225 degrees is our go-to temperature when smoking ribs. It’s a low enough temperature to yield perfect results, but not so low that you have to worry about food safety issues. In our ultimate guide, we’ll talk about the best methods for smoking ribs at 225 degrees.
How Long To Smoke Ribs at 225 Degrees Fahrenheit
Baby back ribs are usually done in about 5 hours when smoked at 225 degrees. Since spare ribs are larger, they benefit from an extra hour on the grill. If you’re going to wrap the ribs, we would suggest the 3-2-1 method for spare ribs and the 2-2-1 or 3-1-1 method for baby backs.
Understanding Pork Ribs
There are several different types of pork ribs. All of them need to cook for a long time if the meat is going to achieve the proper texture. However, it’s best if you understand the differences between them before firing up the grill.
Spare ribs are thick, meaty ribs that come from the lower section of the rib cage, around the belly. Bacon is cut from the same region, which should give you some idea about how fatty and flavorful these ribs are.
St. Louis-style ribs are spare ribs that are trimmed to remove the breastbone and cartilage that hangs off the edge. This gives them a presentation-worthy rectangular appearance. They’re easy to handle, and the uniform shape allows the ribs to brown up beautifully on the grill.
Some butchers will sell rib racks labeled as “Kansas City-style” ribs. This is another name for spare ribs that have been trimmed for eye appeal, although in this case, the cartilage is usually still included. The term also refers to the preparation technique, which consists of slathering the ribs in a sticky tomato-based sauce toward the end of the smoke.
Baby back ribs, meanwhile, are cut from the top portion of the rib cage. They’re also called “loin back ribs” or simply “back ribs.” These have leaner meat than spare ribs, and the racks are smaller, hence the “baby” moniker. Note that this term refers to the ribs themselves, and has nothing to do with the age of the pig.
Rib tips consist of the cartilage that’s cut from the spare ribs for St. Louis-style racks. As you can imagine, they can be chewy and tough when undercooked. On the plus side, rib tips have a ton of pork flavor.
If you see a package labeled “country-style ribs,” it contains cuts of pork that were taken from the blade end close to the shoulder–or sometimes the shoulder itself. Although they’re both tasty and versatile, country-style “ribs” aren’t actually ribs, and require different preparation techniques.
A Word About Wrapping
Many rib recipes suggest taking the ribs off the heat about halfway through the estimated cooking time, then wrapping them in foil for an hour or two. The technique is called the “Texas crutch” because it makes the meat cook faster. It also allows you to gauge the total cooking time with more accuracy.
As an alternative, you can wrap the ribs in butcher paper instead of foil. In our opinion, this is preferable, as the paper is permeable and therefore allows the meat to “breathe.” You may also notice that the ribs have a stronger smoke flavor, due to the lighter wrapping.
When you’re just starting out, we would suggest taking this step, especially if you’re working on a tight deadline. Even some experienced pitmasters swear by the technique. Should you elect to skip it and leave the ribs unwrapped for the duration of the smoke, the process will just take a bit longer (see Do You Have To Wrap Ribs?, below).
What’s the Optimum Internal Temperature for Smoked Ribs?
Pork needs to cook to an internal temperature of 145 degrees Fahrenheit before it’s safe to consume. However, that doesn’t mean that pork ribs are done when they reach this threshold. On the contrary, the meat needs to cook much longer in order for the connective tissue to break down.
At 180-185 degrees, the ribs will start to get tender. We prefer leaving them on the smoker for a bit longer than that, until the internal temp reaches 195 degrees. They’ll continue to cook as they rest, giving you a final temperature of around 200-205. At this point, the meat will practically melt in your mouth.
Testing the Temperature
There are several ways to test a rack of ribs for doneness. Before we get into them, we should point out that there’s no substitute for a well-calibrated instant-read thermometer. If you want to know precisely when the ribs have reached the sweet spot of 195 degrees, a thermometer is the only way to be sure.
Of course, there are also a few practical tests you can enlist when you think the ribs are getting close. One of them is called the toothpick test. Just insert a toothpick into the center of the rack, between two of the ribs. When you can slide it in and out easily, it means the meat is tender enough to eat.
If you don’t have any toothpicks, lift up one end of the rack with your tongs. Lightly bounce the rack up and down, checking the center to see if any cracks appear. If you do, it means the ribs will separate easily, so they’re probably ready to go.
Don’t make the mistake of cooking ribs until the meat is falling off the bone. This is a popular description, but one that refers to overcooked meat. At the target temperature of 195-205, the meat will come away from the bone easily, but it shouldn’t be so dry that it falls right off.
How Long To Smoke Ribs at 225 Degrees: A Breakdown
Because a rack of spare ribs is larger and fattier than a rack of baby backs, we would suggest using the 3-2-1 technique, especially if you’re a beginner.
“3-2-1” refers to the number of hours in each stage of the cooking process. To pull it off, you smoke the ribs at 225 degrees for 3 hours before removing them from the heat and wrapping them in butcher paper or foil. Once they’re back on the smoker, they’ll cook for another 2 hours before you remove the wrapper for the final hour.
This means you can expect a rack of spare ribs to smoke for a total of 6 hours. Remember that the actual preparation time will be a bit longer, as it will take a few minutes to wrap the ribs. The meat will also need to rest for at least 10 minutes after you take it off the heat.
You can follow this same template if you’ve purchased St. Louis-style ribs. They should reach the optimal temperature of 195 degrees in the same amount of time.
Baby Back Ribs
The lean meat on a rack of baby backs doesn’t require as much time on the smoker. A total cooking time of 5 hours is usually sufficient.
If you’re aiming for a 5-hour smoke, it’s a good idea to wrap the ribs. For this, you have a couple of options.
The 2-2-1 method entails smoking the baby backs for 2 hours, then wrapping them for another 2, then removing the foil or butcher paper and allowing them to smoke for 1 hour more. It’s a carefree technique that should yield moist, tender meat.
The second option follows the 3-1-1 template. As you may have guessed, this means an initial 3-hour smoking period followed by 1 hour in the wrapper and 1 more hour to crisp up the bark. This is the preferred method if you want a powerful hit of smoke flavor. It also means less time in the foil, which gives the meat a more robust texture.
Do You Have To Wrap Ribs?
It’s fine to skip the step of wrapping the ribs in foil, but it will prolong the cooking time. A rack of baby back ribs will cook in 5.5 to 6 hours without the wrapper, while an average-sized rack of spare ribs might take up to 7 hours to cook through.
We don’t think it does any real harm to wrap the ribs, especially if you use butcher paper instead of foil. As long as you only wrap them partway through the smoke, they should still have plenty of flavor.
That said, we also understand the appeal of leaving the ribs “naked.” When you let them cook without the Texas crutch, you’ll get a better feel for time and temperature. These are good skills for any pitmaster to have.
The Bottom Line
There’s nothing like a perfectly smoked rack of ribs, and setting the smoker to 225 degrees can help you get there. It won’t happen quickly, but patience is a cornerstone of every great barbecue. Whether you choose hearty spare ribs or a rack of tasty baby backs, whether you wrap the ribs in foil or wait it out, you’re bound to be pleased with the results.
Best of luck, and happy grilling!