Johnny Trigg Ribs: An Award-Winning Recipe From A BBQ Legend

Johnny Triggs is a celebrity pitmaster and fierce competitor who is no stranger to competition BBQ circuits. Fun fact, he is the only contender to win the Jack Daniel’s World Championship Invitational BBQ twice. Once in 2000 and again in 2003. He is also known for his appearances on the reality TV show, BBQ Pitmasters. All things considered, Johnny Trigg is a big deal and so are his smoked pork ribs.

I have long been a fan of Trigg and his barbecue artistry. He is a pioneer and a mentor to many aspiring pitmasters. Trigg’s pork ribs are smoky, succulent, and downright, irresistible. Let me tell you all about them.

In this post, I will tell you all you need to nail this recipe and how to go about it step-by-step. I will also take you through what sets this recipe apart from the rest. Shall we?

Johnny Trigg Ribs Recipe

A good meal starts with preparation so, let’s gather the tools and ingredients we need.

Freshly Grilled Pork Ribs

Items You Will Need

Grab the following items and keep them close:

  • 60 charcoal briquettes
  • Pecan and cherry wood chunks
  • Aluminum foil
  • Fork
  • Butter knife
  • Paper towels
  • Grill gloves
  • A pair of tongs


Start by gathering the ingredients for your dry rub, foil wrap, and glaze.

  • Meat – 1 rack of pork spare ribs and Dijon mustard
  • Dry Rub – brown sugar, salt, paprika, black pepper, red pepper, garlic powder, and onion flakes.
  • Foil Wrap – Try Me Tiger Sauce, honey, brown sugar, Parkay Squeeze Margarine.
  • Glaze – corn syrup, molasses, and tomato sauce.


Johnny Trigg uses the 3-2-1 slow-cooking technique to smoke ribs. It involves smoking your ribs unwrapped for 3 hours, followed by another 2 hours of smoking while wrapped, and a final 1 hour of smoking while unwrapped. That’s exactly what we intend to do. I trust all your ingredients are within reach. Now let’s get to it:

Make Your Rub

Start by pouring your rub ingredients into a bowl and give it a good mix. Set aside.

Prep Your Ribs

Next up, prep your ribs. Remove your rack of ribs from the fridge and let it sit at room temperature for about 30 minutes. Chilled meat is harder to cook evenly.

Rinse it under cold water and then get to trimming. Place it on a large cutting board or work surface and trim away the excess fat, shiners(exposed bone), and any loose bones. Use a kitchen paper towel to pat it dry.

Turn it bone side up. Using a butter knife, get under that layer of silver skin or membrane that is attached to the bone. The silver skin is a thin layer of connective tissue that runs through the back of the rack.

If left intact, the membrane keeps the meat from absorbing the rub and smoke sufficiently. Grab another paper towel to get a grip on that elusive membrane and gently peel it back of the ribs. Please resist the urge to rip it off. It will tear and make your work even harder.

Coat your spare ribs with Dijon mustard and then another generous coat of your rub. Make sure your rub gets into every nook and cranny to ensure you get an evenly seasoned bark. Pat down the rub using the palm of your hand to help it stick better to the meat.

Let your rub sit on your meat for at least 2 hours before cooking it. For a more pronounced flavor, let your seasoned rack sit in the fridge overnight. This is more than enough time for the rub to work its magic.

Raw Pork Ribs with Rosemary

Prep the Grill

Now it’s time to prep your grill. Get it ready for low and slow cooking that will last up to 6 hours. Around 60 briquettes should do the trick.

Arrange your fuel in the smoker. I use the charcoal snake method of coal arrangement or the minion method. Light them up. I use Kingsford Chimney Starter to get my fire going quicker. You could also use lighter fluid or starter cubes.

Top off your fuel with your wood-flavoring chips. Trigg uses a blend of cherry and pecan for a complex, rich blend of flavors so I will be going with a mix of Oklahoma Joe's Cherry Wood Chips and Western Premium Pecan BBQ Smoking Chips. The nutty notes of pecan on cherry are just, chef’s kiss.

Let your smoker get to 250 degrees.

Smoke the Ribs

When your smoker comes up to temperature, it’s time to get smoking.

Lay your ribs meat side up, bone side down on the hot grill grates. Spritz with apple juice hourly. The apple juice will keep your Johnny Trigg ribs moist and juicy as it cooks. Keep the lid covered and let the rack smoke for 3 hours.

Foil the Ribs

As the meat smokes, let’s make our aluminum foil wrap. Lay a large sheet of heavy-duty aluminum foil on your work surface. Squeeze some Parkay margarine in a wave-like pattern at the spot where you will place your ribs. Next, top it with a layer of brown sugar, honey, and Tiger sauce.

This unique blend of ingredients brings spice, tang, and sweetness to your Johnny Trigg Ribs.

At the three-hour mark, it is time to wrap the ribs in foil. This step helps tenderize your ribs by trapping some much-needed steam that creates a braising effect.

Place your ribs on the foil meat side down and top the wrap off with 1/4 cup of apple juice. Wrap the foil tightly around your rib rack, making sure there are no leaks. Add another level of protection with an extra layer of aluminum foil.

Smoking Foiled Ribs

Lower your foiled ribs back into the smoker for another 2 hours maintaining a cooking temperature of 250 degrees. Take this time to craft your glaze.

Glaze and Finish

As the two-hour mark approaches, craft your glaze.

It is as easy as mixing tomato sauce, corn syrup, brown sugar, and molasses in a saucepan over low heat. Stir constantly with a wooden spoon until it blends into a smooth sticky sauce. Keep it warm.

After 2 hours, take your rack out of the smoker and carefully remove the wrap. Beware of the hot steam that is about to bulge out of the foil. Discard the foil.

At this point, you are staring at a sticky, shiny, inviting crust on your ribs that tastes even better. Place the ribs meat side up back into the smoker or use your grill. Spritz with some apple juice and brush it generously with your glaze.

Close the lid and smoke for a final hour, brushing with glaze every 15-20 minutes.

Barbecued Ribs with Fries and Salad

Rest & Serve

At an internal temperature of 203 degrees, your Jonny Trigg ribs are fork-tender and done. Take them off the heat source and set them aside to rest for about ten minutes. Slice into individual ribs and serve.

Note: Your pork ribs are done at an internal temperature of 145 degrees. However, they are still quite chewy and tough. Cooking it longer gives the heat enough time to sufficiently break down connective tissue. Moreover, more smoking time ensures that the fat renders, flavoring the meat and keeping it succulent.

Johnny Trigg’s Star Ingredients

The 3-2-1 technique has been a staple in the BBQ community so it would be inaccurate to say it is the secret that makes Johnny Trigg ribs the bomb.

In my opinion. it is the careful selection of ingredients coupled with this precise cooking method that gives the famous Johnny Trigg ribs a unique texture and flavor. Let’s take a closer look at Trigg’s star ingredients and what they bring to the table:

Spare Ribs

Johnny Trigg always goes for spare ribs. He rarely smokes baby back ribs. Don’t take my word for it, let the legend tell you himself. So how does he pick his rack?

The legend looks for a straight rack because it looks better. Also, he likes a rack with plenty of fat in it because when cooking ribs, fat is equivalent to flavor.

The Spice

A key element in the Johnny Trigg ribs recipe is the strong spicy seasonings he rubs on his spare ribs before he puts them in the smoker. The rub’s spicy ingredients include black pepper, red pepper, salt, and paprika. These ingredients contribute a fiery flavor profile that takes your barbecued pork ribs to the next level.

Of course, you can adjust the spices according to your personal preference but Johnny likes it hot. The spices add an irreplaceable depth and complexity to the ribs.

The Sweet

Sweet seasonings are another key feature of Johnny Trigg Ribs. I am talking about brown sugar, apple juice, BBQ sauce, and honey. They go into the dry rub and foil wrap. Then there is tomato sauce, corn syrup, and molasses that make the rich glaze.

Other than complementing the fiery spices, this combo of goodies serves 2 purposes:

  1. They give Johnny Trigg ribs a rich brown color thanks to the Maillard reaction. This is the chemical reaction that takes place between sugar and amino acids in the meat.
  2. Remember when you dipped your ribs meat side up into a sweet glaze? This creates a sticky sauce that coats your Johnny Trigg ribs. The glaze adds a stunning shine and appeal to the rack of ribs.

The Tangy

Another notable feature of the Johnny Trigg ribs recipe is the tangy flavor profile. These props go to the apple juice spritz, BBQ sauce, tomato sauce, tiger sauce, and Dijon mustard. They bring the zest and savory notes that give Johnny Trigg ribs their burst of flavor.

The tang cuts right through the spiciness of the rub and balances out the different tastes in the meal. The tang adds a lot of freshness and excites the dish.

Pecan & Cherry Wood Chunks

A classic final touch to the Johnny Trigg method is the blend of pecan and cherry flavoring smoke. They infuse the ribs with a distinct mouthwatering flavor that is hard to miss.

Both pecan and cherry give a mild sweet smoke. They pair divinely with pork. Together, they knock it out of the park.

Pecan is renowned for its nutty buttery flavor that adds another level of depth to Johnny Trigg ribs. Cherry on the other hand is fruity with slightly tart notes that add rightness and color to barbecued pork ribs. The mix of cherry and pecan smoke is genius.

Additionally, cherry imparts a red hue to the smoked rack of ribs which greatly contributes to its visual appeal. Moreover, cherry pairs well with the apple notes left by your apple juice spritz. What else could we ask for?

Rack of Baby Back Pork Ribs on the Grill


How Long Does Johnny Trigg Cook His Ribs?

Johnny Trigg uses the 3-2-1 slow cooking technique. That makes a total cooking time of 6 hours.

The Cliff Notes…

The Johnny Trigg method is a foolproof way to cook ribs. He uses the 3-2-1 technique with pecan and cherry smoking woods.

It involves 3 hours in the smoker while unwrapped to cook the ribs slightly. This stage helps develop a bark and allows the ribs to absorb some much-needed smoke. Don’t forget to spritz with apple juice hourly. Next is 2 hours of smoking while wrapped. Lay the ribs meat side down in a bed of BBQ sauce, margarine, brown sugar, and honey.

Last is a final hour of smoking while slathered in a rich glaze of corn syrup, molasses, and honey for a sticky, shiny crust. That’s it!

Johnny Trigg’s ribs are not your ordinary ribs. Far from it in fact. They are the result of years of experimentation and refinement by Trigg, the godfather of BBQ. Recreate this technique at home and experience the perfect balance of spicy, tangy, sweet, and smoky.