The Art of Cooking Baby Back Ribs

Smoky, sweet, sticky, and savory – these baby back ribs have it all. Whether you’re using a smoker, oven, or a combination of both, you can easily recreate the delicious taste of your favorite BBQ joint right in your own backyard or kitchen. In this article, we’ll guide you through the steps of making mouthwatering baby back ribs, providing you with the essential knowledge and techniques to achieve tender, juicy, and flavorful results.

Bowl of barbeque sauce with baby back ribs.

What You’ll Need To Make Baby Back Ribs

Baby Back Ribs

Also known as back ribs or loin ribs, baby back ribs are a popular cut of pork ribs. Despite their name, they are not derived from baby pigs. These ribs are smaller in size compared to other cuts, originating from the section closer to the back of the pig. They offer a perfect balance of tender meat and minimal fat.

Spice Rub

To add depth and complexity to your ribs, a homemade BBQ spice rub is essential. Our recipe combines the flavors of sugar, salt, smoked paprika, garlic powder, onion powder, dry mustard, oregano, and a hint of cayenne pepper. This blend perfectly complements the meat and enhances the overall flavor profile. The recipe provides enough rub for two racks of ribs.

Barbecue Sauce

A good quality barbecue sauce is the finishing touch that brings everything together. You can either use our homemade sweet and tangy barbecue sauce or opt for a trusted store-bought brand like Sweet Baby Ray’s. The choice is yours, as both options will result in delicious ribs.

Further reading:  The Ultimate Homemade BBQ Sauce Recipe

Cooking Ribs: Smoker VS Oven (or Oven-to-Grill)

The best way to cook ribs is in a smoker, as it infuses them with a rich, smoky flavor. Smokers provide a controlled environment where the ribs cook slowly over low heat for more than 4 hours. This extended cooking time allows the fat to slowly render out and the connective tissue to break down, resulting in succulent, tender meat with a distinctive smoky flavor.

Ribs in pit boss smoker

However, if you don’t have a smoker or are short on time, the oven is an excellent alternative. Oven-baked ribs require only 2 hours of cooking time, followed by a quick finish under the broiler or on the grill to set the sauce. Although the smoky flavor may not be as intense as in smoked ribs, the spice rub will still provide a generous amount of smokiness to the finished product.

Step-by-Step Instructions

Before seasoning the ribs, it’s recommended to remove the membrane that covers the underside of the ribs. You can request your butcher to do this for you, or easily do it yourself. Simply loosen the membrane around one of the end bones using a butter knife, then peel it off by grabbing it with a paper towel. Removing the membrane allows the spice rub to penetrate the meat better and results in tender, flavorful ribs.

Removing the baby back ribs membrane

Once the membrane is removed, preheat either your smoker or oven. Coat the ribs evenly on both sides with approximately half of the spice rub, allowing them to “sweat” and absorb the flavors for about 15 minutes. Then, generously coat the racks with the remaining rub. Don’t worry if it seems like a lot – use it all to maximize the flavor.

Further reading:  How to Master the Art of Cooking Pork Picnic Roast

Adding the spice rub to the baby back ribs

Smoker Method

For the smoker method, preheat your smoker to 225°F and place the spice-coated ribs on the racks. Cook the ribs for 2 hours, ensuring they develop a nice color.

Ribs in the smoker

Remove the ribs from the smoker and wrap each rack tightly in heavy-duty foil. Return them to the smoker for an additional 1 1/2 hours.

Wrapping ribs in foil

Carefully unwrap the foil-wrapped ribs (as there may be hot grease) and brush the top of each rack with approximately 3 tablespoons of BBQ sauce. Then, refold the foil around the racks, creating a makeshift “pan” for each one. Place the racks back in the smoker on the foil and cook for another 45 minutes to 1 hour.

Saucing the ribs

To check if the ribs are done, lift them from the center using tongs. If they bend easily and the meat cracks on top, they are ready to be enjoyed.

Oven or Oven-to-Grill Method

For the oven method, place the spice-coated ribs on a foil-lined baking sheet. Cover them tightly with more foil and bake in a preheated 300°F oven for approximately 2 hours, or until tender. To finish the ribs, brush them with sauce and broil for 2 to 4 minutes until the sauce starts to bubble and caramelize. Alternatively, you can skip the broiler and finish the ribs on the grill for 10 to 15 minutes, occasionally brushing them with BBQ sauce until charred in spots and heated through.

How to make ribs in the oven

How to Store & Reheat Leftover Ribs

Cooked baby back ribs can be stored in a covered container in the refrigerator for 3 to 4 days, or frozen for up to 3 months. To reheat, thaw the ribs overnight in the refrigerator if necessary, then place them on a foil-lined baking sheet. Brush another layer of BBQ sauce on the ribs and cover tightly with foil. Warm them in a 250°F oven for 30 to 35 minutes or until heated through. Remove the foil and continue cooking for an additional 10 to 15 minutes to allow the sauce to set and the bark to crisp up.

Further reading:  Smokin' BBQ Ribs: Mastering the 3-2-1 Method

Ribs and barbeque sauce


With our guide, you now have the knowledge and techniques required to cook perfect baby back ribs. Whether you choose the slow and smoky path with a smoker or the quicker and equally delicious route with the oven, the result will be finger-lickin’ goodness. So fire up your smoker or preheat your oven and get ready to enjoy tender, flavorful baby back ribs that will impress your family and friends.

Find more mouthwatering recipes and BBQ tips at Rowdy Hog Smokin BBQ.