Nothing beats tasty BBQ ribs on a warm summer afternoon. The aromatic smoke drifts out over the neighborhood, reminding us of the long summers of the past and of the days ahead. After years of both spectacular successes and failures, I have learned to develop several decent rib recipes. Honestly, all of that changed after I cooked ribs on a Pit Barrel Cooker. Sure, you can use this recipe on a gas grill, a pellet grill, or with real wood, and it will be great. But with the Pit Barrel it was goodbye dry ribs, goodbye crutch, and hello to a rich smoky flavor and the tastiest moist ribs I have ever had. All that plus less work.  How can you go wrong?

I prefer using baby back ribs but St. Louis ribs also work well. See Meathead’s amazing website to learn more about selecting the best ribs. Like any BBQ recipe, the biggest factor for successful cooking is selecting high-quality meat. With ribs, I don’t personally find this as much an issue as with steaks, brisket, or prime rib. Most ribs in the grocery stores are fairly decent. But I always remove the membrane from the underside before seasoning as it can be chewy and impede smoke and flavor penetration into the meat.

Prepping the Pit Barrel Cooker and Ribs

2015-05-25 12.53.47First, I follow Meathead’s guidelines to salt the meat using Dry Brining, which should happen prior to cooking. If you want to skip this step just include the salt in with the rub. I dry brine by sprinkling about 1/2 tsp of salt per lb. of meat an hour or two before cooking (there is no advantage for longer times) then throw it back in the refrigerator.

Next, fill the charcoal basket with charcoal and add several chunks of oak (or mesquite, or whatever you like). Place the basket at the bottom of the smoker and light the coals using your favorite method. At sea level let the coals burn for 20 min with the vent 1/4 of the way open (it will take longer and the vent needs to be open more at higher altitudes; see their website). A few minutes before you cook the ribs sprinkle the rub on the meat and rub it in. Then insert the hook in the meat several ribs down from the large end of the rack. This position prevents the small end from hanging too close to the coals and drying out.

Dry Rub:

  • 2 tbs brown sugar
  • 1 tbs paprika
  • 2 tsp mustard powder
  • 1 tsp black pepper
  • 1/2 tsp garlic powder
  • 1/2 tsp onion powder
  • 1/2 tsp cayenne pepper
  • 1/2 tsp ground cumin
  • 1/4 tsp white pepper
  • 1/2 tsp celery salt
  • Optional: 1-2 tsp rosemary powder
  • Optional: 1-2 tsp ginger powder
Ribs prepped and ready to be cooked.

Once the coals are ready, hang it in the cooker, put on the lid, and grab a cold beverage. Now the hard part starts: waiting! Because there really isn’t anything else you need to do. The barrel keeps the moisture in so no need to wrap in foil or use any other tricks to keep them moist. In my experience baby backs take about 3 hours (St. Louis a bit less). You can tell when they are ready using the bend test.

Bend test: bend the rack with your tongs. If the surface cracks they are ready. Too little and they are tough, too much and they fall apart on the bone. Photo by Meathead.
Joe’s Kansas City Bar-B-Que Sauce. $12 per 1/2 gallon

Now you have a decision to make: sauce or not to sauce? Many prefer their ribs right out of the cooker, then add sauce while they eat if at all. I prefer adding the sauce then throwing it back in the cooker for 10-30 min to caramelize the sauce.  To do this I pull the ribs out a bit early, typically at the 2:15-2:30 mark, and paint both sides with my favorite BBQ sauce, then put it back in for another 15-30 min. But, keep a close eye on the meat least the sauce burn and turn into a black mess (in less you like it that way; I do).

Sauces:  I have tried many sauces over the years, including several of my own, but after a visit to Kansas City the only one I use now is Oklahoma Joe’s Kansas City Bar-B-Que Sauce, which you can purchase online. It is the perfect mix of smoky and sweet and it works very well with ribs. Why do you think they’re world famous?

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Ribs after 2:30 in the cooker, ready for the sauce (or not!)

When ready, pull `em out and enjoy with corn on the cob, slaw, or Hawaiian mac salad (my personal favorite). Here’s what it looks like ( I like mine with some char):


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The taste: amazing! Enjoy.

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