How to Cook Ribs on a Traeger Grill (Smoked BBQ Recipe)

By Autumn Ellenson

A Traeger grill is perfectly designed to smoke mouthwatering ribs, but only if you use it correctly! Here are step-by-step instructions on how to cook ribs on a Traeger grill to fall-off-the-bone perfection.

I’m going to tell you how to trim the ribs, give you easy wet and dry rub recipes, and then walk you through the 3-2-1 method of smoking ribs specifically on a Traeger grill.

If you follow these “low and slow” instructions, you’ll get tender, full of flavor, and fall-off-the-bone mouthwatering results.

What is a Traeger Grill?

Traeger invented the Original Wood-Fired Grill in a small Oregon town over 30 years ago. At the time, they pioneered a delicious new way to cook your food.

In fact, this company is still the leading wood-fired grill brand, and for good reason. They make well-built smokers that give consistent cooks every time.

Traeger grills are so popular because they infuse your food with true, wood-fired flavor. The smoky flavor elevates the taste of your ribs and cooking at a low temperature with indirect heat ensures you get tender ribs.

In fact, the meat will be so tender that it will fall off the bones. In other words, a Traeger smoker is an easy way to make delicious ribs!

How Does a Traeger Grill Work?

smoky "how does it work" coming from traeger grill

A Traeger is different than a gas grill. It is a pellet smoker that burns small wood pellets made from compressed hardwood sawdust. These small pellets create a controllable fire that cooks food in an even and consistent way, infusing it with real-food flavor.

How the grill works is simple. First, wood pellets are moved from the hopper to the fire pot via something called an auger. When the pellets go into the firepot they are ignited by the HotRod to burn. A fan circulates the heat and smoke created by the burning pellets, providing even and consistent cooking.

There is a drip pan located under the grill grate that prevents flare-ups so that no flame touches your food.

The great thing about this grill is that it is operated by an easy-to-use controller that maintains a precise temperature. Many models allow you to monitor this temperature from your phone! That way, you can mingle with your guests instead of babysitting the grill during gatherings.

Beef or Pork Ribs? That is the Question!

beef and pork cut diagrams

When it comes to choosing the racks of ribs you want to smoke, there is no clear-cut answer. It all comes down to your personal preferences. If you are new to the “rib game,” the best way to figure out your favorites is to try out different styles of ribs.

Most people cook pork or beef ribs, although you can also find lamb and other specialty ribs.

The following are the most popular types:

  • Baby Back Ribs
  • Spare Ribs
  • Short Ribs
  • St. Louis Style Ribs

Pork ribs tend to be easier to cook on the smoker. While they are smaller in size (because pigs are smaller animals than cows), they are big on flavor. They can also easily fit in your smoker, while beef ribs may be more difficult to smoke all at once depending on the size of the ribs.

Best Ribs for Beginners = Pork Baby Back Ribs

The reason that pork ribs are often touted as the best ribs is that they have a delicious flavor and a tender bite. They also contain less fat than beef, so they won’t have as meaty a flavor as beef.

While beef ribs have a mouthwatering flavor, they can be tricky to cook. If not smoked just right, they can become tough and chewy. If you really want to try cooking beef ribs, consider going with beef short ribs to start.

Beef tends to have a higher price tag than pork, so be prepared to spend a little more on those cuts!

How to Cook Ribs on a Traeger Pellet Grill

traeger pellet grill

My “go-to” ribs are baby back ribs, but many people love to smoke spare ribs as well. Baby backs contain loin meat and have less fat content than other ribs. Plus, they’re easier to prep. But you’ll still get great results with either choice with the following guide.

Step 1: Add Pellets to Traeger Hopper

On the side of the Traeger grill is a compartment called the “hopper,” where you pour your wood pellets into. The hopper automatically feeds these small wood pellets via an auger mechanism to a fire pot. The pellets burn in that fire pot, providing both heat and smokey flavor.

Traeger wood pellets come in several flavors to choose from. Plus, they periodically have limited editions wood pellets to experiment with.

What’s the best flavor wood pellet for ribs? Well, that’s up to your personal tastes, but popular woodchips for ribs are mesquite, oak, and hickory.

If you’re not sure which flavor to get, then a safe choice is to go with whatever is your favorite BBQ sauce flavor. For instance, if you like hickory BBQ sauce, go with hickory wood pellets.

Step 2: Startup Your Traeger Pellet Grill

If you’re smoking baby back ribs, you can go ahead and start preheating your Traeger grill since prep work won’t take long. However, if you’re smoking spare ribs, hold off on preheating your Traeger until you’re done trimming the ribs.

Preheating your traeger pellet grill is simple, but you have to make sure you do it the right way. If you don’t start it up properly, it can have temperature swings, flame outs, and other issues.

There are two start-up methods for Traeger grills: open-lid and closed-lid. If your Traeger grill model is 2016 or newer, then it’ll most likely be the effortless closed-lid method. If you’re unsure, click on that link and it’ll walk you through how to know for sure, or consult your user manual.

Closed-Lid Startup

  1. Ensure all of your internal grill components (heat baffle, drip tray, grill grates) are inside the grill.
  2. Plug in and turn on your grill.
  3. Set your Traeger grill directly to the desired temperature (225 degrees F for ribs) and preheat with the lid closed for approximately 15 minutes.

Open-Lid Startup

If your grill requires an open-lid start-up, follow these steps below (note, this will depend on the controller):

  1. Ensure all your internal grill components (heat baffle, drip tray, grill grates) are inside the grill.
  2. Set your Traeger grill to the SMOKE setting with the lid open. You will hear the fan running.
  3. Wait for the fire to ignite and establish, roughly 5 minutes, give or take. You should hear a difference in sound from just the fan to hearing a flame going.
  4. Once the flame is going and the fire has been established, wait for an additional 5-10 with the lid remaining open.
  5. Close the lid.
  6. Increase to the desired temperature (225 degrees F for ribs) and preheat for approximately 10-15 minutes.

Step 2: Prep the Ribs for Smoking

ribs on cutting board

Prepping a piece of meat is always the first step towards a successful smoke. Smoking enthusiasts always start with high-quality, well-prepared ingredients. Making sure that you prep your rib racks is no different.

And the good news is, once you know how to do it, it won’t take you long.

Remove the Silver Skin

The silver skin is a thin membrane located on the underside of the ribs. While it won’t hurt you to eat it, leaving it on can make your meat tougher. Plus, it creates a barrier that prevents the dry rub and smoke from really penetrating the meat.

Removing the silver will give you more tender, flavorful meat, and the best results from your smoke.

To remove this membrane, follow these simple instructions:

1. Place ribs on a cutting board, with the silver skin side up. Using a sharp knife, slide it under one edge of the silver skin. If it is too tight in one spot, try another.

2. The silver skin should lift fairly easily. Once it does lift in an area large enough to grab it, grip it tightly using a paper towel. Then gently pull it up off the meat. If the entire skin does not peel away as a large sheet, repeat the process with whatever skin is leftover.

Trim the Ribs

How you do this actually depends on the type of ribs you use. If you’re smoking baby back ribs, you likely won’t have to do much. Which, again, is why I prefer baby back ribs.

Aside from removing the silver skin, baby backs are pretty much ready to go. You may need to trim off a bit of excess fat, but since they’re already leaner, it’s easy to do. Just trim down any chunk of fat that you can grab down to a thin layer.

Trimming spare ribs takes more work. There are two ways to do it, Full and St. Louis style. I’m going to focus on the easier Full Spare Ribs style, but the video link I attached for you shows how to trim it more for St. Louis style.

Here are the basics:

  1. Remove the skirt. The skirt is the flap of meat that’s easy to identify. Just slide the knife along the base to remove it.
  2. Remove the breast bone. It’s a chunk of bone on a corner that likely has cartilage on it, too. (Cartilage looks like bone but it bends.) Carefully, cut along the bone to remove it.
  3. Trim off excess fat. Remember, fat adds flavor and tenderness so the key word here is “excess.” If there is a flap or chunk of fat, trim it down to a thin layer.

Apply Wet Rub and Dry Rub

rib rub ingredients

Once your ribs are trimmed, it’s time to rub them down. You can simply apply your favorite dry rub. However, I recommend slathering them with a wet rub first.

A wet rub will help tenderize the meat and give a moist surface for the dry rub to really adhere to. If you don’t have a go-to wet or dry rub for ribs, here are easy-to-make homemade rub recipes.

Wet Rub for Ribs Recipe

The following wet recipe can help keep your ribs moist during the smoking process. It can also provide a layer for your dry rub to adhere to.

Ingredients
  • 1/2 cup yellow mustard
  • 1/3 cup apple juice
  • 1 TBSP Worcestershire sauce
Directions

Mix the ingredients in a bowl, then slather onto the meat after removing the silver skin.

Dry Rub for Ribs Recipe

Here’s an easy homemade BBQ rub recipe for your ribs. This one is simple to make and can be made with ingredients you likely already have in your spice cabinet.

Ingredients
  • 4 tbsp paprika
  • 3 tbsp brown sugar
  • 1 tbsp garlic powder
  • 1 tbsp onion powder
  • 1 tbsp salt
  • 2 tsp cumin
  • 1 tsp pepper
  • 1/4 tsp cayenne pepper
Directions

1. In a small bowl, mix all ingredients. When ready, rub on the meat!

Pro tip: Consider making this dry rub mixture ahead of time. That gives you one less thing to prep when you go to smoke your ribs!

You can prep and store the mix in an airtight container for up to one month!

Get Your Meat Thermometer Ready

digital meat thermometer

Most cooks will tell you that owning a meat thermometer is a must! When cooking meat, there really is no set cook time. The cook time is just a guide to know approximately when the meat is done.

What it really comes down to is internal temperature. The meat is done only once it reaches a certain internal temperature.

Remove ribs at internal temp of 190-195 degrees F.

The best internal temp for ribs is 203 degrees Farhenheit. That’s fall-off-the-bones tender. BUT! You should take the ribs out at 190-195 degrees F because meat continues to heat up by up to 10 degrees after removing it.

See why you need to have your meat thermometer ready?

To Spritz or Not to Spritz…

Even if this is your first time cooking ribs, you may have heard other people tell you to “spritz the ribs.” But what does this mean, and do you have to do it?

When people talk about spritzing, they are referring to quickly spraying the meat with short, quick bursts of liquid. You take a mixture of water and apple cider vinegar, place it in a spray bottle, and then spray the surface of the meat at different intervals during the cooking process.

Spritz = 1 cup water + 1 cup apple cider vinegar

Cooking enthusiasts that spritz their meat claim that it can keep the meat moister, improving the tenderness, flavor, and color of what they are cooking.

When I smoke ribs, I like to use a very simple cooking method called the 3-2-1 method. If you want to spritz during this method, you do it during the first 3 hours….

Step 3: 3-2-1 Method for Smoking Ribs

321 method for ribs outline

The 3-2-1 method is what I use to cook my ribs, along with the majority of rib-smokers, I’d say. It’s very popular for good reason!

It breaks an arduous six-hour cooking process into three simple steps:

  • 3 hours: You let the meat smoke without foil for the first three hours, infusing it with that delicious smoky flavor. (Can spritz periodically during this time.)
  • 2 hours: Steam the meat by wrapping it in foil, allowing its moisture to tenderize the meat.
  • 1 hour: In the final hour you baste and glaze the meat with your favorite barbecue sauce.

1. Layout four large sheets of aluminum foil and preheat your traeger smoker to 225 degrees F.

Don’t know what flavor of wood pellets to use? Many people love mesquite, oak, and hickory chips for smoking ribs. Go with whatever flavor that complements your favorite BBQ sauce.

2. If you have not already done so, prep the ribs.

3. Place the ribs in the preheated traeger smoker with the bone side down, and cook for 3 hours. (Optional: Spritz starting at the 90-minute mark and then every 30 minutes until 3 hours is complete.)

4. Pull off the ribs, but leave the smoker heated. Place each rack of ribs on two of the foil sheets you laid out. (Optional: Sprinkle the ribs with a brown sugar mixture.)

5. Place the other two foil sheets on top of the ribs, then crimp the edges to seal in the ribs.

6. Return the ribs to the smoker for an additional 2 hours.

7. Carefully take out the ribs and remove them from the foil. Brush them with your favorite BBQ sauce.

8. Place the ribs, without foil, back onto the smoker for the last 1 hour of cooking. Place the meat probe into the thickest rib, careful not to touch it to the bone.

9. 50 minutes into the last hour, start monitoring the internal temperature. Ribs are safe to eat at 145 degrees F and “good” at 170 degrees, but they’re not fall-off-the-bone tender at either. You want to remove the ribs at 190-195 degrees F, regardless of the actual cook time.

10. Once you remove them, let the ribs rest for about 10 minutes. Then, slice in between the ribs to separate them, serve, and enjoy!

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