Ribs are a big part of the barbecue tradition of the US and if you are going to smoke meat you will have to deal with them sooner than later. One of the challenges when smoking ribs is how to keep them moist It is a question asked by many cooks venturing into the world of smoking meats but also something experienced pit masters pay a lot of attention too.
Here are the most common techniques experienced pit masters use to keep ribs moist while smoking:
- Using water pans
- Smoking temperature control
- Sitting time
Let’s go in the details of each of them.
Table of Contents
- 1 Tips for Keeping Smoked Ribs Moist
- 2 A Final Word on Moist Smoked Ribs
Tips for Keeping Smoked Ribs Moist
Who has not enjoyed the explosion of tastes of ribs that have been perfectly smoked? Dry and tacky ribs will never make it. When smoking ribs, these techniques will ensure your ribs are moist when served to your friends and family. Mastering how to keep ribs moist is even more important when you are cooking for large number of people.
Before using any of the tips I’m sharing with you here, you need to decide if removing the membrane from your ribs will help with the final taste. Some cooks swear by removing the membrane layer while others say it makes no difference. The best piece of advice I can give you is: experiment! Try both ways and decide for yourself which is better – keeping the membrane on or removing it.
Preparation: Brining or Marinading?
Most cooks will prepare their meats for smoking by using a brine recipe. The same applies to ribs. Some cooks prefer to go with a marinade, skipping the brining process completely. Either way, these methods help to keep the moisture in the ribs.
If your option is to marinade the ribs, use a large dish to mix your favorite marinade recipe in and add the ribs. Make sure they’re well-covered and leave them to marinade for up to 24 hours. The ribs will absorb some of the marinade flavors. This will add to the smoky flavors created within the smoker.
The brine solution is a salt and water mixture and the ribs are soaked in this mix for up to 12 hours. You can get adventurous with the brine recipe and add seasonings and other flavorants to spice it up.
Both brining and marinating will keep your ribs deliciously moist throughout the smoking time.
Spritzing: To Spritz or Not To Spritz
Spritzing is the method of spraying your meats with juice throughout the cooking time. Now, I must warn you an ongoing debate continues between cooks smoking meats. Some will tell you spritzing is the way to go while others will tell you it’s an absolute no-no.
Spritzing during the smoking process entails opening the smoker often. When using a smoker, we make it our mission to keep the temperature low and consistent. But not too low. If you keep opening the smoker door, you run the risk of messing with your smoker’s temperature. And, you could lose the smoke as well.
If you decide to go with spritzing, use a spray bottle and keep each spray short and quick. You don’t want to drown the ribs nor do you want to wash off the rub or marinade. You’re aiming to keep moisture in the heat of the smoker. And, keeping the ribs moist at the same time.
What liquid is used to spritz ribs? Stay away from water! Most cooks will use apple juice. You can use white grape juice or apple cider vinegar if you want to add some extra sugar or tang to the ribs. But, avoid using too many different flavors. Rely on the marinade or basting sauce to give the most flavors while the spritzing simply adds a layer of sugar and caramelization to the outside layer.
Watch this video to find out if spritzing ribs is the way to go for keeping your smoked ribs moist.
Introducing Moisture: Water Pans
One of the most effective ways of keeping moisture in the cooking chamber of your smoker is using a water pan. Many smokers come with a water pan included, like the Weber Smokey Mountain (which you can find on Amazon by clicking here). But if your smoker doesn’t have one, improvise and use a bowl from the kitchen.
Fill the water pan or bowl with water and place in the smoker. As the temperature heats up, the water will gradually evaporate creating water droplets in the air. These droplets will fall onto the meat helping to keep it moist while it’s cooking.
You’ll need to keep a regular check on the water pan and make sure it doesn’t dry out. Depending on the size of the bowl, you’ll need to keep filling it with water. Again, you don’t want to keep opening the smoker to check on the water level. The more you practice the more familiar you’ll get with the timing and when to fill the pan.
Another benefit of having a water pan in the smoker is it keeps the temperature consistent without getting too hot. With ribs, keeping the cooking process low and slow is another tip to keeping them moist.
Keeping the Heat Consistent: Charcoal and Wood Chips
If the smoker gets too hot, you’re likely to end up with dry meat. The art to smoking is keeping the temperatures consistent and low throughout the cooking time. If the internal temperature of the cooking chamber gets too hot, at any time, your ribs will lose moisture quickly. Most of the times you will need a specific thermometer for smoking to keep the temperature under control.
Smoking is a balancing game and when it comes to mastering the temperature and flavor, you want to use less charcoal and more wood chips. So, if you’re using a charcoal smoker, get the ratio in balance. Use less charcoal and more wood chips. Too much charcoal and too little wood chips means you’ll have more heat from the charcoal and less smoky flavors from the wood chips.
It’s easier to control the temperature settings in electric smokers which means you’ll maintain the low temperature needed to keep your ribs moist. Wood chips or wood pellets are added to enhance the smoky flavor so make sure you add your favorite blend. It also helps to check the smoker door is properly sealed.
Wrapping Your Ribs With Aluminium Foil
Many cooks have saved the day by wrapping their ribs in aluminum foil! On those days when you battled to keep the temperature low during the cooking time, you know your ribs could end up being dry. Or maybe you hadn’t noticed the water pan had dried out until four hours into the smoking process. Whatever the reason, you can still save your ribs by wrapping them in aluminum foil.
If you do decide to wrap your ribs in aluminum foil make sure they’re completely wrapped with no gaps or holes for moisture to escape. And, only wrap the ribs in the last couple hours of smoking. If you wrap the ribs any sooner, you’ll lose out on your favorite smoke flavors getting into the meat.
Basting: Mop Sauces for Moisture
Mop sauces, otherwise known as basting sauces, are different from the marinade you used to soak your ribs in. These sauces are applied to the ribs during the smoking process and they’re made with a combination of ingredients. This sauce is applied using a mop and not a basting brush. If you use a brush, you’ll end up brushing away all the rub.
By adding layers of mop sauce throughout the smoking time, you’re not only adding flavor but you’re keeping the moisture inside the ribs.
Create your own mop sauce to produce your unique brand of ribs by using a combination of the following ingredients:
- Vinegar or fresh lemon juice gives some tang and helps to keep the ribs tender.
- Mustard, garlic or onion powders are seasonings which can be added to beer, vinegar or lemon juice.
- Chili powder, paprika or cayenne pepper add some spice and color to the ribs when mixed with Worcestershire sauce and cider vinegar.
It’s a good idea to prepare the mop sauce a few hours or even the day before you smoke your ribs. This allows for the flavors to blend and develop into a delicious sauce.
Sitting Time After Your Ribs Are Smoked
You may be tempted to serve your ribs up as soon as they’ve been smoked. But, do yourself (and your guests) a favor and let your ribs sit for another 15 to 20 minutes after they’ve been removed from the smoker. All meats benefit from sitting time after they’ve been cooked and the same applies to smoked ribs.
Why is this a good idea? If you start cutting your meat as soon as it’s been cooked, the juices are going to flow out and you’ll lose any moisture in the ribs. By the way, this rule applies during the smoking process as well. If you’re tempted to cut into the meat or constantly prick it with a knife or fork while it’s cooking, you’re going to eventually lose all the juices inside the meat.
The sitting time allows the internal juices to settle around the meat evenly. When it’s time to cut the ribs, you’ll notice less juice flowing out.
A Final Word on Moist Smoked Ribs
Producing tender and moist smoked ribs is possible when you know how. By applying some of the tips used by professional and amateur cooks worldwide you won’t need to worry about your ribs turning out dry and bland. The key to keeping your ribs moist lies in the preparation, locking in the moisture and experimenting with what works best for you.