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After action review - Maple Glazed Ribs

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    After action review - Maple Glazed Ribs

    Well folks, I'm back just like I promised to let you know how my ribs turned out. They were . . . ribs. I ate them because I was hungry, but wouldn't serve them to guests.

    This is my second attempt to smoke baby back ribs on my Weber Kettle with Slow n Sear. The first didn't go well - after 5.5 hours between 210 and 250 (most of the time around 230) they didn't pass the bend test so I had to put them in the oven for 2 hours at 325 to finish them up. Three weeks ago I successfully smoked a 5lb pork butt so, for my birthday, I felt encouraged to try ribs again, this time using the Maple Glazed recipe:


    Here's how it all went down.

    The night before I removed the baby back rack from the packaging, rinsed it, removed the silverskin, and patted it dry with paper towels. I then added the salt to the outside, wrapped the whole thing in parchment paper, and put it back in the fridge. I prepared about 1/4 cup of MMD for the rub the next day.

    I started at 11:45 with the goal of having them ready no later than 5:30. It was 48F and windy, and my kettle was in direct sunlight. First I covered the rack with MMD and rubbed it in. Next I boiled a quart of water, then put 14 briquets of KBB in my chimney starter, wadded up a piece of packing paper (about the size of a newspaper page) and lit it under the chimney. Once the coals were mostly ashed over I poured the water into the trough and shoved the burning briqs to one side of the SnS, filled the rest of the SnS with unlit briquets, put two apple wood chunks on top, and closed the lid. One probe of my TP-17 was clipped to the grate and I watched it till it reached 225. Once it hit that temp I moved the damper handle to the smoke mark. It settled in around 241 a couple minutes later. I opened the lid and put the baby backs on, and then spent a couple minutes fiddling around with the probe clip to try to keep it out of the cold air bubble around the meat. (Side note - every time I measure the temperature on the indirect side of the grill, the wired end of the probe ends up above the SNS. Is that cause for concern?) Then I closed the lid. 15 minutes later, it was still at 241. All good, I reckon.

    After 2 hours I poured the apple juice on the ribs and wrapped it in foil per the recipe. The temperature had peaked at 260 earlier but I constricted the damper to just left of the smoke mark and it was now at 239. Ribs go back on the grill and I walk away.

    1 hour later I removed the ribs from the foil. The temp is now down to 212. I opened the grate, knocked the ash through the fuel grate with a grill brush, gave the ash a couple sweeps with the meat still to the side, shoved the remaining lit charcoals to the side, and added more unlit charcoal. I pushed it up against the lit coals, replaced the meat and closed the lid. About 30 minutes later, with the vents wide open, it finally crept up to about 230. I then put the lower vent back on Smoke and set the timer for 1 hour.

    I took the juice from the foil inside and went to work on the glaze. When time was up I applied the glaze, but the ribs definitely did not pass the bend test. I know, I know, you're not supposed to use a thermo on ribs, but I inserted my TP-15 into the meaty part and got a reading of 130F. Not close to being ready. It's now after 5 so I took the ribs inside and wrapped them in foil. I set the oven for 325 and put them in. 40 minutes later, they didn't pass the bend test and were 150 in the meaty part. Now I was really getting agitated, so I cranked the oven to 400 and put them back in. 20 minutes later they just barely passed the bend test so I glazed them once more and served.

    There was a distinct smoke ring, but that was about the only thing right. The pink meat was tender but the center was white and tasted like a pork chop. I removed the silverskin before brining, but the tissue on the underside was still tough. The glaze was very spicy, and not in a good way, especially when I was expecting it to be sweet and maply. My wife said "your last ribs were better."


    I can identify three major problems:
    1. Temperature control. My SnS didn't hold a consistent smoking temp for even three hours, and it took a half hour raise it from a low of 212 just up to 230 with added fuel.
    2. Meat doneness. Baby backs are supposed to take four hours: mine spent about five in the smoker and more time in the oven before they were done. Even with my temp problems, I don't think it should take so long. It's happened twice now; I don't know what's going on here.
    3. That glaze. I couldn't taste apple or maple, but boy could I taste the hot sauce. I don't know what Meathead meant when he said to add two teaspoons of hot sauce to the glaze, but when I read "hot sauce," I think Tabasco. A little voice in my head said "Don't add it! It's too spicy!" but instead I listened to the voice saying "Follow the recipe! Do not deviate!"

    Over to you, Pitmasters. What am I missing?
    Attached Files
    Last edited by Terp Tom; January 19, 2021, 03:16 PM.

    First thing - smoke hotter. For some reason Meathead and others talk about 225 as if it's some perfect temp, but it's not. More than anything its tradition. Smoke at 275 or even 300. If Aaron Franklin can turn out some of the best stuff in the world at 275, we can use that temp too.

    Second, don't go by time precisely. When you say that ribs should talk 4 hours, that's a guideline but some ribs will take longer. This is another reason to smoke hotter, too. I'd aim to finish earlier (i.e. for a 5pm finish, aim to get the meat on the grill at 11). You can always wrap and hold in a warm oven or a cooler if you need to for an hour to 2. Also, don't forget that you'll need up to an hour from 'I need to get going' to meat on the grill; there's lighting the coals, letting them ash over, letting the wood smoke settle int, etc

    Third, KBB is common but kind of odd in how it burns. If you can find some B&B briquettes try those. I have a Weber 22" kettle with SNS and the difference in burn length and temp consistency is marked. I don't see anything wrong in how you started the fire.

    Last, don't worry too much about temp variations. You say "... The temperature had peaked at 260 earlier but I constricted the damper..." and I'd just ignore that. The difference in 240 vs 260 won't matter at all to the quality of the smoke and forcing it to drop just lengthens the cook.

    Summary - try B&B for longer, more consistent burns. Fiddle less with temp and try to smoke in the 275 range. Also, this is an excuse to smoke more ribs
    Last edited by rickgregory; January 19, 2021, 02:26 PM.


    • GDavis
      GDavis commented
      Editing a comment
      Good advice about start earlier and hold in the warming drawer of the oven or the poor man’s cambro, the Igloo cooler. My biggest struggle every Sunday family dinner is timing to coordinate with my wife’s sides being ready to serve. It’s just easier to have it ready and staying warm. I wait to slice or pull right before serving. It stays warm and juicy.

    I had the same thing happen to me with some baby backs once. I thought they’d never get done. But, I agree with Rick above. I rarely smoke at 225. Usually 250-275. Another thing I look for, in addition to the bend test, is how much bone has protruded out of the meat. I noticed in your pics, you didn’t have too much sticking out. I’ll usually have 1/2 to 3/4 of an inch or so of the bones sticking out of the meat. This is just a general guideline for me to tell when it’s about ready. And also, all cooks are gonna be a little different. Times given for any cook should be used as a rough timetable. As mentioned before, start a little earlier than what you might think. You can always cambro for a few hours, or wrapped in a 150-170* oven if it’s done a little earlier than you planned.
    Last edited by Panhead John; January 19, 2021, 05:04 PM.


      Good advice ⬆️


        You can definitely cook at a hotter temperature. Make sure your probe is reading accurately. Forget the bend test with baby backs. They are usually too thick to crack until they are over done. I agree with Panhead John and go by how much the meat pulls back from the bone. For me it's about 1/4-1/2". The toothpick test can be a bit subjective until you've done it several times. Maybe cooking in direct sunlight could possibly fool the temp? Not sure as I have never smoked in the sunlight. I usually do a 3-1-1 as a general guideline, but definitely go by the bone exposure.

        You'll get it. It took me a while to figure out. With the resources and fine pitmasters here you'll get it figured out. I'm a perfect example of that.


          I am going to echo what's been said; go hotter for the temp and don't stress variance - I shoot for around 260 usually and let it ride from there as long as it stays above 220 and under 280.

          The SNS seems, in my experience, to have a temp jump when the coals get to the middle of the SNS due to more available fuel. Easy to compensate for (mine shot up about 20-30 degrees) once you get the intake and exhaust vents figured out by undershooting your goal temp. Play with 'em a bit and you'll be rewarded with some ridiculously rock solid temps from the SNS

          Don't worry too much about length of time, each cut is going to have it's own and if you expect them to be done in a certain amount of time they'll spite you just for the sake of if.

          Lastly, remember that the BBQ Gods demand a beverage of some sort to be consumed while barbecuing; it doesn't have to be alcoholic, but you'll need something to sip on while fiddling vents - be it coffee, tea, beer, lemon water, a stiff drink or soda and you'll have a 31% high success rate 🤠😎


            I’ve noticed that more and more a lot more of the loin meat is left on the baby back ribs. This makes them more of a hybrid between a rib and a chop. I believe this is now being done because the popularity of BBQing. I always see baby back ribs priced higher than pork loin. So why wouldn’t the processors leave more loin meat on the ribs to make more money.

            I try to buy spare ribs any more. I’ve found that both baby back ribs because of their thickness and spare ribs take about the same amount of time to cook. Plus I like the flavor of the spare ribs better. I’ll still buy baby backs if I can find a good sale but I usually wrap after 2 hours and then braise the ribs in the aluminum foil wrap for a couple of hours and then char them up on the grill after the braise.


            • Bkhuna
              Bkhuna commented
              Editing a comment
              Yup, spares for me. I like the flavor better.

            • ecowper
              ecowper commented
              Editing a comment
              In my local grocery stores, I can get Spares really inexpensive. Like $1.29/lb. Then trim to SLC's and I get rib tips for lunch and SLC's for dinner. They are charging like $3.99/lb for back ribs.

            • klflowers
              klflowers commented
              Editing a comment
              Spares for me as well. Like ecowper, I buy full spares and cut them down to St Louis. I take the tips and treat them like burnt ends.

            Thanks for the responses. I'll smoke hotter next time, and we'll see how it goes.

            Has anyone tried the recipe I linked? I thought it would be a crowd-pleaser, but it didn't taste anything like maple. Definitely tasted like Tabasco though.


            • rickgregory
              rickgregory commented
              Editing a comment
              "I usually do mine nekid with just a rub -"

              Sir, this is a family site!

            • Panhead John
              Panhead John commented
              Editing a comment
              Damn you rickgregory ! Now I’ve got this visual in my head! 😱

            • rickgregory
              rickgregory commented
              Editing a comment
              Panhead John - just have a stiff drink. Er, I mean...

            Here's my thoughts

            1. You should do some testing with your thermometer/probes. Check measured temps in boiling water and ice water to confirm accuracy. Then try a different placement on your kettle where no part of the probe is over the fire. I have a sneaking suspicion about your actual temps inside the kettle.

            2. Back ribs used to be a 3-4 hour cook. These days, however, as many have noted, the butchers are leaving more loin meat on the ribs and the cook is more like 5 hours. I had one set from Costco go 6 hours. If I do back ribs, I am now trimming some of that loin meat off. I save it for beans :-)

            3. Run your kettle/SnS rig around 250, as others noted. Don't chase temps too much. A kettle/SnS rig will run nice and stable for you. temp swings of 10-20 degrees are well within the stable range. Your oven temps vary more than that over time as the PID turns the heating elements on and off to try and keep average temp at your set point.

            4. An hour rest time in a faux cambro or 170F oven works wonders on a rack of ribs after they are "done".

            5. I would say that the challenge with your sauce was using tabasco. Something like Cholula would probably be better, in my opinion. I've never done that recipe, so no idea other than that.

            6. I would suggest using the exact same method for ribs until you get an outcome you like. Then replicate that outcome. Then think about other recipes.

            7. Troutman's write up on ribs is the bomb! https://pitmaster.amazingribs.com/fo...by-step-primer


              I don't bother with that bend test. I want to see meat pulled back from the tip of the bones and I should be able to probe between the bones with a toothpick and it should slide in nice and easy. Remember? "Probe tender" is the way to go!


              • Huskee
                Huskee commented
                Editing a comment
                But for newbies, what is "nice & easy"? When I first started I tried the toothpick test and the look-at-the-bones test and it never worked for me, I was frustrated. Not everyone needs to use the bend test, and it's problematic using it with thicker back ribs anyway, but for StL and thinner backs it's pretty foolproof.

              I haven't read though all the other responses, so I may be restating some things already mentioned.

              Back ribs over 3lb/rack are thick and more problematic to cook. Why? There aren't more bones in 'bigger' ribs, so heavier means thicker. More loin meat on top. Longer for the heat to reach the center and do its thing leading to a longer cook until "done", all the while the exterior layers of dry loin meat just get drier. I am regularly at 7hrs for thicker back ribs. It's in the best interests of many processors to leave more loin meat on the expensive ribs and market them as "extra meaty" instead of selling it as cheap pork loin.

              I recommend if you're cooking back ribs, to get true "baby" back ribs. While there's no actual definition of what a "baby" back rib is, my personal rule of thumb is <3lbs/rack. 2.5lb-ish each are my faves. They seem to cook up well.

              DON'T GIVE UP! You're learning valuable experience that you will one day share with someone who'll then view you as a pro pitmaster.


              • ecowper
                ecowper commented
                Editing a comment
                What Huskee said! I've cooked ribs poorly many times in my life. But I learned a lot from it and all the things I mention above are things I learned from those bad cooks.

              • GDavis
                GDavis commented
                Editing a comment
                Every cook is a school day, no matter how many times you’ve done it. That’s what makes being a member of Pitmaster.Amazingribs.com so great. There is an overwhelming amount of knowledge and experience here.

              Invest in a Pit Barrel Cooker. I've had all sorts of smokers/grills, landed on the Primo, but bought a PBC on a lark and am a true believer when it comes to ribs and chicken.


              • Terp Tom
                Terp Tom commented
                Editing a comment
                I wouldn't mind owning a PBC. But space and budget are constraints, I grill only about once a week, and only about a third of it is low-n-slow. I also am of the mind that I'd rather use my head than use my wallet to solve a problem.


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