If you know the first thing about smoked ribs, you understand that the meat needs to be cooked over a low fire for a long time if you want it to turn out right. Many recipes call for a smoker temperature of 225 degrees Fahrenheit, and that’s a good rule of thumb to follow.
However, cranking up the fire a few degrees won’t harm the end result, and you’ll be able to serve the ribs much more quickly. If you’re wondering how long to smoke ribs at 250 degrees (or as high as 275), read on.
How Long To Smoke Ribs at 250 or 275 Degrees
Increasing the smoker temperature helps to speed along the cooking process. A 3-pound rack of baby back ribs should take 5 hours to cook at 250 degrees and 3 to 4 hours at 275 degrees. For spare ribs, the process takes about 6 hours at 250 degrees and 5 hours when you ramp up the temp to 275.
A Word About Rib Types
Before you start to cook, you should know that there are several different types of ribs. For the purposes of this article, we’ve decided to stick with pork ribs as opposed to beef ribs, but even within this framework, there are differences.
Back ribs are cut from the top of the spine. There’s a visible curvature along the length of the rack that makes them easy to identify. Since they’re not as large as spare ribs, back ribs are sometimes called “baby backs.” These don’t contain as much meat as spare ribs, and what meat they do have is much leaner.
Spare ribs come from the belly, and the racks have a broad, flat appearance. They contain a high percentage of fat, but there’s a great deal of meat on each bone as well. When the lower cartilage has been removed from the rack, spare ribs become St. Louis ribs.
Remember that spare ribs will take much longer to cook than a similarly-sized rack of baby backs. If you’re substituting one kind for the other, you’ll need to adjust the recipe accordingly.
Increase the estimated cooking time by around 50 percent when substituting spare ribs for baby back ribs. That means that if the recipe calls for a 4 hour cook time for baby backs, spare ribs will need about 6 hours at the same temperature.
The “Falling Off the Bone” Myth
First and foremost, you should know how to tell when the ribs are ready to come off the heat.
The phrase “falling off the bone” is tossed around quite often when it comes to pork ribs. However, true pitmasters know that this is nothing to be proud of. Here’s why.
When pork ribs are cooked so hard that the meat literally falls off the bone when you touch it, the meat is overdone. That means there’s a good chance that it’s lost most of its moisture, which will give it an unpleasant mouthfeel. It’s also more difficult to reheat your leftovers when the meat is too dry.
Instead, you’ll want to take the ribs off the heat when they reach an internal temperature of 195 degrees Fahrenheit. If they’re allowed to cook past 203 degrees, the meat will begin to dry out.
There are several different ways to check your ribs for doneness. The easiest way is to take a look at the ends. If 1/4- to 1/2-inch of the bone is visible, then the ribs are most likely done.
You can also use tongs to gently lift the rib rack and bounce it up and down on the grate a few times. If the rack cracks in the middle, take it off the grill at once.
It’s also a good idea to keep an instant-read thermometer on hand. No method is foolproof, and testing the internal temperature of the ribs will help to keep your barbecue on track.
Best Wood For Smoking Pork Ribs
We enjoy using fruit woods when smoking baby back ribs. The sweet-smoky flavor provides an excellent counterpoint to the lean meat. Try apple or cherry wood for the best results. Pecan is also a nice choice.
When it comes to spare ribs, we prefer a heartier alternative. Oak works well, because the flavor is robust without being too intense. If you want your spare ribs to taste extra smoky, add some hickory or mesquite to the mix.
How Long To Smoke Ribs at 250 Degrees
At 250 degrees, a 3-pound rack of baby back ribs should take about 5 hours to cook. The recipe below is for smoked baby backs, but if you’d prefer to substitute spare ribs, plan on 6 to 8 hours of cooking time. Remember to account for any variances in weight when you’re planning your cookout.
Smoked Baby Back Ribs
Once you’ve brought your baby back ribs home from the butcher, trim off the silverskin. That’s the grayish membrane that runs along the bone side of the rack. Sometimes, the butcher will do this job for you, but if not, it’s easy enough to remove it yourself using a sharp knife. Trim off any excess fat while you’re at it.
Pat the rib rack dry with a paper towel. Apply a light coating of prepared yellow or Dijon mustard. This will give the spice rub something to cling to. You can use a store-bought rub if you’d prefer, or mix together a blend of salt, pepper, cumin, smoked paprika, brown sugar, and cayenne pepper.
Set your smoker to 250 degrees Fahrenheit. When it reaches the right temperature, set the unwrapped rib rack on the cooking grate and close the lid. Let the ribs cook for 2 hours without peeking. During this time, the pork will become saturated with smoke flavor.
After 2 hours, take the ribs out of the smoker. Prepare a double layer of heavy-duty aluminum foil and drizzle it with a small amount of honey and melted butter. Place the rack on the foil, wrapping it tightly to create a seal. Set it back in the smoker to cook for another 2 hours.
At this point, you can remove the foil from the ribs and return them to the smoker to cook for another hour. During the last 30 minutes, feel free to apply your favorite barbecue sauce, if desired.
Take the ribs off the smoker and allow the meat to rest for 15 minutes. Divide the rack into individual ribs and serve with additional sauce on the side.
How Long To Smoke Ribs at 275 Degrees
In case you’re wondering how long to smoke ribs at 275 degrees, we’ve included this alternative as well.
The following recipe works best with spare ribs. Boosting the temperature helps to decrease the overall cooking time, which is convenient because the ribs are so much larger. Nevertheless, it’s best to plan on a 5-hour cooking time for this method. To use the same technique for baby back ribs, plan on 3 to 4 hours.
Remember that a full rack of spare ribs usually weighs between 3 and 4 pounds. If the rack is any larger, the ribs will take longer to cook.
Smoked Spare Ribs
If the butcher hasn’t already removed the silverskin from the bone side of the rack, do so now. Work a sharp knife beneath one corner of the membrane, then use a paper towel to grasp it firmly in the other hand. Slowly peel it away, repeating the process if there are any bits left behind. Trim away any excess fat, if necessary.
Pat the spare ribs dry with additional paper towels. Lightly coat the rack with prepared yellow or Dijon mustard, then apply the seasoning rub of your choice. Make sure to massage the spices into the meat so that they don’t fall off on the cooking grate.
Set the smoker to 275 degrees. When it has achieved this temperature and is giving off a nice amount of smoke, set the prepared rib rack inside and close the lid. Smoke the ribs for 1 hour, flip the rack to the other side, and smoke for another hour.
Remove the ribs from the grill and set the rack aside. Prepare a double layer of heavy-duty aluminum foil. Place the rack bone side up on the foil and wrap it tightly around the ribs. If any of the ribs are threatening to poke out, add another layer of foil.
Set the wrapped ribs back on the smoker and let them cook for another 2 hours. Remove the foil and set the ribs bone side down on the cooking grate. Allow them to cook for another hour, or until the meat comes away from the bone when you apply gentle pressure. During the last 30 minutes or so of cooking, you can add a layer of barbecue sauce, if desired.
When the ribs have cooked to 195 degrees Fahrenheit, remove them from the heat. Set the rack aside for 15 minutes to let the juices redistribute. Separate into individual ribs and serve hot with sauce on the side.
Smoked ribs require a great deal of patience. When you’re pressed for time, ramping up the smoker temperature will help you speed the process along.
That said, don’t be tempted to raise the temperature too high, or the ribs won’t have the same tender texture. A low and slow fire is the key to success, so make sure the smoker stays at your designated temperature for the duration of the cooking time.
Best of luck, and happy grilling!