St. Louis Ribs - Whats your favorite time/temp combination?


Josh - CT

TVWBB Member
It clear there is more "art" in BBQ than science. Looking around, I have found the following time/temp combinations for ribs. What's your favorite? What's the most popular?

3-2-1 Method
  • 3 hours, naked at 225
  • 2 hours, wrapped at 225
  • 1 hour naked or in a boat at 225

Malcom Reed - Baby Back
  • 2 hours, naked at 225
  • 1.5 - 2 hours, wrapped at 225
  • 45 mins naked or in a boat at 225

Malcom Reed - Malcom Style
  • 2 hours, naked at 275
  • 1-1.5 hours, wrapped at 275
  • 15 mins sauced in a boat at 275

Malcom Reed - Hanging Ribs
  • 2 hours, naked at 300 - rotated every 20 mins
  • 45-60 mins, wrapped at 300 on rack
  • 5-10 mins sauced in a boat at 300

Malcom Reed - Apple Pie
  • 2 hours, naked at 250
  • 1.5 hours, wrapped at 250
  • 10 mins sauced in a boat at 250

  • 2 hours, naked at 225
  • 2 hours, wrapped at 225
  • 1 hour naked or in a boat at 225

  • 2 hours, naked at 275
  • 2 hours, wrapped at 275
  • 15 mins sauced in a boat at 275

Harry Soo
  • 2 hours, naked at 275
  • 1.5 hours, wrapped at 275
  • 15 mins sauced in a boat at 275

TVWB - Spareribs – 3-2-1 Method
  • 2.5 hours, naked at 275
  • 1.5 hours, wrapped at 275
  • 10 mins sauced naked at 275
I think all of these methods work nicely - to me, the most important thing is the "wrap" stage. If you have them in the wrap too long, the ribs will get fall apart tender to the point were you can't hardly cut the ribs for serving without the meat shredding which in my book is kind of a fail.

Also, I achieved my best bark on a pork butt over the weekend without a water pan and without spritzing. Rub had only a little sugar in it but I definitely kept the smoke rolling and used lump only charcoal. I applied rub about 30 minutes in advance and put the meat back in the fridge. I don't know if these methods would result in awesome rib bark or not but I'm going to try it soon and find out. I'll post some picks of this cook a little later.
People typically don't think in terms of temperature when it comes to ribs because they are "hard to probe". Well, that was true when you had leave in probes that were really thick like the Igrill or Maverick probes. Thermoworks products have probes with the narrow tips that you can put in between ribs easily and get an accurate internal temp. The problem with a lot of these methods like "3-2-1" is that racks of ribs vary dramatically in terms of size and thickness. I often would wind up with undercooked ribs in a lot of cases. They'd seem tender after the wrap but then they'd tighten back up on me a lot of times.

Lately I've been going unwrapped at 250 and I start checking for probe tenderness when I get close to 200. The last rack went up to 198 and started dropping to 196 so I checked them and they were nice and probe tender. The cook was maybe 5 hours. These were a pretty small rack of ribs. If I had cooked them 6 hours, I'd have ruined them.

I've got nothing against wrapping by the way. What you could do is wrap them when you like the color. Put a probe in until 190 to 200. Then unwrap them to kind of get them to pull back together again after the wrap and sauce.
We normally run the WSM at 275 for ribs and cook them until the color is what we want and (most importantly) the bark is set. We then double wrap in HD aluminum foil with a little added flavored braising liquid. We wrap VERY tightly to the ribs. About 1 hour in foil we start checking for tenderness by poking the very tip of our Thermapen through the foil and into the meat. If not tender, we continue cooking. Once tender, we remove and let cool off and then to the Cambro is needed. We generally do not sauce ours.

If you're cooking by time and temperature, you'll have a difficult time with the outcome as no two pigs are exactly the same. Each piece of meat will cook slightly differently. And I would expect this to continue until suscessful cloning is in full swing... ;)
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I've been trying to move away from foiling ribs as it's the only thing I foil when I cook. Though it comes out the most tender, obviously. Been trying to resort to butcher wrapping or no wrap.

Tried doing dry rub ribs and the bend test, but I seem to never be able to get it right. It always comes out dry on top, even though I spray every hour at 225F.

But so far, I've been doing 3-2-1 at 225-250F as the girlfriend likes it fall off the bone tender for 1 rack of ribs. The other rack of ribs I've been testing it with butcher and unwrapped. No water in the pan, or no significant water in the pan and I can't get it right.
I am kind of in Bob's camp I cook at 275 in my UDS I have already put a rub on them after an hour I spray with fake butter and water every 15 minutes this is a method I got from Harry Soo's video. After about 2 hours and maybe 10 minutes I press my finger on the bark if it does not come off on my finger I wrap them using honey, mango juice from V8, brown sugar a few other things thrown in. Then its on at least another 2 hours and change before I check them, I do not use temp but a disclaimer here my family likes them falling off the bone so on St Louis I am probably close to 5 hours not quite to get them that way but it depends.

I never sauce my ribs either I warm some up let my guests decide what they want. I like very little and I mean very little.
My WSM seems to like to settle at 275 and that suits me, too. I cook 2 1/2 to 3 hours before wrapping with HD aluminum foil For an hour or so and then finish off on top with a bit of my own sauce to firm them up. Works every time. Sometimes temp slips up to 300 but that doesn’t seem to be a problem. After years of doing ribs I find that I don’t use sauce when eating time comes—simply not needed. I read somewhere that you should try your ribs without sauce first as you may be covering up the best meat you ever had.
I have struggled with the 3-2-1 at 225 degrees in my WSM 22.5, not happy with the bark or the meat falling off the bone. Is everyone using water in the pan? I feel like I want to try using no wrapping and no water, for ribs and a 10 lb pork butt as well. Is the water really that critical in the WSM? I have read soo many different opinions. Any thoughts?
I have struggled with the 3-2-1 at 225 degrees in my WSM 22.5, not happy with the bark or the meat falling off the bone. Is everyone using water in the pan? I feel like I want to try using no wrapping and no water, for ribs and a 10 lb pork butt as well. Is the water really that critical in the WSM? I have read soo many different opinions. Any thoughts?
I started cooking my ribs naked, no wrap awhile back, and am much happier with the results. I cook at 240-250 on my WSM 22. I don’t cook to time or temp, preferring to check for doneness by the bend test and how they probe. We really don’t much care for fall off the bones here. Like a nice clean bite. As for butts I cook to an internal temp of about 160-165, than into a disposable aluminum pan , covered with foil.. I like to be able to save the juices to mix back in when I pull. Cook to about 205 internal.
The answer is all related.

Wrapping does two things: (i) shortens cook time to tenderness, and (ii) softens the bark to some extent. Because the wrap braises the meat in a higher temp moister environment where evaporative cooling (i.e. the stall) cannot occur. So don't wrap if you want chewier bark (which means drier bark). Or wrap with more breathable butcher paper rather than foil. Or wrap for less time (3-1-1 rather than 3-2-1).

To the extent you don't wrap, your cook time will increase. So if you want a shorter cook time unwrapped, you can compensate by cooking at a higher temp.

IMO, the water pan is mostly about temp control and only a little bit about moistness and smoke retention (since smoke adheres more to things that are cool and wet). Quarts of steaming water stuck at 212F absorb a lot of BTUs from the fire and make it very hard to get the cooker very hot. That water uses up a lot of fuel doing that. So if you want to cook hotter, you probably should reduce/eliminate the water. If you want to cook longer on a fuel load, you probably should reduce/eliminate the water. But without the water, you have to pay more attention to controlling your temps since the speed brake is now gone.

There's many moisture sources inside the cooker -- slather, spritzing, water pan evaporation and (the big one) moisture coming out of the meat itself (which is what causes the many hours of stalling). If you are shooting for thick chewy dry bark, you certainly don't need all of those going on.

I like as much bark as possible. So putting this all together, for ribs: (i) I hang directly over the coals UDS-style or over a metal diffuser plate on the charcoal chamber ring; (ii) no water, no water pan; (iii) 275F cooking temp; (iv) no wrap; (v) later in the cook I spritz to keep the surface from getting too crunchy. Ribs come out very dark, smoky and barky. If I want redder color and more tender, I can dial back some of the dials (wrap; lower temp; add more moisture; etc.). Mostly, I avoid wrapping because it is a pain to do when hanging. I used to wrap more when I did ribs on the cook grates.

I usually wrap brisket in butcher paper once the bark is pretty set. That keeps the bark from getting too tough and the cook from getting too crazy long. Sometimes I wrap pork shoulders (mostly to shorten time), sometimes not.

I rarely use the water/water pan since I don't like how much fuel it uses up. So I turn other dials to get moisture and temp control. More than one way to get to Baltimore.
A few years ago, I read my cookbooks and online resources for a comparison of temperatures and methods for ribs.

Meathead at Amazing Ribs says 225 (in his babyback recipe): "It's a magic temp that creates silky texture, adds moisture, and keeps the meat tender. If you can't hit 225°F, get as close as you can. Don't go under 200°F and try not to go over 250°F." As for foiling: "Almost all competition cooks use the crutch to get an edge. But the improvement is really minimal and I never bother for backyard cooking." And: "On the rare occasion that I crutch ribs, I crutch for only 30 minutes. Push ribs much beyond 30 minutes and you risk overcooking the meat and turning it mushy."

Harry Soo said 275: "275 degrees renders the fat better and faster. Faster is good so the rib does not dry out. Also, bark forms better at 275 degrees on ribs." Harry also spritzes every 15 minutes after the bark forms a couple hours in. After 2 hours, he foils for 1.5 hours.

Aaron Franklin said 275 in his video series. He sauces and spritzes after a couple hours. Then he foils with spritz and sauce for a couple more hours. Unwrap to test for readiness. When done, rest 20 or 30 minutes loosely wrapped in the foil.

Myron Mixon's book: 275 and spritz (apple juice, vinegar, imitation butter) every 15 minutes after the first 45 minutes of cooking. He says to start the ribs in a foil pan and then, after 3 hours, foil with apple juice for 2 hours. He then kills the fire, sauces, refoils, and lets rest one hour inside the cooling smoker.

Chris Lilly's Big Bob Gibson book: 250 for about 4 hours. Sauce and return to 250 for 20 minutes.

Gary Wiviott's Low and Slow: He keeps it simple for beginners by not giving temps, just vent settings. Spritz with tart wash (cranberry juice, olive oil, rub) 4 hours in. Check for readiness at 4.5 hours. Spritz and repeat every 30 minutes if they need to keep cooking. No foil involved.

Smoke & Spice: Has several rib recipes that call for smoking at 200 to 220. They say mopping/basting on a water smoker is not necessary, but they do it for flavor every hour or two, or if lid is off for another reason. See page 49, "To Mop or Not".