Learn step by step how to prepare perfectly smoked baby back ribs in an electric smoker!
We cover how to prep, season, smoke, wrap, and sauce your baby back ribs using the 3-2-1 Method in ANY electric smoker such as a Masterbuilt, Bradley, Cuisinart, or Char-Broil.
Ribs are one of the most popular meats for smoking, and everyone has their own opinion on how they should be prepared. In addition, some people like their ribs to be fall off the bone, while others prefer that the meat is more firm.
However you like your ribs, we will show you how to get them cooked to your preference by using temperature rather than time. This modified 3-2-1 method simplifies making ribs so you can feel like a pitmaster every time!
- Baby Back Ribs vs. Pork Spare Ribs
- How Many Racks of Baby Back Ribs Should I Buy?
- Remove the Membrane
- Apply the Rub
- Allow the Rub to Rest
- Our Favorite Store Bought Rubs for Ribs
- Homemade Rib Rubs
- Our Favorite Sauces for Ribs
- The Best Wood for Smoking Ribs
- Setting up an Electric Smoker for Baby Back Ribs
- What Temperature do you Cook Baby Back Ribs in an Electric Smoker?
- Using The 3 2 1 Method
- How to Carve the Ribs
- Serving Suggestions
- 📖 Recipe
Baby Back Ribs vs. Pork 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.
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 as pork chops which is why they are so delicious, but also easier than spare ribs to over cook and dry out if not cooked properly.
Today we will go over:
- How to keep these lean baby back ribs moist while smoking them in your electric smoker.
- 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 of Baby Back Ribs 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 in your electric smoker 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 side dishes in which case folks may only take 3-4 ribs.
One great way to fit a lot of ribs at once in your electric smoker is to use a Rib Rack.
You can stand 5 racks upright to fit on just one shelf of a typical electric smoker!
This frees you up to smoke your sides and veggies on the other shelves...or...just cook more baby back ribs!
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" as they like to say, and its 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
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.
Allow the Rub to Rest
Once you've applied your rub to the baby backs, don't throw them right in the electric smoker 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 smoke with it into the meat and also helping to create that coveted pink smoke ring.
Our Favorite Store Bought Rubs for Ribs
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 looking 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 Kansa 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 spice and uniqueness.
If you want 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 real reason you can't apply it to your smoked baby back ribs if you are looking for big flavor without all the sugar.
Homemade Rib Rubs
Meathead's Memphis Dust
It's so good, you don't even need sauce.
Now, Meathead doesn't put salt in any of his rub recipes but rather salts his meat separately first.
So make sure to take that into consideration if you choose to prepare this classic rub for your baby back ribs.
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 BBQ rub on your baby back ribs before throwing them in the electric smoker, then we've got you covered with this simple rib rub recipe with seasonings most people have on hand in the pantry:
- Dark Brown Sugar
- Smoked Paprika
- Coarse Ground Black Pepper
- Kosher Salt (Or ½ tablespoon table salt, go easy, you can always add more salt later)
- Chili Powder
- Granulated Garlic or Garlic Powder (adjust to taste)
- Onion Powder (adjust to taste)
- Cayenne Pepper (optional)
Mix thoroughly, (using a re-usable plastic shaker works best), and then sprinkle directly on your ribs after applying some mustard to bind as described above.
You can feel free to adjust each ingredient to your own diet and taste preferences.
Our Favorite Sauces for Ribs
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.
You can pick up both and mix them like we do, or mix some Blues Hog Original in with one of your other favorites.
The Best Wood for Smoking Ribs
You have a lot of options when it comes to choosing the right wood chips to smoke your baby back ribs in an electric smoker.
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.
Pecan, apple, beech, alder, and cherry wood chips all give great results on baby backs when cooked in an electric smoker.
And since you will need to add more wood chips every 30-40 minutes (unless you using something like the Masterbuilt Slow Smoker Attachment), you can change up which type of chips you add each time.
Typically, the majority of your smoky flavor will come from what you use earlier in the cook when the meat is still cool, so make sure to take that into consideration when layering your flavors.
Setting up an Electric Smoker for Baby Back Ribs
For an in depth lesson, check out our full article on how to use wood chips in an electric smoker.
Fill the Water Pan
If your smoker comes with a water pan, use hot water to fill the metal container provided and carefully place it at the bottom of the smoke chamber.
Do NOT mix up your wood chip tray and your water pan.
Some models will have a designated space for the water, but if there isn’t one, you can also choose to use an aluminum pie pan and place it on the bottom shelf of the smoker below where your food will cook to create the same effect.
This will create a more moist environment which will not only prevent your meat from drying out while it cooks, but the moisture also helps facilitate smoke penetration into the meat.
Preheat the Smoker
Next, preheat your smoker by either adjusting the dial control to the required temperature or, on digital smokers, by using the up and down arrow buttons to select your heat setting.
Note that it can take up to 25 minutes for your electric smoker to reach the intended temperature.
For our smoked baby back ribs we want to set the electric smoker to 225°F.
Add the Wood Chips
Depending on the model of smoker, you either have a tray that must be removed from inside the chamber and filled, or a side loading door that allows you add wood without opening the cooking chamber and disrupting the temperature.
All else being equal the second option is preferable.
Check your smoker's instructions as some smokers recommend adding the chips before you preheat, and others recommend adding them only AFTER the smoker has come up to temperature.
As we've discussed time and time again, there is no need to soak your wood chips in water before using them.
Smoke is created from smoldering the wood chips in a low oxygen environment, NOT from soaking them in water.
Then, close the loading tray door, let the smoke begin to start, and then add your food to the cooking chamber and close the door.
Refill the Wood Chips
Now, as we mentioned, you will need to refill the wood chips every 30-40 minutes as the smolder fairly quickly compared to wood chunks and wood pellets.
If you are using a Masterbuilt Electric Smoker, check out their Slow Smoker Accessory Attachment.
It allows you to preload the wood chips, much like a pellet hopper on a pellet grill and smokes them more slowly so that you don't need to constantly refill.
This works great for longer smokes like for pork butt and brisket.
What Temperature do you Cook Baby Back Ribs in an Electric Smoker?
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 an electric smoker, this is the easy part!
Like we described above, fill your water pan, turn your electric smoker to 225°F, and add your wood chips and ribs once the smoker is up to temperature.
We recommend initially setting up the smoker to cook at 225°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.
Using The 3 2 1 Method
A popular technique for smoking baby back ribs is what's known as 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 electric smoker pegged at 225°F throughout this whole process.
The First 3 Hours - Smoke
3 hours is a suggestion. You may only need to smoke the baby 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 cherry cola and swear by the sugar caramelizing on the surface.
Once you have a nice color of 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 maybe the back of your electric smoker is hotter than the front.
If you are using rib racks, turn the baby back ribs over about half way through the cook to make sure they cook evenly.
The Next 2 Hours - Wrap
Again, 2 hours is a suggestion, and with baby backs, unlike their fattier sparerib counterparts, you probably won't need to wrap a full 2 hours.
We'd recommend wrapping only for 1 hour the first time you try this and see how they turn out.
The longer you wrap, the more the ribs will steam and become fall off the bone tender.
But over do it and you'll end up with a foil bag of bare bones and loose shredded pork.
So wrap tightly for 30-45 minutes 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.
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 baby back 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 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.
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!
PRO TIP: Save the liquid in the foil to mix with BBQ sauce for the final saucing step.
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 in the electric smoker 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 in your electric smoker here for the last 30 minutes up to 275-300°F but just make sure not to burn the sugars in you sauce.
How to Carve the Ribs
When it comes to slicing up and serving your electric smoker smoked 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.
Depending how many guests 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!
Also check out all of our other Electric Smoker recipes!
Smoked Baby Back Ribs in an Electric Smoker
- Electric Smoker such as a Masterbuilt
- 4-5 handfuls of Wood Chips (preferably fruitwood or oak)
- Empty Spray Bottle
- Rib Rack (optional)
- Aluminum Foil or NON-WAXED Pink Butchers Paper
- Heat Resistant BBQ Gloves
- Basting brush
- Meat Slicing Knife
- 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
- 2 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
- Start up the electric smoker, add your chosen wood chips to the loading tray, and set the temperature to 225°F.
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.
- Apply a thin layer of yellow mustard to the front and backs of each rack of ribs and rub to coat entirely.
- Use your favorite BBQ rub or mix the rub ingredients listed above together in a bowl or shaker.
- 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 before putting them in the electric smoker.
- While the rub is setting, mix the apple juice and apple cider vinegar together in a spray bottle.
3 - Smoke the Ribs
- Once the electric smoker is making smoke and up to 225°F, place the ribs on the grates. Use a rib rack if preparing more than 3 racks of baby back ribs at once.
- Close the door 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.
- Every 20-30 minutes, check the wood chip tray and dump charred chips and replace with fresh DRY wood chips as needed throughout this first stage.
- 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 or NON-WAXED pink butchers paper 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).
- 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 or butchers paper and place back in the electric smoker and continue to cook at 225°F.
- 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 electric smoker using tongs or heat resistant gloves.
1 - Firm and Sauce the Ribs
- Begin checking the ribs after about 45-60 minutes and every 15 minutes after that. Once you see the meat pulling away from the ends of the 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 in the electric smoker, face up, and cook for about 30 more minutes at 225°F before saucing.
- While the ribs are cooking, prepare your sauce by mixing your 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 in the electric smoker unwrapped for about 30 minutes and firmed back up a little, gently brush the sauce on with a basting brush.
- Close the door 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 electric smoker 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 on a serving platter to a larger crowd.
- Include some sauce on the side for guests to add extra if they desire and enjoy!