Your charcoal grill isn’t just for burgers, hot dogs, and steaks. With a little ingenuity you can set your grill up to cook ribs low and slow. These will end up juicy and fall off-the-bone tender. Basically, the method turns your charcoal grill into a smoker.
While this tutorial focuses on using a charcoal grill, such as a weber kettle grill, you certainly could use a gas grill or a pellet grill. Whether you make charcoal Weber ribs, gas grill ribs, or pellet smoked Traeger, the technique is similar.
Pro Tip #1: I recommend a 22 inch diameter or larger grill for cooking ribs.
You can cook pork, beef, or lamb ribs using your grill. While we love beef charcoal ribs, for the purposes of this article we’ll use classic pork ribs. There are 3 basic types of pork ribs to choose from. Spareribs are the largest with flat bones and quite a bit of connective tissue. St. Louis style ribs are spareribs with the rib tips removed. Baby back ribs are smaller than the other two and have a bit more meat to bone ratio. We will be using baby back ribs in our recipe. They are tasty and easy to find in most markets.
Pro Tip #2: When purchasing your ribs, ask the butcher to remove the membrane from the back side of the ribs. This can be quite chewy if not removed.
Now, let’s get to how to cook ribs on a charcoal grill. The step-by-step guide includes using a dry rub and a barbeque sauce. The barbeque sauce recipe follows the main recipe. You can make that while the ribs are cooking or even the day before. It stores quite well in the refrigerator for a few days.
How to Cook Ribs on a Charcoal Grill: A Step-by-Step Guide
Equipment and tools
- Charcoal grill
- Charcoal chimney
- Charcoal briquettes
- 3 small blocks of mesquite or hickory wood
- Disposable foil pan
- Paper towels
- Aluminum foil
- Cutting board
- Sharp knife
Prep Time: 25 minutes
Cook Time: 5 to 6 hours
- 2 tablespoons brown sugar
- 1 tablespoon kosher salt
- 2 teaspoons freshly ground pepper
- 2 teaspoons garlic powder
- 2 teaspoons onion powder
- 2 teaspoons paprika
- 1/4 teaspoon cayenne pepper
- 1 rack baby back ribs (approximately 12 ribs)
- 1-1/2 tablespoons prepared yellow mustard
- 2 tablespoons apple cider or apple juice
- 1/2 cup barbeque sauce (recipe follows)
Instructions On Cooking Ribs
Step 1. In a small bowl, mix together the sugar, salt, pepper, garlic powder, onion powder, paprika, and cayenne. Set this aside. If the membrane is still attached to the ribs, remove it by gently lifting with a sharp knife and peeling this off using a paper towel to grip it.
Step 2. Coat the ribs all over with the mustard. Pat the dry rub all over the mustard to coat the ribs. Set aside while you prepare your grill.
Pro Tip #3: Setting the ribs aside while you prepare your grill will allow them to come to room temperature and cook more evenly.
Step 3. Remove the top grate of the grill. Place a loose wad of newspaper in the bottom of the chimney. Fill the chimney half way with briquettes. Light the paper and wait until the charcoal is red hot. Add more briquettes to the lit ones to fill the chimney. Pour the charcoal into a pile on one side of the grill base. Put the wood chunks on top of the hot coals.
Pro Tip #4: Adding unlit coals to the lit ones will ensure that the fire burns slowly and lasts longer.
Step 4. Place the grate on the grill. Allow it to heat up. Then, scrape it clean and oil the side that is not over the coals using a soaked paper towel held in tongs. Place the foil pan on the grate over the hot coals. Fill it half way with water.
Step 5. Place the seasoned rack of ribs, meaty side up, on the cool side of the grill (approximately 230°F). Close the lid of the grill with the open vent placed over the ribs. Cook for 2 hours for baby backs and 3 hours for spare ribs. 15 minutes before the ribs have finished their first cook light another half full chimney of coals on a hard surface, such as your driveway or gravel.
Step 6. After 2 to 3 hours, remove the ribs and place them on a double layer of foil. Pour the apple cider over the ribs. Wrap the foil tightly to enclose the ribs. Add more hot coals if the fire has died down too much. Place the wrapped ribs on the grill and close the lid. Cook for an additional 2 hours.
Step 7. Unwrap the ribs and discard the foil. Place the ribs flesh side down and coat the bottom of the ribs with 1/4 cup of BBQ sauce. Cover the grill and cook for 15 minutes.
Step 8. Flip the ribs over and coat the top side with 1/4 cup of BBQ sauce. Cover and continue cooking for an additional 45 minutes until the meat is pulling away from the bones.
Step 9. Remove the ribs to a clean cutting board and allow them to rest for 5 minutes. Serve with your favorite sides, such as baked beans and coleslaw.
Barbeque Sauce Recipe
Prep Time: 5 minutes
Cook Time: 10 minutes
Yield: approximately 1-3/4 cups
- 3/4 cup ketchup
- 1/3 cup apple cider vinegar
- 1/2 cup brown sugar
- 2 tablespoons molasses
- 1 tablespoon Worcestershire sauce
- 1 tablespoon prepared mustard
- 1 teaspoon paprika
- 1 teaspoon freshly ground pepper
- 1/2 teaspoon sea salt
- 1/4 teaspoon cayenne pepper
Step 1. In a medium saucepot over medium heat, combine all ingredients. Simmer gently for 10 minutes while stirring several times.
Step 2. Allow the sauce to cool slightly. Use it immediately, or store it in a mason jar in the refrigerator. Heat up any extra to serve with your ribs.
Wrapping it Up
There is no need to take the leap and invest in a smoker if you would first like to try your hand at slow cooking delicious ribs over smoke. It is possible to do this using your charcoal grill. Keep in mind that you can also do this over your gas grill using the indirect grilling technique described in the guide.
If doing this over gas, it is recommended that you use a foil packet of soaked wood chips to impart smoky flavor. In any case, just be sure to have a large enough grill to hold a rack of ribs to the cool side of the grate.
The method described above is sometimes referred to as the 3-2-1 smoking process. That is 3 hours cooked on the grill, 2 hours cooked wrapped in foil, and 1 hour cooked unwrapped in sauce. While 3 hours works best for spareribs, 2 hours initial cook time is better for baby back ribs.
Remember that you can also use your charcoal grill for cooking beef or lamb ribs low and slow. Just be mindful of the timing for the different cuts of meat. Also, you can use jarred barbeque sauce if you are pressed for time. Enjoy!