage and use it separately in other dishes or to create another BBQ pork dish to go with the ribs.
  10. wood river bbq

    wood river bbq Smoke Blower

    Savycountryboy: I think the quality of any product you cook will improve once you determine the ACTUAL temperature you're cooking at and that's impossible to determine with a bi-metal thermometer's you're using. Those gauges are 1800's technology and can be off by plus or minus 50*. Also, the thermometer on your cooker is in the wrong place -- you don't care what the temperature is at the top of the cook chamber, you want to know the temp at the level of the meat.

    You should take a look at Maverick brand which has models that will measure the both the internal temperature of the meat and the temperature in the cook chamber. For thinner pieces of meat I use a THERMOPEN, which I also use on thicker pieces of meat. These digital thermometer are not cheap but ruining meat is an expensive process also. 

    I really don't know what to say about the quality of the rib's you're buying. I never thought I'd say this but the best ribs I've cooked have been purchased from Walmart!! I kind of sort through them to get the best looking ones. Another thing that I found works is to make friends with the butcher where you shop. My butcher gets a $25 bonus every time I fill out "good service" card. He can't do enough for me. He knows I'm smoking the product and he gives me good cuts. I rarely buy stuff out of the case, except at Walmart.
  11. Okay. It's settled.

    Buying digital therm

    Trimming fat with more thought involved and bribing the butcher at Salt Lick to spend some quality time with me.

    And trying this one more time.

    Guys, thanks for helping me sort through this. My wife is reading it with me and she's willing to let me spend another 100 bucks to get it right.

    I'll keep you up to date on the progress.

    Thanks again!

  12. oldschoolbbq

    oldschoolbbq Smoking Guru OTBS Member

    Countryboy , hello.[​IMG]

    Here'sa look at my easy Ribs :

    Baby Backs , rubbed and placed on a 225*F Smoker and left for 4hrs.(I start smelling them then) 


    When poked with a toothpick and they are about ready, I then put one individual pack of Turbinato Sugar on each one  and

    they come out like this . Spares takes 5hrs. then the sugar , and maybe an hour more...

      then when they break like this when you pick them up with tongs in the middle of the rack  . . .

    this , they are done...[​IMG]

    Have fun and . . .
  13. wood river bbq

    wood river bbq Smoke Blower

    One last point -- seal up that sucker for air leaks as best you can. Check out some of the mods others have made to your smoker. The more air tight you get your rig the more efficient it will become. The best digital thermometer won't help you with air leaks. All they'll do is register the temperature fluctuation and you'll be chasing your target temperature and wasting fuel.

    Don't give up on your rig -- it might take a few times to get it right. Smoking is a learning experience and once you master your beast you'll love the product it produces. 

    After you purchase the thermometers, then tell your wife you need to spend a few more $$$ for a couple of mods -- less than $30 should do it. Check out the "tuning plate mods" which will be a big help in evening out your cook temperature from side to side.

    Keep punching , mate!! 
  14. Commented on wrong thread.
    Last edited: Aug 31, 2014
  15. Find an experienced smoker who lives in your area (one with lots of toys like calibrated remote digital thermometers).  You didn't give what area you are in, so I have no clue who to suggest you work with.  If others are commenting you are "oversmoked", what they likely mean is you have too much of the wrong type of smoke.  The ideal "thin blue smoke" can be carried through the entire process without creating an undesirable, acrid, bitter, over-smoked flavor.  White billowy smoke is bad news.  Throwing a bunch of wood on, before the coal bed is established gives you the wrong type of smoke. 

    Now, the fire:

    Consider getting a good bed of charcoal going, have your grill near temperature near the desired temp, then and add small (2-3 inch across, 8-10 inch long) splits of pecan one at a time.  As the previous split is nearly consumed, add another.  Keep the next split in the fire box, but not in the fire.  Ideally, you want a small-hot fire, not a massive half-smothered bed. 

    Please give your rub recipe.  From what you posted I cannot tell if it is a factor. 

    Best of luck, Ribs can be mastered.
    Last edited: Aug 31, 2014

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