Smoked Baby Back Ribs on a Pellet Grill (Better than 3-2-1)

Two delicious versions of slow-smoked baby back ribs: flavor-rich dry ribs seasoned with pork rub and tender sticky ribs glazed with homemade BBQ sauce.
baby back ribs on a pellet grill

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Ask anyone what their favorite BBQ food is and most people say pork ribs (with brisket and pulled pork coming in a close second and third).

Then ask them how they like them and you can split the room. Some love their ribs dry where you get a more pure pork taste complemented by the dry rub while others like a sticky wet glaze.

Today I’ll show you how to do both styles of ribs on a pellet grill using baby back ribs. 

Smoked pork ribs

There are so many recipes and procedures out there trying to explain a simple formula on how to create the perfect rib.

The problem with attaching a timed formula to a piece of meat is that each set of ribs comes off a different animal. The quality and size can result in vastly different cooking times.

Rather than going off a timed formula like the 321 method, I suggest using your eyes and touch as a guide.

I think my method is just as easy as the 3-2-1 method, but gives you better results.

Once you have your smoker ready and your ribs rubbed with seasoning. You will place them in your smoker. 

You need to smoke the ribs for long enough to allow the rub to set and for a rich mahogany color to develop.

You can tell the rub has set by rubbing your finger on the rub. When it doesn’t come off you can move to the next step. This usually takes around an hour and a half. 

At this point, you will wrap the ribs in foil with a mixture of sugars and butter and allow the ribs to cook until tender to the touch. When you can insert a probe without any resistance into the meat between the bones they are ready. This should roughly take a further hour. 

Once your ribs are at this stage, you can either dry them up if you like dry style ribs or you can glaze them if you like wet ribs. You do this by unwrapping the foil they lay in and putting them back in the smoker for a further 15 minutes.

So the basic formula you want to follow is:

  1. Smoke for color and until the rub doesn’t scratch off (roughly 1 and a half hours)
  2. Wrap for tenderness, the meat should probe without any resistance (roughly 1 hour)
  3. Glaze or dry out (15 minutes)

The key here is that you are cooking with your senses and adjusting the times. You will never have over or under cooked ribs again.

I smoked my ribs at 300°F, if you use a lower temp of 225°F, understandably this will add more time to your cook

Equipment you will need

How to smoke pork ribs in a pellet smoker

1. Rib selection and trim

There are 3 main styles of ribs to choose from when cooking pork ribs. They are spare ribs, St. Louis Style ribs which are just trimmed spare ribs, and finally, baby back ribs.

I have opted for baby back ribs for this recipe, although you can use any cut of rib and they will turn out just as perfect.

uncooked baby back pork ribs on a plastic board
Baby back ribs are faster to cook, but you can experiment with any type of pork ribs

Baby back ribs come from beneath the loin muscle and are connected to the backbone. They are also a lot smaller in size compared to spare ribs and St Louis Style ribs, hence the term baby. 

I like them as they are a perfect size to handle, they cook faster than spare ribs, and I just love the flavor.

To trim ribs you need to firstly remove the membrane that is attached to the bones. If left on you will get a chewy finish to your ribs and it also stops any seasoning from penetrating the bone side of the meat.

a man removing membrane from pork ribs
Using a paper towel will provide a better grip when removing the membrane

Use a butter knife to peel back the corner of the membrane, then grip with a paper towel and you should be able to pull it off in one go. 

Then it is a matter of trimming off any excess fat that may be on the ribs and also shaping them to an even thickness, so they cook evenly along the entire rack.

2. Get the smoker ready

You can make this recipe in any smoker, or even on a gas grill with the right setup. I like using a pellet grill because of the consistent temperatures and ease of operation so I can focus on perfecting the flavors. 

If you are using a pellet grill you’ll need to make sure the hopper is filled with enough wood pellets to smoke your ribs. 

smoke coming from the Z Grills 700 pellet smoker
It only takes 8 to 12 minutes to set up a pellet grill for smoking

Set your smoker to 300°F and allow it to come up to temperature. All up it takes around 8 to 12 minutes to be ready to smoke, depending on the model of smoker you are using.

3. Smoking the baby back ribs

Once the smoker is ready at 300°F and you have your ribs rubbed with your choice of pork rub. You can place them into the pellet smoker and close the lid.

seasoned pork baby back ribs on a metal baking tray
Make sure that dry rub covers all sides of the rack

You will want to check them for color and see if there are any overly dry areas on the rub. If there are dry areas, give a quick spritz of a 50/50 mix of apple juice and apple cider vinegar. And close the lid and let the ribs smoke away for a further 30 minutes.

After an hour and a half, your ribs should have a deep mahogany color on them and if you rub a finger on the ribs, the seasoning shouldn’t come off. This means they are ready for the wrap stage.

spritzing baby back ribs on a pellet grill
If you see any dry spots during the first part of the cook, just give the ribs a quick spritz

To wrap your ribs, you will need 2 sheets of foil per rack of ribs. Due to the bones, they can be sharp and if you pierce the foil, you have a secondary layer of protection to hold in the valuable juices.

You will want to add some brown sugar, maple syrup, honey, butter and some of the spritz to the foil and lay the ribs meat side down on the wrapping ingredients.

Fold up the foil and make sure you have the ribs tightly wrapped to prevent air pockets and any chance of steaming the ribs.

ribs wrapped in foil and a saucepan with bbq sauce on a pellet grill
Save time and place your BBQ sauce on the grill to cook while smoking ribs wrapped in foil

These then go back into the smoker for an hour. At this time you can put all of the sauce/glaze ingredients into a heat-proof pot and stir them up and place in the smoker to thicken up and allow the sugars to dissolve.

After an hour, unwrap the ribs and stick a probe into the meat between the bones and if there is no resistance, they are ready for the next stage.

glazing smoked baby back ribs with bbq sauce
Before finishing the ribs in the smoker, glaze one rack with BBQ sauce

Take them out of the smoker and fold up the edges of the foil to create a boat for each rack of ribs. Flip them over showing the meat side. One rack of ribs you will glaze with the sauce we had in the smoker for the last hour and the other rack of ribs we will leave them be.

Place both racks in their foil boats back in the smoker for 15 minutes. In 15 minutes the glaze will set and the dry ribs will crust back up.

smoked baby back ribs on a pellet grill
Give ribs the last 15 minutes in the smoker for the glaze to set and develop a crust

4. Serving ribs

After 15 minutes, the ribs can be sliced into individual ribs and served. 

Brushing the wet glazed ribs with a little more warmed-up glaze.

slicing smoked baby back ribs
Slice each rack into individual ribs and enjoy on its own or pair with your favorite BBQ side dishes

They will pair perfectly with any BBQ sides like potato salad, slaw, etc.

The hardest thing to do is decide if you prefer wet or dry-style ribs.

Try these other rib recipes

baby back ribs on a pellet grill

Smoked Baby Back Ribs on a Pellet Grill

Two delicious versions of slow-smoked baby back ribs: flavor-rich dry ribs seasoned with pork rub and tender sticky ribs glazed with homemade BBQ sauce.
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Course: Main Course
Prep Time: 20 minutes
Cook Time: 2 hours 45 minutes
Total Time: 3 hours 5 minutes
Servings: 6
Calories: 929kcal
Author: Dean “Schuey” Schumann

Ingredients

  • 2 rack baby back ribs

Spritz:

  • ¼ cup apple cider vinegar
  • ¼ cup apple juice

Dry rub:

  • 8 tbsp smoked paprika
  • 6 tbsp brown sugar
  • 2 tbsp kosher salt
  • 2 tbsp black pepper
  • 1 tbsp ground cumin
  • 1 tbsp mustard powder
  • 1 tbsp garlic powder
  • 1 tbsp onion powder
  • ¼ tsp hot cayenne pepper

Wrap (per rack):

  • 3 tbsp brown sugar
  • 2 tbsp honey
  • 1 tbsp maple syrup
  • 4 tbsp unsalted butter (room temp)
  • 1 tbsp spritz (apple cider vinegar and apple juice)

BBQ sauce (glaze):

  • 1 cup ketchup
  • 1 ½ cup apple juice
  • ½ cup apple cider vinegar
  • ½ cup brown sugar
  • 4 tbsp Worcestershire sauce
  • 2 tsp garlic powder
  • 3 tsp onion powder
  • 1 tsp salt
  • ½ tsp black pepper
  • ¼ tsp cayenne pepper

Instructions

  • Trim the ribs by removing the membrane from the bones.
  • Then trim of any excess fat and even out the thickness of the ribs if overly disproportioned.
  • Cover the ribs with a dry rub.
  • Set up your pellet smoker to be smoking at 300°F.
  • Once at temp, place the ribs in the smoker and leave for an hour.
  • After an hour check for any dry spots, if dry – spritz.
  • Once the ribs have been smoking for an hour and a half, check the color for nice rich mahogany and test to see if the rub can be scratched off with your finger. If not, time to wrap.
  • Wrap each rack meat side down in 2 layers of foil, along with wrap ingredients.
  • Place back in the smoker for an hour.
  • Mix up wet glaze ingredients in a heatproof pot and place in the smoker to warm up and thicken.
  • After the ribs have been wrapped for an hour, check for tenderness with a probe, if they are tender, remove them from the smoker.
  • Roll up the edges of the foil to create a boat for each rack of ribs. Flip both racks over to expose the meat.
  • Glaze one rack with the wet glaze that has been warming in the smoker and leave the other rack to crust up.
  • Place the ribs back in the smoker for 15 minutes.
  • After 15 minutes remove them from the smoker, slice and enjoy.

Serve with:

  • BBQ sides like potato salad and slaw.
  • On their own.

Nutrition

Sodium: 3382mg | Calcium: 188mg | Vitamin C: 5mg | Vitamin A: 5414IU | Sugar: 75g | Fiber: 5g | Potassium: 1183mg | Cholesterol: 171mg | Calories: 929kcal | Trans Fat: 1g | Saturated Fat: 21g | Fat: 48g | Protein: 40g | Carbohydrates: 89g | Iron: 6mg
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