Smoked Beef Ribs 101: How to Make Tender, Fall-off-the-bone Ribs

September 22, 2023
Written by Kristy J. Norton

Juicy beef ribs, infused with the flavors of wood and BBQ sauce, slow-cooked to tender perfection on a wood smoker. The kind of meat that effortlessly slides off the beef rib bone. This is exactly how I always envision my tender-smoked beef ribs recipes to be.

Now, I’m no stranger to the pit. I’ve spent a good chunk of my adult life in cooking school and experimenting with the smoker. I’ve cracked the code when it comes to making these irresistible BBQ beef ribs. I have all the tips up my sleeve on selecting the right beef ribs, prepping them for their smoky journey, picking out the perfect wood, and mastering those smoking techniques.

So, if you’re ready to discover the magic of smoked beef ribs, join me on this flavorful ride.  Let’s do this!

smoked beef ribs

Smoked Beef Ribs Recipe (Texas Crutch Style)


  • 2 racks of beef ribs (approximately 4-5 pounds total)
  • 2 cups of wood chips, chunks, or pellets (depending on your smoker)
  • 2 tablespoons of salt
  • 2 tablespoons of black pepper
  • 1 tablespoon of garlic powder
  • 1 tablespoon of paprika
  • BBQ sauce (as desired)
  • Mop sauce (optional)
  • Meat thermometer
  • Aluminum foil or butcher paper
Rib of Beef with Ingredients


  1. To smoke beef ribs, start by preheating your smoker to 225°F. 
  2. Soak the wood chips in water for about 30 minutes to an hour before using.
  3. In a small bowl, combine the salt, black pepper, garlic powder, and paprika to create the dry rub.
  4. Trim any excess fat from the beef ribs, if desired.
  5. Generously coat the beef ribs with the dry rub, ensuring an even and thorough coverage on all sides.
  6. If using mop sauce, prepare it according to your preferred recipe.
  7. Once the smoker is heated, add the soaked wood chips to the chips tray to generate smoke.
  8. Place the beef ribs on the smoker grates, bone side down, and close the smoker.
  9. Optionally, baste the ribs with mop sauce every hour or as desired to keep them moist.
  10. Since we’re using the Texas crutch technique, wrap the smoked beef ribs tightly in aluminum foil or butcher paper when they reach an internal temperature of around 160°F to 165°F (71°C to 74°C). This will help accelerate the cooking process and enhance tenderness.
  11. Return the wrapped beef ribs to the smoker and continue cooking until they reach the desired internal temperature. Monitor the internal temperature of the ribs using a meat thermometer. Aim for an internal temperature of around 200°F for tender and flavorful ribs.
  12. Once done, remove the beef ribs from the smoker and let them rest, wrapped, for about 10 to 15 minutes to allow the juices to redistribute.
  13. Unwrap the smoked beef ribs and serve them with your favorite BBQ sauce on the side.

How to Choose the Right Beef Ribs?

Look for a rack of ribs with plenty of marbling and a nice layer of fat. That’s where all the juiciness and flavor come from! 

Don’t be shy to ask your butcher for advice on selecting the best beef ribs

But when it comes to beef ribs, you’ve got some great options to choose from.

  • Plate Ribs: Plate ribs or plate short ribs are not just called “dinosaur ribs” for nothing. They are the largest and meatiest ribs you can find on the cow. Plate ribs come from the lower part of the rib cage at the short plate section. So you know they’re going to be really meaty and packed with flavor. 
  • Beef Short Ribs: Beef short ribs hang out in the lower part of the cow’s ribcage too. They might be shorter, but don’t let that fool you. Don’t confuse these with beef back ribs which are less meaty. Beef short ribs have some serious marbling going on, which means rich, beefy goodness.
  • Beef Chuck Ribs: These are like country-style versions of beef ribs. Cut from the shoulder area, they’ve got a nice mix of meat and beef rib bones. What’s cool about chuck ribs is although they’re not as meaty as plate ribs, they often have more meat than other cuts like back ribs. And that means more flavor!
Raw Organic Beef Short Ribs

How to Select the Wood for Smoking?

The good news is we’ve got options when it comes to woods for smoking. Hickory, oak, mesquite, apple, cherry—the list goes on. Each wood brings its own unique flavor to the party, so it’s all about personal preference. 

Want to go bold and intense? Try hickory. Looking for a slightly sweeter touch? Give apple or cherry a shot. Just remember, quality wood equals quality smoke, so grab the best bag you can find.

You’d need to use wood chips or wood chunks if your smoker is charcoal or gas fueled. 

For pellet grills, of course, only wood pellets are allowed. Traeger Grill Signature Blend is a product I trust. 

For me, some flavors that work best for BBQ beef ribs are hickory, oak, and mesquite. Whatever wood type it is, make sure it’s hardwood! 

How to Select Rubs and Sauces for Smoked Beef Ribs?

Let’s talk about selecting rubs and sauces for our smoked beef ribs. 

Dry Rubs

These flavor-packed spice mixes are the secret to good-tasting BBQ beef ribs. You can go old school with a blend of salt, pepper, garlic powder, and paprika. 

You could also get creative and experiment with different herbs, spices, and even a touch of brown sugar for that irresistible caramelization on your beef ribs. Want an all-in-one rub? Then try this Cattlemen's Cowboy Rub.

Mop Sauce

Mop sauces are thin, basting sauces that add moisture and flavor as you smoke your BBQ beef ribs. These can be vinegar-based, tomato-based, or even beer-based, depending on your taste preferences.

Stubb’s sells one they call Bar-B-Q Baste that is based on vinegar and spices. Apple cider vinegar also works fine as a mop sauce. Use a basting brush or mop to generously apply the sauce during the smoking process. It keeps your beef ribs moist and adds a great punch of flavor. 

Barbecue Sauce

BBQ sauce is the source of the sweet and tangy taste in your BBQ. Whether you like it smoky, spicy, or sweet, there’s a barbecue sauce out there with your name on it. But you don’t need it in the ribs preparation stage. You’d be brushing it on during the last stages of smoking for a sticky but delicious glaze.  You may also use it as a side when serving the dish.

You can go store-bought with a classic sauce like Traeger's  'Que or a brown sugar-flavored product like this Kraft 18oz sauce. You can also whip up your homemade sauce to personalize your rib-tastic experience.

Pro Tip: Keep in mind that you can use rubs, BBQ sauce, and mop sauce in the same recipe if you want to. Combining all on your ribs is like hitting a flavor jackpot. The mop sauce keeps things juicy as the rack of beef ribs smokes away. Then, when you’re nearing the finish line, slather on that barbecue sauce for a tangy, sweet kick. It’s a match made in rib heaven!

Tomato Sauce, Pesto Sauce and Mustard Sauce

How to Set Up Your Smoker?

Before you dive into the actual ribs smoking procedure, you need to make sure our smoker is up to the task. Whether it’s a charcoal, gas, or electric one, make sure it can handle the smoking job and keep that heat in check. But I recommend a wood smoker like the Z GRILLS ZPG-450A pellet grill. 

And once you have a smoker that can do the job, it’s time to get that smoker ready for the rib-smoking action! Next, I’ll walk you through the steps:

Clean and Prep

If it’s an old smoker, give it a good cleaning to ensure it’s free from any residue or gunk. Remove any ashes or debris from the previous use. 

This helps maintain optimal airflow and prevents any unwanted flavors. Here’s how to clean and prep the smoker for a cooking session:

Fuel It Up

If you’re using a charcoal smoker, load it up with your favorite charcoal briquettes or lump charcoal. Not sure which to try yet? I suggest you try out Masterbuilt’s charcoal lumps

When ready, create a well in the center to hold your smoking wood chips or chunks. For a gas smoker, make sure you have enough fuel to sustain the desired cooking temperature. 

Fill up the hopper with wood pellets if what you’ve got is a pellet grill. For other smokers, soak your wood chips or chunks in water for about 30 minutes before adding them to create a steady stream of smoky goodness.

Control the Heat

Adjust the vents or temperature control knobs on your smoker to achieve the desired cooking temperature. Keep an eye on the thermometer to ensure it stays within the ideal range for smoking beef ribs, typically around 225°F to 250°F (107°C to 121°C).

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Preheat and Season

Allow your smoker to preheat for about 15-20 minutes, giving it time to stabilize at the desired temperature. While it’s heating up, take this opportunity to season your beef ribs with your chosen dry rub or spices. 

How to Prepare and Season the Beef Ribs?

Now that we have our smoker all set up and ready to roll, it’s time to prepare and season those beef ribs. Here’s how to make sure they’re primed and ready to deliver maximum flavor:

Trimming Time 

Take a close look at them and trim off any extra fat and silver skin. That silver skin? Yeah, the same one on pork ribs. It’s like a clingy ex that hinders the tenderness and flavor party. 

To remove the membrane, grab a sharp butter knife and slide it under the silver skin at one end of the rib. Lift it a bit and use a paper towel or kitchen towel for a better grip. 

Now, it’s all about slowly peeling off that stubborn silver skin, working your way along the rib. This little maneuver lets the tasty flavors penetrate the meat evenly, giving you ribs that are tender and melting in the mouth. 

Marinating (Optional)

For the best tender and flavorful ribs, you can marinate them before applying the rub. So, whip up a marinade using ingredients like soy sauce, Worcestershire sauce, garlic powder, and spices. 

Let the ribs soak in the marinade for a few hours or overnight in the refrigerator to enhance the flavor even further.

Dry Rub 

Grab your store-bought dry rub or a simple blend of spices. Generously coat both sides of the ribs with rub, ensuring you cover every part. 

Massage it in, let it cling to the meat, and work its flavorful wonders. Remember, simplicity can be bliss.

If you prefer to let the natural flavors of the beef shine through, you can opt for a minimal seasoning approach. Just sprinkle the ribs with some kosher salt and black pepper to enhance the meat’s natural goodness.

Give It Time

Patience is key now. Let the seasoned ribs sit for at least 30 minutes at room temperature. This gives the flavors a chance to meld and deeply penetrate the meat for an explosion of taste.

Seasoning Thick Cut Beef Ribs

Choosing Your Smoking Techniques 

Once you’ve prepared and seasoned your beef ribs to your heart’s content, it’s time to place them on the smoker and let the magic happen. But hey, what smoking technique are you gonna rock? Let’s check out some of my popular smoking techniques:

1. Low and Slow

This is the classic approach that barbecue aficionados swear by. Set your smoker to a low temperature (I always recommend 225°F). Place the ribs bone-side-down in the smoking chamber. Now let those ribs slowly smoke for hours. The low heat and extended cooking time work their wonders. It breaks down the collagen in the meat and transforms it into juicy, fall-off-the-bone goodness. Plan for a smoking time of approximately 5 to 6 hours for this technique. 

2. Texas Crutch

If you’re looking to speed up the cooking process without sacrificing tenderness, the Texas Crutch is your ticket. Wrap your beef ribs tightly in aluminum foil or butcher paper during the smoking process. Note however that each of these wrapping materials can produce different outcomes. Foil provides a tighter seal. This lets you have moister meat. Meanwhile butcher paper allows for some airflow, creating a slightly drier bark.

If you opt for the Texas Crutch technique to speed things up, expect a shorter smoking time. When you wrap beef ribs in foil or butcher paper, you help accelerate the cooking process. Generally, smoking with the Texas Crutch takes me around 5 to 6 hours.

3. 3-2-1 Method

I like to try the 3-2-1 when I’m after ribs with a perfect balance of tenderness and caramelization. It involves three stages of cooking: smoking uncovered for three hours, wrapping in foil with some basting liquid (like apple juice or beer) for two hours, and then unwrapping and smoking again for the final hour. The 3-2-1 method yields ribs that are moist, flavorful, and boast a delightful bark.

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4. Hot and Fast

Want to take a bolder, faster route? The hot and fast technique might be your jam. Crank up the heat on your smoker to 275°F to 300°F and cook those ribs for a shorter time. At 275 degrees, you’re looking at 3 to 5 hours of smoking

Don’t worry, you don’t need a grill. Most smokers can easily get to this temperature, except for some electric smokers which typically only go up to 270 degrees max. However, it’s important to note that smoking ribs hot and fast can result in a slightly different texture compared to the traditional low and slow methods. The ribs may have a slightly firmer bite and a different crust development. But hey, variety is the spice of life, right?

Monitoring and Maintaining the Temperature

To make the best smoked beef ribs, monitor and maintain the temperature throughout the smoking process. Keep an eye on your smoker’s thermometer and make adjustments as needed to maintain a consistent temperature. 

Talking about temperatures too, always monitor the internal temperature of the BBQ beef ribs with a meat thermometer. Once it reads 145 degrees, the minimum internal temperature the USDA recommends for safety, you may stop smoking now. An instant-read thermometer that reads the internal temperature instantly like the Alpha Grillers thermometer work perfectly for this. 

While 145 degrees is considered the safe cooking temp for BBQ beef ribs, achieving tenderness requires a higher temperature. For optimal tenderness, continue smoking the ribs until they reach an internal temperature of around 200 degrees Fahrenheit.

Smoked St. Louis Beef Ribs

Resting and Serving Your Smoked Beef Ribs

Once your smoked beef ribs are ready, don’t rush into serving the smoked meat right away. Allow the smoked beef to rest for about 10 to 15 minutes before slicing into them. This resting period helps the juices redistribute throughout the meat, resulting in a more succulent and flavorful bite. When it’s time to serve, slice the BBQ beef ribs between the bones. Pair them with your favorite barbecue sauce, coleslaw, or cornbread for a complete and satisfying meal. 


Congratulations on embarking on this journey to become a master of smoked beef ribs with me! You’ve learned the secrets to selecting the perfect ribs, preparing them with care, setting up your smoker, and infusing them with irresistible flavors. Whether you choose beef back ribs, short ribs, or chuck ribs, you now have the power to transform each type into a culinary masterpiece. So, go for it!

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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