Ribs are one of those beloved forms of barbecue that draw enthusiasts from all corners. While pork ribs glazed in sticky barbecue sauce are thought of by many as the hallmark, they are not the only type of ribs that draw a following. Indeed there are many people in Texas who would argue in favor of meaty beef ribs. And let’s not forget the good people of Asia who have their own rib traditions.
On a more domestic level, there are a fair number of people who believe the best way to get tender succulent ribs is to first boil them before tossing them on the grill for some fire-kissed flavor. Yet people who come from a traditional barbecue background will tell you that this boils the flavor out of the meat, and they insist that ribs must only be smoked.
For the purposes of this article, we will look at smokers that have characteristics and special features that are designed for smoking ribs. This means ribs that are placed in a smoker, without being exposed to any other cooking method. Whether or not you want to glaze them with sticky barbecue sauce at the end or let them develop a spice rub bark is a matter of personal preference.
Ribs Needs Slow-And-Low Temperature Control
Regardless of whether they come from a pig or a cow, ribs are a type of”Combination Meat” like bacon. They have meat, fat, bone and a significant amount of connective tissue. Each of these things starts to change when cooked. Ultimately, the best way to render the fat and connective tissue into succulent gelatin is with a slow and low smoking process.
When the temperature goes on a roller coaster you end up with areas of burned meat next to fatty pieces, and meat fibers stuck in your teeth. On the other end of the spectrum, you could end up with ribs that are arguably too tender. Rather than conveniently clinging gently to the bone, the meat simply pulls away. While it might still taste good, no one wants to eat ribs with a spoon!
So, unless you are an old hand with years of experience operating a barbecue pit, you should put temperature control as a top priority. This tends to screen out grills with an offset smoker box that requires constant tending.
Though there are some offset smokers that certainly deserve consideration in the quest to some great ribs. Just make sure you look for some type of temperature control or that you feel confident that you can keep a steady hand with it.
This could be something like a smoker that uses a propane flame to burn wood chips or wood chunks at a controlled rate. A port to accommodate a temperature probe would also be a nice touch.
Best Propane Smokers For Ribs
There are of course some purists out there who insist that you need tried and true charcoal with a balance of smoking wood added to the mix in order to smoke ribs property. There is a driving tradition to this, and a plethora of smoker and grill manufacturers produce units to cater to these demands.
As we discussed earlier the issue here is heat control, which when it comes to a live-fire equates to airflow control. Ideally, you want to look for a charcoal smoker or grill that offers superior control of air dampers, as well as other features that allow you to reload charcoal and smoking woods without altering the internal temperature or smoke density inside the primary cooking chamber.
This is a niche where a small number of quality grills with offset smoking chambers can slide in. You just want to make sure that there are easy to operate dampers in the firebox, and that you can quickly reload smoking wood without lifting the lid on the primary cooking chamber in any way.
Best Charcoal Smokers For Ribs
Just a few decades ago there were only a few electric smokers on the market that could handle the kind of long smoking times that ribs need to render down into tender succulent perfection. Today electric elements have evolved to meet 21st Century standards. Some even include digital control systems and WiFi or Bluetooth connectivity that lets you monitor the smoking session from your phone.
With these grills the control features are nice. Ideally, you want to find one that includes a water pan in the initial purchase. This adds steam to the equation, which helps to keep the lean meat in the ribs from drying out.
Best Electric Smokers For Ribs
Wood Pellet Smokers
Wood pellet grills/smokers are seemingly taking the grill and smoker market by storm these days. They essentially “Upcycle” wood shavings and lignin by-products from the wood processing industry and turn them into small pellets. You then feed a bulk of the wood pellets into a hopper, plug the grill/smoker in and set it to your desired temperature.
An automated internal auger then delivers the wood pellets to a small firepot chamber. An internal fan regulates the airflow while helping to drive hot smoke into the cooking chamber. This set up allows you to dial the smoker in to produce consistent results. Wood pellet manufacturers even offer bags of pellets that include trace amounts of traditional smoker woods like mesquite, hickory, and applewood.
The internal temperature of a high-quality wood pellet grill also lets you take advantage of the square inches offered by things like secondary racks and warming racks. A few of these units even offer digital controls, multiple probe thermometers, and wireless connectivity. One of the other things to note about a wood pellet grill/smoker is that most of them can be dialed up to 400 degrees or higher. A few even have direct flame “Broiler Plates” which allow you to multi-task the smoker as a grill.