How to Cook Ribs in A Pellet Smoker

Whether it is the holiday season or a summertime feast, a good rack of ribs can’t be beat. They can be sticky and sweet or smoky and rich, depending on the chef’s desired flavor, but there are also many ways to cook them. Here, we’re going to talk about making ribs on the pellet smoker. Before we dive in, let’s answer the most obvious question – what is a pellet smoker? 

What is a Pellet Smoker? 

A pellet smoker is the outdoor cooker to end all outdoor cookers. Getting all of their fuel from wood pellets, this equipment combines elements from other cookers that may be a little more common – charcoal smokers, kitchen ovens, and gas grills. Their flexibility is one of their greatest benefits, as they have the ability to smoke, grill, and bake whatever the user puts on it. Though the design may vary from smoker to smoker, many of the top pellet smokers feature an electronic control panel that feeds in the pellets to stoke the fire, while controlling airflow and keeping the cooking process relatively consistent. 

The History of the Pellet Smoker 

The widespread use of pellet smokers can be traced back to the use of pellet stoves, which was the affordable option during the 1970s oil crisis to keep homes heated. Wood pellets were invented within this decade, providing small capsules that were made of compressed sawdust. 

However, the industry has come a long way since then. In 1985, Joe Traeger launched his pellet grill to the masses, following his collaboration with engineer Jerry Whitfield a decade before to create the pellet stove. After patenting the process in 1986, the early Traeger grills used a controller for low, medium, and high heat, which approximated the temperature range. However, because Traeger patented this design, his company was the only one to make pellet smokers for the first 20 years of their existence. 

As the patent expired in 2006, manufacturers finally had the chance to capitalize on the success, allowing the masses to have more variety in the smokers that they choose today. 

Setting Up the Pellet Smoker

When it comes to making ribs with your pellet smoker, there’s a few important details that you need to know. First, you have to choose the type of wood pellet, which can make a difference in the smoky flavor that the ribs take on. Choose from: 

- Oak
- Maple
- Apple
- Alder
- Mesquite
- Cherry
- Maple
- Hickory
- Pecan 

Once you have your pellets, add them to the smoker, and set your smoker to the desired temperature. With smokers that have motor-driven augurs, the pellets are moved directly from the hopper to the fire pod, lighting the pellets on its own. The pellets will smolder and smoke, though a heat diffuser in the smoker helps to disperse the heat in the hood to prevent food from burning. As the grease is collected in a tray, the fan circulates the smoke and heat as the food cooks. 

Making Ribs on the Pellet Smoker

For ribs specifically, there are many recipes and methods available, like the 3-2-1 Method. With this method, season the ribs first. Then, set the ribs up in the smoker over low heat with heavy smoke, allowing them to take in all of this flavor for three hours. For pork, apple or cherry wood pellets offer a complementary taste, but other grillers like the classic appeal of hickory and alder wood pellets. 

Follow the 3-hour session by wrapping up the ribs for two hours in foil with your choice of liquid, cooking it for two more hours at 225 ° F to 250 ° F. You want the meat to already be retracting from the bone, aiming for a gap of about half an inch. The final step is to smoke and sauce the ribs for an hour, basting them a BBQ sauce or other glaze as they remain on the grill to set. 

For a smoking session with fewer transitions, the ribs can also be cooked at a low heat (about 225 ° F) for about 4.5 hours, letting the smoke permeate the meat gently. During the last 45 minutes, the cook should boost up the heat to 350 ° F, giving the meat an appetizing crust to hold in the juices. 

If you want to break down the fat a little more, you could take the recommendation of other smoking enthusiasts and start with a 30-minute smoking session at 275 ° F before dropping down 50 ° and smoking for another two hours. Regardless of the time the user picks, most chefs and home cooks agree – cook them low and slow. 

Though it takes a little work to get used to this method of cooking, it tends to offer the most consistent flavor of any option. The ribs soak in rich smoky flavor in every session. With the ability to cook from 175° F to 500° F, consumers can make a variety of other meals as well, including briskets or even pies. The only changes that the user needs to make is the temperature setting. 

Planning for Variations 

Even with these general instructions, pellet smoker models can vary from one to the next. Some pellet manufacturers have even installed controls that can control the equipment via Wi-Fi for remote cooking. In fact, the technology has progressed so much since the first pellet smoker was created that it has be implemented in other devices as well. Make sure to read through the instructions included with the new smoker to make sure that it is used properly, extending its performance and lifespan for deliciously smoked ribs whenever you want. 

Pellet smokers aren’t for everyone, but if you’re someone who loves to grill and wants to prioritize flavor and convenience, it is worth the time. can direct you to some of the best pellet smokers on the market, and give you all the tips you need for your next barbecue.

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