How to Cook Great Ribs on the Grill

Grilled ribs

While I would never discourage anyone from investing in any outdoor cooking device, the truth is a separate smoker is not necessary for cooking a great rack of smoked ribs. In fact, a grill or even (the horror) a propane-fired unit, can make ribs that are as good, if not better, than those from a smoker. It’s all in the technique. Here’s how I do it:

1. Unless the butcher has already removed it, there will be a thin membrane covering the back of a rack of pork ribs. This peels off easily. Beginning at the thinner end of the ribs, work a butter knife under the membrane to get it started. Then, grab the membrane (a paper towel will give you a better grip) and slowly peel it off. Hopefully it will come off in one piece. If you need a visual, Weber has a great tutorial here.

2. Generously apply a rub to both sides of the ribs. Personally, I use commercial rubs almost exclusively, figuring there is no sense improving on what’s out there. But if you want to experiment with your own secret rub recipe, start with equal parts brown sugar and paprika and add about half as much kosher salt, garlic powder, dried minced onion. From there you can add some spice in the form of white and black pepper, cayenne and/or chili powder. Celery salt, ginger, and dried herbs are also great additions.

3. Set up you grill for indirect cooking. If possible, I like to have heat on either side of the ribs, with a cooler section in the middle of the grill. For the batch in the photo, I set the two side burners of my Saber grill to medium-low. You want to shoot for a cooking temperature of about 300 to 350 degrees.

4. Place the rack of ribs on the cool section of the grill, toss a handful or two of wood chips (I like apple) onto the coals or burners and close the lid.

5. While the ribs smoke, mix up a mop sauce of equal parts apple cider vinegar and water. Though you can do this in a bowl and apply it with a basting brush, I keep my mop sauce in a spray bottle as it’s way easier to apply, and less messy. Spray the rack of ribs starting at the 30-minute mark and every 30 minutes thereafter.

6. After the ribs have roasted for two hours, lay them on a sheet of tinfoil and spray liberally with mop sauce and seal the foil up tight. In barbecue circles, this is called the Texas Crutch. Like braising, the moist cooking environment helps breaks down collagen and connective tissues faster, resulting in a more tender bite in a shorter cook time.

7. After about an hour or a bit less, remove the ribs from the foil. At this point, they should be cooked through and ready to eat, but if you like your ribs to have some bar—that crunchy, flavorful exterior—you can cook them a bit more. When they come out of the foil, you can also sauce them and let the heat glaze the sauce. Instead, I grill them for about 30 minutes longer, then serve them with sauce on the side.