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Competition-Style Ribs In Your Backyard

It's early in the grilling season, but that doesn't mean we can't start having some fun on the Weber Smokey Mountain!

I had judged a KCBS BBQ competition last summer for Weber Grill Restaurants at the Windy City BBQ Classic, and that experience inspired me to create tips and a recipe for smoked pork ribs that will help you become the pitmaster of your own backyard!

Being from the Midwest, I do appreciate a "falling off the bone" baby back rib, but when tasting the ribs during the event as part of the judge's panel, I rediscovered how delicious and tasty a competition-style rib can be. Competition-Style mostly refers to the “bite” you get from a rack of ribs by cooking it a certain way.

Mostly, this is a “dry” method, with no foil wrapping, boiling, etc, which creates “fall off the bone” ribs.  For competition-style ribs, the smoker set-up is slightly different than usual.

First, wood chunks are set up beneath the coals in the bottom of the smoker. This allows each wood chunk to become "fired" at different times during the cook as the charcoal burns from the top down. It's almost like lighting a fuse and placing the wood chunks at intervals down the line. As the fire reaches each one, it gets lit and smokes away. Then, to the next and so on. 

The second difference is that with the competition-style ribs there is no water in the water pan. Instead moisture is added by spraying the ribs at intervals with apple juice, which adds some color as well as a light sweetness. 

Competition-Style Ribs
By Matt Jost, Weber Grill Restaurant Chef

Special Equipment:
Rib rack (optional)
Spray bottle (for apple juice)
Squeeze bottle (optional, for applying mustard)
2 large pieces of foil, to line the water pan - makes clean up easier
Wood chunks (hickory or cherry)

4 racks baby back ribs, average 1.75 lbs
1/2 cup yellow mustard (mild)
1/2 cup paprika
1/4 cup garlic, granulated
1/2 cup brown sugar
1 Tbsp oregano, dry
2 Tbsp black pepper, ground
1 Tbsp southwestern spice such as a chili seasoning blen or a cajun spice, ground
3 Tbsp kosher salt (large grains)
2-3 cups apple juice (clear, not cider), room temperature


1. Lay out each rib and check to see if the back (the bone side) has been peeled, if not, insert a dull knife under the membrane and lift it free. Then, with a dry towel, peel it off the rib, just like a banana peel.

2. Then, spread out about 1 tbsp of mustard all over each side of the rib (front and back). This will be the "glue" that holds the rub on.

3. In a small mixing bowl, thouroughly combine all the spices. A whisk works well for this purpose.

4. Next, apply the spice rub to each rib on both sides.

The key to this is that you can't use too much rub, any excess will just fall off when setting the ribs on the smoker. Rub the ribs on the bone side first, then flip it over to rub the meat side- this keeps the rib elevated when spicing the second side. If you did the meat side first, then flipped it over, the spice would rub off onto the pan and not be on the rib.

5. Set the smoker up by first placing the wood chunks around the bottom. I would suggest either hickory or cherry woods. Both types give pork the best flavor and most of the competition teams use one or the other. 

Tip- Make sure you remove the bark from the chunks because it will give an oily and unclean smoke flavor to the ribs.

6. Next, fill one chimney with charcoal and dump it, unlit, into the bottom of the smoker, on top of the wood chunks.

7. Fill the chimney one more time and light it. Once the chimney is ashed over, pour it on top of the unlit charcoal in the smoker.

8. Line the inside of the water pan with the foil sheets to collect the drippings- this will help make clean-up easier because without water in the pan, the juices that fall from the ribs will burn.  

9. Set-up the rest of the smoker and let it come up to temperature (250-275F) for about 20 minutes. Tip- This is the perfect time to start seasoning the ribs.

10. After about 20 minutes (the smoker should be between 250-275F), position the ribs on the top rack (with the thickest side of the rack at the bottom of the rack). If laying them flat on the grill grates, spread out the ribs as best as you can, with spaces in between each rib, to promote even smoke distribution.

11. Close the lid, adjust the lower dampers about halfway, keeping the top dampers fully open, and allow the ribs to smoke/cook for about 30 minutes.

12. After 30 minutes, spray the ribs very liberally with the apple juice all over.

13. Close the lid and smoke/cook another 30 minutes.

14. Spray the ribs with the juice again, then repeat every 20 minutes until they are very flexible and the tips of the bones have been exposed at least 1/2" from the meat, this should take about 2 hours total in cooking time.

15. Let the ribs rest, loosely covered with foil, for about 15 minutes, then enjoy!