Looking for the perfect Pellet Smoked Baby Back Ribs? These ribs are juicy, tender, melt-off-the-bone with the perfect sticky, caramelized paleo and gluten-free spice rub that is so good it really needs no sauce.
I have lived in Texas for over 3 years now, and my big takeaway from this experience is... BBQ. Not like chicken-grilled-on-the-propane-grill-with-BBQ-sauce kind of barbeque, but legit Texas BBQ. This is something I did not properly understand until living here. I thought BBQ was just some grilled on a BBQ. Oh, how I was wrong.
Texans are serious about their BBQ, and rightfully so. Brisket at Black's BBQ in Austin was so good it made me forget I was ever a vegetarian. What are vegetables?
I was really hesitant about eating brisket. Too fatty. Too meaty. Yuck. *cue eye roll*
That was until the day I saw a quarter mile line outside of Black's during PaleoFx. I thought there had to be something to it. I gave it and try and was instantly converted. Hallelujah, I had seen the light!
A couple years into living in Texas my husband decided he wanted a pellet smoker. He eats mostly meat due to his autoimmune illness, so this purchase felt justified. Never did I think I would be using it, but here I am.
When my husband tried my rib recipe, he said, and I quote, "These are literally the best ribs I have ever had". This means a lot coming from a man who eats a diet consisting almost entirely of meat. He has had more ribs in a year than most people have in a lifetime.
When I say these ribs are good, I mean these ribs are GOOD. These ribs are a tender, fall-off-the-bone, sticky without sauce type of goodness that just can't be beat.
Making The Perfect Ribs
Baby back ribs on the pellet smoker can be SO good, but they can also be just meh. The smoker is a great tool, but you still need to set yourself up for success. These ribs need a good rub and a little TLC (don't we all, am I right?).
The rub I use to make these incredible ribs is paleo-friendly because my husband has dietary restrictions. I realize not everyone who may find there way to this recipe will follow a paleo diet. For those people I gave a couple, more conventional, substitutions. However, I encourage you to try the paleo dry rub! It is perfection!
This paleo dry rub creates the perfect slightly sweet, slightly spicy glaze on these ribs. You legitimately will not even need a BBQ sauce. Coming from a girl who uses foods as a vehicle to transport BBQ sauce to her mouth, that is saying a lot.
Making The Paleo Dry Rub
You will need the following ingredients in order to make this paleo dry rub:
- ¼ cup coconut sugar
- 2 tsp onion powder
- 2 tsp garlic powder
- 1 tsp ground mustard
- 1 tsp coarse ground black pepper
- 2 tsp kosher salt
- 2 tsp smoked paprika
- 1 tsp chili powder
- 1 tsp red pepper flakes
Simply combine these ingredients in a shaker bottle or a small bowl and mix together. If you want it to make it more spicy you can increase the amount of red pepper flakes used. I would consider the recipe fairly mild as it is written, but I have a pretty high spice tolerance. To make it a true mild, just omit the red pepper flakes.
If you don't have coconut sugar, a pretty easy substitute would be brown sugar. They have a similar taste. Coconut sugar is just a little less processed and a little more granular with a caramel-y, nutty flavor.
Preparing The Ribs
There are a couple very important steps to take before putting your ribs on the smoker. You first want to remove the membrane. The membrane sits along the bone side of the ribs. It is a a tough piece of tissue that will only get tougher with cooking.
To remove, simply slide a butter knife underneath the membrane. Hold the ribs with one hand and with the other use a paper towel (to grip) and pull downward. It should come off fairly easily. Don't skip the paper towel, it really does make a difference.
Once the membrane is removed, coat the ribs entirely in a layer of coarse ground mustard. Rub every part of the ribs including the edges and sides. This will help the seasoning adhere and also help to tenderize the meat.
After you have applied the mustard, generously sprinkle on the paleo dry rub. Coat all sides. Use more than you think you will need, reserving only about 2 tablespoons of the rub for the second part of the cook.
Now your ribs are ready! Place on a smoker that has been brought to 250 degrees F. I used a Pit Boss, but any pellet smoker should do the trick as long as it can be kept to specific temps.
The ribs will cook for 2.5 hrs at this temperature. You will want to spritz the meat with apple cider vinegar every 30-60 minutes for those 2.5 hrs.
What Type of Pellets Should I Use For Ribs?
There are a handful of pellet varieties that compliment the flavor of ribs. For the rub we are using, I like to select a light, fruity smoke like cherry or applewood. The smoke does not overpower and really enhances the flavor of these ribs.
Finishing The Ribs
After the ribs have done the initial cook, the next step is braising. Begin by laying down a LARGE piece of tin foil. It really helps to use the 18 inch wide tin foil so that you can create an airtight pouch for the ribs. Using the standard sized tin foil will result in less of a glaze and less impressive ribs overall.
Directly on the tin foil, rub (a section the size of the rack of ribs) with a thick layer of refined coconut oil. It is important to use refined coconut oil here so you don't get a coconutty flavor in your finished product. Next sprinkle the coconut oil with half of the remaining spice rub and 2 tbsp. of coconut sugar.
Remove the ribs from the grill and place meat side down on the sheet of foil that you just prepared.
On the bone side, repeat the process, this time directly on the ribs. Dollop some coconut oil on the bone side, sprinkle with the remaining coconut sugar and spice rub.
Once all the ingredients have been added, tightly wrap up your ribs making sure the ends are sealed by folding the foil over. It should be fairly airtight.
Place the package of ribs back on the smoker at 300 degrees F for another 1.5 hours. When you come back to your ribs you should see a nice amount of retraction from the bone and a caramelized glaze on the outside of the ribs.
- Coconut sugar can be replaced with any granulated sweetener that has a caramel-y flavor, like brown sugar. Coconut sugar is really ideal in this recipe because when it cooks it develops such a rich flavor that tastes SO good on ribs.
- Refined coconut oil should NOT be replaced with unrefined coconut oil. You will end up with a undesirable flavor. Butter would be the next best thing or even a VERY neutral flavored cooking oil.
- Remove the membrane before cooking. The membrane gets super tough after smoking if left on the ribs. No good ribs were made leaving on the membrane. It takes only a few seconds and is so important.
- The mustard rub is important. You ribs will be both more flavorful and more tender when using a mustard rub because the spice rub will adhere SO much better and the vinegar in the mustard will help break down some of the tougher pieces during the cook.
- Spritz! Spritzing with apple cider vinegar may seem like a little detail but it prevents the ribs from drying out and helps create a spice bark on the outside. I 100% recommend doing this with most things you smoke.
- Use wide aluminum foil. This really does make a different in the braising process. If you create a nice airtight pouch for your ribs they will come out more tender and perfectly glazed.
- Don't skip the second portion of the cook. This is where the great ribs are separated from the good ribs. The airtight package helps to keep the ribs moist while tenderizing and caramelizing. It is absolute magic.
Feel free to leave a comment and a rating below. Feedback is always appreciated! 😊
Pellet Smoked Baby Back Ribs (Paleo Dry Rub)
- Pellet smoker
- Tin foil
- Spray bottle
- Preheat smoker to 250 degrees.
- Mix ingredients together for the rib rub and set aside.
- Prepare the ribs by removing the membrane. You’ll find the thin membrane on the underside of your ribs, along the bones. To remove, slide the tip of a butter knife in between the membrane and the bone and lift gently. Grab the lifted membrane with a paper towel to grip, pull the membrane away with one hand while you hold the rack of ribs with the other. Throw out the membrane.
- Slather the prepared ribs with coarse ground mustard covering all sides of the rack. This will help the rub adhere and the acidity from the mustard also helps to tenderize the meat.
- Sprinkle the rub on the meat, liberally. Cover all sides. Remember that a lot of the rub will fall off while cooking. You will want to use most of the rub, reserving only about 2-3 tbsp. of the rub for the second part of the cooking process.
- Smoke for 2.5 hours: Place ribs on smoker, bone side down, once it comes to temp (250 F). Applewood or cherry wood pellets are preferred with this recipe. While the ribs cook, spritz with apple cider vinegar at least every 30-60 minutes.
- Remove ribs after 2.5 hours. Tear off a large piece of wide aluminum foil about twice the size of your rack of ribs and place it on a large counter or table shiny side down. Using wide aluminum foil is important because it will allow you to create an airtight package for your ribs which will enhance the finished product.
- Begin covering a space on the foil the size of the rack of ribs with refined coconut oil. Top the oil with 2 tbsp. of coconut sugar and ½ of the reserved rib rub. Place the rack of ribs meat side down on top of the prepared foil. Repeat the same process, this time directly on the ribs. Dollop the rest of the coconut oil to the bone side of the ribs and cover with the remaining coconut sugar and spice rub. Fold over the foil across the ribs and tightly crimp the ends together to create a good seal.
- Return to the grill and increase your cooking temperature to 300 degrees F. Let the ribs cook for another 1.5 hour wrapped.
- Remove the ribs from the grill and place on a table. Open the foil, being mindful of hot steam and use tongs to remove the ribs.
- Optional: If you choose to use BBQ sauce (which you really don't need for this recipe), return them to the grill uncovered at 250 degrees F and brush on your favorite BBQ sauce. Cook for another 30-45 minutes or until they are you have reached your desired sticky, fall-off-the-bone factor.