How to Smoke Ribs in Electric Smoker? A Guide to Juicy Ribs

September 22, 2023
Written by Kristy J. Norton

I’ve got a foolproof method I use to smoke ribs in an electric smoker. First, preheat the smoker to 225 degrees and remove the membrane tissue from the ribs. Then, generously apply your favorite dry rub and place the ribs in the smoker. Smoke them until they reach a fall-off-the-bone tenderness. When they’re halfway done, add a layer of your preferred BBQ sauce and continue smoking to let the flavors set. And that’s it, you’re done! 

However, if you want the complete details, including ingredients, tricks, and secret recipes, you’ll need to explore the full guide. I’ve got years of experience and culinary school knowledge, so I’ve fine-tuned the art of smoking ribs. Today, we’ll be focusing on pork ribs, but feel free to substitute beef if you prefer. Get ready to uncover the secrets to juicy and flavorful smoked ribs.

how to smoke ribs in electric smoker

The Best Electric Smoker Pork Ribs Recipe

What You’ll Need? 

  • 2 Racks of pork ribs
  • Dry rub of your choice
  • Barbecue sauce
  • Wood chips for smoking 
  • An electric smoker 
  • Instant-read thermometer 
Raw Pork Ribs with Cooking Ingredients

Step-by-step Instructions 

1. Prepare the Ribs for the Smoker

First, I’ll be breaking down for you how to get those ribs prepped for a cooking session on your smoker:

Strip the Membrane

Flip the ribs bone-side up, and you’ll see a thin, shiny membrane covering the bones. Take a butter knife or use your fingers to lift it off by the tip. Once it’s loose, grab hold of it with a paper towel and peel it off. This step is crucial because it lets all the flavors soak into the meat and keeps things tender. Leave it there, and your ribs will be so firm and tough!

Trim That Fat

Take a look at your ribs, and if you spot any excess fat, it’s time to do some trimming. You don’t want thick or uneven layers of fat because that can make your ribs greasy. Just keep a thin layer to keep the meat nice and moist during the smokin’ process.

Rub It Down

Get your hands on a dry rub that tickles your taste buds. Want an all-in-one rub? Then try this dry rub from Traeger. Sprinkle your magic blend of spices, herbs, salt, and sugar generously over the ribs. Make sure every edge and corner gets some loving. Now, take your hands and give the meat a gentle pat down.

Give It a Breather

Now that your ribs are seasoned let them rest at room temperature for about 30 minutes. This resting period lets those flavors sink in and helps that dry rub form a delicious crust.

2. Set Up the Electric Smoker

Setting up your smoker is a breeze! Just follow these simple steps:

Get Your Smoker Ready

First, if you don’t have a smoker yet, no worries! Let me put you on to one of the best electric smokers in the game. The Masterbuilt 40'' Digital Electric Smoker is the king of electric smokers and is perfect for tailgating or firing some ribs at an RV party. But hey, use what you’ve got if you have an electric smoker around. 

Find a Safe and Well-ventilated Area

Find yourself a sweet spot outdoors for your smoker. Look for a place with enough room around it, away from anything flammable. Safety first! And don’t forget; good ventilation is key for that smoke circulation.

Add Water to the Water Pan

Moisture is the name of the game. Fill up the water pan with some water or any liquid you choose. You can add beer, wine, or even apple juice to the water pan. These add some deliciousness to the meat and keep your meat juicy during the smoking process and prevent it from drying out.  

Preheat the Smoker

Now, let’s get that smoker preheated. It’s just like warming up before a big workout. Follow the manufacturer’s instructions on how to start it. 

Adjust the temperature control dial or digital settings on your smoker to the desired temperature.

Set it to 225 degrees Fahrenheit. Then let it preheat for about 15-30 minutes. This ensures a stable and consistent temperature for the smoking action to come. 

Add Wood Chips

Depending on your electric smoker, you may need to add wood chips or chunks for that irresistible flavor. 

Check your smoker instructions to see where those chips go. Oh, and soak those wood chips in water beforehand. It gives you more smoke production and a slower burn. Don’t forget to add more wood chips when they get burned out. 

Softly Smoked Juicy Pork Ribs

3. Smoke Your Ribs 

Finally, it’s time to get those ribs smoking! Here’s the lowdown on how to make it all happen, assuming you’ve done all the steps in the previous section: 

Get Those Ribs in the Smoker

Once your electric smoker is preheated and the soaked wood chips are loaded, it’s rib time! 

Slap those seasoned ribs onto the cooking grates, making sure they have some breathing space. We want that smoke to circulate and cook them evenly.

Lock It Up and Let It Smoke

It’s time to seal the deal, my friend. Close the lid or door of the electric smoker to lock in all the smoke. 

This creates a controlled environment for slow and steady cooking. Now, I must say you need to resist the temptation to peek! Opening the smoker too often messes with the heat and smoke levels.

Monitor and Adjust

Keep an eye on that smoker’s temperature gauge like a hawk. Make any adjustments needed to keep that cooking temperature just right. Don’t let it get too hot or too cool. Find that Goldilocks zone.

Check on Those Wood Chips

From time to time, give those wood chips a look-see. If they’re running low, add more to maintain that continuous smoke. We want that smoky goodness to infuse the ribs with flavor nonstop!

Baste With BBQ Sauce

The secret to smoking ribs that are tasty and juicy lies in the basting. Here’s where the flavor magic starts to happen! I recommend you begin basting the ribs when halfway through. Most ribs in an electric smoker take 3 to 6 hours to cook on an electric smoker. So, set your basting timer to around the second or third hour of smoking. 

I recommend basting every 30 minutes to an hour for the rest of the cooking time. This helps build up layers of flavor and gives your ribs that delicious glaze we crave.

Take your basting brush and favorite BBQ sauce and start basting those ribs. Try out Traeger’s Que BBQ Sauce if you have none in your kitchen. Be generous, and make sure to cover all sides of the ribs.

Check for Doneness 

Give the electric smoker ribs a poke and see if the meat pulls away from the bone with ease. That’s a good sign they’re done! If you want to be extra sure, use a meat thermometer to check that internal temperature. 

As I always say, instant-read thermometers are your best bet, and my favorite is this Alpha Grillers model. Don’t take the ribs off until the internal temp reads at least 145 degrees, the consumption-safe level for ribs. But I suggest cooking it to around 190 to 200 so all the collagen and fat can break down and flavor the meat. 

Rest and Serve

Once your electric smoker ribs are cooked to perfection, remove them from the electric smoker and let them rest for 10 to 15 minutes. This allows those juicy flavors to spread throughout the meat, making them even more mouthwatering. Slice them up, and get ready to satisfy your taste buds!

Tip: Would you like to make ribs in an electric smoker extra moist and tender? Why not try the Texas crutch trick? After a few hours of smoking the ribs in an electric smoker, wrap them tightly in heavy-duty aluminum foil with a splash of apple juice, apple cider vinegar or broth (this replaces the need for continuous basting). Wrapping in aluminum foil helps them cook faster and locks in all the juice. Keep on smoking till they’re tender and falling off the bone.

Cooked Pork Ribs with Rosemary Leaves

How to Select the Best Ribs for Smoking?

When it comes to picking the best electric smoker ribs, here’s the scoop on the popular types:

  • Baby Back Ribs: These little guys are leaner and more tender than spare ribs. But they’ve got a hint of sweetness. When cooking, note that these ribs shouldn’t be left out to smoke for too long or at too high a temperature. This is because baby back ribs don’t have as much fat to render for long cooks as your spare ribs, for example. Cook them too long, and they’d dry off – and may get tough! Also, if you want moister and tender ribs, you really have to be careful. 
  • St. Louis-Style Ribs: They’re big and meaty, packed with flavor and juiciness. St. Louis ribs are the middle ground for all three popular pork ribs. Not a lot of fat and not as lean as baby back ribs. Give them more time to get that fat rendered and reach tender perfection.
  • Spare Ribs: Spare ribs have more bone and fat. But they’re all about that rich, hearty flavor. Smoke ribs slower and longer if you want that fall-off-the-bone goodness.
  • Beef Ribs: Okay, this is for the followers of beef. Beef ribs are bigger, denser, and fattier than pork ribs. You’ve got options, from prime ribs to short ribs. They take some extra time to get that melt-in-your-mouth tenderness, though. But they’re great if you’ve got a party or gathering. 

How to Choose?

Hold up! It’s not just about grabbing any old spare or baby back ribs off the counter. Next, I’ll dive deeper into what makes a rib truly rib-tastic:

Meaty Goodness

We’re talking ribs with some serious meat on them. Skip the ones that are too thin or overly fatty. You want a good balance for that juicy, meaty bite.

Nice Marbling 

Look for those glorious streaks of fat within the meat. That marbling is like flavor bombs waiting to explode during smoking. 

They keep those ribs moist, giving them more endurance for long smoking. Plus, they add that lip-smacking ribby taste.

Solid Bones

Don’t take ribs with cracked or fractured bones. Make sure the rib bones are intact. Some might argue that bone marrow helps the taste. But good ribs are ribs with the bones intact. It allows them to cook evenly and look damn fine on your plate. 

Fresh is Best

Snatch up ribs that are fresh as a daisy, with vibrant color and zero signs of discoloration or sliminess. And hey, double-check that sell-by date to ensure you’re in the clear. When it comes to the sell-by date on ribs, it’s a good idea to aim for ones that are within 3 to 5 days from the day of purchase. That gives you a decent window of freshness to work with.

Talk to Your Butcher

Need some rib-spiration? Don’t be shy to hit up your friendly neighborhood butcher for some expert advice. They know their stuff and can hook you up with the choicest ribs in town.

Raw Pork Ribs with Spices and Herbs Placed on a Tray

What Kind of Wood Should You Use? 

I’ve got a bunch of tasty options to pick the perfect wood that always make my taste buds go wild. Check them out!

1. Mesquite

Mesquite brings a robust flavor that’s perfect for bold-tasting ribs. It’s a match made in heaven for ribs meat. But a little goes a long way. So use it sparingly or mix it with milder woods like oak.

2. Hickory

Talk about a classic! Hickory wood delivers a powerful punch of rich, slightly sweet flavor that pairs like a dream with ribs. It always gives my ribs that irresistible smoky kick.

3. Apple

Ah, the sweet and fruity vibes of applewood! This wood adds a delightful touch to my ribs, bringing a milder smoke that won’t overpower the meat. 

4. Cherry

Want to take the sweetness factor up a notch? Cherrywood is your go-to! It adds a touch of sweetness and a mild, fruity flavor that’ll make your smoky ribs sing. 

5. Pecan

When I’m in the mood for something nutty and subtly sweet, pecan wood comes to the rescue. It’s like Hickory’s laid-back cousin. It offers a similar flavor profile with a milder taste.

Note: The above is what I found works for pork ribs. But if you’re all about beef, oak, mesquite, and hickory wood chips work best for beef ribs.


1. Should I Smoke Ribs At 180 or 225?

Most folks recommend a temperature of 225 degrees Fahrenheit. That slow and steady cooking gives you tender and flavorful smoked ribs. But hey, some pitmasters like to go lower at 180 degrees Fahrenheit of smoker temperature for even more melt-in-your-mouth tenderness

Smoking at a lower temperature like 180 degrees allows for a slower cooking process. This gives the flavors more time to develop and the meat more time to absorb the smoky essence. At 225, the ribs cook a bit quicker while still retaining moisture. This can help achieve a balance between tenderness and a desirable smoke-infused flavor

In the end, it’s your call. There’s no fast rule here! Just make sure the core of the meat reads up to 190 degrees on a thermometer before taking it off the smoker. 

2. What’s the 3-2-1 Rule for Smoking Ribs?

The 3-2-1 rule is a handy trick for smoking ribs for 6 hours or thereabouts with emphasis on getting a juicier result.  The 3-2-1 technique involves smoking while giving the meat different exposure to heat. The first three hours of smoking are done unwrapped. This is where the flavors mingle, and the bark starts to form.

Then, the following two hours of cooking are done while wrapped up tight in aluminum foil. When you wrap ribs in aluminum foil, you make them super tender and lock in all that juiciness. And for the final hour, you smoke ribs unwrapped. This gives them a chance to get some beautiful caramelized bark outside.

Related Reading


Smoking ribs in an electric smoker is the way to go if you want tender, juicy, and downright delicious results. Just follow the steps I’ve shared in this guide, and you’ll be well on your way to becoming a barbecue aficionado.

From preparing your smoker and seasoning the ribs to monitoring the temperature and adding that perfect smoky flavor, each step plays a crucial role in creating a rib barbecue masterpiece. Don’t forget to put your own personal spin on things with your favorite rubs, BBQ sauce, and smoking techniques to make those ribs truly shine. 

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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