Culinary Class

How to Smoke St. Louis-Style Spare Ribs

Nashville pitmaster Pat Martin gives us his no-fail method 

What differentiates St. Louis style ribs from their traditional counterpart is the way they’re trimmed—they’re more consistent in size. Pat Martin of Martin’s Bar-B-Que Joint, based in Nashville, treats them simply with dry rub, then smokes them on a kettle smoker for three to four hours. Each rack should weigh around two-and-a-half to three pounds and will feed two people, so buy accordingly. To prepare your kettle grill for indirect cooking, light lump charcoal in a chimney starter or in the bottom of the kettle grill itself. To control the temperature, open the vents wide to raise it and do the opposite to lower it. Avoid ever fully closing the top vent of your grill, as this will cause the smoke to get “stale” and will give your ribs a bitter, acrid taste. To test for doneness, Martin says that the meat will pull back from the tips of the bones at least half an inch. “You can also pick the ribs up using gloves and hold them horizontally from one end,” he says. “The ribs should droop in a natural arc when held this way. If they stick out straight, they are not done. If the rack feels like it will fall apart, it might be a little too done and needs to be removed immediately.” If you want to eat your ribs wet, brush them with barbecue sauce (he recommends Martin’s Sweet Dixie BBQ) about thirty minutes before they’re done, which will allow the sauce to caramelize.

Pat Martin’s St. Louis Spare Ribs heading-plus-icon

  • St. Louis spare ribs (1 rack per every 2 people)
  • ¼ cup dry rub per rack (Martin uses his own Big Hoss Rub)
  • ¼ cup barbecue sauce per rack (Martin uses his own Sweet Dixie Sauce; optional)
  • ¼ cup rib rub per rack (Martin uses his own Dixie Rib Rub; optional)
Special equipment:
  • Kettle grill
  • 25-pound bag charcoal
  • 10 pounds hickory chunks
  • barbecue gloves
  • charcoal chimney starter
CC Spare Ribs

step 1

At least 3 hours before cooking (or the night before), remove ribs from the packaging and blot dry with a paper towel. Place on a sheet tray and sprinkle meat side of ribs with approximately 3 tablespoons of barbecue rub. Gently press the rub into meat before picking up ribs and holding them vertically over the sheet tray, allowing any excess rub to fall off. If cooking more than one rack, use any excess rub on the next rack and so on. Place ribs in the refrigerator until ready to cook.

CC Spare Ribs

step 2

Prepare kettle grill for indirect cooking. Once coals are fully lit and have burned down to an ashy white exterior with a glowing red interior. arrange coals in a pile against the far edge of the grill. Allow the grill to come up to approximately 250 degrees.

CC spare ribs

step 3

Once the grill is up to temperature, add a couple of hickory chunks onto the coals. Place the cooking grate over the coals and add ribs, meat side up, as far away from the pile of coals as possible. If cooking multiple racks, arrange each rack with at least an inch of space between them, or use a rib smoking rack. Close the grill and leave vents 1/4 to 1/2 open until the temperature comes back up to 250 degrees.

CC Spare Ribs

step 4

Continue to monitor the grill, using vents to control the temperature. Continue to add a chunk or two of hardwood as needed to the coals through the first 2 hours (check every 30 to 45 minutes) to maintain temperature and smoke. If cooking multiple racks, rotate them each time you add wood. After 2 hours, the ribs will not take any more smoke, so only add wood if you need it to bring the temperature back up. (You can also load more charcoal in a chimney and add it once it's burned down.)

CC spare ribs

step 5

After about 3 to 3 1/2 hours of cooking, check to see if ribs are done, Once done, remove from grill, tent with foil, and let rest for at least 20 minutes before serving.

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