Operation Traeger Baby Back Ribs Vol 3+4

April 1, 2021

Traeger ribs montageThe Vitals:
the recipe: Traeger Baby Back Ribs Vol 3 + 4
the smoker: Traeger Ironwood 885
the time: Vol 3: 6.5 hours Vol 4: 8 hours
the full nelson: the learning curve is long but learning I am 

This follow up post to my original has been a long time coming. Last summer the folks at Traeger Grills were kind enough to send me a grill, ah yes, the perks of being a Food TV guy. As lucky as I am to have gotten a free grill, making great bbq takes a lot of work. Trial and error is the name of the game. And when your trial and errors take at least a whole afternoon, you learn to accept the fact that the pursuit of perfect barbecue is indeed a lengthy journey.

It helps to take notes, which is what these posts are about. They say you learn more from your mistakes so read on to see where my trials and tribulations with making ribs on a Traeger have taken me. My goal is a lofty one: match the smokey intensity of Central Texas BBQ on a Traeger. At the same time I have also learned that making great pork ribs isn’t just about smoke flavor either.

Skip to Vol 4 if you like fall of the bone ribs. And a spoiler alert for Vol 3: use the best meat you can afford. Too often I think we can use overwhelming flavors to mask inferior food quality. Though a Traeger may not match a stick smoker in smoke intensity, it does let the flavors of the ingredients shine, like Prime Rib. So make friends with a butcher and buy ribs that are worth the time you are about to put into making them.

Traeger Ribs Vol 3

Operation Traeger Baby Backs Vol 3

I got some baby backs from the local grocery store chain(HEB) and they were cheap. Sadly this would be part of my downfall, maybe the whole reason for my rib downfall. Swift is a large scale pork processor and I would be lying if I said I had not consumed plenty of their product over the years. Still, and it’s not the first time, when I cut open the cryovac I got that ordor . . . just not a pleasant smell. Not uncommon but one of the reasons I never buy pork tenderloins that are in the cryovac.

Traeger Ribs Vol 3 start

A great start on paper . . .

I rubbed the heck out of these baby backs with one of the Traeger Rubs(pork and poultry) and pulled them out of the fridge while I went to clean and fire up the grill. That was a mistake. The ribs sat at room temp for too long.  Always stick your ribs in COLD for maximum smoke taste. Time check? 1:10pm.

Traeger Ribs Vol 3 butter

All hail the foil method

I had success with the foil method in Traeger ribs Vol 2 so reached for it again for Vol 3. Butter, brown sugar and a little more rub went into the foil packets. This is part 2 of the 3-2-1 method. FWIW I picked this tip up from Diva BBQ and she adds the extra element of maple syrup into the mix. I don’t have that much of a sweet tooth in my flavor profile but if you do . . .

Traeger Ribs Vol 3 butter

Traeger Ribs Vol 3 done

The smoking deets . . .

I smoked these ribs for a little over 6 hours. The first leg was set at 220 degrees using the super smoke function till the ribs hit an internal temp of 195. Then I foiled them with the butter, rub and sugar and brought them back to the grill. The internal temp dropped and seemed to stall at 170 so I upped the smoker temp to 225. About an hour or so later I pulled them at 175 degrees, sauced them up and placed them back in the grill till the temp hit 175.

Goal temps and temp realities

My goal internal temp was 203 degrees. After hitting 195 I thought that would be easy. Turns out that cooking at temps as low as 220 means that the meat won’t get back to temp right away. I think this is why the Traeger 3-2-1 method has you finish the ribs off at a higher temp.

Traeger Ribs Vol 3 plate

The takeaway

Despite not meeting the goal temp, I loved the texture of these baby backs. They were meaty and juicy and just tender enough. But not as much smoke flavor as last time. But the biggest draw back? The meat had this subtle off taste. My family didn’t detect it but I did. Lesson learned: don’t skimp on meat quality when you’re spending this much time cooking.

Traeger Ribs Vol 4 start

Operation Traeger Baby Backs Vol 4

This version started off with an error on the butcher’s part. I ordered two baby backs and I got one St. Louis style rack. To be honest, I’ve been wanting to try this cut anyways so I didn’t bother to return it. Like the last three times I reached for the Traeger Pork and Poultry rub. This time they went in COLD.

Traeger Ribs Vol 4 in traeger

225: Let’s speed things up

For added smoke I used a smoker tube filled with hickory chips. I was looking for a big fat cloud of smoke so I lit them up dry with a butane torch. Smoker was set to 225 this time. I’ve spent plenty of time already on rib cooks. Time to speed things up but still utilize the Traeger Super Smoker function.

Traeger Ribs Vol 4 butter and sugar

The foil method returns

One look at my first round of ribs makes me wonder if I will ever stop the foil method. I mean it just looks amazing. This went down when the ribs hit 170, about fours in to the cook. Once again the internal temp dropped after this process- this time to 145.

Because I stepped up to a whopping 225 degrees I let the ribs ride at that temp. When they hit 192 I opened the foil, sauced them up and waited. And waited. And waited.

Traeger Ribs Vol 4 done

8 hours later. Seriously.

I threw in the towel when the ribs hit 197. It had been 8 hours of cooking which means 8 hours ofwaiting. The verdict? The wife ate 5 bones of rib, shattering a record. For me? It was too tender/fall off the bone. Part of that could have been a difference in cut – the spares have more collagen, so when it came to foil cook, there was more material to breakdown. I will say that when they sat around for about 15 minutes, they tightened up.

Thoughts on Vol 5 and beyond . . .

The next day I was nibbling on these cold. They were tasty but they weren’t as smokey Vol 2. More importantly . . . the texture and time was not to my ideal. I’m giving new thought to going sans foil, maybe add a water pan and really look at the rub.

Even with the chips, the smoke flavor is limited but the power of slow cooking is clear with a Traeger. I might supplement the lack of smoke for depth of flavor in the rub. Traeger rub ain’t bad but there is literally a world of spices out there.

The saga continues . . .


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