How to Keep Ribs Moist While Smoking (8 Best Tips & Tricks)

Timothy Woods
Published by Timothy Woods
Last Updated On: June 20, 2024

Almost nothing comes close to a sunny summer’s day when you can smoke some delicious juicy ribs over the cooking chamber.

Over the years of doing that, I have put together a simple, easy-to-follow, and detailed list explaining how to keep ribs moist while smoking.

The article will focus on a few main ideas; actual methods of keeping ribs moist, heat regulation during cooking, ingredients to enhance the process, and marinating and resting time for the best smoking process.

Quick Summary

  • Keeping ribs moist while smoking involves consistent heat, using vinegar brine, wrapping in foil, and marinating ahead for better absorption.
  • Using a plain water pan and allowing the ribs resting time after cooking for the juices to redistribute also helps keep the ribs moist.
  • A 2003 study published in the National Library of Medicine investigated smoked beef treated with a marinade and subjected to 18 hours of heavy smoking and 4 hours of light smoking at 50°C, and found that smoking time significantly altered its moisture content, protein solubility, and color [1].
  • There are also different types of smokers that you need to consider and what suits you best. For example, beginners can use an electric smoker for the best results.

Using Aluminum Foil to Keep Ribs Most When Smoking Ribs

Ribs covered in foil

Wrapping the ribs in a large piece of aluminum foil and folding it closed with no air spaces helps retain the steam during the cooking process.

When you cook meat, the high heat causes it to release juices. If those juices evaporate as steam from the heat, the meat will dry out.

The steam cannot leave with aluminum foil wraps, which helps wrapped ribs cook more evenly. It absorbs the juices back into them, allowing them to remain moist and tender.

Smoked ribs are delicious. As the famous Guy Fieri says, “There’s nothing that can replicate the smoky flavor of char,” but let’s face it – it sucks when they dry out and become chewy.

There are methods that expert meat smokers, like Guy Fieri, use to smoke ribs that retain their moist, juicy texture and still get super tender and delicious.

Basting Ribs to Prevent Them From Drying Out

Basting ribs using a brush

If you are grilling the ribs openly over the fire, they will dry out incredibly quickly. If you want to prevent it from drying out entirely, use a sauce to continue basting it.

The basting sauce will put back the moisture that it loses over the fire as it is grilling.

You have to use the basting method from the beginning of the grilling process.

If you wait for too long before you begin to baste the ribs, it will dry out quite far and become challenging to regain total moisture.

Use a Water Pan to Ensure Ribs Stay Moist

A big ribs on a grill with water pan underneath

Using water pans is a fantastic way to keep moisture in your ribs when you grill or bake the meat.

You can fill a water pan and place it under the ribs. Even just plain water retains and evenly distributes heat while catching liquid and oil drippings from the ribs.

The pans create humidity and steam under the ribs, which helps the meat cool down, slowing the cooking process.

It evenly cooks the ribs and absorbs liquid back as it loses juices. You can refill the pan with hot water as it starts to dry out.

Crockpots Help Retain Moisture When Cooking Ribs

Cooking ribs using a crockpot

Don’t underestimate the power of cooking meat in a crockpot.

You can cook the ribs for an extended time in the crockpot, which helps make them super tender and juicy.

You can add your smoked ingredients directly to the pot with the ribs, and it will marinate, absorb the smoke flavor, retain its juices and cook through all at the same time.

The crockpots have a lid that you close, and you can use foil over the cover to ensure that the steam is getting trapped in the pot for more even heat distribution and add moisture retention.

The crockpot reduces the hard work, and you end up with flavorful, well-tenderized, juicy meat.

Use the Consistent Cooking Temperature

Ribs require a consistent heating temperature to cook evenly without drying out quickly. You want to keep it on a medium heat setting to ensure it cooks slowly with indirect heat.

When the internal temperature is too high, the ribs will lose moisture, cook on the outside, and not be tender on the inside.

In the oven, you can use a temperature of 350-400°F and if you use a grill, keep the ribs over indirect heat (on the side and not directly over the fire).

You want the ribs to cook for a more extended timeframe over moist indirect heat. That helps it get well done, tender, and juicy.

Related: Temperature Guide to the Best Ribs Around

Marinating Ribs Ahead Makes It Tender and Juicy

Marinating ribs on a glass tray

You don’t realize how important marinating your meat is until you don’t do it one time.

The flavor and tenderness depend significantly on how long you season the ribs ahead of time.

The marinade ingredients are also essential, but we will discuss that next.

The ribs absorb the seasonings, zests, and sauces as it sits. You can let it rest at least 4-6 hours ahead, but overnight is best.

The longer the ribs stay in marination, the more they will absorb the flavor, leading to tender, juicy, delicious meat after cooking.

Use Vinegar Sauce When Marinating

Apple cider vinegar plain background

The ingredients you use to marinate your ribs play a significant role in how tender the ribs get.

According to WebMD, an acid component that will help brine the ribs works best to tenderize your meat and helps it absorb and retain moisture [2].

You can use regular white or brown vinegar, balsamic vinegar, apple cider vinegar, and lemon juice or orange juice.

You mix the vinegar base with other seasonings to create a delicious marinade, rub it generously on your ribs, let it rest overnight, and smoke it the next day.

Salt causes food to release water, causing dry ribs – you can omit or reduce salt and add it after cooking.

Allow Resting Time for Ribs to Regain Moisture

When you finish cooking and smoking ribs, they need 10-15 minutes of resting time before serving them or cutting them up.

If you cut baby back ribs immediately, they might release their juices, causing the remaining portions of your meat to be dry.

The resting time helps redistribute the juices throughout, leading to tender bites since you keep ribs moist.

During the cooking time, the juices try to escape the meat to evaporate, so all the moisture is on the outer layer.

When it rests, it absorbs back into the center. That is important to ensure you don’t have dry ribs in the middle [3].


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About the author

Timothy Woods
CEO / Co-Founder
Timothy Woods holds a Kinesiology and Exercise Science degree from Jacksonville University and is CCC & GMU Certified. He's also the main man behind Carnivore Style. This food aficionado combines science and experience to spread the word about the carnivore lifestyle.
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