Ribs. Just that one single word alone inspires so much love (and debate) among grill aficionados. There are literally thousands of ways to prepare ribs, but most of the differences boil down to rubs and sauces.
Once you master the basics behind grilling and smoking ribs, then you can play with various seasonings until you create your own perfect secret blend of spices. I’ve personally been making ribs for years, and I still enjoy playing with different rubs and sauces. But today, I am featuring my go-to recipe and techniques for grilling the perfect rack of ribs.
Warning: please refrain from licking your screen while reading this post!
If you’ve ever shopped for ribs before, then you know there are lots of different options. Pork or beef? Spare or baby back? The choice here will come down to personal preference, but I recommend going with pork baby back ribs… especially if this is your first time smoking ribs.
The first rule for ribs is understanding that slower is better. Ribs aren’t the best option if your long-lost college roommate calls and wants to stop by for dinner in an hour! (If you are in a time crunch, you might want to go with this Smoky Whiskey Burger.
A good rule for the amount of ribs to purchase is between 1/2 -1 rack per person. When I make ribs, my wife and I split one rack and then serve them with a side dish, and it’s plenty of food for us! Also, plan on purchasing your ribs at least one day before you hit the grill, as you will want to apply the spice rub and then let the ribs sit overnight in the refrigerator.
I know the charcoal versus gas question is always an important one when it comes to grilling. Honestly, I’ve made these ribs on a gas grill, and they taste good. But they taste absolutely amazing on a charcoal grill. The smoke flavor comes through much stronger, and the flavor is all around better. But if you only have a gas grill, then you can totally go that route. Your ribs will still be delicious!
The key to grilling fall off the bone ribs is temperature. You want to go low and slow. Like 5-6 hours slow. And you don’t want to open the grill lid more than a 2-3 times. As the old saying goes, “If you’re lookin’, you aren’t cookin’!”
If you are using charcoal, then put in a full load of lump charcoal and two handfuls of wood chunks. You’ll notice that I prefer lumps and chunks, and it’s because these burn slower than the briquettes and wood chips. Both are relatively common, and I usually end up getting them at a home improvement type store.
If you are using gas, then make sure your tank isn’t almost empty…or have a spare on hand. You’ll want to set your grill to about 225-250 degrees and then walk away. Seriously, don’t even open the lid for the first 3 hours. Go mow the grass, read a book, give the dog a bath… anything but opening the lid of the grill to check on your ribs.
Cooking ribs to perfection is a slow task. But the result is well worth your effort. Enjoy!
- 4 tablespoons paprika
- 1 tablespoon black pepper
- 1 tablespoon dry mustard
- 1/2-1 teaspoon cayenne pepper
- 1/2 tablespoon salt
- 2 tablespoons onion powder
- 1 tablespoon garlic powder
- 1 tablespoon chili powder
- 1 tablespoon cumin
- 2 baby back pork rib slabs
- 1 12 oz bottle dark beer
- 2/3-1 cup barbecue sauce
Prepare dry rub by combining all ingredients in a small bowl and mixing well.
Wash ribs and pat dry with paper towels.
Remove the whitish-colored membrane on the back of the ribs. (Tip: I often use a butter knife to begin separating the membrane from the ribs. Once I have a portion started, I use my fingers to pull the membrane off the rest of the rack.)
Trim off any large pieces of fat. Some fat is fine, but you don’t want large pieces.
Spread a thin layer of mustard (or veggie oil) all over ribs and then coat with the dry rub. (I prefer to use mustard as it creates a better flavor once grilled.) Be generous with the spice rub but not so much that you can’t see the ribs anymore! Wrap ribs with plastic wrap and let rest in the refrigerator from 1.5 hours – overnight. Again, there is a lot of debate on how long to let ribs rest. If you have the ability, just do it overnight. But if you wake up one morning craving ribs, you can still make it happen for that night!
Remove the ribs from the refrigerator about 30-45 minutes before cooking. You want the ribs to be close to room temperature by the time they go on the grill.
Meanwhile, preheat your grill to 225°F. The key here is low and slow. If you are using a gas grill, just turn on one burner on one side. If using regular charcoal, go with several cups of of lit coals and then pour another several cups of unlit coals on top. Set these coals up on one edge of the charcoal grill. Then grill the ribs on the opposite side to create the indirect heat needed to make delicious ribs. If you happen to have a smoker (I use a Big Green Egg) then just adjust your vents to create a stable 225-250°F degree grill.
Once the grill has reached a stable 225-250°F, then you are ready to add the wood chunks. (Chips can work, but you will have to add them more often as they will burn faster.) Add a handful of chunks directly on top of the coals or right next to the burner. As tempting as it might be, don’t overdo the wood chunks here! (If you’ve ever had a meal that tasted purely of smoke, then you know the dangers of over-smoking. Your ribs might be perfectly cooked, but too much smoke will ruin that delicious flavor!)
Put the ribs on the grill bone-side down, then close the lid and leave it closed! After about 3 hours, remove the ribs and wrap them tightly in aluminum foil. But before closing up the foil, add about 8 ounces of dark beer or apple juice. (I find this step helps create those perfect fall-off-the-bone style ribs!)
Return the ribs to the grill for another 2 hours at 225-250°F degrees.
And now it’s time for BBQ sauce. Brush a thick coat of sauce over both sides of the ribs, and then move the racks over direct heat for about 30 minutes. I like BBQ sauce, but I don’t like to slather the sauce on the ribs. I prefer to add a little bit at the end and allow the BBQ sauce to caramelize slightly. I find this allows the smoke flavor to come out and not be hidden by BBQ sauce. (For those who like more sauce, feel free to put extra sauce on the table!)
To test doneness, pick up one end of a rack with grill tongs. If the rack bends to almost 90 degrees, then it’s done. I know this isn’t scientific, but it’s difficult to use a meat thermometer on ribs due to the bones.
Once the ribs are done, allow them to rest a few minutes, then enjoy!
- You will need Lump Charcoal or Propane, and Wood Chunks or Chips for smoking.
- I used my custom Barbecue Sauce on these ribs.