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I've been having difficulty learning to do ribs low and slow. I did figure out how to trim a slab. But getting them BBQed properly has been difficult. I've wondered if I haven't gone long enough, since it has seemed that my Boston butts take a lot longer than they should, and maybe ribs need extra time in Utah County too. It seems from what I hear that it's hard to go too long, but easy to go too short. So I did an experiment, and it confused me more.

I cut a slab into thirds. I put them on the Weber kettle, using my Smokenator. One of the sections I cooked 3-2-1 with the meat side up. One section I cooked 4-1-1 with the meat side up. One section I just left on without foil. At four hours I cut a rib off the unfoiled section. The meat was done, and the rib was really good. I wanted to eat the rest then, but science demanded restraint. At five hours I cut another rib off the unfoiled section, and it was fine. At six hours the other two sections were ready according to the clock, and I took them in for a family taste test. Opinions were divided on which was better (there wasn't a lot of difference between the foiled sections, although the 3-2-1 seemed more tender, but not falling off the bone as I'd expected). At seven hours I checked an unfoiled rib I'd left behind, and it was tender and good although it seemed the texture had changed some, kind of crinkly.

So, especially with the altitude, everything I have read says to go five or six hours, even with foil. But at least with this slab, four without foil was good too. Amazing Ribs says two hours in foil makes them mushy, but the 3-2-1 ribs seemed to firm up to me. I'm having a hard time concluding that there is a correct answer, and maybe whether ribs are good is just a matter of how good the meat is to start with (I suspect some $1.20 a pound spares I got locally a couple of times, which didn't turn out, may have been low priced for a reason). Does anyone have success with four hour unfoiled ribs?

Edit: Cooked in the general ballpark of 220.


There are so many variables that can effect how your ribs come out. You don't say the heat you used. I would say that 4 hours ribs are on the fast side of the time table. I have done ribs in 4 hours but I think it is too short of time at standard smoking temps.

Instead of foil, I use a water tray to keep the moisture in sometimes. If I am just cooking for pleasure I hardly ever use the foil.

But really, all food is done when it is done. It sounds like you are new to smoking and I would bet that you commit the biggest mistake of all "opening the lid to see if your meat has left the smoker".

Keeping the lid down will help your times more then anything. Avoid checking on your meat! Once you learn to keep the lid closed it will help you to be more consistent with your cooking times.
Spares that aren't trimmed can take 6 - 7 hours, trimmed St Louis style 5 - 6 unfoiled and not messed with.
I take it back. I don't think I figured out how to trim a slab. I know how to remove the skirt. I know how to peel the membrane. But when I trim my slabs I first feel for the ends of the ribs, and then cut along them. However, this does not make a rectangular slab. It makes a slab that's taller at one end than the other, as the ribs get shorter as one goes down the slab. Seems like that leaves a lot of the slab going into one end of the rib tips, too. Anyway, the slabs I've seen in pictures of competitions seem pretty much rectangular. I can cut a rectangle. But then the end where the shorter ribs are, is going to have some weird cartilaginous stuff in it, or something, up above where the rib ends; on that end it isn't going to be just a rib with meat on each side. So what's the deal with this? Trim to rib ends, or trim straight across?
Interesting post. You started this questioning almost three years ago and still having issues. First off: yes you will have a tapered rack of ribs because the rack starts at short bones and goes to longer bones. The reason we cut square racks in contests is because the judge never eats the end of the rib bone, only a bite or two off the center but for turn in we want the six ribs the same length. To cut away the cords from the ribs you will need to cut right to the end of the bone.
First of all guys, thanks for the above info, and I do agree on all points. I would also like to add a few things that over the years I have had to explain. Ribs, like all of the meats we cook will have variations in weight. Ribs come in weights from 4 1/2 and down 3 1/2 and down 2 1/2 and down and 1 1/2 and down. The less weights being baby backs of course. When you buy a pack of ribs usually containing tree racks, the finishing time will differ between the tree. Naturally this has a great bearing on your finishing times, and temperature. Also cooking with the number system opening, and closing the lid, some do it fast, some take there time, which has a great effect on your pit temperature recovery time. I would say, cooking in Utah County is no different than cooking in the Salt Lake Valley. Whatever times and temperature works best, and produces the end product that your looking for should answer your question. When cooking competition ribs it's what the judges are looking for, and I'm still trying to dial that in, LOL! Have fun, and let us know how your next cook comes out.
Here is my take on full spares vs St Louis cut. With the economy the way it is, the cost a fuel and feed to raise these pigs, slaughter and transportation cost farmer are taking these pigs to slaughter sooner, thus a smaller skinnier pig which gives us a very small rack after WE trim it. Larger pigs are slaughtered and pre cut into St Louis spare then sold.

Hope this helps

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