BBQ Ribs are one of the hallmarks of a great summer cookout, and once you know a few tips and tricks, it’s pretty easy to turn out competition-worthy ribs consistently.

First, you want to consider the cut of the ribs. The most common are Baby Back and St. Louis. Baby Back ribs are a bit more tender, but have less meat. St. Louis ribs are meatier, but will take a bit longer to cook. My personal preference is St. Louis style ribs.

ALWAYS remove the membrane prior to cooking. Yes, it’s a pain in the ass to do this, but it really is necessary. Work the tip of a butterknife under the membrane at one end, grip with a folded piece of paper towel to prevent slippage, and slowly pull until the entire membrane comes off.

Rub your ribs with oil prior to applying any rubs or seasonings. This will help the rub stick, as well as aid in the formation of the bark, or crust.

Wrap your ribs. Even if you’re smoking, there comes a point when your ribs are in danger of drying out. And if you’re cooking indoors, wrapping is essential to making tender, juicy ribs. Although most cooks use tinfoil, I use plastic wrap to wrap mine. Because of the relatively low temperature, there’s no danger of the plastic wrap melting or damaging the meat. Some people I know do both – first plastic wrap, and then foil.

Glaze your ribs. While it’s perfectly fine to serve your ribs dry, without any sauce, I prefer to glaze mine. The last 15 minutes of cooking, brush on a BBQ sauce of your choice and crank up the heat to caramelize the sauce.

They’re ready when they’re ready. Because there’s so much variation in each rack of ribs, a certain amount of judgement is required. There’s no hard and fast time for cooking ribs. Generally speaking, Baby Back will take 3-5 hours, and St. Louis will take 4-6 hours. But the best way to know if your ribs are ready is to grab one end of the rack with a pair of toings and bend it as you lift it up. If the surface cracks and the crack extends deeply into the meat, you’re there. You should still be able to lift the entire rack with a pair of tongs without it falling apart, but just barely.

FALL OFF THE BONE IS TOO FAR. If the meat falls off the bone, it’s been overcooked and is likely mushy. You want a little texture to your meat. It should come away from the bone easily, but not separate on it’s own.

Now, let’s cook!