With these easy-to-follow steps, you too can make mouthwatering smoked baby back ribs in Traeger! These ribs are rubbed with a simple dry mix and smoked until fall-apart tender then basted with a homemade BBQ sauce. So good that you can’t stop eating!
With a wife who is a talented cook and a master in Japanese food, I sometimes forget that I should help out more in the kitchen. So one of the goals I have set out to achieve is to lend Nami a hand whenever I can. It’s also a reminder to the kids that ‘Hey, Daddy can cook too!”.
Since my cooking expertise leans toward barbequing, I’ve been studying some recipes that would earn approval from my family. They can be a tough crowd, but they have always loved our friend John’s smoked baby back ribs recipe which I cook regularly. It was time for a new surprise.
Today I’m excited to share our family’s new favorite – Traeger Baby Back Ribs inspired by Franklin Barbecue in Austin.
Visiting Franklin Barbecue in Austin
Over the past few years, I’ve attended conferences in Austin, Texas and I always make it a point to hit up a few renowned Texas barbecues spots when I’m there. I’ve tried the smoked meats at the popular Salt Lick and Cooper’s Old Time Pit Bar-B-Que. The meats were juicy and tasty, and they did live up to their reputations.
Until last year, when we started to receive a flood of recommendations from readers on the famed Franklin Barbecue, I knew I had to make a visit there. In the city where you can find plenty of great smoked meat, why are people willing to wait three hours starting at 8 am (the restaurant opens at 11 am) just for some meat? What is the hype all about? I was too eager to find out.
It was a Thursday and I arrived at 12:30 pm, the line was out the door and down the side of the building but it doesn’t seem too long. Is it my lucky day? The lunch hour rush should be over soon and I can enjoy my food promptly. As I waited patiently, an hour went by and it felt like the line had come to a halt. Luckily, the restaurant has folding chairs for customers to sit on while waiting so I didn’t have to stand the entire time.
Another hour went by, the staff came out and greeted the train of people. They were letting us know they can’t guarantee what meat will be available by the time it’s our turn, but we should be able to get some food. WHAT??? Out of food? My hunger was attacking me by the minute and it was getting harder and harder to wait.
Finally, at 2 pm, I got through the restaurant’s door. Oh no, the line continued inside with 30 people ahead of me and at the same moment, it’s officially announced. Turkey has sold out.
The Brisket at Franklin Barbecue
At 2:19 pm, it was finally my turn at the counter and I got a brisket sandwich and sausages along with the potato salad. By this time I was famished. I took my food tray to a table and poured the BBQ sauce on the brisket.
I took a giant bite of the brisket sandwich, OMG, is this what heaven tastes like? The brisket more or less melted in my mouth, it had a perfect amount of smoky flavor and the seasoning was just perfect. The house BBQ sauce had the perfect amount of sweetness, saltiness, and tanginess that mixed in with the fatty brisket. The two-hour wait, it was well worth it. Unfortunately, it was all over in 5 minutes. I should have gotten two brisket sandwiches and take one with me for later.
I have to say Franklin Barbecue exceeded my expectations!
Back Home Testing and Tasting
Inspired by the life-changing experience at Franklin’s Barbeque, after returning from Austin, we purchased a Traeger smoker from Costco (much cheaper than most retailers) and Aaron Franklin’s two cookbooks, Franklin Barbecue: A Meat-Smoking Manifesto and Franklin Steak: Dry-Aged. Live-Fired. Pure Beef.
His cookbooks are really well written. They’re not stuffed with 100 recipes that most readers would never make. Instead, most of the contents educate the readers on meat, wood, fire, and the science behind seasoning, barbeque, grilling, and all aspects of cooking meat. They’re my new bibles for grilling and I highly recommend both books for anyone who loves barbeque.
Traeger Baby Back Ribs with Franklin BBQ Sauce
The first recipes we tried from the cookbook were Franklin’s spare ribs and barbeque sauce. Both were really good. The BBQ sauce alone is worth purchasing the book for. Our family absolutely loved the spare ribs but the proportion of meat to bone is much less than baby back ribs. We ended the meal hungrily and wanting more meat to eat.
In case you weren’t aware, spare ribs and baby back ribs are connected to each other on a pig. They are like the human rib cage, with large bones on the chest side (spare ribs) and smaller bones on the back (baby back ribs).
We then had the idea of cooking with a similar method on baby back ribs! That would be the best of both worlds. Time to test recipe!
After many tests and trials, we are really happy with the recipe below. If you never smoked meat before and have always wanted to try, this is a foolproof method with an incredible result! Best of all: the ingredients are simple and what you probably already have in the kitchen. The basic steps are:
- Make dry rub (mostly salt and pepper).
- Season meat and set aside for 1 hour.
- Smoke for 2 hours.
- Brush the sauce and smoke for 30 minutes.
- Wrap in foil and bake for 1-2 hours.
- Rest for 30 minutes and eat!
Easy right? Now let’s make it!
What is a Traeger smoker?
We shared smoked turkey breast (also inspired by Franklin’s recipe) over the holidays and talked about why we like the Traeger smoker. The short answer is the Traeger works pretty much like an electric oven, set the temperature and cook the food.
It is so easy to use and on average, we cook with it once every two weeks to test different meats. Unlike a barbeque grill, Traeger doesn’t burn food easily as it cooks with indirect heat. We would not recommend it for searing a thick steak since it doesn’t get as hot as a gas or charcoal grill, but it’s perfect for cooking chicken, pork shoulder, and other thick cuts of meats that require some time to cook.
We have the junior size smoker which can fit up to 3 racks of ribs (feeds 6-8 people).
Recommended Wood Pellets
For wood pellets, we find the Traeger branded ones have less flavor than Lumber Jack brand (same price on Amazon). Our go-to Lumber Jack pellet is an oak-hickory-cherry blend that goes well with almost all types of meat.
Tips for Traeger Baby Back Rib
Love baby back ribs? You have to give this recipe a try! It’s our family’s favorite and our daughter requests it at least once a month. There are no fancy ingredients required and the prep time is very short. Here are some tips based on our meat smoking journey:
- Use 16-mesh black pepper for seasoning, the flavor is much more consistent and powerful than regular black pepper.
- If you don’t have apple cider vinegar, substitute with apple juice or white vinegar.
- Franklin’s BBQ sauce is not “sweet” profile; it’s more tangy and acidic. It’s up to each person’s preference on what their favorite BBQ sauce flavor is. We’ve used Sweet Baby Ray BBQ Sauce for the ribs and it turned out really tasty as well.
- Take extra care not to puncture the foil while wrapping. We’ve had that happen before and the ribs didn’t turn out as tender.
- Based on Franklin’s recommendation, the meat side of the rib should be on the hotter side of the grill. For our Traeger, the bottom side of the grill is hotter. However, when we smoked with the meat side down, the bark got stuck on the grate and we lost some precious meat. So we smoke with the meat side up.
These smoked baby back ribs are perfect for entertaining, and win the best cook award in the family! They are seriously finger-licking good, so get the napkins ready.
Traeger Baby Back Ribs
- 2 racks pork baby back ribs
- ½ cup apple cider vinegar
- 2 cups your favorite BBQ sauce (we used Franklin’s BBQ recipe from his cookbook)
- 2 Tbsp unsalted butter (divided)
- 4 Tbsp honey (divided)
- 4 Tbsp brown sugar (divided)
- 18 g 16-mesh ground black pepper
- 9 g kosher or sea salt (I use Diamond Crystal; use half for table salt)
- 1 tsp onion powder
- 1 tsp garlic powder
- Gather all the ingredients and equipment you need.
To Prepare Dry Rub
- Add dry rub ingredients in a jar (18 g black pepper, 9 g kosher salt, 1 tsp onion powder, and 1 tsp garlic powder).
- Close the jar and shake well. I highly recommend this Maracasifter for sprinkling dry rub on ingredients evenly.
To Prepare Ribs
- Remove the membrane from the back of the ribs by pulling it down with a paper towel (slippery!). We usually ask the butcher to do this when we purchase the ribs. If the meat is dry, add 1-2 Tbsp (15-30 ml) apple cider vinegar in a mister and spray the vinegar to wet the meat.
- Evenly sprinkle dry seasoning on meat including the edge, start with the bone side first. Let the meat rest for 1 hour at room temperature.
- After 45 min, pre-heat Traeger to 275ºF (135ºC).
- Create a metal cup with aluminum foil and pour 6 Tbsp (90 ml) apple cider vinegar inside.
- Once Traeger is at 275ºF (135ºC), place ribs meat side up along with the apple cider vinegar cup. Smoke for 2 hours.
- Meanwhile, make your favorite BBQ sauce at this time. We made a BBQ sauce using a recipe from Franklin Barbecue: A Meat-Smoking Manifesto cookbook).
- After 2 hours, mist apple cider vinegar on ribs.
- Brush on BBQ sauce on the meat side.
- Smoke for 15 min.
- After 15 minutes, flip ribs over, mist on the meat.
- Brush the BBQ sauce on the ribs and smoke for 15 min.
- Meanwhile, preheat the oven to 275ºF (135ºC). Prepare 2 layers of heavy-duty aluminum foil for each rib (leaving plenty of room to wrap the ribs).
- For each rib, cut up 1 Tbsp of butter into 4 pieces and spread on aluminum foil. Drizzle 2 Tbsp honey, add 2 Tbsp brown sugar.
- Mist with apple cider vinegar and pour BBQ sauce on top. Make the same aluminum sheet with butter, honey, sugar, apple cider vinegar, and BBQ sauce for the second rib.
- Take out the ribs from the smoker and transfer to the baking sheet lined with parchment paper.
- Lay the rib meat side down on the mixture.
- Spray the bone side with vinegar and brush BBQ sauce on.
- Carefully wrap the meat without puncturing the aluminum foil.
- Enclose the end of the aluminum foil so moisture can’t escape.
- Place the ribs on a baking sheet and bake in the oven for 2 hours.
- Take the ribs out and rest in the foil for 20 to 30 minutes. Enjoy the ribs with your favorite BBQ sauce.
- Heavy-duty aluminum foil
- Glass jar
- Mister (optional)
- Spice shaker (optional)