100 Techniques

Technique #82: Smoke Ribs Indoors Using Tea Leaves

No smoker? No problem. We’ve found a way to make real deal, smoky-to-the-bone, crisp-crusted spareribs in an indoor oven—without setting off the smoke alarm.

Published Aug. 11, 2023.

This is Technique #82 from our 100 Techniques Every Home Cook Can Master.

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For many of us, when the craving strikes for crave-worthy, charred and smoky ribs our only option has been to head to the local barbecue shack. Or to invest in some pricey equipment.

As we learned with our Indoor Pulled Pork, barbecue is as much about cooking method as it is about flavoring agents. A steady low temperature and moist environment work almost like braising, turning the collagen—a protein in meat’s tough connective tissue—into rich-tasting, silky gelatin.

While some stovetop smokers work fairly well, they are small and they leak smoke.

We wanted a technique for indoor smoking that didn’t require any specialty equipment and that was done entirely in the oven, thus containing the smoke and preventing the kitchen from reeking for days afterward.

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Our Secret Ingredient for Smoke Without a Smoker

Contrary to what you might guess, wood chips aren't the answer.

Even at 500 degrees, a home oven can’t get hot enough to generate enough smoke from wood chips to flavor the food. Instead, our secret ingredient for success is tea leaves.

We were inspired by Chinese cooks, who smoke a variety of foodstuffs over black tea. Smoky-tasting Lapsang souchong tea, which is cured over smoldering pine or cypress boughs, proved to be the right choice; grinding the leaves to a powder maximizes the surface area of the tea.

With the oven set to high heat to start and a baking sheet containing the tea leaves placed on a hot baking stone, smoke is generated within minutes.

How to Get Tender, Flavorful Ribs Indoors

To prevent the ribs from toughening up under these conditions, chill them in the freezer as the oven preheats. This cools them enough that they can withstand the superhot oven.

After just 30 minutes at 500 degrees, the prechilled ribs absorb as much of the smoky flavor from the tea as they can.

Then, lower the heat to 250 degrees and add apple juice to the bottom of the baking sheet to mimic the moist environment of a smoker (apple juice is a common “mop” used in outdoor barbecue).

Roast the ribs until the meat is falling off the bones, then broil them briefly for that crisp barbecued crust.

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Step by Step: How to Smoke Ribs Indoors Using Tea Leaves

Follow these simple steps to get perfectly barbecued ribs (without the barbecue).

Step 1: Prep the Ribs

Remove membrane from ribs so smoke can penetrate meat.

Step 2: Rub the Ribs

Coat ribs with wet mixture and spice mixture, wrap in plastic, and refrigerate for 8 to 24 hours. When ready to cook, transfer ribs to freezer for 45 minutes.

Step 3: Ready Your Equipment

Preheat oven to 500 degrees with baking stone on lower rack. Spread ground tea leaves on bottom of rimmed baking sheet with wire rack on top. Place ribs meat side up on rack and cover tightly with foil.

Step 4: Roast Under Foil

Place sheet on baking stone and roast ribs for 30 minutes, then reduce temperature to 250 degrees. Open one corner of foil and pour juice into bottom of sheet. Reseal and roast until meat is very tender and pulls away from bones.

Step 5: Flip and Broil

Remove foil and flip racks bone side up; transfer sheet to upper rack. Broil ribs until wellbrowned and crisp in spots. Flip ribs and broil other side until browned and crisp.

Step 6: Cool Then Cut

Let racks cool briefly before cutting into individual ribs.

In this vintage ATK video, we walk you through this technique in our Oven-Barbecued Spareribs recipe.

A Recipe That Uses This Technique

These tender, smoky, and spicy ribs taste amazingly like those barbecued on the grill, but can be made any time of the year. 


Oven-Barbecued Spareribs

Most oven rib recipes slather on smoke-flavored sauce for an ersatz barbecue experience. Could we get the smoky flavor and fork-tender texture of true barbecue indoors?
Get the Recipe

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