How to Grill Ribs
Learning how to grill ribs takes a lot less time than smoking. You don't need any special equipment other than a grill and a little preparation. We have all the details and tips right here!
By Carlos C. Olaeche for Food Network Kitchen
Carlos is a contributing food writer at Food Network.
There are few things better than sinking your teeth into meltingly tender pork (or beef) ribs just like you get from a pit master – and know that you cooked them. Grilled ribs are easier to make than you may think and don’t really require any specialized equipment. However, there are a couple of things you need to know before you start grilling ribs.
Are Grilled Ribs the Same as BBQ Ribs?
You may be wondering if grilling ribs is the same as barbecuing ribs. Technically, they’re two different types of ribs using very different techniques.
Barbecue comes from the Spanish word barbacoa, which originated with the Taino people – one of the native inhabitants of the Caribbean islands before the arrival of Europeans. The Tainos would cook meat over smoking embers for a long period of time so that the meat would be infused with the smoke flavor and remain tender. That technique evolved to our modern form of American barbecue, but the essential technique has remained the same: you are basically smoking the meat over a very long period of time. While you can do this at home, it is a long, labor-intensive process that can sometimes take a full 24 hours and uses a lot of fuel. As well, you need special equipment to cook BBQ ribs.
Grilling, on the other hand, means to simply cook food over flames covered with a grate. You can grill pretty much anything very quickly. The only problem is that for tougher cuts of meat, like ribs, you need long, gentle cooking to get the meat tender. The solution for most home cooks is to boil, braise, or bake the ribs first until they’re tender and then grill them to get a nice smokey char. As long as you have a grill – any type of grill – you can grill ribs quite easily.
How to Choose the Best Ribs for Grilling
The best ribs for grilling really depend on your tastes and needs. In most parts of the United States, pork ribs are preferred, and they are the most common types of ribs. However, beef ribs, which are larger and have a deeper flavor, are also popular in places where BBQ beef is king, like Kansas City and many parts of Texas. Both of these take well to American-style barbecue sauces. Lamb ribs are also a great alternative, but they’re not as commonly eaten in North America as pork and beef ribs. Lamb has a gamier flavor that requires different seasonings that pork and beef ribs. There are many mouthwateringly delicious lamb rib recipes in Middle Eastern and East Asian cuisines that feature cumin, coriander and a lot of garlic.
Among pork ribs, there are several common varieties to choose from:
- Spareribs: these are the ribs from around the belly of the pig where bacon comes from. They have a lot of flavor and rich fat but tougher meat that will need extra low and slow cooking time to become tender. They look a little grislier than the other types of pork ribs and include some cartilage and other connective tissues. Think caveman and you get the image of spareribs.
- St. Louis-style ribs: these ribs are like spareribs after getting nominated for an extreme makeover. The grisley bits are trimmed off, leaving you with even-sized ribs that lay flat on the grill. They still have all the fat and flavor of spareribs, but you and your dinner guests won’t have to fight with your food as much when it comes time to eat.
- Baby back ribs: These ribs are located closer to the spine, near the loin, one of the leanest parts of the pig. They are smaller and leaner but a whole lot meatier than the other kinds of ribs. If you’re making ribs for people who’ve never had them before, baby backs are like the gateway rib. They also take less time to cook. However, because they are leaner, you run the risk of them drying out.
How to Pre-Cook Ribs for Grilling
The best way to get super tender and flavorful grilled ribs is by pre-cooking them. The great thing about this is that you actually have many more options for cooking and flavoring your ribs this way than you would if you were to smoke them. As well, you can cook your ribs days before you plan to grill them and even freeze them so you can have ribs ready to grill at a moment’s notice.
How to Boil Ribs
Boiling ribs or simmering ribs is one of the most straightforward was of precooking them for grilling. You can use any liquid to boil your ribs in and add as many seasonings as you want. Or, if you just want pure porky flavor, keep it simple with salt.
- Add the ribs to a large stockpot and add enough cool water to cover.
- At this point you can also add any seasonings or aromatics to your water. There are so many options here, and you’re only limited by your culinary imagination. Think of it like making a flavorful soup. In fact, you can even keep the leftover liquid for making other dishes later.
- Bring the pot to a boil, reduce the heat to low and cover. Simmer for about two hours, adding more water if needed.
- Check the ribs for tenderness. You should be able to poke through the meat easily with a small knife or fork and reach the bone. If the meat isn’t tender enough yet, cook for longer in 30-minute increments until it is.
You can speed up this process by using a pressure cooker or Instant Pot. Remember to use the natural pressure release method to prevent shredding the meat.
How to Braise Ribs
Braising ribs is similar to boiling ribs except you are using a smaller quantity of more flavorful liquid. This is a preferred way to infuse your ribs with more flavor because the liquid in which they cook is usually a lot more concentrated than the liquid you use to boil ribs. Again, the sky’s the limit as far as what you can add to your braise for flavor, but many people simply slow-cook their ribs in barbecue sauce.
You can braise your ribs on the stovetop by bringing the barbecue sauce to a simmer over medium heat, adding the ribs, covering them, reducing the heat to low and cooking for a few hours. Check every hour or so for tenderness. This is an excellent opportunity to use a slow cooker, too.
Alternatively, you can braise them in the oven. The advantage of this is that in an oven, the heat is cooking the ribs from all sides, making for much more even cooking. As well, you can cook more ribs in the oven than you can on a stove top simply because you have more space. You also have the option of precooking a whole slab of ribs rather than cutting the rack down into smaller pieces, which can be necessary for stovetop cooking
You can either use a large roasting pan or even buy a disposable aluminum roasting pan to cook enough ribs for a crowd. Here’s how:
- Center your oven rack and preheat the oven to 275 degrees Fahrenheit.
- To a large roasting pan, add your ribs and toss with seasonings and braising liquid or barbecue sauce.
- Cover the pan with aluminum foil and bake for about two hours, checking after one hour for tenderness and basting the meat.
- When the ribs are tender, remove the pan from the oven and let the ribs come to room temperature before grilling or storing in the refrigerator.
How to Grill Ribs on Indirect Heat
The final cooking method is to simply tenderize your ribs over the grates of your grill by cooking them for several hours over indirect heat. Here’s how.
- Preheat a grill to medium high and prepare for indirect grilling: For a gas grill, turn off one or two of the center burners and reduce the remaining burners to medium low. On a charcoal grill, bank the coals to the sides, leaving the center open; set up a drip pan to avoid flare-ups.
- Oil the grill grates.
- Place the ribs bone-side down, on the cooler part of the grill (indirect heat).
- Cover and cook, rotating the ribs once, until the meat is tender and pulls away from the bones, about 2 hours.
How to Grill Ribs
At last, you’re ready to throw those ribs on the grill. Believe it or not, this is actually the simplest part. Because your ribs are already fully cooked, tender, and flavorful, all you’re really doing is a reverse sear to get some color and roasty-toasty flavor. This is also when you coat your ribs in a BBQ sauce, which will caramelize and become sticky on the grill.
You can use a gas or charcoal grill for this.
- Preheat your grill. If your ribs are coated in sweet barbecue sauce, preheat the grill to medium. Otherwise, you can grill them over a hotter grill but you need to pay close attention to them so they won’t burn.
- Place your rack of rib, individual ribs or sections on a preheated grill over direct heat and brush on your BBQ sauce evenly in one layer. For individual ribs, it may be easier to toss them in barbecue sauce before placing on the grill.
- Once you see an appealing brown color on them with some dark spots and the barbecue sauce thickens and gets sticky around the edges, they are ready and you can remove them from the grill. That’s all that’s to it!
Grilled Ribs Recipes
Best Barbecue Ribs Ever
This amazing recipe for ribs comes to us from Katie Lee Biegel and incorporates the techniques detailed above. You slow-cook the ribs in a zhuzhed up barbecue sauce in the oven before finishing them on the grill for a few minutes.
Slow-Cooker Barbecue Ribs
In this recipe from Food Network Kitchen, baby back ribs are cooked to tender perfection in the slow-cooker, then grilled for just a few minutes until lightly charred in places.
Grilled Baby Back Ribs
This recipe from Food Network Kitchen leans on the grill for indirect heat. At the very end, you’ll transfer them to direct heat and brush them with a honey-vinegar sauce.
Asian Glazed Baby Back Ribs
Marinate ribs in a ginger-ponzu sauce, grill them over indirect heat until they’re meltingly tender and finish them with a hoisin-sriracha glaze.