Water or No Water in Pan When Smoking Ribs?

by Bruce
(Rochelle Park, NJ)

I just found this web page and LOVE it!!!! My name is Bruce and I love to cook, bbq and especially use my smoker. My wife and I travel in our 5th wheel camper and also go to NASCAR events.

Should You Always Fill The Water Pan With Liquid When Smoking RibsNo Water Used To Smoke These Babybacks

I have a vertical 48" stainless steel smoker from Cabela's we love it. I have a rub that uses 13 spices and brown sugar. Love that as well. BUT.......I am a bit confused about one thing.

When I do my ribs (full slabs not baby back) I fill the water bowl located in the bottom just above the smoke box with a mixture of apple cider, apple cider viniger, orange juice, water, a whole head of garlic and some Jack or Jim Beam. I was told by a "Smoker Master" that I should never use liquid or add moisture to ribs.

Rather mop or a spray bottle of this liquid would be better. I have used this method for chicken and it always stays so juicy and tender. Do I want to keep things dry in the smoker and just periodically spritz with liquid. I am confused.

The ribs always seem delicious I cook them at about 200˚- 225˚F for 4 to 6 hours. As soon as the bone really starts to wiggle free, they are finished cooking. Maybe they suck, and I just think they are good. Would a different method be better? Thanks so much for your advice and thanks for this great web site.

Comments for Water or no water in pan when smoking ribs?

Water Pan of a Weber Smoky Mountain CookerPan in Weber Smoky Mountain Filled With Water

Bullet type water smoker too HOT dry pan
by: Ed

I wanted to clarify a typo in earlier post that the bullet type water pan smokers could get TOO HOT without water in the water pan as meat is much closer to coals than the box type vertical smokers plus flame up is much more likely.

On my small vertical smoker there is 12 inches between charcoal pan and lower rack which smokes a nice pink ring plus browns the surface for a good bark.

However, after 1st hour of smoking every 15 to 30 minutes I am spraying liquid for moisture plus turning meat over, and alternating between higher rack.

The lowest rack in a bullet water pan smoker in all likelihood will get too hot without water. The dome top keeps the heat trapped while the box type vents it at the top.

If there is a higher rack then dry smoking in a bullet will work, but just do not get meat too hot that fat render early or the meat will have flame ups or can and will ignite.

The best ribs I ever tasted were from a regional barbeque contest winner at a regional contest. The ribs were very dark outside, heavy pink red middle, but the outside surface had a nice perfectly crisp bark on the outside.

The low and slow method is the right technique which my Dad's low and slow bullet water pan smoker did after 6 hours.

The ribs looked the same but the taste and meat texture was different with my Dad's having very tender soft meat, very nicely smoke flavor all the way through, but without the grilled bark flavor and surface.

I have learned later on that that the champion rib cooker would grill the ribs after the ribs were smoked, they were thrown on a open grill for final cooking.

Grilling the smoked ribs with a higher surface temperature firms up the bark crisping up the outer surface plus the finish grilling renders the fat so it melts and flavors the outside blending with the seasons and browning the surface for the bark we all love.

Two smoke methods
by: Ed

If your ribs are dark mostly blackened on outside with deep pink red smoke ring then that is the very low and slow smoking method done with a water pan.

I was confused as well using my water pan smoker because I was told about 3 hours max to smoke ribs and they were never done in that time, nor could I get temperature on meat rack above 185 degree F.

The water pan slows down cooking time and lowers temperature. The contestant smokers have heavy steel smokers to hold temperature constant giving better temps, the ability to use wood alone with no charcoal and to complete the cooking faster.

My friend advised me to leave the water pan out on the charcoal water pan smokers to get higher temp and faster cooks. So, my short cook method is to place ribs on rack for about an hour then start rotating the meat spraying 1/2 apple cider half water on dry rubbed ribs.

Mine is a box smoker so the upper and lower racks mean different temps so the thinner smaller ribs go on top first. After the smoke, I like 3 hours while others say 2 hours of smoke, then wrap in aluminum with spray and cook 30 to 45 minutes more. This method produces a very Rendezvous Rib type rib (Memphis).

I like your method just as much as the dry smoke method. My dad does the long low and slow method and the ribs are great, very dark outside, red pink inside. Also, this type finish in my opinion is great for putting barbecue sauce on as well.

I think the water pan smoke method minimizes the smoke taste for such a longer smoke period perhaps the moisture keeps the smoke from building up as much on the meat. The dry method, no more than 3 hours of smoke chips max or the smoke flavor will be too much.

I am glad to hear the water pan method takes much longer, and I know the bullet style work the best. Mine is a box type with lower coal and water pan, and upper part with two gill racks and two round vent ports. The upper does not cook the same so the ribs must be rotated.

The flat top doesn't get hot and a glass Pyrex pan works great to set ribs in while rotating, to season, and to spray. The box type is very difficult to get higher temp near 200 degree F with the water pan.

I do know that the bullet type water pan smokers work the best with the water pan, but could be too without water pan as meat is much closer to coals.

Keep your low and slow method going, its correct and makes a great rib and chicken. If you want faster smokes, then no water, but you have to spray the meat once the meat starts to brown or the fat can catch fire.

I did have a pork shoulder ignite when the fat got too hot. So, when cooking without water do not leave un attended very long, plus your going to smell very smokey afterwards.


Water Pan of a Masterbuilt Electric SmokerWater Pan In Masterbuilt Electric Smoker
I agree with Carl and Bill
by: Anselmo 

Sounds like you got it down to an art form. My system has the hot box and I open the lid all the way to add more fuel, be it wood or charcoal. 

Then add additional liquid to my stainless steel bowl. Yours sound great. I add some red wine and spices to let me know if it needs more. It is located between my heat source and the trays of what is being smoked.

In my smoker under the fire have about an inch of water and add wet smoking chips (the water dries in short time and smokes soon after).

Above the water have a grill grate with a cast smoking chip box full of wine and chips under my fire grill.  Above that have a grill grate that holds the fuel wood or Charcoal. 

When the fuel is hot and almost flaming, sprinkle rosemary, garlic and if people are getting to nosey a few hot peppers or habaneros, red, brown or orange all do the trick and get people out of your face fast (I’m talking about lookie loos - they don’t care - just want to be where the action is). Someone that wants to learn, I don’t mind sharing. I never do it the same way every time anyway. 

Then add wet smoking chips to cool down the fire flames a bit, and at this point I check on my meat's or Salmon’s  internal temperature.

With meats I dab, (with a baste mop), with wine which is spiced to wash off anything off the meat that might have come into the smoking area from the fire box area. 

Close the lid on the smoking area and check the hot box area. If there are no ashes floating out of the fire box area, close the lid to your fire box. 

I have been cooking over fifty years and there is no real right way to cook. but there are some wrong ways. For years I've cooked ribs my way and then upon return from college my son cooked some ribs. I now enjoy the flavor of his ribs to mine. He also cooks the prime rib during the holidays.

Why Fix It If It Ain't Broke?
by: Bill

Hey Bruce,

I agree with Carl, that if you're curious to go ahead and try smoking a few ribs without water in the pan. You could mix up a spray bottle with a diluted mix of your apple cider/vinegar/bourbon mixture and give the ribs a few shots of it as they smoke.

But since your ribs are already delicious the way you've been smokin' 'em, there's not really much need to change your ways, other than to satisfy your curiosity.

I would guess that your ribs smoked without a pan of liquid would be nearly as good as your original recipe. One benefit would be that you'd save a few bucks on all the ingredients you're putting in the pan...and you could drink that Jim Beam instead of putting it in the pan!

Was Water Used In The Smoker Water Pan With These Ribs?

by: Carl

I think you need to listen to the masters that is how they became masters. I have tried with and with out water and think it might be a preference. Try them both ways and see which you like the best.