Who says a big rack of ribs is a summer barbecue food? We totally associate ribs with summer cookouts, mostly because nobody wants to freeze their butt off standing outside at a smoker grill during the month of December — no matter how strong the rib craving. So are we destined to suffer through the cold winter months without ribs? Nope.
Make them anyway. Turns out it’s a myth that you need bulky outdoor equipment to whip up fall-off-the-bone tender ribs at home. Whether you live in an apartment or weather is just less than ideal for outdoor cooking, home-smoked ribs are just a couple of hours away. Fire up that conventional oven and let’s go to town.
How to slow-smoke ribs in the oven
- Wood chips of your choice
- Ribs (baby back, St. Louis-style or spare)
- Sauce or dry rub, as needed
- Aluminum roasting pan
- Roasting rack
- Aluminum foil (and plenty of it)
1. Soak your chips
Place your wood chips in a large bowl, covered with water, for a couple of hours. You can choose any kind of chips you like so long as they’re strong enough to stand up to the hefty flavors of pork and any sauces you’re using.
2. Prepare the ribs
First, let’s bust a myth. Taking your meat out early to let it come to room temperature is absolutely unnecessary and in less than 20 minutes may result in a doubling of the surface bacteria. Additionally, according to Dr. Greg Blonder, smoke sticks to cold surfaces more effectively. It’s going to get to room temperature more quickly, evenly and safely in the oven anyway.
Oftentimes the ribs you buy will come with the thin membrane on the back still intact. You’ll want to remove this. It can be done the day before if desired, but it doesn’t take long. Just slit underneath the membrane with a knife until you can get your finger under it, and then use a paper towel (to increase grip) to pull it right off. You can also ask your butcher to do this for you.
There are a lot of ways to prepare your ribs from there, so just follow the rubbing or basting instructions of your recipe. I typically prefer dry preparations when I’m smoking and then add barbecue sauce at the end, but it really is a matter of personal preference.
3. Construct your smoker
Remove all but one of your oven racks, and place the lowest one on the next to lowest rung. Heat the oven to 225 degrees F.
Drain your wood chips, reserving the soaking liquid. Place the chips in the bottom of an aluminum roasting pan in a single layer. Pour just enough of the soaking liquid over the chips to make sure they don’t catch fire, but don’t drown them. Pour the remaining soaking liquid into a glass measuring cup or heat-safe pitcher with a pour-spout.
Tip: When choosing your aluminum roasting pan, make sure it’s small enough to fit into your oven but big enough to fit your rack and catch all the drippings from the ribs. I really recommend going aluminum here, because it will be in the oven for a really long time, which can make a non-disposable pan difficult (if not impossible) to clean.
Place a roasting rack on top of the wood chips, making sure there’s plenty of room between the chips and the rack for smoke to build up. I like adjustable baking racks to ensure I can get optimum height. Place your ribs on the rack.
Use your aluminum foil to create a large tent or dome as high as you can get it and still fit in your oven. You want plenty of room for the smoke to build up. Make sure it’s wrapped tightly around the edges of the roasting pan so no smoke escapes.
4. Cook the ribs
Place the ribs into the oven, being careful to not crush or poke holes in the foil tent. Close the oven, and leave it as long as possible, at least an hour, before checking on the ribs. The more often you check, the more vital smoke will escape. If necessary, add more of the soaking water to the wood chips, but don’t drown them. If they dry out, your meat might too. Place the foil back tightly, and return it to the oven. If your recipe calls for basting, try to do the basting and water renewal at the same time.
How long they cook will depend on what kind of ribs you’re cooking and how heavy your ribs are, but it’s generally a minimum of 2-1/2 to 3 hours, though it could go as long as 6 hours. It’s about an hour of cooking per pound of ribs. You can tell they’re done when they’re pull-off-the-bone succulent and the internal temperature is 180 to 200 degrees F on an instant-read thermometer. But some people do like their ribs cooked longer.
Originally published June 2015. Updated November 2017.