A Smokin' Good Time: Babyback Ribs on Traeger

I have been cooking up babyback ribs on Traeger grills for quite a while. Traeger pellet grills have been a family favorite.

As such, I mastered the use of the various models at a fairly young age. Now, I am here to share the secrets of making the perfect ribs on this grill with you!

How to Smoke Using a Traeger Pellet Grill?

Before we move on to smoked ribs, I would like to walk you through using a Traeger grill as a smoker. The first thing that you should remember is that while most Traeger grills work in a similar manner, there can be differences between the models.

This is why it is important to always read your instruction manual and familiarize yourself with it. You will then learn how to use your specific model without any issue at all.

The first thing that you will need to do is to ensure that there are enough pellets in the hopper. This way, you can cook can go on uninterrupted.

Once you have guaranteed this, it is just a matter of powering up the pellet grill, turning the settings to Smoke. When you begin to see some smoke, set your desired temperature, close the lid, and allow the smoker to preheat for up to 10 minutes.

After this, you can put the prepared baby back ribs in and smoked them.

Person grilling meat

What are Baby Back Ribs?

The other thing that I want to clear up before moving any further is what baby back ribs actually are.

There are actually three different types of pork ribs. Pork spare ribs are the ones that come from near the belly of the pig. These tend to have a fair amount of meat on them. St. Louis ribs are simply a more contoured and cleaned up version of spare ribs.

Then there is baby back ribs. These come from near the loin area. They are named as such because they are often quite small in size. These ribs tend to have a fair amount of lean meat on and beside the bone.

It is important to make sure of what you are getting. This is because the recipes and smoking techniques for each type of rib is different. Thus, if you want the best possible smoked baby back ribs, then you need to buy the right kind.

Removing the Membrane From the Bone

Before smoking ribs, you first have to remove the tough membrane. To save yourself some time and trouble, ask your butcher to do this for you.

If you can't, follow these guidelines:

Use a butter knife to dislodge a small portion of the membrane. Once you can lift up some of it, grasp this area with a paper towel and then pull until it is completely removed. If the membrane keeps tearing, then you may need to use the butter knife at several points along the rack.

And, before you ask, yes you do have to remove it. Not only is it practically inedible but it can create a tough barrier around the meat, preventing any flavor or smoke from penetrating it. This will result in some lackluster smoked baby back ribs.

Smoked Baby Back Ribs Recipe

Ingredients

  • 2 racks of ribs
  • 2 tbs. of Dijon mustard

Dry Rub

  • 1/4 cup of brown sugar
  • 1 tbs. of kosher salt
  • 1 tbs. of chili powder
  • 1 tbs. of paprika
  • 2 tsp. of ground cumin
  • 1 tsp. of mustard powder

For Basting

  • 1/4 cup of apple juice
  • 1 tsp. of apple cider vinegar
  • 1/2 cup of BBQ sauce

Method

Step 1

In a bowl, combine all the ingredients of the dry rub and set aside.

Spread Dijon mustard on both sides of each rack of ribs. Sprinkle the rub on and press into the meat.

Refrigerate for up to 2 hours.

Take the seasoned baby back ribs out of the refrigerator 30 minutes before smoking them.

Step 2

Preheat the Traeger pellet grill to 250 degrees F.

Step 3

Place the ribs directly on the grill grates, bone side down. Close the lid and let the ribs smoke for two hours.

Just before opening the lid, combine the apple juice, apple cider vinegar, and half of the BBQ sauce in a spray bottle and shake to combine.

Spray the baby back ribs liberally with this solution but make sure that you don't dislodge the spices. Then, apply a layer of BBQ sauce making sure to get into all the nooks and crannies.

Close the lid and cook ribs for 10 minutes.

Open the lid and flip the baby back ribs so that they are meat side up. Spray the remaining apple juice solution on this side as well and then apply a layer of BBQ sauce.

Step 4

Use heavy duty aluminum foil to wrap each rack of ribs individually. Make sure to create a tight seal so that moisture will be trapped in with the baby back ribs.

Smoke baby back ribs for another 2 hours.

Unwrap the foil wrap and check for tender ribs - insert a toothpick into the meat in between the bones. If it goes through easily and the meat feels like butter, then you have reached the right stage.

Step 5

Keep each rib rack in their foil packets. Brush on a thin layer of BBQ sauce to each rib rack and smoke for 30 minutes. Once this time is up, flip the rib racks over and apply a thin layer of BBQ sauce to this side as well. Smoke for another hour.

Take off the heat and rest for up to 30 minutes.

Grilled meat with tomatoes and onions

A Note About Smoking Methods for Baby Back Ribs

You are going to see a lot of articles and posts about something called the 3-3-1 method for smoking BBQ ribs. Now, this method is fine for larger options such as spare ribs. It doesn't work as well for baby back ribs as there is less meat here.

This is why I prefer to use the 2-2-1 method and you should as well.

You can ensure that fall off the bone meat without worrying that you have overcooked it.

You may have also seen some recipes where the Traeger baby back ribs are finished in the oven. While you are certainly free to try this step, there is no reason to. The baby back ribs taste best when smoked to completion on the smoker.

Choosing Your Rub

Now, the rub mix that I have used for this recipe is one of my favorites. However, I know that everyone has their own preferences. A lot of people are loyal to certain brands as well.

Personally, I always feel like a rub made with fresh spices and ingredients is best. It just perks up the baby back ribs. Still, feel free to use whatever you want.

I would say that it is a good idea to make sure that the rubs and the BBQ sauce complement each other, though. This will make for the best ribs.

Using Mustard

Whenever I tell people to use mustard as a binding agent, they are always a little hesitant. Now, I can't blame them - this component can have a rather potent taste. So, it is only natural to be concerned.

The good news, though, is that the mustard dissolves and then evaporates leaving no hint of it behind. Even if there is a little bit of residue, mustard goes incredibly well with pork.

The Barbecue Sauce

The other question that I am asked a lot is what kind of BBQ sauce should I use for this type of recipe?

There is no right answer here, your favorite BBQ sauce will work just fine. I would say, though, that there is nothing quite like a homemade version. This is because you have complete control over the balance between brown sugar, salt, etc. What's more, you can ensure that odd chemical-like taste doesn't follow its way into the baby back ribs.

Person Holding Condiments

The Wood Pellets

The wood that you use plays a far bigger role in the overall taste of your smoked baby back ribs than you may realize. It is due to this, that you should make your choice carefully.

The best hardwoods for pork is often apple and cherry - sweet fruitwoods that provide a lovely smoky flavor without overpowering the natural flavor profile of the pork. If you are feeling a bit adventurous, pecan and maple are great options too.

Now, you don't have to use just one wood. Mixing and matching is a great way to create lots of different flavors.

I would urge you to stay away from mesquite or hickory, though. This are very strong flavored woods and they aren't typically used with pork as they can result in a fairly bitter flavor.

In case you do enjoy something a little more potent, though, you can certainly give these woods a try. Use only a handful though and make sure that the rest is apple or cherry to help balance the smoke flavor out.

Related Reading

The Smoking Temperature

This is another thing that a lot of people can't seem to agree upon. It can often seem like every recipe has a different suggestion.

Well, let me make my case for why I feel that 225 degrees F is the right temperature to smoke ribs.

First and foremost, baby back ribs are small and don't have much meat on the bones. As such, it is quite easy to overcook them if you aren't careful. If you do this, you will end up with a dry and unappetizing end result.

Smoking is all about going low and slow. Thus, at 225 degrees the ribs will cook for longer, but they will also be given plenty of time to soften up.

You can take things up to 250 degrees F if you wish but I would suggest cutting the cook time down by half an hour or so.

Knowing When the Ribs are Done

Usually when I smoke meat, I pay close attention to the internal temperature. The thing is, this doesn't really work with baby back ribs. This is largely because there isn't any meat on the bones to get an accurate reading.

Due to this, you usually have to rely on some old tricks.

The tooth pick is a tried and true option. Simply slide it into the meaty section. If it goes through with little to no resistance, then it is done. Make sure to repeat the test along the rack, though, to ensure it is completely done.

The other test that you can run is to pick up the rack of ribs in the middle with a pair of tongs. Give it a bit of a bounce - the ribs should droop on either side and begin to crack in the middle.

Resting Your Baby Back Ribs

After all this time and hard work, I know you are dying to dig into your delicious ribs. However, I am going to ask you to hold off a little longer.

The ribs need tie to rest and reabsorb and flavor that they may have lost. For the best results, leave the ribs in the foil while they are resting. This way, they will absorb all that flavor from the basting liquid and the sauce too.

Lemon dressed grilled meat on white plate

Wrapping It Up

Smoking baby back ribs can seem like a challenging task but this isn't the case at all. You just need to know which ingredients and techniques to use. Now that you have the lowdown, you can go ahead and create your own version of the best tasting ribs!

By Kristy J. Norton
I'm Kristy – a chef and connoisseur of all things BBQ! You can find me either in my kitchen (or someone else's) or at a big outdoor barbecue surrounded by friends and family. In both my professional and personal life I’ve picked up more than a few tips and tricks for turning out delicious food. I consider it a privilege to share it with others!
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