Ribs Bone Up Or Down (In Smoker, When Wrapped, & In Oven)

You may have heard that barbecue comes in many flavors and styles. Although I’m not denying there’s truth to that statement, some things you just have to do right to get the best result.

So listen up.

In a matter of minutes, you’ll never again question whether you should put your ribs bone up or down, whether you’re smoking ribs, up to the wrapping phase, or finishing them in the oven.

Why does it matter? 

Well, do you want good smoked ribs, or do you want legendary smoked ribs?

Something as small as placing your ribs bone side up or bone side down can have the largest effect on the end result – kind of like the butterfly effect.

Now, in most smokers and grills, heat is generated from below. But, due to the shape of the vessel, the hot air and smoke circulate around the smoker and end up radiating from above and on the sides.

By placing your rib’s bone side down, you are effectively maximizing the surface area of the ribs. 

This results in a much more even cook, better bark and smoke absorption, and overall a better flavor.

If you cook your ribs bone side UP, then the weight of the rib actually compresses the meat. The rib absorbs less smokiness, and the bark develops poorly.

Does It Really Change Much?

Yes, putting your ribs bone up or down DOES impact the success of the cook. 

Take my word for it and save yourself some subpar ribs. 

Although it seems so basic, placing your rib’s bone side up or bone side down actually has a huge effect on how well your ribs cook, how their bark develops, and the overall flavor of the rib.

Does It Matter What Type Of Ribs?

Of course, there are some notable differences between pork spare ribs, baby back ribs, and St. Louis ribs.

However, when it comes to smoking pork ribs or even oven baking for that matter, you can follow the same rule when placing them bone up or bone down.

So, no matter what type of ribs you’re cooking, remember: 

  • Uncovered ribs = bone side down
  • Wrapped ribs = bone side up.

Ribs Bone Side Up Or Down When Wrapping?

So, for the most part you should always cook your ribs bone side down.

The only exception to this rule is when you’re wrapping your ribs in foil or butcher’s paper, like in the infamous 3-2-1 or 2-2-1 smoking method for ribs.

If you decide to wrap your ribs, it’s actually advantageous to place them bone side UP, as it allows the meat to soak in the juices, butter, sugar, or anything else you add at this point.

If you were to put your ribs bone side down, all the liquid would pool at the bottom of the package, and not infuse into the rib whatsoever.

Ribs Bone Side Up Or Down In Oven?

Standard conventional ovens either produce heat from a grill on the top or fan forced from the back.

Either way, to maximize the surface area of the rib to the hot air, you’ll want to cook your ribs bone side down, meat side up, in any oven.

This helps further the Maillard reaction, leading to a ridiculously tasty, chewy, and caramelized exterior. 

Of course, if you’re wrapping your ribs in foil in the oven, you should place them bone side up instead so they can reabsorb the juices. 

Check out this guide for the best way to finish your ribs in the oven.

What About On A Pellet Grill?

Sure, pellet grill technology works a little differently than a charcoal smoker or an offset. But again, the same heating principles apply.

Pellet grills generate heat (and smoke) from the firepot at the bottom of the grill. This heat hits the heat baffle and is directed outward, circulating around the vessel, and ending up radiating from above.

Just like cooking on any other smoker, you want to place your ribs bone side DOWN in a pellet grill, in order to get the best Maillard reaction and subsequent deliciousness.

Ribs Bone Side Up Or Down For 3-2-1 Or 2-2-1 Method?

The 3-2-1 or 2-2-1 method for smoking ribs is surely one of the most popular ways to cook pork ribs – and for good reason as it’s just so failsafe.

Still, you’ll want to do it right, and believe it or not, a big part of the success of this method is placing your pork ribs the right way up at the right stages!

So, it keep it as simple as possible, you’ll want to:

  1. Set your ribs bone side down (meat side up) for the first 3 or 2 hours of the cook.
  2. Place your ribs bone side up (meat side down) while they are wrapped for 2 hours.
  3. Remove your ribs from the foil, and place them bone side down again (meat side up) for the remaining one hour of the cook.

This helps the ribs absorb maximum smokiness and develop a killer bark and caramelization, but also helps them retain and absorb maximum moisture over the wrapping phase.

You should also rest your ribs bone side down too.

What About When Grilling Pork Ribs Hot & Fast?

When you’re grilling pork ribs hot and fast, there’s even more reason to cook them bone side down.

You want to protect the meat as much as possible from direct heat. By cooking bone side down, you’ll be able to reduce the amount of moisture loss over the cooking period and prevent your ribs from going tough and dry.

If you want a good sear on your ribs, you can start them off bone side up for thirty seconds to a minute of the cook on high heat, before turning them over for the remainder of the cook.

The Bottom Line

So, if it’s not clear by now: whether it’s in a smoker, oven, pellet grill, gas grill, charcoal grill, etc, you should always cook your ribs bone side down, meat side up. 

The exception to this rule is when you’re wrapping your pork ribs, where you should place your ribs bone side up and meat side down, to maximize moisture and flavor absorption.

This is because you often add butter, juice, rub, or stock during the wrapping phase – placing bone side down wouldn’t do much good here!

It’s as simple as that!

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