Rinse the racks of ribs under cold running water and blot dry with paper towels. Remove the membrane from the back of the ribs. The membrane is a thin, white looking skin on the back of each rack of ribs. This membrane can block out the flavor, because it creates a barrier against the seasoning. To remove the membrane, lay the ribs onto a flat surface so that the curve of the ribs point up at you. Using a sharp knife, peel the membrane from one corner near the bone. Pull across the rack with firm steady pressure. If it tears, just pull up and continue where it tore off. Rinse and pat the ribs dry again. Combine all the ingredients for the rub in a small bowl (make sure to work out any clumps from the brown sugar for even distribution); stir to mix. Rub the seasonings onto both sides of the racks. If you have time, wrap the racks in plastic wrap and let it cure in the refrigerator for at least 4 hours or as long as overnight. Smoking the ribs right away is ok, but sitting in the refrigerator for several hours allows the rub to penetrate the meat.
Prep the Grill or Smoker:
Smoking is a form of indirect cooking and usually takes place over a period of hours over low temperatures. Set up your smoker for what is called the burn-down method. To do this, fill the charcoal bed with unlit coals and add only a few lit coals to the very top. The coals on top slowly light the ones underneath and burn down slowly over time. Soak a few handfuls hickory wood chunks for about 30 minutes in warm water before placing atop the coals. Alternate placing soaked wood and dry wood. Preheat the grill or smoker from 225 to 250 degrees F. To maintain this low temperature, use only half as much charcoal as usual. (A half chimney-full.)
Smoking the ribs:
When the smoker or grill is the ideal temperature range, you are ready to smoke, place the rib ribs into the grilling rack over indirect heat; toss a hand full of the soaked wood chunks and some dry wood chunks onto the coals and cover the grill. Bring the temperature up to 225 degrees F, using the vents to regulate the temperature. Knowing the temp in your grill is crucial, so if your grill doesn’t have a temperature gauge, purchase a digital BBQ thermometer. You will need to add fresh coals and more wood chunks to each side of the grill every hour for at least the first 4 hours. Low and slow: Check the temperature of the grill every hour, staying as close to 225 degrees F as possible. Resist the temptation to open the lid. Only open the charcoal door or the lid if you need to add more charcoal or soaked wood chips to maintain temperature and smoke. After at least 4 hours, check the temperature of the meat to see where it is and get an idea of how much more time it will need to smoke.
Test for doneness:
According to the USDA, ribs are considered done when they have reached an internal temperature of 145 degrees F. If you use a meat thermometer, you be careful not to take the reading from the bone. Smoke the ribs until a dark ‘bark’ (outside crust) forms, the meat starts to draw away from the bone and the temperature of the smoker has remained constant for, about 5 to 6 hours. You can also crack them to test for doneness. To do this, use a pair of tongs, pick up the slab of ribs; bounce the ribs slightly. They are ready when the slab bows over until the meat starts to crack on the surface. A small crack typically means you need just a little more time. The ribs should almost break when you lift the slab.
Saucing the ribs:
Saucing should be done prior to removing the ribs after the meat is done. Lay the racks flat on the grill grate. Using a grilling brush or mop, slather the meat side of the ribs with sauce. Let the sauce cook onto the meat and then flip and repeat the process on the back. Do this as many times as you want according to how saucy you want to make them. Just remember most of the flavor is in the meat. You don’t want to over sauce so that it masks the flavor of good ribs.
At the end of these six steps if you break into a rack of ribs and notice a thin pink layer just beneath the surface of the meat. Congratulations! That is the highly prized smoke ring. It’s kind of like a pink halo around the meat; a sign of mouthwatering, succulent and flavorful smoked baby back ribs!
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