Let’s talk about barbecue for a moment… I am not a huge meat eater. We eat mostly chicken and fish, as well as the occasional pork products- bacon, pancetta and sausage. We buy beef almost entirely in the form of grass-fed ground beef for the purpose of flavorful chili and quick weeknight tacos, and even then it’s only 1-2 times a month. So, when I asked for a Traeger smoker for my 41st birthday, my husband was understandably curious about this request. What he wasn’t confused about was my love of saucy pulled pork. And fall off the bone ribs. As well as a good everything bagel with smoked salmon. Although these dishes aren’t ones we eat very often, somehow I felt justified asking for a smoker for a birthday gift — and a few years later, I’m sure glad I did. Because when the craving is strong, there’s not much stopping me! Plus, knowing how to confidently throw something on the smoker for a crowd (whenever we can have those again) is pretty badass, no?
One of the best things to come off our smoker in awhile were these baby back pork ribs — they were sweet and smokey, simple, mainly hands off, as well as left us with incredible leftovers. I used a common smoking method of 3-2-1… smoke for 3 hours, wrap and grill for 2 hours, and sauce for 1 hour. If you have strong opinions about how much work should be required to get the meat off the bone for the most enjoyable rib experience, this is most definitely not the method for you. I am not a fan of gnawing on bones or eating meat that is remotely chewy. I’d rather put effort into shaking a cocktail or properly buttering every inch of my cornbread. Priorities.
This recipe is very flexible- it’s really a method rather than a required list of ingredients. I only ask you don’t skip the smoked paprika- it’s key to this recipe! Change up the seasonings by adding an element of heat like cayenne to balance the sweet. Swap the yellow mustard for other varieties of vinegary mustards. The liquid is also very flexible. I recently used a diet Dr. Pepper because we are still under a shelter-in-place order in the Bay Area and quickly swinging by the grocery store for one item isn’t as easy as it used to be. The bigger question is- who drinks a Dr. Pepper anymore, let alone a diet one? This unfortunate beverage inevitably came from some team sports potluck that we hosted a while back as evidenced by how deep I found it in our beverage fridge in the outdoor kitchen. All I know is it worked well for these ribs.
And now at the end of May, and heading into summer and grilling season – consider adding this recipe to your weekend plans. You can also find this yummy potato salad on Food Family Friends recipe index- perfect dishes for Memorial Day!
Sweet and Smokey Pork Baby Back Ribs
These pork ribs are everything I want in a pork rib… fall off the bone tender, smokey and sweet, caramelized and sticky — and it feeds a crowd. This recipe was adapted from the Traeger Everyday Cookbook and uses a simple cooking method of 3 hours of smoke, 2 hours wrapped, and 1 hour with sauce on the grill. Best way to serve- with a side of potato salad, corn bread, and paper towels.
- 3 racks pork ribs about 8 lbs
- ¾ cup apple juice, Coke, or Dr. Pepper divided
- ½ cup yellow mustard
- 2 tbsp Worcestershire sauce
- 1 tbsp smoked paprika
- ½ cup brown sugar I used smoked brown sugar
- sweet mesquite seasoning I used Kirkland brand
- ⅓ cup honey warmed
- BBQ sauce I like Kinders
Smoke the ribs- 3 hours
Prepare the ribs by removing and discarding the membrane from the bone-side of the rib.
In a small bowl, combine mustard, ½ cup of the juice or soda, and Worcestershire sauce. Spread on both sides of the ribs, followed by the smoked paprika and enough mesquite seasoning to completely cover the ribs. Set aside on a rimmed baking sheet while you prepare the smoker.
Turn the Traeger to the smoke setting. Leave the lid open and wait for the fire to establish, about 4-5 minutes. Smoke the ribs meat-side up with the lid closed for 3 hours. Transfer the ribs to a clean baking sheet and set the grill to 225°
Grill the wrapped ribs- 2 hours
Place each rack of ribs in a separate piece of foil large enough to wrap completely.
Divide the brown sugar evenly among the racks, followed by the honey. Fold up the sides slightly and add remaining juice or soda. Carefully gather the two long sides of foil at the top and fold down tightly a few times. Fold in the sides a few times to tightly form a sealed packet.
Return foil packets to the grill and cook for 2 hours.
Sauce the ribs- 1 hour
Bring a rimmed baking sheet close to the grill, along with the BBQ sauce and a pastry or silicone brush. Using tongs, carefully open each packet and slide the racks onto the grill, taking care not to spill the liquid or burn yourself with the steam. Remove the foil to the baking sheet and discard.
Brush the meat side of the ribs with BBQ sauce and continue to cook for 30 min- 1 hour. They will likely (and hopefully!) be too tender to flip over to coat the back side of the ribs with sauce. This is just fine.
Remove ribs to a cutting board and after a few minutes of resting, cut between ribs as desired and serve warm or room temperature.