Learn step by step how to prepare perfectly smoked baby back ribs on a Pit Boss pellet grill!
We cover how to prepare, season, cook, and sauce your baby backs using the 3-2-1 Method and why the Pit Boss pellet grill makes it so easy to cook these ribs. We also share some of our favorite pellets, rubs, and sauces we like to use on our baby backs.
Baby Back Ribs vs. Spare Ribs
Why do we LOVE baby back ribs so much?
Well it may have to do with them being leaner and sometimes meatier than there sparerib counterparts, also known as St. Louis Style or St. Louis Cut Ribs.
Now, they both come from the same rib, hogs don't have one set of baby back ribs and another set of spare ribs.
But, the baby backs are cut from the ⅓ of that rib that is closer to the spine, or back of the pig, in the same area as the spinalis muscle, or loin, where the pork chops are taken from.
In fact, a full size, untrimmed, bone-in pork chop would have a baby back rib attached to it.
Baby back ribs share a lot of the same leaner whiter meat which is why they are so delicious, but also easier than spare ribs to over cook and dry out if not cooked properly.
We will go over:
- How to keep these lean baby back ribs moist while smoking them on your Pit Boss.
- How to wrap them so that they become fall off the bone tender.
- How to season and sauce them with some of the best products on the market.
How Many Racks Should I Buy?
If you are feeding a crowd, you may be trying to decide how many slabs of baby back ribs you need to cook on your Pit Boss to feed everyone.
Most hungry adults can easily eat a half a slab which is about 6 ribs.
Take into consideration if you are also serving other proteins or a lot of heavy sides in which case folks may only take 3-4 ribs.
One great way to fit a lot of ribs at once on your Pit Boss is to use a Rib Rack.
You can stand 5 racks upright and fit around 10 slabs on a typical PIt Boss pellet grill so you can feed a large crowd!
Rather watch than read?
Check out this step-by-step video from the Mad Backyard Youtube Channel on How to Smoke Baby Back Ribs on your Pit Boss Pellet Grill!
Remove the Membrane
Once you have removed your slabs of baby back ribs from the packaging, you will need to remove the membrane on the back of each rack.
This membrane not only keeps the seasonings from penetrating the meat, but makes the ribs harder to carve and bite into or fall off the bone, and is well...just generally unappetizing to your guests.
Luckily it's not hard to remove with a couple tricks used by BBQ professionals all over the world every day.
First, slide a good sharp knife, preferably a good boning knife like our favorite one from Imarku to get the membrane separated from one of the corners.
Next, once you can grab a little bit of the membrane, use a paper towel to grip it tight and pull down to the other corner.
Sometimes it comes off in one big piece, other times you will need to go back and remove some pieces that didn't come off, but using a paper towel is the best way to get a hold of this slippery membrane.
Once this membrane is removed, you are ready to season your baby back ribs.
Apply the Rub
Mustard? But of Course!
Believe it or not, one of the best ways to bind your rub to your meat is with plain old yellow mustard.
And trust the thousands of BBQ competitors who have used it over the years. You won't taste any mustard flavor once the cook is over and it holds the rub in place like a champ.
Simply spread a thin layer of yellow mustard all over the front and back of your baby backs and then sprinkle your rub on after that.
If you are separating out your salt from your rub, add the salt first, then the rub on top of that so that the salt is closer to the surface of the meat.
If you truly have an aversion to using any kind of mustard, you can also substitute a thin layer of any kind of cooking oil you wish.
But make sure to use something as this will help the rub adhere to the meat and not fall off as you are handling it.
Once you've applied your rub to the baby backs, don't throw them right on the PIt Boss just yet.
Give the rub about 20-30 minutes to draw some moisture out of the meat and create a nice paste on the outside of the meat.
This pulled out moisture will absorb a lot of your smoke flavor, and eventually that moisture will make its way BACK into the meat as it rises in temperature pulling your delicious rub and absorbed smokiness with it into the meat and also helping to create that coveted pink smoke ring.
Our Favorite Rubs
Asking "What's the best rub for ribs?" is kind of like asking "What is the best car on the market?", or "Who was the best baseball player?"
You are bound to start some opinionated discussions.
But like all things BBQ, it comes down to your personal preferences, dietary restrictions, the crowd you are cooking for, and really, just what you happen to be in the mood for that day.
If you don't want a lot of salt, make your own rub and cut back on the salt. If you don't want a lot of sugar, we've got a great suggestion below for that too.
What we CAN say is we've tried A LOT of rubs and sauces over the years, and these are our favorites below.
Blues Hog products are widely used on the competition circuit, and for good reason.
Their original rub is very sugar and paprika forward, without a lot of spice, so if you are going for a sweeter flavor for your baby backs, this is the way to go.
Three Little Pigs is one of our personal favorites, and their Kansas City Championship Rub will give you a bit more garlic, onion, and spice than Blues Hog will.
You can always mix it in with a more balanced rub like Blues Hog if you just want to add a little of those flavors.
If you want to use a quality rub without ANY sugar, we are big fans of Bad Byron's Butt Rub Seasoning.
Although we typically use it on cuts of beef and steaks where we are going for a more savory flavor, there is no reason you can't apply it to your Pit Boss smoked baby back ribs because it is heavy on flavor, and has no sugar.
Homemade "In a Pinch" Rub
Sometimes, you forgot you ran out of your favorite rub, or don't have all the ingredients on hand to make a complex one from scratch.
If you just want to get a good classic rub on your baby back ribs before throwing them on the Pit Boss, then we've got you covered with this simple rib rub recipe with seasonings most people have on hand in the pantry:
- ½ Cup Dark Brown Sugar
- ¼ Cup Paprika
- 1 tablespoon Coarse Ground Black Pepper
- 1 tablespoon Kosher Salt (Or ½ tablespoon table salt, go easy, you can always add more salt later)
- 1 tablespoon Chili Powder
- ½ tablespoon Granulated Garlic or Garlic Powder (adjust to taste)
- ½ tablespoon Onion Powder (adjust to taste)
- ¼ teaspoon Cayenne Pepper (optional)
Mix thoroughly, (using a re-usable plastic shaker works best), and then sprinkle directly on your ribs after applying some jstard to bind as described above.
Our Favorite Sauces
Blues Hog again wins the day here with their amazing lineup of sauces. While their rubs are great, their sauces are WORLD CLASS.
Their Original BBQ Sauce is VERY thick, VERY sweet, and incredibly heavy on flavor, so a little goes a LONG way.
In fact, we actually like to cut it with their Tennessee Red Sauce, which is a thinner, more vinegar based sauce, that is our hands down favorite sauce to use on our Pit Boss pulled pork as described here.
You can pick up both and mix them like we do, or mix Blues Hog Original in with one of your other favorite (we'd suggest more savory sauces to balance the sugar, like this one from Aaron Franklin.)
Our Favorite Pellets
You have a lot of options when it comes to choosing the right wood pellets to smoke your baby back ribs on a Pit Boss pellet grill.
Mesquite and hickory will give a very aggressive smoke flavor to the lean baby back ribs, usually a little too much, if used solely on their own rather than mixed with a milder fruitwood or blend.
Pecan, apple, beech, alder, and cherry pellets all give great results on baby backs when cooked on a Pit Boss.
For a very straightforward flavor on baby backs, we are big fans of Bear Mountain Red and White Smoky Oak Pellets
For the best results, store your unused pellets in a sealed room temperature container like this 20 lb pellet container rather than in the Pit Boss hopper outside.
Pellets do not last forever, but will definitely last a LOT longer if stored indoors in a quality airtight container.
Setting up the Pit Boss
We have previously covered how to season a Pit Boss, how to start a Pit Boss, as well as how to troubleshoot the smoke level of your Pit Boss and how to fix Pit Boss temperature problems.
So if you need a more in-depth review on how to use your Pit Boss for the first time, check those articles out first!
Now that the baby back ribs have been seasoned and the rub has rested and permeated the meat a bit, all that's left to do is cook them!
With a Pit Boss, this is the easy part!
Pro Tip: Line your slabs up with the thicker ends to the right, which is normally the hotter side of the Pit Boss.
We recommend initially setting up the smoker to cook at 250°F.
This seems to be the sweet spot where its low enough that the outside doesn't overcook but also high enough that the baby backs don't cook for so long that they dry out.
If you choose to cook at a higher or lower temperature, make sure to adjust your times during each stage of The 3 2 1 Method outlined below.
The 3-2-1 Method
This refers to the following blocks of time:
- The First 3 Hours: Smoking the ribs
- The Next 2 Hours: Wrapping the ribs in foil so that they steam and get tender and more "Fall off the Bone" style
- The Last 1 Hour: Taking them out of the foil and putting them back on the grill to firm up and finally saucing them during the last 30 minutes
Now, this is just a framework, and a way of simplifying the process. Understand that in BBQ there are no absolutes.
You can keep your Pit Boss pegged at 250°F throughout this whole process.
The First 3 Hours: Smoke
3 hours is a suggestion. You may only need to smoke the baby back ribs for 2 hours before wrapping.
The idea is to get a nice smoke flavor on them and get them to turn a nice dark red and amber color without completely drying them out.
One way to keep them from drying out is to spritz them with some sort or flavorful juice, cola, or beer during this part of the cook.
Many BBQ pros like to use a mixture of 75% apple juice and 25% apple cider vinegar.
Some use cola and swear by the sugar caramelizing on the surface.
Once you have a nice color on the ribs after about 1.5 to 2 hours, keep a close eye on them if you cook any longer.
You want to avoid burnt edges and big splits across the top of the meat.
You can rotate them a bit during this time if one side of your Pit Boss is a lot hotter than the other.
If you are using rib racks, turn them over about half way through the cook to make sure they cook evenly and to keep all the internal moisture from draining down to one end of the ribs.
The Next 2 Hours: Wrap
Have fun with your ingredients inside the foil.
Many BBQ competitors use a combination Parkay squeeze butter, brown sugar, and honey to make a sweet glazy bath for their ribs in the foil.
Pro Tip: For more moist, fall off the bone meat, place the ribs upside down into your foil wrap of ingredients, wrap, and then place the whole packet on the grill upside down this way. Then turn them back over right side up to firm up later when you remove form the foil in step 3.
Again, 2 hours is a suggestion, and with baby backs, unlike their fattier sparerib and beef back rib counterparts, you probably won't need to wrap a full 2 hours.
The longer you wrap, the more the ribs will steam and become fall off the bone tender.
Some people like their ribs completely fall off the bone, ala your well known national chain "Tex/Mex/BBQ" restaurants that make their ribs in pressure cookers or others that hold them in steam drawers for hours until somebody actually orders "The Ribs."
Others just want to loosen their ribs up a little so they pull off the bone more cleanly, more akin to how they are prepared on the BBQ Competition Circuit.
Wherever you land on this spectrum, just know that if you over do it and you'll end up with a foil bag of bare bones and loose shredded pork.
So wrap tightly for only 45 minutes to an hour at most and then check every 15 minutes until you see the meat pulling away from the ends of the bones.
This is usually a good indicator they are ready to come out of the foil.
The Final Hour: Firm and Sauce
It may take a few cooks for you to learn exactly how long to wrap your ribs based on how you like them.
Once you are ready to remove them from the foil be careful, the steam and liquid will be EXTREMELY HOT!
We recommend a good pair of insulated meat handling gloves to easily pick up the hot rack of baby backs rather than trying to awkwardly use forks and tongs.
For one, you don't want to burn yourself, but you also don't want to end up with a hot slippery slab of ribs on the ground.
Place the baby back ribs back on the Pit Boss unwrapped and right side up (or back in the rib rack) and give them about 30 minutes to firm up a little before you start putting on any sauce.
This will give the sauce some time to caramelize on the ribs a bit and stick to the meat.
You are welcome to crank the heat on your Pit Boss here for the last 30 minutes up to 275-300°F but just make sure not to burn the sugars in you sauce!
Carve and Serve
When it comes to slicing up and serving your Pit Boss baby back ribs, you can stand them upright to see the lines of the bones easier and cut top to bottom.
A good meat slicing knife makes all the difference and will keep the baby backs from falling apart as you slice.
We particularly like this meat slicing knife from Mairico.
We don't recommended cutting every rib up individually before serving or they are more likely to dry out.
Remember, this is still relatively lean white pork loin meat compared to something like darker, and fattier, pulled pork or spare ribs.
Depending how many guest you are serving, you can either give each person their own ⅓ to ½ slab, or put them on a platter cut up in 2-3 rib sections for people to take with tongs.
Serve some extra sauce on the side for those who want it, and enjoy!
Pit Boss Baby Back Ribs
- Pit Boss Pellet Grill
- Wood Pellets (preferably fruitwood or oak)
- Empty Spray Bottle
- Aluminum Foil
- Heat Resistant BBQ Gloves
- Basting brush
- Meat Slicing Knife
- Rib Rack (optional)
- 2 Racks Baby Back Ribs
- 2 tablespoon Yellow Mustard
- 1 cup Your Favorite BBQ Sauce such as Blues Hog
- 1 cup Dark Brown Sugar
- ½ cup Paprika
- 2 tablespoon Course Ground Black Pepper
- 2 tablespoon Kosher Salt or ½ tablespoon Table Salt
- 2 tablespoon Chili Powder
- 1 tablespoon Granulated Garlic
- 1 tablespoon Onion Powder
- ½ teaspoon Cayenne Powder optional for heat
- ½ cup Apple Juice
- ¼ cup Apple Cider Vinegar
Wrapping Seasonings (optional)
- 1 Cup Dark Brown Sugar
- 2 drizzles Honey
- 2 drizzles Parkay Squeeze butter
- 2 drizzles Tiger Sauce optional for heat
Prepare the Ribs and Spritz
- Remove the membrane from the back each rack of baby back ribs using a knife to get it started in one corner, then grabbing on with a paper towel and pulling towards the opposite corner.2 Racks Baby Back Ribs
- Apply a thin layer of yellow mustard to the front and backs of each rack of ribs and rub to coat entirely.2 tablespoon Yellow Mustard
- Use your favorite BBQ rub or mix the rub ingredients listed above together in a bowl or shaker.1 cup Your Favorite BBQ Sauce, 1 cup Dark Brown Sugar, ½ cup Paprika, 2 tablespoon Course Ground Black Pepper, 2 tablespoon Kosher Salt, 2 tablespoon Chili Powder, 1 tablespoon Granulated Garlic, 1 tablespoon Onion Powder, ½ teaspoon Cayenne Powder
- Apply a generous amount of rub to the fronts and backs of each slab of baby back ribs. Its ok to leave some rub leftover to apply more throughout the cook if needed.
- Let the rub set on the ribs at room temperature for about 20-30 minutes. This is a good time to start up your Pit Boss (see next section)
- While the rub is setting and the Pit Boss is preheating, you can also mix the apple juice and apple cider vinegar together in a spray bottle for spritzing later.
Start the Pit Boss
- Remove the fire pot from the bottom of the Pit Boss and clean out any ashes left over from the last cook. Replace it and make sure it is secured in place with the clips on either side. Also, wrap the drip tray in aluminum foil to limit the cleanup needed later.
- Add your chosen pellets to the hopper, start the Pit Boss pellet grill and put it on the "Smoke" setting.
- If there are no pellets in the auger, hold the "Prime" button until you hear pellets begin falling in the fire pot. This will speed up the auger to prime it full of pellets before you start preheating.
- Once the Pit boss begins to produce thick white smoke, let it run for about 5-7 minutes until the smoke turns more of a clearish blue color. This means the fire rod has fully heated up to burn the pellets more cleanly.
- Next, set the temperature to preheat the Pit Boss pellet grill to 350°F. We will drop this temperature before we start cooking.
- Fill an aluminum pan with water if you want to add extra moisture, and place it on the far left side of the Pit Boss pellet grill. Place a disposable bucket liner in the grease bucket as well if you want to limit cleanup later.
- Once the Pit Boss has come up to 350°F, drop the temperature on the control panel to 250° and clean the grill grates with a good grill brush and close the lid.
3 - Smoke the Ribs
- Once the Pit Boss temperature has dropped to 250°F, place the baby back ribs on the grill with the thickest sides to the right (the hotter end of the grill). Use a rib rack if preparing more than 4 racks of baby back ribs at once.
- Close the lid and let the ribs cook for about 90 minutes. You can spritz gently as necessary to keep the meat moist if it begins to look dry.½ cup Apple Juice, ¼ cup Apple Cider Vinegar
- After 90 minutes rotate the ribs if one side appears darker than the other and begin checking them about every 15-20 minutes.
- While they are smoking, you can prepare your foil and wrapping ingedients.
2 - Wrap the Ribs
- Lay out 2 long pieces of heavy duty aluminum foil on top of each other on the counter, long enough to double wrap the rack of ribs front and back with the two pieces. Repeat with the other rack.
- Spread ½ cup of brown sugar on each set of aluminum foil, then drizzle some honey, parkay squeeze butter, and Tiger Sauce on each. (this is optional)1 Cup Dark Brown Sugar, 2 drizzles Honey, 2 drizzles Parkay Squeeze butter, 2 drizzles Tiger Sauce
- Once the ribs are a nice dark amber color and especially if you begin to see any very dark burning on the bones or ends, usually around the 2.5 hour mark, remove them from the grill using tongs or heat resistant gloves.
- Place the baby back ribs face down into each pile of aluminum foil and ingredients.
- If you would rather not use the wrapping ingredients listed above, place the ribs in the foil face up and add a small amount of apple juice, soda, or beer to the aluminum foil to add some moisture.
- Wrap the ribs tightly in the double layer of aluminum foil and place back on the Pit Boss and continue to cook at 250°F.
1 - Firm and Sauce the Ribs
- Begin checking the wrapped ribs after about 45-60 minutes and every 15 minutes after that. Once you see the meat pulling away from the ends of bones and tenderizing, you can take them out of the foil. This may only take 1 to 1.5 hours rather than 2.
- Carefully remove the ribs from the foil and save the juices in the foil to add to your sauce later. Place the ribs back on the Pit Boss, face up, and cook for about 30 more minutes at 250°F before saucing.
- While the ribs are cooking, prepare your sauce by mixing you favorite sauce(s) together with some of the juices retained from the foil. Mix in a cup or bowl and set aside.
- After the baby backs have been back on the Pit Boss unwrapped for about 30 minutes and firmed back up a little, gently brush the sauce on with a basting brush.
- Close the lid and continue cooking for another 30 minutes to let the sauce thicken and set on the meat.
Carving and Serving
- Remove the ribs from the Pit Boss and let them rest for about 15 minutes.
- Turn the ribs upright on their edge so that you can more easily see the ribs running along the bottom up and own.
- Using a good meat slicing knife cut from top to bottom between the bones in the center of the racks to serve a half rack to each person. Or you can cut them into 2-3 rib portions of serving ona. platter to a larger crowd.
- Include some warmed up sauce on the side for guests to add extra if they desire and enjoy!