We realize there are nearly as many opinions about the best way to bbq on the grill as there are, well, ribs to be barbecued. But there are a lot of people who may know their way around a kitchen, as well as knowing their way around a grill, but have never tried to make basic BBQ ribs on the grill.
Unlike grilling hot dogs, hamburgers, steaks and other cuts of meat where the key is high searing heat that keeps the juices inside, barbecuing ribs is a long slow process in which the tough cartilage that holds the ribs together melts away. Too hot and it’ll get tougher. Too cold and it’ll just smoke and dry out.
Here’s our basic method for grilling ribs – the timing may vary based on the size and thickness of the ribs, but the process is the same: long, slow cooking over indirect heat at a constant 200-225F, with a pan to catch the drippings, and a pan of water to produce steam.
Here’s a rack of spare ribs from one of our pigs. Sometimes there are loose pieces of meat or fat hanging off…go ahead and trim them away.
Most racks of ribs are going to have a tough, thin membrane covering their back side. Scratch at a corner a bit and you’ll find it. Pull it clean off.
Now, some folks like to parboil their ribs before going to the grill. That certainly helps break down some cartilage. But it’s not mandatory. A long, slow cooking should have the same effect.
Next, use a dry rub to season the meat. We love to use Garam Masala, which is a mixture traditionally consisting of pepper, cloves, cinnamon, cumin, cardamom. We don’t like to use traditional BBQ spices in our dry rub because if you’re going to add BBQ sauce at the end of the cooking process anyway, you’d merely be duplicating the same spices, not adding depth.
Unlike a marinade, a rub doesn’t need to sit for hours. It stays on the surface of the meat through cooking, so no flavor is lost.
Now let’s get the grill ready. Grab a beer. This is a little complicated. You’ll need something to take the edge off.
You’ll also need two disposable foil pans. They should be roughly the size of 1/2 of your grill’s surface.
Remove the top grates, and place one foil pan on the right side of the coal grate. This will be your drippings pan.
On the other side of the coal grate, start your coals. We use this great charcoal chimney. It makes lighting the coal much faster and cleaner.
When you start to see the coals near the top beginning to turn orange, it is ready to dump coals onto the coal grate…be careful! (But if we really need to tell you to be careful handling hot coals, maybe take-out is a better idea.)
You’re charcoal grate should look something like this:
Oh, we forgot to tell you…while waiting for the coals to light in the chimney, begin collecting sticks or wood chips. Some folks will tell you that the wood needs to be soaked in water overnight so that the sticks don’t flame up, searing the ribs. But because we are grilling our rack over the drip pan, not the sticks, it’s okay if they burn hot. Better actually…because it’s the smoke that you want. Not steam. (We’ll have a water tray for steam. Just hold your horses.)
Dogs can be very good stick collectors. They’re just not that amenable towards giving them up.
Before adding the sticks to the fire, close the grill lid and check the grill thermometer after a minute or so. Is it in the right temperature range? 200-225F? If not, open the lid and let the coals burn down a little. You really don’t want a hot hot grill or you’ll wind up with football leather, not ribs.
Once the grill’s interior temperature is correct, you’ll want to take the next steps in quick succession…
Add the sticks to the coals…
Replace the grill racks, and place the second aluminum pan over the coals/sticks. Fill it with water.
Place the meat on the rack over the dripping pan, away from any direct heat.
Aaannnnnd….close the lid quick.
Keep an eye on that temp.
Don’t let it get to hot. Or too cold. If the temperature drops too quickly, remove the water pan and grill grate, and add a few more coals. You may have to do this once or twice. The meat will take 1.5 – 2.5 hours to cook thoroughly. You’ll also have to keep adding some water to the steam pan as it boils off.
You don’t really have to flip the ribs, since they’re not over any direct heat. You can if you want. If it makes you feel important. But do check on them occasionally…mostly to be sure the temperature is constant. You are understanding that the temperature must remain constant right? We’ll probably bring that up again a few more times.
Ok…a word about sauce.
Firstly, you should use our sauce. Because not only is it the best sauce in the world, but 25% of the profits go to help American small farms. Which produce the best meat in the world. Which produce the best ribs in the world. Which deserve the best sauce in th….you get our point.
Secondly, it should only be added during the last 20 minute of cooking. Any earlier, and it will just burn into a black shell over your meat. You’ll want to brush it on in a thin layer, wait for it to caramelize but not burn, then brush on another thin layer. Flip over and apply to both sides. Keep building up layer after layer of sauce.
Food Safety Tip #1: Don’t go re-dipping your brush directly into the barbecue sauce jar. Pour some into a separate bowl for brushing, or you’ll risk contaminating the entire jar.
Now, the tough part…when is it done?
Well, there’s no easy answer to that. The ribs are cooked through fairly early in the process, so it’s not about temperature. It’s about texture. When you can lift up one end of the ribs with your tongs, and you begin to see them pull apart, they’re done. Don’t let them go any further or they’ll completely break down and fall through the grill grates.
Carefully transfer the ribs to a platter.
Food Safety Tip #2: Don’t use the same platter you brought the raw ribs to the grill on, unless you’ve cleaned it in the meantime.
We usually garnish with whatever is within arm’s reach.
We’re pretty sure we don’t need to give you any further instructions regarding eating the ribs other than this:
Food Safety Tip #3: Don’t wear white.