Summer Grill Outs: Smoke like a Pro

Electric smoker

Electric smoker

A smoker is a wonderful piece of equipment.  We use it as an extension of our kitchen, and on hot summer evenings, it is a great way to have the cooking take place outside on the patio, rather than heating up the kitchen.  For those of you who are not familiar with a smoker, it is a device that allows you to control the temperature (typically within the 200F – 300F range) while cooking over heat/fire that generates smoke which is intended to permeate the food you are cooking.  Ribs, loins, and other cuts of meat are enhanced by cooking in the smoker rather on a standard grill since a smoker allows you to cook over low heat for a long period of time.  Vegetables and even cheeses pick up a delightful smokey taste with a closely monitored session.

In the photo to the left, the smoker has been plugged in and is coming up to temperature.  To the right of the smoker on the ground, is a small container where we are soaking apricot wood to be used in the smoker.

If you are blessed to have fruit trees in your yard, save any wood that you prune from the tree (or fallen branches) to use in your smoker.  Why pay for a bag of fruit wood chips, when you can use what you have in your yard?    With a little experimenting you can create your own custom wood blends.  We have apricot, apple, and crab apple  which add a delicate flavor to the food we smoke.  NOTE: we find that our crab apple wood provides a flavor so similar to apple that we can not tell them apart.

Spice rub added to babyback shortribs and country style ribs

Spice rub added to baby back ribs and country style ribs

Besides smoke, the spice rub is the next most important part of smoking meat.  Depending on the types of spices used, you can create a complex flavor of spices that will transport you across the globe.  Regardless of the spice combination, we always add brown sugar.  It caramelizes nicely in the smoker and adds a subtle sweetness.

The following recipe is adapted from for their Smoked Barbeque Baby Back Ribs.

Spice Rub Recipe

  • 2 Tbl. kosher salt
  • 2 Tbl. brown sugar
  • 2 Tbl. chili powder
  • 2 Tbl. smoked paprika
  • 1 1/2 tsp. ground black pepper
  • 1 tsp. ground cayenne pepper
  • 1 tsp. garlic powder
  • 1 tsp. ground mustard powder
  • 3 Tbl. vegetable oil
  • 2 – 3 racks of ribs

Remove the silverskin from the ribs.  This membrane is tough and does not benefit the meat if left on during the cooking process.  Pat the ribs dry.  Next, rub the ribs with oil (we used peanut oil).  The oil is what will allow the spices to adhere to the meat.

Combine all of the spices including salt and sugar in a bowl.  Stir well to thoroughly combine (there should be no chunks or pockets of just one spice).  Sprinkle the rub evenly over the ribs.  The ribs should be coated in the rub like shown in the photo above.  To contain any mess from the rub, we line a baking sheet with aluminum foil and place the ribs on that prior to applying the rub.  Once the ribs have been coated, cover with plastic wrap and place in the refrigerator for at least 30 minutes (we waited one hour).  Next, remove from the refrigerator and allow the ribs to come to room temperature.

As the ribs come to room temperature, we soak our fruit wood in water for at least 15 minutes.  The reason why the wood is soaked is that you want the wet wood to produce a smoke, not simply burn up quickly in the smoker.

Follow the instructions provided for your smoker for heating up and where to place the soaked wood.

Once the smoker reaches the desired temperature, place the ribs on the grill rack bone side down.  You should have a drip tray under the meat.  This will prevent flare ups as grease drips from the ribs.

Smoked ribs with spice rub

Smoked ribs with spice rub

Place the door or cover on the smoker.  The cover will help contain the heat as well as the smoke.  Most smokers also call for having a heat resistant container (or one is included as part of the smoker) for water.  The water helps control the heat during the cooking process.

Smoke the ribs for the next three hours.  Periodically check the meat.   We use tongs to press into the meat as well as lifting the meat up. What we are looking for when we lift the meat is for the rack of ribs to bend rather than remaining straight.  This is an indicator that the connective tissue has broken down, creating a tender piece of meat.

With smoker, time, and a good spice rub, you too, can be grilling up smoked ribs like a pro!


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