How To Cook Pork Ribs

Pork Ribs

Pork Ribs are a popular barbeque dish in the US. Different regions have their own spin on the perfect rib. If you are new to cooking ribs, this recipe is a great place to start. I’ll give you an overview of pork ribs and then demonstrate how to smoke them low and slow on our Traeger Grill. You may have also heard about a 321 recipe for smoking ribs. If that is what you are looking for, we have a unique and awesome Traeger 321 ribs recipe here that uses apple cider vinegar instead of apple cider for the wrap. It is worth considering if you want fall-off-the-bone tender, tangy ribs.

So what are pork ribs anyway? Simply put, pork ribs are the rib cage of the pig. There are different cuts you can buy and I’ll give you a quick explanation of them here. The two most popular cuts are Baby Back Ribs and Spare Ribs.

Baby Back Ribs

Baby Back ribs are slightly smaller and come from the cut directly off the spine. They have about a dozen ribs in each rack and tend to be a little smaller (about 3 to 4 inches long) than spare ribs. These ribs are roughly two pounds and are a good size for two people.

Spare Ribs

Spare Ribs are cut lower than the baby back ribs and are attached to the breastbone. These are typically more square, have larger bones and are cut out from around cartilage and fat.  These ribs are flatter, have more bone, and significantly more fat so they tend to flavor very well. If you think about it, these are much closer to the bacon part of the pig so it should be no surprise that this cut is fattier. Spare Ribs are cheaper than Baby Back Ribs and are usually about 2 and a half pounds.

How To Cook Pork Ribs

There are several ways to cook pork ribs. The most popular way is to cook them in the oven. Other recipes call for a grill or smoker. I will be demonstrating how to cook pork ribs on the smoker with our Simple Smoked Pork Ribs recipe after this section but the key to cooking good ribs is to cook them low and slow, use good spices, and keep them moist. Almost all  pork rib recipes will call for these basic steps:

  1. Remove the membrane on the bottom of the ribs.
  2. Pat the ribs dry with paper towels.
  3. Use a dry rub (or use freshly dried herbs from your garden as a substitute.)
  4. Cook at a low temperature between 250 and 325.
  5. Keep covered in tinfoil or baste it regularly to keep it wet and moist.
  6. Finish by browning it overheat or by uncovering it in a hot oven or grill.
  7. Recipes may or may not call for coating with BBQ sauce.

The different variations of these steps and the two different cuts of ribs makes the many different kinds of pork rib recipes. While the basic steps are the same, you can get wildly different results by using different rubs, sauces, temperatures and heating methods. This is part of the reason why ribs are so popular to make and why each region around the nation has their own favorite spin on this delicious meal.

This image is a picture of our Traeger 321 Ribs. One rack with BBQ sauce and the other dry.

How to Smoke Pork Ribs

This recipe very simple way to smoke pork ribs. You don’t need to get overly fancy to make a great rib. The process starts with getting good quality cuts of meat. If you can, get your ribs from a local butcher. One of my favorite local butchers in the Twin Cities is Von Hanson’s. Otherwise get what you can and make sure it is fully thawed before you do anything. Even better, get fresh cut meat that has never been frozen. The key to a great rib is starting with good ingredients. Then follow these easy instructions. Click To Tweet

Rib Rub

Once you have your meat ready and the membrane is pulled off, I like to use a rib rub I make myself. There are a ton of good rib rubs you can buy on Amazon like Traeger’s: Otherwise, just take some Cajun seasoning with garlic and onion powder and some salt and pepper. Coat the ribs well on both sides. The seasoning will help make a good crust on the outside of your ribs. I make it something like this:

  • 5 parts Cajun Seasoning
  • 1 part Garlic Powder
  • 1 part Onion Powder
  • Salt and Pepper to taste

I like to cover it something like this:

Smoking Your Ribs

Heat your smoker to 225 degrees and place your ribs on the smoker meat side up. Close, and let the smoker slow cook them for two hours. During this time, you can enjoy a nice cool beer while the smoke from the pellets flavors your meat during this low and slow cook.
The smoke is going to seal the outside of the meat so that the juices and fats stay inside and cook throughout the ribs.

After the initial two hour smoke, some people like to flip them. I don’t find there is a real benefit to doing this at such a low temperature, so I just leave them as is.

For the final hour of cooking, I like to take half of the ribs and cover them with a BBQ sauce. I’ll just take a spoon or brush and cover the whole rib with it. and close the smoker for that last hour of cooking.

You can see in the image above how the bbq sauce firms up, or sets, onto the ribs during that last hour. The two racks with BBQ sauce are to the right of one rack I left dry. Both will be fantastic.

Serving Pork Ribs

After the final hour of cooking, you will end up with a tender rib. It won’t be fall off the bone tender like the 321 rib method, but it’s not supposed to be. This rib will be similar to eating a very tender steak in regards to its tenderness.

The ribs will have a herby, spicy crust, a smoky ring around the outside and deliciously moist inner meat between the ribs. Here’s a picture of one of the ribs cut out from the dry rack:

The racks with the BBQ will be very similar, but with a smoky BBQ lathered onto them.

This Pork Rib Recipe is meant to be something you can grab by the bone and bite off with your teeth. The spicy, herby, smoky flavor of the meat makes it a sure winner with guests and family. If you want something that will fall off the bone, make the 3-2-1 recipe instead.

Printable Recipe

How To Cook Pork Ribs

A classic and easy to make smoked pork ribs recipe

20 minPrep Time

3 hrCook Time

3 hr, 20 Total Time

Recipe Image
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  • 3 racks of ribs
  • cajun seasoning
  • garlic powder
  • onion powder
  • salt
  • pepper
  • bbq sauce


  1. Remove membrane from ribs
  2. Pat the ribs dry
  3. cover with the cajun, garlic powder, and onion powder
  4. Smoke at 225 for 2 hours
  5. If desired, add BBQ sauce.
  6. Smoke for one additional hour so that the ribs have cooked for a minimum of three hours.

If you like our Pork Ribs Recipe, you should also check out these other smoking recipes:

Other great meals on our Traeger Grill include:

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