Tuesday, June 7, 2011

How to Cook Baby Back Ribs with an Electric Smoker

Uncooked Ribs

My husband is the World's Best Barbecue Guy. OK, maybe I've exaggerated a little but we do have some neighbors and friends that would agree with me. We barbecue, grill and use our smoker year round no matter what the temperature. For years we used a traditional smoker. For those of you not in- the-know this method uses wood and charcoal to smoke meat. This is called indirect heat which means that the meat is not directly over a flame or other heat source.
Smoking any kind of meat takes an extraordinary amount of time and patience (ribs take about 6 hours). With traditional smokers you have to tend to them very often or your temperature won't be maintained to cook the meat properly. With an electric smoker, once you get the temperature to where it needs to be you can basically leave it alone with a few checks every once in a while.
On a whim, I bought my husband an inexpensive electric smoker at a local outdoor store. It cost us a little over $100 and works well.  As with anything, there are some more expensive ones out there that may be pretty nice to use and we may upgrade one day soon.
Some would call this method the easy way out and to some extent that is true. However, we were so amazed at the time savings and ease of use we were hooked after one use. Not to mention the finished product was out of this world! You don't have to be an expert barbecue guy or gal to master this method of cooking. Just a little knowledge should do the trick.

Removing the membrane

Preparing the Meat

We used baby back ribs for illustration as our preference. You can find baby back pork ribs easily in any grocery store or meat market. We used 2 racks because that is what it takes to feed our family of 3 with some leftovers.
1. Take the meat out of the package and place on a clean, workable surface. Don't forget you are working with raw meat so you need a surface that can be disinfected.
2. Turn the rack bone side up and remove the membrane. The best way is to start in the corner and pull gently but firmly like you are peeling off a large piece of tape. The membrane does not make for good eating and once removed will give the meat more exposed surface area to cook.

Seasoning the Meat

Seasoning the Meat

Some would say this is even more important than cooking the meat. We use a dry rub that we make on our own. You can easily buy a dry rub mixture already prepared at any food store. The term dry rub means dry seasonings that are rubbed into the meat for flavor.
1. Preparing the rub. You can be creative in making your own rub. The possibilities are endless. Or you can skip this step and buy it. There are some very good rubs on the market. We prefer to make our own using the following ingredients:
Coarse Kosher Salt, Pepper (grind it yourself), Ground Cumin, Hot Mexican Style Chili Powder, Garlic Powder, Onion Powder, Ground Cayenne Red Pepper and Paprika.
This mixture is pretty spicy so beware if you don't like heat.
2. Rub it in. Sprinkle and gently rub (the rub) into the meat. Remeber to season both sides for a full flavor.
Water and wood chips
Temperature Control

Preparing the smoker

Now the meat is ready to smoke. With a few easy steps you can have the electric smoker ready to receive the meat.   Each smoker probably varies a little but the basic layout should be the same.
1. Put the wood chips in the smoking box. You can use many different kinds of wood to smoke with. These are all readily available where you purchase BBQ supplies.  We prefer mesquite but that might be because my husband is from Texas.
2. Add clean tap water to the container provided.
3. Plug it in and turn it on.  Set the heat to low initially and let the smoker heat up a few minutes before placing the meat on the rack.
Positioning the meat

Smoking the meat

1. Now it's time to put the meat in the smoker. It doesn't matter what racks you use just as long as the meat fits.
2. Close the door and leave the temperature on low.
3. Check it in about 15- 30 minutes and see how the temperature is rising. You want to get the thermometer to 225 degrees and leave it there. This may require adjustment from time to time (once an hour or so). Remember, only move the temperature gauge in small increments and check it again about 10-15 minutes later. You shouldn't need to make big adjustments.
4. Once the temperature is at 225 degrees the ribs need to cook for about 6 hours or until the meat starts to come away from the bones. You can open the door periodically to take a peek. The temperature will get back 225 degrees pretty quickly after the door is opened.

The finished product
See how the meat pulls away from the bone

Dig In

Pull the ribs out of the smoker and let them rest for about 15 minutes. You can eat them without adding anything at all (dry) or you can make them "wet" by adding some barbecue sauce. We like the mustard based Sticky Fingers and the sauce by the famous Memphis TN restaurant Rendezvous. The possibilities here are endless depending on your taste.
I hope this has inspired you to go out and cook a few racks of ribs. You can also consider cooking just about any meat such as chicken, roast beef, or ham. Fish, such as salmon, is also a smoking favorite. There are many good books on the subject that can give more guidelines and yummy recipes.  And, of course, lots of web resources.
Good luck and get smoking!


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