Can you set the smoker to 200 degrees when making pork ribs? Sure, but you’ll have to add a hearty dose of patience to the recipe. At this temp, the ribs will take a while to cook. Fortunately, the results should be worth the wait.
How Long To Smoke Ribs at 200 Degrees Fahrenheit
A full rack of baby back ribs should cook in about 6 hours if you wrap them in foil partway through, or 7 hours if you leave them unwrapped. Spare ribs might take as long as 8 hours unwrapped, and 6 to 7 if you use the Texas crutch.
Why You Should Smoke Ribs Low and Slow
Ribs aren’t naturally tender cuts of pork. Spare ribs come from the underside of the pig, where the meat is rich and fatty. They require long exposure to low, even heat in order to render out the fat. Even baby back ribs, which are cut from the loin area, will be tough and chewy if they’re not cooked right.
The slow cook also helps the ribs retain moisture. The pork needs to cook to a high internal temperature before it reaches the proper consistency, but it needs more than just heat. Time is a major factor in the process. If the cooking temp is too high, the ribs will dry out before they’ve had a chance to cook through.
As the ribs cook over low heat, the connective tissue will transform into gelatin, acting as a natural basting liquid. The rendered fat will contribute to the juicy texture as well. During the final stages of the smoke, you can turn up the heat a bit to crisp up the bark, but this step often isn’t necessary.
How Low is Too Low?
If you’re new to the barbecue game, the prospect of cooking anything at just 200 degrees might be daunting. Will the meat ever cook through when the temperature is set that low?
Even experienced pitmasters tend to crank the heat higher. A range of 225 to 275 degrees is the norm. Still, it’s possible to cook the ribs at 200 as long as you keep important food safety concerns in mind.
When meat hits the temperature range between 40 and 140 degrees, it enters what’s called the “danger zone.” Within this range, bacteria can multiply rapidly. That’s why raw and cooked meat should always be stored at temperatures below 40 degrees.
As long as the ribs achieve an internal temp of at least 140 degrees during the first 4 hours in the smoker, they should be safe to eat. If they’ve hovered in the danger zone any longer than that, however, they might be housing the type of bacteria that causes food poisoning.
Does that mean you need to worry? Fortunately, this is more of a concern with bigger cuts that take a long time to cook through, like beef brisket and pork shoulder. A rack of ribs has a large surface area, which means the meat should clear the 140-degree mark well within the 4-hour window.
In short, while it’s generally safe to smoke ribs at 200 degrees, we wouldn’t recommend setting the smoker temperature any lower. Going lower won’t improve your results, and it will take an exceptionally long time for the ribs to cook.
On a related note, be sure to refrigerate any leftovers after 2 hours. For optimum freshness and flavor, you should consume leftover ribs within 4 days.
How Long To Smoke Ribs at 200 Degrees
If you keep the smoker set to 200 degrees for the duration of the cook, a rack of baby back ribs should be done in about 7 hours. If you’ve opted for spare ribs or St. Louis-style ribs, the process will take a bit longer—7.5 to 8 hours.
Some chefs recommend setting the smoker to 200 for the first 3 hours, then cranking it up to 225 for the second part of the process. For the final hour of cooking, the temperature is reset to 250-275. This speeds things along a bit, so the ribs should be done sooner—5 to 6 hours for baby backs, and 6 to 7 hours for spare ribs.
Remember that if you wrap the ribs in foil, they won’t take as long to cook. Moreover, cooking times can vary, depending on the cut of meat, the reliability of the smoker, and the ambient temperature, among other factors. That’s why we suggest keeping a calibrated instant-read thermometer on hand whenever you’re smoking ribs or other large cuts.
Slow-Smoked Baby Back Ribs
If you’d prefer to substitute spare ribs, adjust the estimated cooking time accordingly.
- 1 rack baby back ribs, about 3 pounds
- 2 tablespoons prepared yellow mustard
For the Rub:
- 2 tablespoons brown sugar
- 2 tablespoons smoked paprika
- 2 tablespoons garlic powder
- 2 tablespoons onion powder
- 1 tablespoon chili powder
- 2 teaspoons ground cumin
- 2 teaspoons kosher salt
- 1-1/2 teaspoons freshly ground black pepper
1. Inspect the ribs to make sure the butcher removed the membrane from the underside of the rack. If not, slide your fingers or a blunt knife beneath the membrane and carefully peel it off.
2. Make the seasoning rub by combining all of the ingredients in a small bowl.
3. Pat the rib rack dry with paper towels and coat with the mustard. It doesn’t need to be a heavy layer—it’s just in place to give the spice rub something to cling to.
4. Cover the ribs all over with the seasoning rub, patting gently to make sure it adheres.
5. Set the smoker temperature to 200 degrees. If your unit tends to run cooler, you might want to set it to 220, just to be on the safe side.
6. When the smoker is ready, set the ribs on the cooking grate with the bone side facing down.
7. Smoke the ribs until the internal temperature reaches 195 degrees on an instant-read thermometer, about 7 hours. Start checking the temperature at the 5-hour mark to make sure they don’t overcook. When the temp hits the 180-185 mark, you can apply a sauce to the ribs as they finish cooking.
Tip: If you want to smoke the ribs using the 3-2-1 method, you can do so at this temperature. Wrap the ribs in foil after 3 hours, smoke them for 2 hours longer in the wrapper, then remove the foil for the final hour.
8. When the ribs are done, take them off the smoker. Set them aside to rest, loosely tented with foil, for at least 10 minutes.
9. Serve ribs with sauce on the side, if desired.
The Bottom Line
200 degrees isn’t our preferred temperature for smoking ribs, but it is an acceptable one. The key is to keep an eye on the grill temp to make sure it doesn’t dip too low, as well as the temperature of the ribs to prevent overcooking.