8 Steps to Total BBQ Rib Nirvana

Ribs are right there in our name: AmazingRibs.com. We're crazy for incredible ribs and have plenty of rib recipes, smoking techniques, equipment recommendations, and mythbusting secrets throughout the site.

But we know sometimes you just want to see the highlight reel instead of watching the whole game. Sometimes you just want the key points. No problem. Yes, you can find a slew of mouthwatering rib recipes here on the site, including our famous Last Meal Ribs recipe. And you can find out all about National BBQ Ribs Day (July 4th) here. But if you want to reach total rib nirvana, here are the key steps you need to take.


  1. Select the Right Ribs for You

Among pork ribs, you'll come across three distinct cuts -- baby backs, spareribs, and St. Louis style or center cut. Baby backs are directly attached to the backbone of the pig, and they are the most tender and leanest ribs with most of the meat on top of the bones. Spareribs extend out from the baby backs and run all the way down to the chest of the pig. St. Louis Cut ribs are spareribs with the tips removed to create a nice rectangular rack. Spareribs and St. Louis ribs are the meatiest and most flavorful, and most of their meat is located between the bones. What about country-style ribs? They are misnamed. These are really pork chops and should be cooked differently than real ribs. For more info, check out our guide to pork cuts here.

Among beef ribs, you can opt either for the ultra-meaty plate ribs (i.e. ribs taken from the short plate next to the flank steak, often referred to as dinosaur ribs due to their mass) or the more flavorful, less meaty, back ribs (the ribs found in a prime rib roast). Learn more about various beef cuts here.

  1. Remove the Membrane

If the butcher has not already removed the paper-thin sheer membrane from the underside of your rack of ribs, do it yourself. When cooked, the membrane gets leathery and hard to chew, it keeps fat in, and it keeps sauce out. To remove it, insert a butter knife under the membrane to lift it up, then insert your fingers, work a section loose, grip it with a paper towel, and peel it off like a sticker. Finally, trim the excess fat from both sides of the rack. Need more details on removing the membrane. Get them here.

  1. Slather Up

Some cooks like to use mustard under their dry rub to help hold the spices onto the ribs. Instead, AmazingRibs.com’s Clint Cantwell suggests using a thin layer of mayonnaise since “it is mostly fat and fat is flavor!” Amen.

  1. Season It

The seasonings, usually a spice rub, should fuse onto the meat's surface and enhance the meat, but not overwhelm it. For pork ribs, use kosher salt before adding your spice rub. At AmazingRibs.com, we recommend pre-salting meats 1-2 hours in advance to allow the salt to be fully absorbed, a process known as dry brining (read more about dry brining here), which enhances the juiciness of meat. Note that if you do dry brine, you'll want to avoid commercial spice rubs that contain salt. Instead, for a flavorful homemade salt-free rub like Meathead’s Memphis Dust. For beef ribs, a simple kosher salt and cracked black pepper blend is best.

  1. Smoke It

Add about 4 ounces of dry wood to your cooker for at least the first hour of cooking. Do not soak the wood! This is a myth that is fully debunked by AmazingRibs.com here.Put the wood as close to the flame as possible. The goal is to produce just enough smoke to complement the ribs and rub while avoiding a harsh, overpowering smoke flavor.

  1. Aim Low

The ideal cooking temp is about 225°F, hot enough to brown the surface, develop a crusty bark, and melt fat and collagens without making the meat tough. If you are not using a smoker, set up a gas or charcoal grill for 2-zone cooking using our complete guide here and cook the ribs on the indirect heat side of the grill. How long do they cook? On most cookers, when the oven temp is 225°F at sea level, it takes about three to four hours to cook a slab of baby backs and about five to six hours to cook a slab of St. Louis cut ribs or spares. At higher cooking temperatures, decrease the cooking time.

  1. Wrap If You Must

This optional trick (a.k.a. The Texas Crutch which you can read more about here) involves wrapping the slab of ribs in foil with about an ounce of water for up to an hour during the cook to speed along the process and tenderize the meat a bit. Almost all barbecue ribs competition cooks use the Texas Crutch to get an edge. But the improvement is really slight and, at AmazingRibs.com, we never bother with it for backyard cooking. If you crutch too long, you can turn the meat to mush and time in foil can soften the bark and remove a lot of rub.

  1. Sauce At The End

The sauce, if you use it at all, must remain subtle so as to not overwhelm the other flavors. Rib sauce is usually rich and slightly sweet to counterbalance the saltiness of the rub with a zippy pepperiness and acidic bite to counterbalance the sweetness. When adding sauce to ribs, be sure to do so only in the last few minutes of cooking, allowing just enough time for the sauce to become tacky but not long enough for the sugars in it to start to burn. One or two coats is enough. Don’t hide the flavors of the pork, rub, and smoke. Alternatively, you can skip the sauce altogether and serve them “dry,” or Memphis-style, allowing the meat, smoke, and rub to be the stars of the show. Learn more about the strategies for using sauce here.

saucing smoked bbq ribs

Dave Joachim

AmazingRibs.com Editor David Joachim has authored, edited, or collaborated on more than 45 cookbooks including four on barbecue and grilling, making him a perfect match for a website dedicated to the “Science of Barbecue and Grilling.” His Food Science column has appeared in "Fine Cooking" magazine since 2011. 

What people say about us

"The world’s leading outdoor cooking resource." Larry Olmsted, Forbes.com

"An amazing compendium of barbecue knowledge." Aaron Franklin, Franklin Barbecue, Austin

"I was crowned World Brisket Champion at the Jack Daniels World Championships using your Big Bad Beef Rub. Your site has played a pivotal role in my development." John Lattuca, WeekendWarriorBBQ, Montreal, Canada

"This meal was as memorable as my first sex, only better." Marie Overholt, San Francisco, CA

"The BBQ community is so extremely fortunate to have someone as passionate and articulate as you." Frank Ostini, Chef Winemaker, Hitching Post II Restaurant & Winery, Buellton, CA

"I adapted your brisket rub recipe this summer and my customers love it (8,000 pounds served in 6 months)! My brisket even won 'best beef' in the Sonoma County Harvest Fair." Chef Larry Vito, BBQ Smokehouse, Sebastapol, CA

"Meathead is the best writer covering this part of the culinary world." John Markus, Producer, BBQ Pitmasters TV show

"The Rosetta Stone of BBQ." Bill Lamb

"I got laid last night because of your pastrami" Name withheld for obvious reasons

"Knowledgeable, smart, hilarious, and self-effacing." Laurel Stone

"I have worked as a professional cook in high end French restaurants for several years, so when I hit the internet looking for some BBQ info, I was really pleased to find an in depth and expansive site that had all the tips I was looking for." Aaron Ettlin, Portland, OR

"A Famous Dave's commercial came on claiming the best ribs in the world, and my honey shook his head and said, 'nope, it's right here.' Many, many thanks!" Red Taylor, San Francisco, CA

"We had a fantastic season winning two Grand Championships and five Reserve Grand Championships. I always appreciate referring to your site. Thanks." Steve, Grills Gone Wild, IA

"I have always loved cooking ribs but with our new gas grill they were never as good as charcoal. Well that all changed last night when I made the greatest ribs I have ever tasted. My wife wanted to know if I bought them somewhere and then claimed I cooked them myself." Allen Nicley, Mont Alto, PA

"The Memphis Dust and the pulled pork are excellent! I had to dang near run people out of my house!" Aswad Johnson

"I was about to buy a new smoker. After reading your article about setting up a horizontal smoker, I decided to try rehabilitating something the previous owner of my house left in the backyard. Total investment: $100. I figure I saved at least $500!" Coleman Shelton, Calvert City, KY

"Amazingribs.com is the most information packed barbecue site known to man." Pitmaster and BBQ Columnist George Hensler

"AmazingRibs.com is the world's go-to place for a barbecue treasure house of reliable information." Ardie "Remus Powers" Davis, author of numerous barbecue books

"This is my new go-to method for prime rib." Candy Weaver, President, Kansas City Barbeque Society

"We've won five Grand Championships and two Reserve Championships in the past three months. Learned much about BBQ from you and wanted to give you credit." Harry Soo, SlapYoDaddyBBQ.com

"The Alton Brown of Que." Joe Mizrahi, Smokin' Joe's, NYC

"I have always loved to travel and eat. Life became boring when I had to give up my worldly adventures. Thanks to you I now love to cook. I am now having adventures at home in my kitchen and my back yard. I am no longer bored, and my large family is grateful too. Thank you so much." Dugan Hoeflinger, Tucson, AZ

"I am in the process of opening a cafe and thought your simple sweet sour slaw is an amazing winner." James Murray, Toronto

"I had two ribs and my boyfriend ate the other 3 1/2 pounds. He couldn't stop to talk. He had to bring a box of tissues to the table because these ribs are so good they make him weep. He tells me that my ribs have deepened his love for me. Well, fine, but I know that just means he wants more ribs." Nancy J. Mostad, Minnesota




Many merchants pay us a small referral fee when you click our links and purchase from them. On Amazon it works on everything from grills to diapers, they never tell us what you bought, and it has zero impact on the price you pay, but has a major impact on our ability to improve this site! And remember, we only recommend products we love. If you like AmazingRibs.com, please save this link and use it every time you go to Amazonhttps://tinyurl.com/amazingribs

...some HTML for the first variant...



Get Smoke Signals, our free e-letter. No spam. Guaranteed

Enter your email:

If you love barbecue and grilling, get a FREE 30-day membership in our Pitmaster Club. We can up your game.

  • FREE 30 day trial membership.
  • Sneak previews of Meathead’s new book.
  • We block ads from members.
  • Real community. No politics. No flame wars.
  • Monthly newsletter.
  • Video seminars with famous pitmasters.
  • Weekly podcasts with Greg Rempe.
  • Weekly BBQ cartoons by Jerry King.
  • Comprehensive Temperature Guide Magnet ($10 retail).
  • Monthly giveaways of Gold Medal grills and smokers worth up to $2000.
  • Discounts on products we love.
  • Support for AmazingRibs.com!

Lookit what our members are cooking:

Post comments and questions below


1) Please try the table of contents or the search box at the top of every page before you ask for help.

2) Try to post your question to the appropriate page.

3) Tell us everything we need to know to help such as the type of cooker and thermometer. Dial thermometers are often off by as much as 50°F so if you are not using a good digital thermometer we probably can't help you with time and temp questions. Please read this article about thermometers.

4) If you are a member of the Pitmaster Club, your comments login is probably different.

5) Posts with links in them may not appear immediately.


Click to ask questions and make comments