The Ultimate Smoked Ribs on Pit Boss Pellet Grill

September 22, 2023
Written by Kristy J. Norton

The Pit Boss grill was the first mid-range grill that I was able to afford for myself and I used it for many years. During this time, I must have made smoked ribs more times than I could count and I finally got the recipe and the techniques down pat!

In this post, I will not only show you how to smoke ribs on a Pit Boss grill but also give you a recipe that is going to blow you and your guests away. Let’s get started!

ribs on pit boss pellet grill

How to Smoke on a Pit Boss Pellet Grill?

To smoke meat on a Pit Boss pellet grill, start the grill on the Smoke setting. Leave the lid open and let the grill heat for 10 minutes.

Once this startup process is completed, you can then choose your desired temperature, wait for the grill to preheat, place the ribs on the grill, and then start cooking.

Now, can’t you leave the Pit Boss pellet grill on the Smoke setting throughout? After all, aren’t you smoking ribs?

Technically, you can leave the grill on this setting for the duration of the cook. However, with most Pit Boss models, the temperature range for the setting is only between 180 and 120 degrees F.

Although you can smoke the ribs at this temperature, they are going to take a lot longer to cook. This is why most people prefer to set the temperature slightly higher.


The P Setting

Pit Boss pellet grills have something that is known as a P setting. This option is only available when the grill has been set to Smoke.

The P setting controls how much smoke is produced during the cook. The lower the setting, the less smoke that is produced. The higher that you go, though, the more smoke that is created.

Now, the factory default on your Pit Boss pellet grill is p 4. It is a good idea to stick to this number – going too low will not give your ribs a proper smoke flavor. And, going too high can cause the fire to go out completely.

Priming a Pit Boss Pellet Grill

If you are using your Pit Boss pellet grill for the first time or if you ran out wood pellets during the last smoke, then you are going to need to prime your grill before you can use it.

First, remove the internal cooking components of the grill.

Start by ensuring that you add enough pellets to the hopper. Consider how long you will be cooking your pork ribs for top up the pellets accordingly. The last thing you want is to run out of wood chips again.

Once you have done this, turn the unit on with the dial set to Smoke. Then, press and hold the Prime button until you see the pellets falling into the firepot. As this begins to happen, you can release the Prime button.

Power down the grill, replace the cooking components, and then start the Pit Boss pellet grill once more.

Which Pork Ribs Should You Smoke?

Before you learn about the recipe to smoke ribs, you first have to decide what kind of pork ribs you are going to be smoking.

As you may be aware, there are three types of ribs – pork spare ribs, St. Louis ribs, and baby back ribs. Spare ribs are taken from near the breast bone and have more meat on them. This meat also has a greater level of marbling to it.

St. Louis style ribs are simply a more trimmed version of spareribs.

Meat being grilled on barbecue

As for baby back ribs, these are taken from near the backbone, where the loin muscle is. These ribs are shorter, hence their name. They also have less meat on the bones and the meat is quite lean as well.

Can You Substitute Spare Ribs for Baby Back Ribs?

Technically, you can swap out one type of ribs for another. However, there are a few things to consider.

First of all, baby back ribs are smaller – as such, you may need to increase the number of ribs that you buy. Cooking baby back ribs is a more delicate process too. As such, you will need to cook them for a shorter period of time.

Finally, baby back ribs are incredibly tender but have less of a notable flavor. This is why they are often covered with BBQ sauce. Spareribs, on the other hand, have a better flavor. As such, you may want to use less sauce or you may overwhelm the natural flavor profile.

As long as you keep these points in mind, you can swap out one type of pork ribs for another without any issue at all!

3-2-1 vs. 2-2-1 Approach

You will have probably heard about the 3-2-1 method when it comes to smoking ribs. This is where you smoke the ribs for 3 hours, wrap them and smoke them for 2 more hours, then unwrap, and smoke for a final hour.

If you are smoking spareribs, then this method should work for you. However, if you are smoking baby back ribs, then this timing approach is just going to dry out your ribs. This is why you will need to stick to the 2-2-1 option instead.

It is identical to the 3-2-1 method, except you only smoke the ribs for 2 hours the first time around. You can even try this approach if you are smoking smaller spareribs too.

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Smoked Pork Ribs Recipe

Smoked Pork Ribs


  • 2 racks of baby back ribs or 1 rack of spareribs
  • 2 tbs. of Dijon or yellow mustard

Dry Rub

  • 1/4 cup of brown sugar
  • 1 tbs. of kosher salt
  • 1 tbs. of chili powder
  • 1 tbs. of paprika
  • 2 tsp. of ground cumin
  • 1 tsp. of mustard powder

For Basting

  • 1/4 cup of apple juice
  • 1 tsp. of apple cider vinegar
  • 1/2 cup of BBQ sauce


Step 1

Trim the ribs by removing the tough membrane.

Pat dry with a paper towel.

Step 2

Combine the ingredients of the dry rub in a small bowl and set aside.

Apply a layer of mustard on each side of the rack of ribs.

Sprinkle the dry rub along the rack and press into the skin.

Refrigerate for at least 2 hours.

Step 3

Take the ribs out of the refrigerator about 30 minutes before smoking.

Reheat the pellet grill to 250 degrees F.

Step 4

Place the ribs on the smoker and close lid. Smoke ribs for 2 hours.

Combine the apple juice, apple cider vinegar, and half of the BBQ sauce in a spray bottle.

Open the lid and spray the basting liquid on the meat. Apply a thin layer of sauce all over one side of the rack.

Close the lid and smoke ribs for another 10 minutes.

Open the lid, flip the ribs and spritz with the basting liquid. Apply the sauce.

Step 5

Take a few sheets of heavy duty aluminum foil. Wrap each rack of ribs tightly in the foil – make sure to create a tight seal so that no moisture can escape.

Cook for 2 hours.

Step 6

Unwrap the foil but keep the ribs in their foil packaging. Brush a thin layer of BBQ sauce and smoke for 30 minutes.

Flip the baby back ribs or spareribs over and brush a layer of sauce. Smoke for another 30 minutes.

Take off the heat and rest for up to 30 minutes.

Grilling of Meat

Trimming the Ribs

It is very important to trim your ribs – particularly your baby back ribs before applying rubs, sauces, or cooking them.

These ribs may not have too much meat on them but they do have a tough membrane over each rack. This membrane is rather impermeable. Thus, when cooked, it still tastes rather tough and unappetizing. To make matters worse, none of the flavors can penetrate through.

To remove the membrane, use a butter knife to dislodge a section of the membrane at one end of the rack. Once you have freed enough of a piece, grasp it with a paper towel and pull away. The membrane should come away easily.

If any portion does tear, simply start all over again. Do this until it has been completely removed.

Creating a Dry Rub

As you will seen in this recipe here, I like to keep my rub ingredients fairly simple. While I find that the ingredients that I have chosen complement spare and baby back ribs, you should feel free to create a mix that suits your taste buds.

Although brown sugar tends to be a mainstay, I know that many like to add garlic powder, onion powder, and similar ingredients.

The only tip I would offer you when creating your own mix is to think about the barbecue sauce that you are using. Consider which herbs and spices would complement the sauce best of all.

Marinating the Ribs

One of the top questions that people have for me is how long should you leave the spices on the spare or baby back ribs.

That depends on how much prep time you are willing to spare. If you are making ribs on the spur of the moment, then I would suggest letting them sit for at least two hours so that the seasoning has time to work its magic.

If you don’t mind planning ahead of time, then I would recommend leaving the ribs to marinate overnight.

Taking the Ribs Out Beforehand

This is a trick that I feel everyone needs to learn. About half an hour before you smoke the ribs, take them out of the refrigerator and leave them out on the counter – covered.

This allows the ribs to get closer to room temperature. In turn, they cook evenly on the pellet grill and at a faster rate too.

It is important not to leave the meat out for too long, though. If it is left out for an hour or so, there is a higher risk of developing food poisoning.

Roasted ribs with tomatoes and potatoes

Choosing the Wood Pellets

If you want the ultimate smoke flavor, then you need to choose the right pellets for the job.

It is important to remember that pork ribs have a more delicate taste. As such, it is important to choose milder options. The most common choices tend to be fruitwoods like apple, cherry, pecan, and even maple.

Not only do these give off a mild, smoky flavor, but their sweetness works incredibly well with pork.

Hickory and mesquite are far too bold, particularly for baby back ribs. This is why you should skip them. If you do enjoy a stronger smoke flavor, then use only a handful of these chips and top up the rest of the hopper with apple or cherry. Use too much of these woods and they will make your ribs bitter.

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Finding the Right Smoking Temperature

You will often find various guidelines about which temperature you should smoke your ribs at. You should know that most of these guides are all about speeding up the process. Unfortunately, this doesn’t make for good smoked ribs.

By its very definition, smoking is a low and slow process. This gives the meat time to slowly break down, tenderizing and absorbing the smoke flavor. Go too high and you simply end up drying out the meat.

225 to 250 degrees F tends to be the best option for smoking spare and baby back ribs. Go any higher and you will have to shorten the smoking time. Not to mention, it is a lot more difficult to predict when the ribs will actually be done.

In case you do want to set a higher temperature, I would also suggest keeping the ribs wrapped for longer. This way, they will be able to retain a greater amount of moisture.

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Maintaining the Cooking Chamber Temperature

There is almost always going to be some fluctuation in temp while the ribs are cooking. It is important to keep these to a minimum, though.

This is why you should monitor the temperature of the cooking chamber throughout. The good news is that many of the Pit Boss grills already have a dome thermometer. You should be mindful of the fact that these may be off by a few degrees.

Due to this, it is a good idea to get a secondary hood thermometer to keep track of any temperature changes. This way, you can ensure that the ribs are smoking at any even rate.

The Baste for the Ribs

You will have seen a recipe for a baste for the ribs. This helps to keep ribs moist throughout the smoking process. The apple juice and vinegar also add a little bit of sweetness and tang to the mix as well.

Now, when basting the ribs, make sure that you don’t dislodge the rub on the spare or baby back ribs. If you do, you will take a lot of the flavor away from the ribs. Instead, spray liberally, but carefully.

Knowing When the Ribs are Done

One of the hardest parts of smoking ribs is figuring out when it is time to take them off the pellet smoker.

Unlike with other meats, ribs don’t have as much meat on them. Due to this, it can be tricky to get a proper reading off of a meat thermometer. Due to this, you have to get a little creative.

You will first start to notice that the ribs are close to being done when the meat begins to pull away from the bones. And, as you get closer to the five hours of cooking time being up, you can run a few tests.

The first is the toothpick test. You insert the toothpick into the meat and in between the bones. If it slides in smoothly and you don’t face much resistance then the ribs are done.

You can also try the bend test. Using a pair of tongs, lift up the racks in the middle. If they droop on either side and the center begins to start to crack, then they are ready.

Grilled ribs on smoker

Resting the Ribs

Always let the ribs rest after they have been taken off the pellet grill. I like to leave the ribs in the aluminum foil as this is where all the juices and flavors are. These will all be reabsorbed into the meat, creating a tasty treat for you.

Wrapping It Up

A Pit Boss pellet grill is an amazing machine and now that you know how to smoke ribs on it, you are all set to create your very own masterpiece. Go ahead and discover how easy it is to create delicious tasting smoked ribs!

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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