Many years ago, my wife's grandmother, Popo, would make Chinese style riblets. She'd have the butcher split the baby backs in half and marinate them in soy sauce and sugar and then cook in a pot until they fell off the bone. They were delicious and I loved the idea of the ribs being split into appetizer size.
I came up with a way to smoke riblets that has become a fun treat for parties. Michele requested it for Christmas Eve this year. Who am I to refuse?
So here is how I smoke riblets.
I pick up standard baby back ribs from the market and have the butcher split the ribs with the band saw. When I get home, i wash the ribs well to get off any debris and blood.
An important step is removing the membrane. I pat the ribs dry and use a paper towel to get a better grip.
I put my smoke rub on the ribs. Not heavily, just enough for a thin coating.
After letting the rub sit on the ribs for an hour or so, I cut them in half and place into my smoker.
I let the ribs smoke for about 2-3 hours. Just one box of chips in the box until I pull them out and bring them back into the kitchen.
The trick to good riblets as appetizers is to cut them individually BEFORE they go all off the bone soft. If you wait until later, everything tends to fall apart.
The riblets are now placed in a basic 'Texas Crutch' setup where they are wrapped in foil, in a pan. I pour in a cup or two of apple juice to help keep them hydrated and add a tiny bit of sweetness.
I put the pan back in the smoker and just keep the heat at 200-225° for 8-10 more hours. No more smoke, just heat.
When it's about a half hour before dinner, I pull them out and open the foil to let them rest. When it's time to eat, I place them in a serving dish, warm up some BBQ sauce to accompany, and the riblets are good to go.