Competition Pork Spare Ribs

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You’d receive 10 different replies if you asked ten different competition pitmasters how they prep and smoke their spare ribs for a cookoff.

Everyone has their own style and preferences, and there are varied regulations and requirements based on where you live and who is certifying the event.

Today I’m going to provide some tips and tactics for preparing, smoking, and slicing award-winning ribs, as well as discuss what judges look for at various competitions.

Competition style ribs

Competition Pork Spare Ribs

You want your ribs to taste wonderful whether you’re cooking in a competition or in your backyard for your friends.

However, there is an additional degree of accuracy necessary if you want to gain huge points with the judges.

You must pay close attention to the look of your ribs. The homogeneity of size and shape will be scrutinized by the judges.

It’s important to remember that you just have a few bites to wow the judges. As a result, your ribs must be flavorful.

How to make competition-style pork spare ribs

Competition Pork Spare Ribs

1. Choosing your ribs

When competing, the quality of your pork is critical. A high-quality piece of pork will have a dark red hue with a rich taste and optimum juiciness.

For this dish, I used Snake River Farms 100% Berkshire (Kurobuta) pork ribs.

For competition, I suggest buying St. Louis cut spare ribs, however you may also chop an entire rack of pork spare ribs into a St. Louis-style cut and create barbecue rib tips with the trimmings.

The Snake River Farms ribs are fantastic since they come pre-cut in the St. Louis manner, saving you time during preparation.

2. Prepping your ribs

If you purchased a whole rack of spare ribs, you will need to cut the ribs before competing.

Untrimmed, a big rack of ribs might result in a harsh bite for the judges. This is due to the presence of a lot of connective tissue and cartilage at the margins of the ribs and the breastbone portion.

To make a St. Louis cut from a rack of spare ribs, follow these steps:

  1. To remove the breastbone, make a horizontal incision along the length of the rack.
  2. To get a precisely uniform rectangular shape, I propose removing 1 to 2 bones from the larger end of the rack.
  3. Remove any excess meat from the rack’s edges or sides.

Trim your ribs using a sharp boning knife, such as our Smoke Kitchen 6.5 Boning Knife. It has a carbon and chromium bend blade that is flexible enough to be nimble while being robust and sharp enough to provide clean cuts.

When your rack is completely cut, remove the membrane from the rear of the ribs.

While the membrane is absolutely tasty and OK to keep on if cooking in your garden, it is recommended to remove it for competition since it may provide a harsher bite for the judges.

To remove the membrane

  • Turn the rack so that the bone side is facing up.
  • Locate the center of the rack between the two central bones and gradually move your finger beneath the membrane until it spans the whole width of the rack.
  • Adjust your grip and pull straight up; the membrane should fall off in one piece easily.
  • To acquire a stronger hold on the slick membrane, use a paper towel.

3. Seasoning your ribs

Now that your ribs are ready, it’s time to season them!

Some pitmasters produce their own rubs, while others utilize store-bought rubs or a mix of the two.

I used our new Smoke Kitchen Pitmasters Pick rub for this dish. It blends brown sugar, paprika, and spices with a small kick of Aleppo pepper flakes for extra heat on the back end, making it ideal for ribs and pork.

If you’d rather create your own rub, try our Ultimate Dry Rub for Ribs recipe!

Use a binder, such as olive oil or yellow mustard, before adding your flavor. Because you’re just applying a thin coating, it has little effect on the taste of the meat, but it helps the seasoning adhere to the ribs uniformly.

To conserve the look of the meatier side for presentation reasons, I prefer to start seasoning my ribs on the rear side (bone side).

Apply a thin, uniform coating of the rub to both sides of the rack, then use any leftover rub to cover the sides and ends as well.

After seasoning, let them aside at room temperature for 15 to 20 minutes to allow the flavor to enter the flesh.

Plus, that gives you time to fire up the smoker!

4. Firing up the smoker

When I compete, we haul a complete competitive BBQ trailer with an offset smoker, a vault, and a number of barrels to cookoffs. However, while I’m cooking in my backyard, I’ll sometimes utilize one of my pellet grills to save time and effort.

Whatever sort of smoker you pick is OK as long as you can keep a consistent temperature of roughly 225F during the cook.

I used my Grilla Grills Grilla (AKA: The Original) for this dish. It maintains a consistent temperature and emits a large quantity of smoke, giving ribs a fantastic smoky taste.

Now, for the wood, I propose a mix of Post Oak and Pecan wood, but any light wood (think: apple, cherry, etc.) would work nicely.

I would avoid woods with harsher taste profiles, like as mesquite or hickory, since they might dominate the pork with too much smoke flavor.

Preheat your smoker to 225°F before you begin cooking!

5. Smoking your ribs

Place your ribs immediately on the smoker’s grates.

If you’re using an offset smoker, keep the ribs at least 1 to 2 feet away from the fire box to avoid uneven cooking.

Include the deflector plate if using a barrel smoker to prevent the bottoms from cooking too rapidly or burning.

You’ll let them around 2 hours to smoke. Every 30 minutes or so, I spray them with apple juice to help grow a healthier bark and protect the bark from drying out or cracking.

After 2 hours, place a sheet of heavy-duty aluminum foil on the floor. I don’t advocate using regular-duty foil since it may easily be ripped or torn by the bones in the ribcage.

We’re about to get into some heated debate here.

I use Parkay Squeeze Margarine to bandage my ribs. People are sometimes surprised to hear that, but I have a solid explanation. Parkay is simple to apply in a zigzag pattern on foil and has a greater smoke point than ordinary butter. It also provides more moisture than butter.

If you just cannot bring yourself to use packaged margarine, a couple pats of ordinary butter will suffice.

Place the Parkay in a zig-zag pattern down the length of the rack of ribs, then sprinkle with the leftover BBQ rub and pour with your favorite breakfast syrup.

syrup combination. When your wrap is ready, take your ribs out of the barbecue and place them meat-side down on the butter.

Wrap them in foil and return them to the smoker for another hour. To avoid losing any of the wrap mixture, lay them back on the smoker with the meat facing down and the seam of the foil facing up.

After another hour, remove the foil, turn the ribs over, and cover them with a thin coating of barbecue sauce.

Remember, these are competition ribs, so don’t simply smother them with sauce. I suggest spreading a thin coating of sauce over the whole rack using a silicone basting brush.

After applying the sauce, keep the foil uncovered and smoke for another 30 minutes to an hour, or until the rib bones are sticking out approximately.

When I cook ribs, I don’t use a temperature probe (I know, GASP!). I’ve never done that since the bones in the ribcage and the feel of the rack are truly what I’m after.

If you wish to utilize a temperature probe, you should aim for a final temperature of 200F to 205F, and they should be completely probe tender.

syrup mixture that stays in the bottom of the foil. This will give your ribs a lovely, glossy finish as well as a last touch of taste. When the ribs are almost done, use a basting brush and brush on a generous coating of butter.

Allow them to smoke for another 5 minutes before removing them.

6. Resting and slicing your ribs

Allow your ribs to rest for 15 to 20 minutes at room temperature before slicing. This will enable them to cool down and make getting the perfect, even, consistent slices that the judges are looking for simpler.

When it comes to slicing your ribs, the knife you choose is crucial. Our Smoke Kitchen 12 Meat Slicing Knife comes highly recommended.

The bones are not always as straight as they seem, depending on the rack of ribs. The worst sensation is slicing into a rack, thinking you’re going to get a flawless rib, and then BOOM, you strike a bone. Well, I have a solution for that.

Insert a toothpick every inch or so between the bones where you want to slice. This has little effect on the appearance, but it ensures that you only have to make one slice and that the rib is precisely straight.

When slicing competitive ribs, you want as much uniformity is possible. This is why, even though we only need to turn in 9 ribs (IBCA), we routinely smoke 4 to 5 racks for each tournament.

Turning them into the judges

There may be several organizations that regulate barbecue events depending on where you reside and where you compete.

The International Barbecue Cookers Association (IBCA), the Kansas City Barbeque Society (KCBS), and Champions Barbecue Alliance (CBA) are the most well-known in my experience.

I’m aware that there are others, but I don’t have firsthand experience competing on other circuits, therefore I’ll only discuss the ones I’ve really participated in to assure accuracy.

The following are the criteria for each organization (at the time this article was written):

IBCA Rib Turn-in Guidelines

Ribs: Participants must send nine (9) individually sliced Pork Spare Ribs with the bone intact (St. Louis sliced is allowed). Ribs may be cooked with sauces or other liquids, but not after the cooking is finished and the ribs are placed on the tray.

Garnishes: No garnishes are authorized. For turn-in, only the containers and foil given by the head judge may be used.

You will be given a Styrofoam tray with a hinged lid and a single piece of aluminum foil as a container. Ribs should be put in the container with the meat side up and completely parallel to the hinge.

KCBS Ribs Turn-in Guidelines

Ribs: Pork Spare ribs, St. Louis cut ribs, or baby back ribs are allowed. At least six (6) different and visible chunks of meat must be submitted by contestants. The ribs must be presented bone-in, and the judges are not permitted to chop or slice the ribs in order to separate them. Country-style ribs are not permitted.

or coriander.Garnish: Garnish is permitted but not required. If you choose to utilize a garnish, it will have no effect on your appearance score. Fresh green lettuce, curly parsley, flat leaf parsley, curly green kale, and curly green kale are all acceptable garnishes.

Container: No marking of the container is authorized in any form. Aluminum foil, toothpicks, skewers, and other foreign items are not permitted in the turn-in box.

CBA Ribs Turn-in Guidelines

Ribs are allowed in the form of pork spare ribs, St. Louis cut ribs, or baby back ribs. At least six (6) distinct pieces of meat must be submitted by each contestant. Ribs must be sliced and boned separately. Ribs may be cooked with sauces or other liquids, but not after the cooking is finished and the ribs are placed on the tray.

Garnishes: No garnishes are authorized. For turn-in, only the containers and foil given by the head judge may be used.

You will be given a Styrofoam tray with a hinged lid and a single piece of aluminum foil as a container. The turn-in container may not include any foreign elements.

Final Thoughts

I hope this post was useful whether you are preparing for your first barbecue competition, seeking to better your skill, or just want to try your hand at some competitive ribs in your backyard.

Competition barbecue may seem to be a lot of additional labor and processes, but the end product is some incredible cuisine that you won’t get anywhere else.

As I already said, each pitmaster cooks in a unique way. The recipe below has worked for me for years, but feel free to put your own twist on it and make it your own. That is the essence of superb BBQ!


What cut of ribs for competition?

We utilize St Louis cut spare ribs for our competitive ribs. These are spare ribs with rib tips removed and a more uniform shape. Rib tips (also known as brisket) are high in cartilage, and we only want to utilize the bone on a competitive rib, therefore we buy St Louis cut.

At what temp are competition ribs done?

When a meat thermometer inserted into the thickest section of the flesh reaches 203 to 205 degrees F, the ribs are done. Open the foil box and test for tenderness with a skewer or toothpick. Remove from the heat and gently unfold the ribs from the foil.

Should competition ribs fall off the bone?

He believes that ribs should not be fall-off-the-bone tender. Overcooked meat will slip off the bone. It should have some bite to it. Undercooked meat, on the other hand, does not peel away from the bone.

What makes spare ribs more tender and flavorful?

The best, most reliable approach to ensure that your ribs are fall-off-the-bone tender is to bake them at a low temperature in your oven, covered. We bake our ribs for two to three hours at 275° F. This simple procedure ensures tender ribs!

What do judges look for in competition ribs?

Ribs should not slide off the bone, believe it or not. They’re too tender if all of the flesh comes off with the first bite. The meat should have a touch of bite to it, according to the judges. This category has no established criteria.

What is the 2 2 1 method for ribs?

The term stems from the period when ribs were smoked for 2 hours, wrapped in foil with some liquid for 2 hours, and then finished for 1 hour uncovered. For baby backs, most people will change it to 2-2-1.

Why do you put apple juice on ribs?

broth, or just water.The apple taste of the rib sauce is enhanced by the addition of apple juice. It also generates steam within the foil pack, preventing the ribs from drying out. If you don’t have apple juice, use orange or pineapple juice.

How long should ribs take at 250?

Smoke for 4 to 5 hours at 225 to 250°F.

Baste or mop the ribs as needed, but don’t open the grill too often.

Are ribs better at 225 or 250?

Most pitmasters believe that the best smoking temperature for ribs is 250°F. Cooking at lower temperatures takes longer and might result in tough, chewy meat. At the same time, excessive heat might cause your ribs to dry out fast. Aim for temperatures between 225°F and 275°F, with 250°F being the sweet spot.

Should I take ribs out of fridge before cooking?

Remove the rib roast from the refrigerator and let it aside for three hours to temper. According to USDA recommendations, food should not be kept at temperatures over 33°F (1°C) for longer than 4 hours. A three-hour break on the counter is quite enough.

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