Ribs Bone Up or Down: Setting the Record Straight

December 15, 2022

When smoking ribs, place the bone towards the heat source of your oven, grill, or smoker. This prevents them from drying out.

Ever since the pandemic, a lot of my friends have really been getting into BBQing and while they seem to get the hang of most of the things about smoking ribs, many people had a question about whether to place ribs bone up or down in the smoker. Since my own family experimented with both options for many years, I have the answer!

In this post, I will show you how to position the ribs and give you some tips on how to make truly delicious ribs!

Ribs bone up or down

Do You Cook Ribs Bone Up or Bone Down?

The correct answer to this question is to place the ribs with the bone side facing the heat source.

The thing is that rib meat is quite tough. Due to this, you have to cook it low and slow over a long period of time. If you were to place the ribs meat side facing the heat, then they would cook quickly. This is especially true because there is so little meat on the bones of pork ribs.

If you are using an oven to cook your ribs, then most of the heat comes from the top of the oven. So, in this instance, you would place the ribs meat side down.

Do You Grill Ribs Meat Side Up?

In the case of grills, the heat source will be located below the ribs. This is true for the charcoal, pellet, and gas grill.

In this case, you would place the ribs bone side down here.

If you do want beautiful grill marks on the ribs, then you may want to quickly sear the ribs meat side down just before taking them off the grill.

Make sure to only keep the rib rack in this position for a very short period of time – a few minutes at most. Otherwise, you run the risk of burning or drying out the ribs.

Do You Smoke Ribs Bone Side Up or Down?

There can be a bit more discrepancy when it comes to smokers. Some have the heat source above the food while with other models, the heat comes from below.

Due to this, the judgment call on whether to smoke ribs bone up or down will be according to the type of smoker that you are using.

Keep in mind that when smoking ribs, it is especially important to place the ribs meat side facing away from the heat. Not only does this give the meat time to absorb the smoke flavor, but the bones also get to do so, making for a far more tasty dish!

Does This Rule Apply to All Types of Ribs?

As you are aware, there is more than one type of pork ribs. First up, you have the ever popular baby back ribs. As the name suggests, the rack here is smaller and there is less meat on the bones.

Then, you have spare ribs. These are the larger and meatier type of ribs. Finally, you have the St. Louis ribs. These are spare ribs that have been trimmed and neatened up.

The answer is yes. You should smoke ribs meat side facing the heat for baby back ribs, St. Louis ribs, and spare ribs.

What Does Bone Side Up Mean for Ribs?

If you are new to smoking baby back or spare ribs, then you are probably trying to figure out what the difference is about meat side and bone side. I mean, don’t both sides of a rack have some meat on them.

Well, take a close look at one side of the racks and then flip it over. Look at this side carefully too. Whichever side of the rack has the more meat on it is the meaty side. The other is the bone side.

Smoked Pork Ribs with Spicy Red Dried Chilies

Do You Flip the Ribs While Smoking Ribs?

A lot of people wonder if you need to flip the ribs halfway through the cooking process.

And, if so:

Do you cook ribs bone side down or meat side down first?

Well, in reality, there is no need for you to flip the ribs over. As long as you smoke ribs bone side towards the heat, then there is no need to make any other change.

Do You Place the Bone Side Up or Down When Wrapping Ribs?

When smoking ribs – or grilling them – it is important to wrap the ribs in aluminum foil. This helps to seal in the moisture and ensures that the ribs aren’t directly exposed to heat for most of the cooking process.

So, when you wrap the ribs, should you be placing the rack bone side up or down? The truth is that it doesn’t really matter. As I mentioned, when you wrap the ribs, they are protected from heat.

Some people do have a preference, but I find that it doesn’t really matter either way. So, this is something that you don’t really need to stress out about.

How to Make the Most Delicious Ribs?

Here is a guide to making the best tender ribs ever!

Get the Ribs Out

The first thing that you should do is to take the rib rack about an hour before it needs to go on the grill or in the smoker.

This way, it gets closer to room temperature, ensuring that the ribs cook more evenly.

Use Yellow Mustard

Before you apply the seasoning rub, apply a thin layer of yellow mustard to either side of the ribs. Then, sprinkle on the rub.

This will ensure that the ingredients really stick on. I also find that the mustard adds a little zing to the ribs too.

Choose Low Temperatures

For the first portion of the smoking process, I set the temperature to 180 F, then after the ribs are wrapped in foil, I turn the temperature up to 225 F.

If using a charcoal or gas grill, then place on the side of indirect heat.

I really don’t advise going any higher than other this. As I mentioned earlier, the meat on the ribs can be pretty tough and there isn’t much on the bone either. The lower you keep it, the more you guarantee to keep ribs tender.

Arrange the Rib Rack

Now, comes the time to put your newfound information to good use. Place the rib racks bone side facing towards the heat source.

Close the lid and smoke.

Smoke the Ribs Uncovered

For the first section of the smoking process, the ribs are cooked uncovered. Cook at 180 F for 2 hours for baby back ribs and 3 hours for meatier ribs.

This will be enough time for the smoke flavor to set in.

Grilled Pork Ribs on the Grill

Wrap the Ribs

Take the smoking meat out of the smoker at the recommended time. Increase the smoker temperature to 225 F.

Tear off a large sheet of aluminum foil – about twice the length of the rack. Place the ribs in the middle of the foil.

At this point, you can drizzle some honey, butter, or even some chili sauce if you like.

Wrap the foil tightly, creating crimped seams. This needs to be tight so that none of the moisture escapes out.

Place the ribs back in the smoker.

Smoke Wrapped

Smoke the ribs for 2 hours. This cooking time works for both baby back and spare ribs.

Take the ribs out of the smoker.

Smoke Unwrapped

Unwrap the ribs and apply a thin layer of BBQ sauce on both sides.

Place back in the smoker and cook for another hour. Once again, this is for both baby backs and spare ribs.

Make sure when smoking ribs meat side away from the heat source.

If you like a saucier rib, then take the ribs out after 30 minutes. Apply another thin layer of barbecue sauce and then pop it back in the smoker until done.

Check Doneness

Unlike when smoking other foods, with ribs you have to rely on the cooking time.

For baby backs, you cook the meat for a total of 5 hours. For spare ribs you cook them for 6 hours.

So, when the time is up, pick up the middle of the smoked ribs with a pair of tongs. If the sides begin to droop downwards and the middle beginning to crack.

If the ribs aren’t done yet, place them back in the smoker.

Wrapping It Up

Place the smoking ribs bone side towards the heat source. Now that you know this trick to perfectly smoked meat, you will be able to impress family members and guests alike!

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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