BBQ

Smoked Baby Back Ribs on the Pit Barrel Cooker

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If there was ever a cut of meat the Pit Barrel Cooker was born to cook, it would be ribs. Baby back ribs hanging down over an open fire is a primal event all humans should experience. As heat and smoke rises slowly cooking the ribs, fat drippings fall down creating a natural steam that can only be made by the interaction of real meat and a real fire.

You pull the lid off to have your senses overwhelmed with smells only replicated in the moment. The stainless-steel hooks are suspending the ribs right above the fire as the meat slowly pulls back on the bone. The ribs are forming a crust as the smoke rolls over each rack, rising to the top looking for a way out. It’s a vertical cooking experience that brings out the best in barbecue at an affordable price. I think everyone should own a Pit Barrel Cooker.

The Cook

Four racks of baby back ribs from HEB grocery store.
Four racks of baby back ribs from HEB grocery store.
  • 4 racks of baby back ribs
  • SuckleBusters Hog Waller BBQ Rub
  • Pit Barrel Cooker
  • Rockwood Lump Charcoal

Preparing the Baby Back Ribs

Excess membrane hanging off baby back ribs.
Excess membrane hanging off baby back ribs.

You first need to start by trimming off all excess pieces hanging off the ribs. Anything hanging off the ribs will burn up in the cook and be worthless. This will clean up the finished product so your left with nothing but savory ribs after the cook.

Score the Membrane on Back Side of Ribs

Score membrane on back side of ribs in a cross hatch pattern.
Score membrane on back side of ribs in a cross hatch pattern.

After trimming off anything hanging off the ribs, score the back side in a cross-hatch pattern. This will help loosen up the ribs for the cook and allow the seasoning and smoke to penetrate.

I used to remove the membrane on all ribs I cooked. I no longer do that. We cook lots of ribs and it’s time-consuming. Leaving the membrane on renders out a crispy backside that flakes off like a chicharron. Yum!

Season Ribs and Insert Meat Hooks

Baby back ribs seasoned on both sides with Hog Waller seasoning. Ready to hang over a live fire.
Baby back ribs seasoned on both sides with Hog Waller seasoning. Ready to hang over a live fire.

I have tried all types of seasoning on ribs, but I have never found anything as good as Hog Waller BBQ Rub. This blend of sweet and spicy perfectly compliments ribs without being too salty. I first heard about his seasoning from a YouTube video where the host compared ten different rubs on ribs. Hog Waller came out on top and for good reason. It will take your ribs to another level.

After seasoning the ribs, take your meat hooks and insert them under the third rib down. This will give you a good grab on the ribs to help prevent them from falling into the fire. I insert the meat hooks into the thicker side of the rib to keep the heavy meat portion of the rib away from the fire. This works well as the thin side of the ribs with less meat will take the brunt of the heat and reduce burning up precious baby back meat.

Starting the Fire in the Pit Barrel Cooker

In a large Weber Charcoal Chimney, I start by filling the charcoal chimney half way. This will give you plenty of charcoal to get the fire started and move you forward through your cook.
In a large Weber Charcoal Chimney, I start by filling the charcoal chimney half way. This will give you plenty of charcoal to get the fire started and move you forward through your cook.

The Pit Barrel Cooker uses charcoal as its main fuel source. We used Lump Charcoal for this cook as we had some left over that we are trying to use up. Rockwood lump charcoal has a great flavor and the charcoal chunks are the right size for most cookers. You can also use regular briquette charcoal which works great in the Pit Barrel Cooker. It burns very consistent and can be found anywhere.

You can start the fire using lighter fluid, fire starters, or a charcoal chimney. I don’t like to use chemicals in my pits, so I use a charcoal chimney. It’s simple and fast. The Pit Barrel Cooker Company makes their own charcoal chimney that is smaller in design to make it easier to pour your lit charcoal over the charcoal basket down in the barrel.

Tear off part of your charcoal bag and place it under your charcoal chimney. This is a great way to start the fire.
Tear off part of your charcoal bag and place it under your charcoal chimney. This is a great way to start the fire.

Rockwood Charcoal Company claims to manufacturer a charcoal bag that is free of chemicals. They do this because they want you to use it to start the fire in your charcoal chimney or grill. This is a great way to use something that would otherwise end up in the trash.

Rockwood Lump Charcoal in the Pit Barrel Cooker charcoal basket at the bottom of the barrel. Half a basket of charcoal will suffice for a rib cook.
Rockwood Lump Charcoal in the Pit Barrel Cooker charcoal basket at the bottom of the barrel. Half a basket of charcoal will suffice for a rib cook.

Rockwood Lump Charcoal makes charcoal that is the perfect size for most cookers. We have used other lump charcoals in the past with pieces so large, we have to break them up with a hammer. If you have ever cooked with charcoal, you know how messy it can be. Rockwood produces chunks of oak, hickory, and maple woods to provide a smooth, sweet flavor that will burn evenly and consistently during your cook. I enjoy the flavor of hardwood lump charcoal. You can also use briquette charcoal which works great at well. They are both great. Use what works best for you.

Hang Seasoned Ribs on the Pit Barrel Cooker

Hog Waller seasoned baby back ribs hanging on the Pit Barrel Cooker.
Hog Waller seasoned baby back ribs hanging on the Pit Barrel Cooker.

Cooking ribs on the Pit Barrel Cooker is as simple as hanging the meat on the rebar. Space the ribs evenly to allow for good airflow between the ribs. I have cooked as many as eight racks of ribs on my 18.5” Pit Barrel Cooker. Hanging the ribs vertically allows you to cook lots of meat in a small footprint. Some serious barbecuers will have several Pit Barrel Cookers going at one time cooking all types of meat. The pit is easy to use and easy to travel with.

Adjust Bottom Vent Based on Elevation

The bottom vent on the Pit Barrel Cooker is simple. It’s attached with a single screw and you push it to one side to adjust. That’s it.
The bottom vent on the Pit Barrel Cooker is simple. It’s attached with a single screw and you push it to one side to adjust. That’s it.

The true beauty of the Pit Barrel Cooker is its simplicity. There is only one vent to adjust at the bottom. The proper adjustment for your area is based on elevation which can be found in the owners manual. We are about 800 feet above sea level, so I open the vent just under one inch. Our baby back ribs render out in about four to five hours based on how we like them. I could speed this up by opening the vent, but then I wouldn’t be able to enjoy a nap in my zero gravity lounger.

Sauce Ribs Around 3-4 Hours Into Cook

Baby back ribs laying over the rebar used to hang meat. You can sauce the ribs this way if you prefer.
Baby back ribs laying over the rebar used to hang meat. You can sauce the ribs this way if you prefer.

You can choose whether you want to sauce your ribs. I know this is a personal preference. You can choose to lay the ribs over the rebar or pull a rack out at a time and lay it on the lid. Either way works fine. If you choose to sauce the ribs over the rebar, keep in mind the charcoal will most likely start to flame up due to the rush of oxygen.

The top lid of the Pit Barrel Cooker gives you a good surface to lay the ribs on so you can apply sauce. I normally only sauce the meat side to keep it simple.
The top lid of the Pit Barrel Cooker gives you a good surface to lay the ribs on so you can apply sauce. I normally only sauce the meat side to keep it simple.

Depending on how many racks I need to sauce, many times I will remove one or two racks at a time and lay them on the lid. This keeps the fire under control and allows me to sauce while sipping. Sipping my beer that is. No matter what you do, have fun. Find the routine that works for you and enjoy it. Throw some music on. If you are not having fun, then you are not barbecuing.

Managing the Pit Barrel Cooker Fire

25” BBQ tongs allow you to reach down into the Pit Barrel Cooker to make any adjustments needed.
25” BBQ tongs allow you to reach down into the Pit Barrel Cooker to make any adjustments needed.

The Pit Barrel is for the most part a cruise control cooker. There is not a lot of fire management needed to produce awesome barbecue. That is why I love the pit so much.

Here is a better look at the 25” BBQ tongs with their scissor design. They are lightweight and easy to use.
Here is a better look at the 25” BBQ tongs with their scissor design. They are lightweight and easy to use.

If for some reason you do need to adjust or add to the charcoal, try using these Extended Length BBQ Tongs. I have had this set for years and have used them to move charcoal around in my Big Green Egg, Weber Charcoal Kettle, The Pit Barrel Cooker, and to adjust the fire we build in our cauldron. They work great and serve many purposes for any barbecue enthusiast.

Ribs Are Ready to Come off the Pit Barrel Cooker

Meat pulled up on the bone on baby back ribs hanging over a live fire on the Pit barrel Cooker. One of the most beautiful views you will ever see!
Meat pulled up on the bone on baby back ribs hanging over a live fire on the Pit barrel Cooker. One of the most beautiful views you will ever see!

I know what your thinking. You’re emotional. The photo above may be one of the most beautiful photos any barbecue lover has ever seen. Go ahead, it’s okay to cry. I understand. I have been there. When you remove the lid off the Pit Barrel Cooker, the view from the top is both mesmerizing and deeply emotional.

At about 4 1/2 hours, the ribs should be ready to come off the pit if you like fall off the bone. I like to use the bend test with my barbecue tongs to see if the ribs break in the middle. I grab the ribs halfway up the rack and hold them horizontal. If the unsupported side starts to break away, then we are good. It’s a simple test but it works great. Temperature probing ribs is never fun. It doesn’t feel right.

The fat and sauce drippings are hanging off the rack of ribs like BBQ icicles. Is it Christmas already? Oh boy! Where’s my Red Ryder BB Gun?
The fat and sauce drippings are hanging off the rack of ribs like BBQ icicles. Is it Christmas already? Oh boy! Where’s my Red Ryder BB Gun?

As you can see in the photo above the sauce has dripped down the rack of ribs and formed the burnt end loved by so many. Oh, my. I am getting emotional again.

Every rack of ribs will cook a little different. Some will pull up on the bone more than others. Larger racks will take longer to cook, while smaller racks may need to be removed early. Take a peek under the hood every so often to get a feel of how things are going. Adjust your time based on how you like your ribs. If you prefer a little more chew, take them off earlier. There is not right or wrong. Have fun and enjoy the process.

Cooked Membrane on Baby Back Ribs

The scored membrane shrunk on the bone to create a one of a kind rib eating experience. As you peel this off while eating, you will be hog heaven.
The scored membrane shrunk on the bone to create a one of a kind rib eating experience. As you peel this off while eating, you will be hog heaven.

We talked earlier in the article about how scoring the membrane on the back of the ribs will leave you with a crisp, chicharron like delicacy. As you can see in the picture above, the scored membrane looks amazing and the tips of the bones have charred sauce and fat drippings that will blow your mind with flavor. You’re welcome. 👍

Sliced Baby Back Ribs Cooked on the Pit Barrel Cooker

Hog Waller baby back ribs cooked to perfection on the Pit Barrel Cooker.
Hog Waller baby back ribs cooked to perfection on the Pit Barrel Cooker.

The finished product is going to be one of the most amazing ribs you have ever eaten. There is no replacement for hanging baby back ribs over a fire. The interaction of the fire with the ribs will produce flavors only known to the gods. The smoke ring will be perfect every time and you can choose more bite or more fall of the bone based on time.

I cook ribs on the Pit Barrel Cooker all the way through without wrapping. You can make phenomenal ribs this way. You will read many different techniques online and have to experiment with what works for you. The Pit Barrel Cooker does include a cooking grate you can place down in the grill to set wrapped foods on. They even make an optional hinged grate that allows you to hang ribs on one side, and cook foods on the other side using the grate. It’s your ribs and your cook. Experiment and have fun.

Beer Pairing: Real Ale Coffee Porter

Real Ale Seasonal Coffee Porter beer

I am a big fan of Real Ale’s Coffee Porter. I have featured this beer before and it won’t be the last you see of it. This is an easy drinking, dark porter beer with a heavy coffee finish. It is brewed locally in Blanco, Tx with coffee beans from Katz Coffee out of Houston. The stars were aligned when this recipe was born. It pairs so well with Hog Waller ribs off the Pit Barrel Cooker. The experience is so heavenly, you might have to pinch yourself.

Teach a Kid How to Smoke Ribs on the Pit Barrel Cooker

The Pit Barrel Cooker is the perfect smoker for any kid to learn on. And, ribs are the best food to start with. They are a relatively fast, simple cook that will build confidence in any child. This is a great way to get them out of the house and involved in something outdoors. It’s also a must-have skill that anyone should learn. We all have to eat.

Conclusion

As you probably have noticed, I am and always will be a huge fan of the Pit Barrel Cooker. I have owned this pit alongside my Big Green Egg, Mak 2 Star Pellet Grill, Weber Gas and Charcoal Grills, PK 360 Cooker, and my Offset Smoker. It makes a great addition to any barbecue arsenal. The Pit Barrel Cooker will hold its own against BBQ grills costing ten times the price. It is the best charcoal smoker for most people.

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