Spareribs come from the belly area of the pig, while the baby backs come from the loin area. Baby backs tend to be leaner and more tender. Spares will have more marbling, which means more flavor but also a little longer cooking time to break down that marbling and make a tender bite.

I recommend trying both and seeing what you and your family like best. Other than trimming and squaring the spareribs, the procedure for cooking both types of ribs is the same. Baby back ribs will cook about 30 minutes faster than spareribs.

You’ll often find people cook ribs on the grill with the 3-2-1 method—smoke for 3 hours, wrap for 2 hours, and sauce and smoke for 1 hour—for a total of about 6 hours of cook time. I like this sped-up version, which produces equally amazing results in a little less time. There are lots of ways to cook ribs, but this technique has been the clear winner at our dinner table.–Adam Mckenzie

How to Smoke Pork Ribs FAQs

What kind of wood chips are best for smoking pork?

We’d recommend hickory, maple, cherry, or pecan chips for smoking these ribs. Hickory wood/chips are the most commonly used and likely the easiest to find.

Do I need to soak my wood chips before using them for this recipe?

Soaking wood chips is a highly debated topic in the BBQ community. Many pro-BBQers will say that soaking is an important step as it prolongs the burn and makes the wood smolder more and flame less. Others say that the soaking process will diminish the time that the wood produces smoke, and too much water in your chips can extinguish the flame entirely.

Consult the instruction guide for your smoker and go with whatever method is recommended. For this specific recipe on a Traeger – the soaking is an unnecessary step.

What should I serve with smoked pork ribs?

Any of your favorite BBQ sides would be great here. We love these ribs with elote, coleslaw, and potato salad.

Two racks of ribs cut into individual ribs, one spice-rubbed and one sauced, with bowls of spice rub and bbq sauce on the side.

How to Smoke Pork Ribs

5 from 1 vote
This foolproof method for smoking pork ribs includes brushing with hot sauce, coating with a spice rub, then smoking until tender. This method for how to smoke pork ribs can be used for baby back ribs or spareribs and can be sauced to your preference.
David Leite
Servings4 to 6 servings
Calories1968 kcal
Prep Time30 minutes
Cook Time4 hours 15 minutes
Total Time5 hours 30 minutes


  • Smoker or grill
  • Wood pellets or chips


  • Two racks (4 to 8 pounds total) baby back ribs or spareribs
  • 1/2 cup hot sauce
  • 1 cup your favorite pork rub
  • 1/2 cup apple juice
  • 1/2 cup agave syrup
  • 1/2 cup raw sugar
  • 8 tablespoons (4 oz) unsalted butter
  • 1 cup BBQ sauce


Prepare the ribs

  • If you’re using spareribs, use a sharp boning knife to trim each rack of spareribs to a more uniform shape. Trim the end bones off to leave 10 bones remaining and square the meat on the long sides to be straighter and more even.
  • Preheat your pellet grill, smoker, or gas grill to 225°F (107°C) and turn on the Super Smoke feature if your grill has it. Otherwise, prepare your grill for smoking using a smoke box or pouch if necessary.
  • To remove the membrane, use a small piece of paper towel to help you grab the silver skin membrane on the back of each rack of ribs and pull toward you. Discard the membrane.
  • Generously coat the ribs on both sides with hot sauce. Sprinkle the ribs liberally with the rub all over and allow them to sweat on the counter for about 15 minutes as your grill heats up.

Smoke the ribs

  • Place the seasoned ribs on the grill, meat side up, and cook until they reach an internal temperature of 160°F (71°C), 2 1/2 to 3 hours.
  • While the ribs are cooking, pour the apple juice into a spray bottle. When checking the internal temperature, check how the ribs look too. If they appear dry during this part of the cook, use the spray bottle to spritz them with some apple juice.

Wrap the ribs

  • Prepare a double layer of heavy-duty aluminum foil to wrap each rack of the ribs in. On each double layer of foil, drizzle one quarter of the agave, sprinkle with one quarter of the sugar and arrange one quarter of the butter pats.
  • Once the ribs reach the first benchmark temperature, remove them from the grill and place them on the prepared foil, meat side down on the agave, sugar and butter. Top each rack of ribs with another quarter of the agave, sugar and butter pats, then wrap tightly in the foil. Keep the ribs meat side down in the foil wrap and then return the ribs to the grill to continue cooking.
  • Increase the grill temperature to 275°F (135°C) and cook until the ribs reach an internal temperature of 204°F (96°C), about 1 1/2 hours more.

    ☞ TESTER TIP: If you prefer to have your ribs sauced while cooking, glaze them when the internal temperature reaches about 195°F (91°C). If opting for sauced ribs, open the foil, carefully turn the ribs meat side up (leaving them nestled in the foil) and glaze with your favorite BBQ sauce. Return the foil packages to the grill, with the aluminum foil open, and cook until the internal temperature reaches 204°F (96°C) about 15 minutes.

  • Remove the ribs from the grill and allow them to rest for 15 minutes. Carefully remove the ribs from the foil and slice them into individual ribs. Serve with the BBQ sauce on the side.
Weeknight Smoking cookbook.

Adapted From

Weeknight Smoking on Your Traeger and Other Pellet Grills

Buy On Amazon


Serving: 0.5 rackCalories: 1968 kcalCarbohydrates: 118 gProtein: 77 gFat: 134 gSaturated Fat: 51 gMonounsaturated Fat: 46 gTrans Fat: 2 gCholesterol: 424 mgSodium: 1920 mgFiber: 8 gSugar: 72 g

Nutrition information is automatically calculated, so should only be used as an approximation.

Tried this recipe?Mention @leitesculinaria or tag #leitesculinaria!
Recipe © 2021 Adam McKenzie. Photo © 2021 Ken Goodman. All rights reserved.

Recipe Testers’ Reviews

This method is in fact a great way to produce tasty, nudge off the bone smoked pork ribs. I loved that the BBQ sauce could be used as saucing or as dip and yes, I did serve these both ways.

Two racks of smoked pork ribs on a piece of serving parchment on a white plate with a basting brush and sauce jar resting above.

The initial slathering of the ribs with hot sauce (I used baby back ribs) was a great way to infuse the ribs with heat while also providing the “glue” for the spice rub. I used my own rub to make my assessment of this method more comparable.

My ribs were done to 160°F in 2 1/2 hours. I sprayed them at 2 hours, 140°F internal temperature with unsweetened apple juice, and then at the end of cooking for just a bit of additional moisture.

I sauced half the ribs and served the other half with my smoked jalapeño BBQ sauce on the side. We enjoyed our ribs with a mustard potato salad with celery and grilled asparagus while sipping on hard apple cider.

I will definitely make these again. This time I used cherry wood bisquettes and apple juice mist. Next time I’d like to try applewood bisquettes and cherry juice mist.

I like how this recipe is more about the cooking method, and that different flavourings will keep this smoked rib recipe interesting, and meaty tender each time.

There are so many recipes for how to smoke pork ribs out there. Lots of them are pretty good because smoked ribs are simple. Meat, some rub, and most important of all heat control.

A rack of smoked pork ribs cut into individual ribs on a wooden cutting board.

Any BBQ recipe that does not emphasize heat control is not a good one. This recipe sure does. It specifies the temperature and accurate timing and also has a cool trick that I will be using off and on of wrapping the ribs with a mixture of raw sugar, butter, and agave syrup to create a nice sweet glaze.

About David Leite

I count myself lucky to have received three James Beard Awards for my writing as well as for Leite’s Culinaria. My work has also appeared in The New York Times, Martha Stewart Living, Saveur, Bon Appétit, Gourmet, Food & Wine, Yankee, Los Angeles Times, Chicago Tribune, The Washington Post, and more.

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