How to smoke ribs with a side firebox on the charcoal grill

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Fewer things taste better off a charcoal grill than smoked spare or baby back ribs, with meat that falls off the bone. With proper patience and equipment, side firebox ribs will taste as good or better than the types made in top barbecue restaurants.

Things You'll Need

  • One to two racks of spare or baby back ribs
  • A good rib rub (Famous Dave's is good, or consult "BBQ USA" by Steven Raichlen)
  • Large bag of lump natural wood charcoal
  • Five pounds of hickory chunks for smoking
  • Bag of cherry or apple wood chips for smoking
  • Large bowl or basin of water for soaking wood chips and chunks
  • Charcoal grill with a side firebox attachment
  • A flavorful barbecue grilling sauce

The process

  • This should be performed the night before smoking. Rub a generous amount of dry rub onto the rib racks on top and bottom so all meat is coated with a thin layer. Place racks on a clean cookie sheet, cover with shrink wrap and refrigerate overnight. This will cure the ribs, allowing all spices to penetrate.

  • Begin this step at least nine hours before dining time. Place all wood chunks and chips into a large bowl or basin of water, and allow them to soak for at least an hour before the actual smoking process begins. Keep extra chunks and chips in water during the smoking process to keep them wet. Wet wood will provide more smoke later.

  • Build a small charcoal fire in the side firebox of the grill and allow coals to catch to the point they glow red or are completely gray. Use an electric or natural fire starter rather than fuel to avoid chemical tastes in the ribs. About six to eight handfuls of charcoal should be sufficient to start.

  • Place ribs on the cooking grate of the smoking chamber (the main cooking surface inside the charcoal grill). Keep at least two inches of space between rib racks, with bone sides down, and keep the chamber door shut as much as possible during cooking to minimize heat and smoke loss.

  • Add one wood chunk and a handful of chips to the charcoal fire inside the firebox every 40 minutes or so. Add handfuls of charcoal as needed as coal burns down. Repeat this process for about eight hours, keeping the firebox door shut when not adding wood or coal.

  • At the beginning of the final hour of smoking, open the smoking chamber and brush on a generous amount of sauce to the top, bottom and sides of the rib racks using a basting brush. Continue smoking for the last hour, then use tongs to place the racks on a serving platter. Ribs are done when the meat falls off the bone with slight pulling.

Tips & Warnings

  • If thermometers are attached to the smoking chamber, try to keep the internal chamber temperature at about 200 degrees throughout the process for even cooking and smoking. Regulate this through the side vent and smoke stack of the firebox and grilling chamber. Don't overdue the smoke. Adding chips or chunks every 40 minutes or so should be sufficient. Too much smoke can overpower the meat's flavor.
  • Wear protective gloves when adding charcoal and wood chips to the fire to avoid burns.

References

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