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Learning ribs & new cooker at once: What advice for next time?

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  • geoNaCl
    Club Member
    • Sep 2019
    • 30
    • Taylors, SC
    • Cookers
      • Oklahoma Joe's Bronco Drum Smoker
      • Char-griller Duo 5050, gas and charcoal

      • Fireboard
      • Thermapen Classic
      • back half of a Maverick ET-732 that other half quick working on me

      • Ove Glove (2)
      • Weber chimney
      • Thermoworks Timestick Trio

      Root Beers: Bulldog, Boylan, Sprecher, Hires, Virgil's, Maine Root, others I forget

      Taylors, SC (in the Upcountry)
      I do I.T. work now, but I have two English degrees

    Learning ribs & new cooker at once: What advice for next time?

    Last Saturday, I did an experimental first run on the new Bronco with one rack of baby back ribs. I’ve made them once before years ago, but never in an actual smoker. I wanted to post in Pork to get some feedback on my overall approach and the things that puzzled me in particular. I was focused on the ribs rather than the new cooker, which doesn’t seem too finicky to operate and will get its own post(s) at a later date. My goal for the fall is competency—not to say mastery—in getting juicy, pull-away-from-the-bone dry rub ribs.

    A. What I aimed for
    I chose baby back packaged fresh by my local grocery mostly because of the sale price, small investment, and because it was only for the wife and me. It was also a bit of an impulse buy, as I was rushing some of my research and planning. You’ll see a few pictures, but as I was not prepared to do the process or product justice, I didn’t take but a few. There’s always next time.

    I dry brined overnight with ½ tsp kosher salt per pound, then wet the ribs a bit and shook on a generous amount of Meathead’s MD, just as he recommends. (Light brown sugar for dark was the only change.) I think you all know what that looks like by now!

    It was 54°F and drizzling most of the day, and I lit 15 blue-baggers, pouring into a fuse like the one below, because I knew I could hit right around 225. (Photo is from a previous test, but exactly the same except I added the 2 chunks over time—8 oz total.)
    Click image for larger version  Name:	IMG_7247.JPG Views:	55 Size:	576.9 KB ID:	762346
    I wanted to see in particular if I could get the ribs done in about the 3-4 hours I read about in the Pit; and I wanted to avoid burning the lower end of my hanging rack or having the top end not ready—without having to re-hang from the other end halfway through.

    To that end (heh), I dangled two probes from my Fireboard near the meat and center of the smoker. (I had already found that using the threaded probe in the manufacturer’s port for the bi-metal type gave me readings very different from what I got center of drum.) I dangled one near the top of the rack of ribs, and the other a third of the way from the bottom. In the graph below, I’ll refer to them as “Upper” and “Lower Cooker.”
    Click image for larger version  Name:	71X_0034.jpg Views:	46 Size:	1.37 MB ID:	762347
    I configured the Bronco with only the necessary portions for the fire to breathe—and no room anyway for heat diffuser or a water pan. I hung the rack from below the second rib (I think), and while this allowed it to touch the highest part of the charcoal basket’s handle below, I’m not sure I could have gone another full rib with these hooks. I did not move the rack around to speak of, but I did rotate it to face the other way once, maybe twice. I also didn’t reconfigure things to try wrapping in foil. I lean toward doing less work and steering clear of any mushyness—but maybe I can be convinced to try it later.

    I added fuel once, aiming for 225 to 250 throughout, and checked for readiness at around 4 ½ and 5 hours. But because I had other plans, I was ready to let things die down by around 3:00.

    B. What I accomplished
    I feel pretty good about temperature control, and if you click the graph to enlarge, you’ll see most of my adjustments noted. The Fireboard will update every 5 seconds, but here is a point every 1 minute—plenty of detail. Now when you click the graph, it will enlarge to a readable size!
    Click image for larger version  Name:	JPEG Ribs 10-19-19 Graph.jpg Views:	0 Size:	168.2 KB ID:	762616
    If you’re trying to eyeball it, here are some basics:
    1. Ribs in 5 hrs, 9 mins with cooker above 200
    2. With opening and dips, 4 hrs, 7 mins of that was at or above 225, my target
    3. Average temp in upper cooker: 228.5
    4. Average temp lower: 228.8
    Maybe I opened a little too much and moved slowly while the lid was up, but I feel good about my average. The mystery is more in the meat...

    I got a nice bark, and never sprayed, wrapped, or applied anything more once I put them on. The smoke ring in the first photo appears to meet in the middle, almost leading me to worry the meat wasn’t even “done” well enough.
    Click image for larger version  Name:	71X_0036.jpg Views:	48 Size:	342.0 KB ID:	762349
    But in the next photo, you see some tan in the middle. I tried the bend test and, with BBR, was not surprised when they didn’t break. I tried the toothpick twice, but got what I guess was a bit of stiffness both times—maybe a bit lighter the second time, but it was hard for me to say.
    Click image for larger version  Name:	71X_0038.jpg Views:	47 Size:	440.4 KB ID:	762350
    To cross check, because of my inexperience, I did try the Thermapen is several places, knowing I could get a couple way-off numbers. First time, readings ranged from the 160s in the upper end of the rack to 190s hanging low. (The very tip was a little blackened and dried through.) Second time, they came in between 170s at the top and about 201 down low—finally getting to where the magic happens just when my clock ran out.

    As for taste, I found the smokiness not overwhelming with 8 oz wood, despite the prominent smoke ring. The rub was pleasing to all tasters and I’ll want to try it a few more times in order to keep most things constant. I specifically asked if they tasted porky, and the wife agreed with me that they did. We enjoyed them for sure, but I wished they had pulled away cleaner, and maybe had been a little...juicier?

    My main disappointments were:
    1. The bottom end needs special attention so it doesn’t get burned in such close proximity to my fire (which is moving along the fuse)
    2. None of the bones were left totally clean (next photo), and the general temp readings also suggest it’s because I didn’t melt enough tissues
    3. The bottom half and top half appear to have been done to different degrees; a rough recreation of the rack illustrates
    Click image for larger version  Name:	71X_0040.jpg Views:	46 Size:	836.6 KB ID:	762351
    Despite how close the upper and lower probe temps were on average, and the fact that the bigger swings happened with the upper probe, I’d say the meat itself was just too close at some points to the heat, especially when a chunk was igniting.

    C. What I’m thinking of trying next
    1. Trying St. Louis cut—easier to cook? Pitmasters seem to prefer...
    2. Giving myself more time—esp if I change to St. Louis, and since Bronco likes 225-250
    3. Flipping racks halfway (not cutting in half if I don’t have to)
    4. Repositioning just slightly when I do open lid, so that ribs stay on opposite side from most active part of fuse
    5. Not(?) spritzing or spraying? The AR article doesn’t ever suggest that it helps with getting the center to around 200°F while not drying out the surface. But could it cool the lower end to guard against burning? I have read some from both sides of the debate, but I lean toward not introducing a spray until I have repeat results to compare.

    Thanks for reading and feel free to rub some of your knowledge on my next ribs!
    Last edited by geoNaCl; October 29, 2019, 08:39 AM. Reason: Fixed my graph so you can click and see enough detail to read the words—got in a hurry the first time I posted.
  • HouseHomey
    Club Member
    • May 2016
    • 5506
    • Huntington Beach, Ca. Surf City USA.
    • Equipment
      Primo Oval xl

      Slow n Sear (two)
      Drip n Griddle
      22" Weber Kettle
      26" Weber Kettle one touch
      Blackstone 36” Pro Series
      Sous vide machine
      Kitchen Aid
      Meat grinder
      sausage stuffer
      5 Crock Pots
      Two chimneys (was 3 but rivets finally popped, down to 1)
      cast iron pans,
      Dutch ovens
      Signals 4 probe, thermapens, chef alarms, Dots, thermapop and maverick T-732, RTC-600, pro needle and various pocket instareads.
      The help and preferences
      1 extra fridge and a deep chest freezer in the garage
      A 9 year old princess foster child
      Patience and old patio furniture
      "Baby Girl" The cat

      Erik S.

    Wow. You’ll nail this in no time.

    looks underdone to me. I run kettles so I’m no good to you on the cook.

    By your notes and dedication your wife will be on you in no time unless she lives bbq. 😃

    nice work!


    • mountainsmoker
      Banned Former Member
      • Jun 2019
      • 1849
      • Bryson City, NC

      You got a good start and are not far off from making some good ribs. I agree with HouseHomey they are slightly under done. To me I don't like doing BB's While StL take a longer a little longer I just like them better. Good luck with them.


      • klflowers
        Club Member
        • Sep 2015
        • 3557
        • Tennessee

        +1 on mountainsmoker for the St Louis cut. I rarely do baby backs anymore, just prefer the St Lou's.


        • tbob4
          Charter Member
          • Nov 2014
          • 2511
          • Chico, CA
          • BBQ's
            California Custom Smokers Intensive Cooking Unit
            California Custom Smokers Meat Locker
            Santa Maria Grill
            Vision Grill

            Sierra Nevada IPA


          I don't have your cooker. Based on your write-up (which is fantastic), I think you are really going in the right directions with your questions. Great job on your analysis. Every time I try something new or old on a new cooker I have to make adjustments. Nothing turns out perfect first time around. Since that is where you are now, you just need to keep trying with the answers you have given.


          • mrteddyprincess
            Club Member
            • Sep 2018
            • 389

            I agree. Great documentation of the cook! The only thing you are lacking is doing this over and over until you are pleased!


            • ScottyC13
              Club Member
              • Jul 2019
              • 577
              • Boston Area
              • Name: Scott, Chemical Engineer

                Weber Genesis
                Weber Spirit Special Addition, with Griddle and Grillgrates (just got)
                Thermoworks Smoke (2)
                Thermoworks Thermapen (2)
                Thermoworks IR (1)
                Maverick IR (1)
                Penzey's Spice rack with loads of spices

                Cooking, wine, guitar, golf, beach, board games, travel, herb gardening

                Want to get into BBQ and Smoking.

              I would trust the Thermapen a bit more. I did ribs in my Weber Performer and the pen gave a good indication of doneness. I cooked them to 203. BB have a bit more meat on them on top, so the pen gets a better reading IMO.


              • PaulstheRibList
                Founding Member
                • Jul 2014
                • 1585
                • Lake Charles, LA
                • Started Low-N-Slow BBQ in 2012. Obviously, it's taken hold (in chronological order:
                  1.) A pair of Weber Smokey Mountain 22.5's
                  2.) #LilTex, a 22" Expensive Offset Smoker (looks like a Yoder Witicha)
                  3.) #WhoDat1, a HUGE Gravity Fed Insulated Cabinet Smoker (cooking chamber 3'x2'x6')
                  4.) A Full Size Commercial Dryer/converted to Vertical Smoker.
                  5.) Jambo Backyard stickburner (my FAVORITE Pit so far)
                  6.) GrillMeister, a huge 24"x48" Adjustable, Charcoal Grill from Pitmaker.com
                  7.) 22" Weber Kettle with Slow-N-Sear
                  8.) Vault insulated reverse-flow cabinet smoker from Pitmaker
                  9.) BarbecueFiretruck...under development
                  10.) 26 foot BBQ Vending Trailer equipped with HUGE Myron Mixon 72xc smoker is HERE, Oct 2016!
                  11.) Opened www.PaulsRibShackBarbecue.com Food Trailer officially in March 2017
                  12.) Austin Smoke Works 500 Gallon Propane Tank Offset Smoker, named "Lucille" as travel pit for PaulsRibShack, Oct 2018.
                  12.) Opening Brick & Mortar location at 4800 Nelson Rd, Spring 2019. Had a pair of 1,000 Gallon Austin Smoke Works pits, both in RibShackRed for our new place!

                  Fabulous Backlit Thermapens, several Maverick Remote Thermometers (don't use any remotes anymore), Thermoworks Smoke, Other Thermoworks toys, Vacuum sealer, lots and lots of equipment...

                  I'm loving using BBQ to make friends and build connections.
                  I have #theRibList where I keep a list of new and old friends and whenever I'm cooking, I make 1 to 20 extra and share the joy.

                Dude, way to go! Your product looks great and your writeup and analysis are right on point.

                My suggestions: Test each of your ideas out with a new cook. As you dial things in, change only 1 thing per cook.

                And as always, see if you can have a smaller, hotter fire with more airflow on that smaller, cleaner fire. I've never cooked in a hanging meat style system, so I don't have experience keeping the bottom from burning up. The UDS guys will have to advise on that.


                • jfmorris
                  Club Member
                  • Nov 2017
                  • 3399
                  • Huntsville, Alabama
                  • Jim Morris

                    • Camp Chef FTG900 Flat Top Grill (2020)
                    • Weber Genesis II E-410 w/ GrillGrates (2019)
                    • Weber Performer Deluxe 22.5" w/ GrillGrates & Slow 'N Sear & Drip ‘N Griddle & Party Q (2007)
                    • Custom Built Offset Smoker (304SS, 22"x34" grate, circa 1985)
                    • King Kooker 94/90TKD 105K/60K dual burner patio stove
                    • Lodge L8D03 5 quart dutch oven
                    • Lodge L10SK3 12" skillet
                    • Anova
                    • Thermoworks Smoke w/ Wifi Gateway
                    • Thermoworks Dot
                    • Thermoworks Thermapen Classic
                    • Thermoworks RT600C
                    • Whatever I brewed and have on tap!

                  A couple of possibly redudant comments.

                  1. Your ribs were not done. They needed more time, or more temperature (try 250 instead of 225 next time), which leads to #2.

                  2. Don't spritz! You cool the meat and extend the cooking time, not to mention washing off the dry rub and messing up the bark. This could have contributed to not being done in 5 hours.

                  3. When doing a fuse, keep the charcoal consistent (2x2 snake or whatever) and put several small wood chunks on top of the snake, not nested down in it. Most of your heat is coming from the charcoal, not the wood chunks, and I feel like the arrangement you show you MIGHT risk losing the "fuse" (or snake) in the places where it goes down to just a single line of briquettes around the wood chunk. The wood burns differently, and not sure it will always light the next piece of charcoal in the fuse.

                  4. Lastly, the guys and gals with the Pitbarrel Cookers never flip their ribs. The convection cooking of hanging vertically really only exposes a small amount of meat to the radiant heat. As long as the end of the slab of ribs is a few inches above the level of the charcoal, you should be good - the heat is going UP and swirling around the slabs of ribs. If your ribs hang too low, hook them down a bone or two next time. As long as they don't hit the lid when it is closed, they are good.

                  5. Ok, NOW lastly. The PBC guys and gals light a minion style fire that is UNDER the meat, and the juices dripping into the fire add to the smoke and help increase bark accumulation. You may want to experiment with that.


                  • geoNaCl
                    geoNaCl commented
                    Editing a comment
                    jfmorris, thanks! Was considering several of your suggestions already. A few things:
                    2. Didn't spritz this time; probably won't next time. Like PaulstheRibList says, one variable...
                    4. I think PBC has more room vertically, takes better advantage of top space, whereas my hanging rods are already a bit below lid. Go high as I can next time...
                    5. Only if I find that "few inches" of clearance at the bottom (or chop off?); my minion on a seasoning run got to 325 in a hurry, though...
                • fzxdoc
                  Founding Member
                  • Jul 2014
                  • 5323
                  • My toys:
                    Weber Summit Charcoal Grilling Center (WSCGC) aka Mr. Fancypants
                    Pit Barrel Cooker (which rocks)
                    Weber Summit S650 Gas Grill
                    Weber Kettle Premium 22"
                    Weber Jumbo Joe Premium 22" (a weird little 22" kettle mutant on 22"-long legs) (donated to local battered women's shelter.)
                    Camp Chef Somerset IV 4-burner outdoor gas range

                    Adrenaline BBQ Company's SnS, DnG and Large Charcoal Basket for WSCGC
                    Adrenaline BBQ Company's Elevated SS Rack for WSCGC
                    Adrenaline BBQ Company's SS Rack for DnG
                    Grill Grate for SnS
                    Grill Grates: five 17.375 sections (retired to storage)
                    Grill Grates: six 19.25 panels for exact fit for Summit S650 gasser
                    2 Grill Grate Griddles
                    Steelmade Griddle for Summit gas grill

                    Fireboard Extreme BBQ Thermometer Package
                    Fireboard control unit in addition to that in the Extreme BBQ Package
                    Additional Fireboard probes: Competition Probes 1" (3) and 4" (1), 3 additional Ambient Probes. 1 additional Food Probe
                    2 Fireboard Driver Cables
                    Pit Viper Fan (to pair with Fireboard Fan Driver Cable)
                    Pit Viper Fan new design (to pair with Fireboard Fan Driver Cable)
                    Thermoworks Thermapen MK5 (pink)
                    Thermoworks Thermapen MK4 (pink too)
                    Thermoworks Temp Test 2 Smart Thermometer
                    Thermoworks Extra Big and Loud Timer
                    Thermoworks Timestick Trio
                    Maverick ET 73 a little workhorse with limited range
                    Maverick ET 733
                    Maverick (Ivation) ET 732

                    Grill Pinz
                    Vortex (two of them)

                    Two Joule Sous Vide devices
                    VacMaster Pro 350 Vacuum Sealer
                    Instant Pot 6 Quart Electric Pressure Cooker
                    Instant Pot 10 Quart Electric Pressure Cooker
                    Charcoal Companion TurboQue
                    A-Maze-N tube 12 inch tube smoker accessory for use with pellets

                    BBQ Dragon and Dragon Chimney

                    Shun Classic 8" Chef's Knife
                    Shun Classic 6" Chef's Knife
                    Shun Classic Gokujo Boning and Fillet Knife
                    Shun Classic 3 1/2 inch Paring Knife

                  What jfmorris said. The nice thing about barrel cooking, at least in my PBC experience, are the flavors that you can get from the meat juices and melted fat dripping directly on the coals underneath and vaporizing flavor-enhancing compounds. That should help to increase the smokey flavor that you're seeking.

                  So spreading unlit coals out in the basket and lighting them with a partial chimney of well-lit coals poured on top of them is a minion-type method that works well in the barrel configuration. You may want to give that a try.

                  You also may want to think about double serial hooking the rib rack, that is, inserting a lower hook whose upper end (4 bones down) hooks into the meat end of the hook above (2 bones down). There has been many a report here of single-hooked ribs hitting the fire as the cook progresses and the meat softens. Not a fun thing.

                  Also, although it may not look as picture perfect, there's nothing wrong with slicing the rib rack in half to eliminate offering the more burned sacrificial lower rib(s) to the bbq gods (or giving them to the kids ).

                  I almost always slice the rib racks in half and hang them on separate hooks of course, room permitting. It also helps with the weight issue, especially if only one hook is being used for a single long rack.

                  I applaud your no-foil approach. Just a personal preference.

                  Last edited by fzxdoc; October 29, 2019, 07:51 AM.


                  • geoNaCl
                    geoNaCl commented
                    Editing a comment
                    Kathryn, thanks for these details, especially on the serial hooking. Good to know there are serious rib lovers willing to cut a rack in half, etc. I'll want to experience this for myself, of course, but I imagine most of you would say getting the drip vapors is more important than leaving the full rack in one piece, if I decide this cooker won't allow both.

                    And I definitely ate the burnt offering this time—my girls are not old enough to protest yet!
                • geoNaCl
                  Club Member
                  • Sep 2019
                  • 30
                  • Taylors, SC
                  • Cookers
                    • Oklahoma Joe's Bronco Drum Smoker
                    • Char-griller Duo 5050, gas and charcoal

                    • Fireboard
                    • Thermapen Classic
                    • back half of a Maverick ET-732 that other half quick working on me

                    • Ove Glove (2)
                    • Weber chimney
                    • Thermoworks Timestick Trio

                    Root Beers: Bulldog, Boylan, Sprecher, Hires, Virgil's, Maine Root, others I forget

                    Taylors, SC (in the Upcountry)
                    I do I.T. work now, but I have two English degrees

                  I fixed my graph a few minutes ago, so that when you click, it now enlarges enough that the minutia can be read and poured over.


                  • Troutman
                    Club Member
                    • Aug 2017
                    • 7609
                    • aka Troutman Taco - Hanging Free in Tejas

                    • OUTDOOR COOKERS

                      BBQ ACCESSORIES

                      WOOD & PELLET PREFERENCES

                      SOUS VIDE

                      INDOOR COOKWARE

                    Well I enjoyed your post and the analysis was really thorough. Being an engineer I sometimes tend to want to over analyze things, when simplicity, along with simple trial and error, accomplishes the same thing. Cooking is more of an art form and a feel then it is an exacting science.

                    The guys and gals above give you what you need to know; use the minion method to take advantage of the dripping grease and fat, switch to spare or St. Louis cut ribs (more fat content), cook to mid to high 190s and forget about the smoke ring. Gosh so much interest in the sexy smoke ring. It's meaningless, just an indication of the combustion gases reacting with you meat protein.

                    Keep going, tweak your methods a bit and in no time you'll be crowing about how you too can make Amazing Ribs




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