How to Cook Ribs on the Grill Like a Pro
Is there anything better than the smell of a rack of succulent ribs on the grill, with that signature smoky aroma wafting through the air? Cooking ribs on the grill doesn’t just give you an incredible meal — a backyard barbecue is also a great way to enjoy the great outdoors while making lifelong memories with friends and family.
But it’s not as easy as throwing a few ribs on the grill and flipping them a couple times. Learning how to cook ribs on the grill while bringing out the best flavors in the meat takes time and practice. And with so many different ways to make grilled ribs, where do you start?
Check out this guide for everything you need to know about grilling ribs like a pro!
What You Need to Grill Ribs
Even the best grill master in the world needs the right equipment to start grilling ribs. If you just opt for the cheapest tools possible, you won’t get the perfectly seasoned meat you want.
Before we start looking at how to BBQ ribs, make sure you have the essentials on hand.
This one is obvious — naturally you can’t grill ribs without a grill — but the quality of the grill is so important that we had to mention it. We always recommend investing in a high-quality Twin Eagles or Lynx barbecue grill, perfect for both grilling and smoking meat to perfection.
You will find plenty of options in terms of size, heat source, and special features, but try to be realistic about your lifestyle and the type of outdoor cook you are. Try not to overthink it — just choose the grill that feels right to you and fits within your budget.
Essential Grilling Gear
Once you have chosen your grill, you’ll need a selection of gear and gadgets to start cooking ribs on the grill. Here’s a breakdown of the basics any BBQ master needs:
- Long-Handled Tongs – Avoid any nasty blisters and burns with long-handled tongs. You want to keep your wrists away from the oil, grease, and hot smoke.
- Fireproof Gloves – Many chefs prefer to use fireproof gloves for extra safety.
- Apron – The right apron can not only save your clothing, but offer protection from burns.
- Rib Rack – Rib racks are designed for placing the meat horizontally to ensure even smoke and cooking coverage.
- Rib Hook – If working with larger smokers, consider investing in some rib hooks to hang your meat.
- Meat Thermometer – This is a crucial tool to make sure your meat is properly cooked and safe to eat.
Novice grillers often feel overwhelmed by the number of fuel choices available. Wood, pellets, charcoal, and charcoal briquettes are just some of the fuel options available. Which one you choose is completely up to you. The one you use is a matter of personal taste, so try cooking ribs with different fuel choices to find the one that works for you.
Pro-tip: Try combining wood and charcoal briquettes if you want an easy choice that will guarantee a delicious set of ribs.
Wood for Smoking
If wood is your fuel of choice, the type of wood you choose is crucial to ensuring the magical smokiness you want. Traditional woods for grilling ribs include hickory, oak and mesquite. If you’re looking to add a bit of flair to your flavor, you can also try cherry or maple wood. Experiment with what you have available to manipulate the different smoke flavors.
Pro-tip: If you’re grilling with gas, make sure you buy either a smoke box or use water-soaked wood chips within heavy-duty aluminum foil.
You can’t grill ribs without the meat! Whether you opt for lamb, beef or pork ribs on the grill, getting quality meat is a must. Let’s look at a few popular types of meat you can choose from:
You can choose from country-style, spares, and baby backs. Spare ribs are the most common because they’re relatively cheap and forgiving. Baby backs, or loin ribs, are meaty and quick to cook on high heat. If you’re looking for some spare ribs to start with, seek out some St. Louis-style ribs. These have been trimmed of their skirts and tips.
Country-style ribs have been trimmed from the shoulder and divided into portions to look like ribs, but they’re not actual ribs. You won’t find much membrane or bone in these, making them extremely lean.
While searching for ribs, you should be searching for lean pink meat with some marbling and little fat. Depending on the size of your smoker, you may need to be careful of the size. An easy rule of thumb is to start at five to five-and-a-half pounds per slab untrimmed.
If you choose beef ribs on the grill, you have either short or back ribs. Short ribs are the most widely available ribs. Their popularity stems from how easy they are to cook, whereas back ribs are large and require commercial-size grills that most people don’t have available to them.
What separates bison ribs from all others is how large they are. They come with far less fat than beef, leaving them with what many people term a “grassy” flavor. Few people cook with bison because it’s so difficult to come by.
Typically, you will need to pre-order bison ribs from a professional butcher and be prepared to wait for a few weeks for them to come in. Also, due to its relative rarity, expect to pay a premium on bison.
When grilling with lamb, you should expect to be choosing from mutton breast or lamb rest ribs. Simple breast ribs come with nine to twelve bones. Denver ribs come highly recommended for grilling because they’ve been squared off to leave seven or eight ribs. Like bison, many butchers will require you to preorder Denver ribs in advance.
Mutton ribs are another option. These come from an older animal. They have stronger flavors and are larger. Seek out fresh, pink, and marbled mutton ribs to ensure you get the meat coverage you expect.
This is where you get to add in your personal flair! Rubs and marinades are designed to enhance the flavor and add new tones to your ribs. The biggest mistake novices make is getting too ambitious and overpowering the natural flavors of their meat.
All ribs should be seasoned with a generous amount of salt and pepper, but any additional rubs and marinades used before cooking are optional. Whatever rub or marinade you decide to use, be extremely conservative when adding additional elements to your grilled ribs.
How to Prepare for Grilling Ribs
Learning how to cook ribs on the grill correctly begins with proper preparation. Every good chef knows the importance of prepping their meat.
Before getting to your meat, ensure your grill has already been cleaned, fueled, and readied to cook. If you’re grilling with guests, make sure you have already positioned your grill in a safe, open location where nobody will fall over it. Pay special attention if you have children or pets in the vicinity while cooking.
Preparation might begin as far in advance as the night before, depending on the rub you’re using. Some people add rub to their ribs the night before the barbecue, but it’s not necessary for great flavor — so don’t worry if you forgot. You can also rub your ribs a few hours ahead of time, or just before cooking. Rubbing the ribs longer in advance will produce a dry feel and tangy flavor, while last-minute rubs just before cooking have a more subtle, sauce-like feel.
Begin by removing your ribs from the packaging and patting them dry with a paper towel. You can also remove the silver skin from the back of the ribs. This is no more than a membrane that makes your ribs harder to eat and less tender. Luckily, it tends to slide off in one piece. Discard it — there are no advantages in keeping it. Then, add your rub!
Your grill should be preheated in advance. Within a covered grill, you must maintain a temperature ranging from 350 degrees Fahrenheit to 400 degrees Fahrenheit during cooking. It’s perfectly acceptable to preheat up to 300 and steadily increase the temperature.
Simple as that! Now let’s move on to the fun part.
How to Cook Ribs on the Grill
Learning how to grill ribs is exciting because there are thousands of ways to cook and season ribs. Once you begin experimenting with flavors is when the fun really begins.
Figuring out how long to cook ribs on grills is challenging because it largely depends on your process, the meat, the rub, and lots of other factors — so the answer to this question will vary. The below recipe will take you just 15 minutes to prepare and two hours to cook, for a yield of six to eight servings.
Add a Spice Rub
With your grill preheated, it’s time to think about your rub. For this recipe, we’ll be using a spice rub. Mix brown sugar, garlic powder, cayenne, onion powder, smoked paprika, salt, and black pepper.
The easiest way to figure out how much rub is appropriate is just to go with whatever sticks to the meat. Discard anything that falls off. There’s no exact science to this, just make sure the meat is covered.
Add Ribs to Grill
The rack of ribs should be placed on the grill (you can rub on some vegetable oil if you’d like). The ribs should have the curves of the bones facing down. Add some chicken stock and vinegar to your tray.
Apply Indirect Heat
Wrap your tray in aluminum foil. Ensure that your wrap is nice and tight. The ribs should be positioned over the sides with no flame and no coals to add indirect heat.
Follow the internal temperature of your ribs. Keep cooking until you reach 180 to 190 degrees Fahrenheit. You may be wondering how long to grill ribs with indirect heat? If you’ve positioned your ribs correctly, expect it to take 80 to 90 minutes.
Turn Up the Heat
After you’ve reached the right temperature via indirect heat, it’s time to increase the heat to finish the cooking process. Turn up the grill to 375 degrees Fahrenheit. The grill grates should be well-oiled.
Move your ribs directly over the grill grates, so they’re receiving direct heat. This is also where you can begin brushing the tops of your ribs with barbeque sauce or any other particular sauce of your choice. Recover the ribs and cook for five minutes. Turn them over and repeat the process.
Finish Your Ribs
One of the hard parts about grilling ribs is determining when they’re finished. All ribs are different, and with time and practice it’ll be second nature. Continue basting and turning your ribs until the sauce has created a sticky coating across the surface. If you notice any charred spots, this is a sign that your ribs are just about done.
Most backyard chefs will spend around 10 to 20 minutes turning and basting until they’re done.
Cut and Serve
Transfer your ribs to a cutting board, cut them into pieces, and serve them to your hungry guests! Don’t worry about not having the perfect ribs after your first attempt. Grilling ribs typically starts off as a trial and error process.
Grill the Perfect Ribs with Grillscapes
Now that you know how to cook ribs on the grill, you need the equipment to bring the best out of your meat. Whether you’re seeking a heavy-duty built-in gas grill or a freestanding classic, Grillscapes has the equipment for everyone.