As the warm part of the year approaches, it’s time for many of us to take out our grills and start cooking. From chicken breasts to sirloin steaks, we each have a favorite BBQ meal and this summer, ribs are sure to be a hit.
Serving ribs at family gatherings and community barbecues is a tradition – a summer joy we all share. This summer, you may want to try something new and smoke your ribs instead of grilling them conventionally.
Don’t have a standalone smoker? Don’t worry: with the right tools, you can smoke your own ribs without buying pricey new equipment. All you’ll need is a stainless-steel smoker box, some wood chips, and a rib rack for your gas grill and you’ll have tender, fall-off-the-bone smoked ribs in no time.
The Basics of Smoked Ribs on a Gas Grill: Where to Start?
Ribs on a gas grill, a lot of factors depend on the type of ribs are cooking and the kind of grill you’re using. Let’s look at the different options pitmasters may consider and how each decision may impact their final barbecued results.
Different Types of Ribs
If you’ve been grilling for a while, you already know there are many different kinds of ribs available at your local meat shop or grocery store. Each type is delicious in its own way, but some may be more suitable for smoking than others depending on your preferences.
You may already know if you prefer pork or beef ribs. Pork ribs are usually smaller with more tender meat, while beef ribs are much weightier and packed with flavor.
Both are delicious, but pork ribs are more popular for smoking due to their manageable size. Sometimes called “Dinosaur Ribs,” beef ribs come from the remains of the animal leftover from a prime rib roast.
Shops and markets often sell beef ribs in singular portions instead of as a rack because they are so large. They take a long time to prepare with any method and smoking can extend it longer than you may be willing to wait.
However, smoking beef ribs can be one of the most rewarding cooking experiences on the grill. If you do it right, you’ll get to savor a strong, smoky flavor coupling tender, juicy beef.
If you decide to smoke pork ribs, it’s important to understand that the various cuts share key differences. In fact, some cuts of pork are much more suitable for smoking than others due to their size and fat content.
Baby Back Ribs
Baby back ribs are some of the most popular ribs on the market today. They are cut from high up on the animal’s back but don’t have the rest of the loin muscle attached like bone-in pork chops. They curve slightly, matching the animal’s loin and are often quite lean with a lot of meat and little-to-no cartilage.
Baby back ribs are great however you prepare them, but they are also exceptional in a smoker. They are one of the first places to start if you are new to smoking on a gas grill, due to their manageable size and ease of preparation.
Unlike baby back ribs which are found on the pigs back, spareribs are cut from much lower on the animal’s body. They are often exceptionally large and are cut from around the belly. As such, they are the least meaty pork ribs and have the highest fat content. This makes them one of the most popular types of pork ribs because the high-fat content imbues them with impeccable flavor.
Spareribs are also delicious in a smoker When you prepare them correctly. Smoking them at a hot temperature for an extended period of time will help the fat melt away from the ribs, creating juicy, tender meat that’s full of classic barbeque flavor.
The same applies to St. Louis Style ribs, which butchers cut from the same part of the pig as spareribs. Instead, butchers trim St. Louis Style ribs further than spareribs, creating a more traditional-looking, aesthetically-pleasing serving of meat.
Country Style Ribs
Country style ribs aren’t actually ribs at all. in fact, they’re more like pork chops and are cut from the end of the loin closest to the shoulder. They don’t have much fat, unlike spareribs or St. Louis style ribs, but they offer a lot of meat and little cartilage.
Unlike spareribs or baby back ribs, country style ribs are usually boneless. Because they don’t have a lot of fat, it’s best to cook these over high heat instead of low and slow like you would with a smoker. You can smoke them, but without a high-fat content to supplement the meat, they may be dryer than baby back ribs or spareribs. In many cases, smoked country style ribs will not be as delicious as if you’d cooked them traditionally.
Differences Between Charcoal, Natural Gas, and Propane Grills
Just like there are different types of ribs, there are different types of grills you can cook them on. Charcoal, natural gas, and propane-powered grills are the most popular on the market today for a traditional grilling experience. Electric grills are also popular but offer a different final product than their more customary counterparts (and we should note, you can’t smoke meat on an electric grill).
Let’s look at how they compare:
- Charcoal grills are usually smaller and less expensive than gas or propane-fueled grills. However, they require a lot of space to use because they create a lot of smoke and it’s harder to control the temperature than it is with a gas or propane grill. It also takes more time for a charcoal grill to heat up once you light the coals – usually between 15-30 minutes.
- Natural gas grills are less popular than propane grills but are usually cheaper to maintain. Depending on where you live, you may pay up to 30% less for natural gas than propane, which adds up if you grill often! Unfortunately, you need to install a natural gas line before you can set up one of these grills and once it is installed, you can’t take your grill anywhere else.
- Propane grills are the uncontested most popular gas-fueled grills on the market. It’s more expensive to buy or re-fill a propane tank thank it is to buy natural gas, but propane grills are portable – perfect if you want to grill on the go.
You can smoke on charcoal, a natural gas, or a propane grill. The choice is up to you, but smoking ribs on a gas grill is an enjoyable experience that offers delicious results like no other.
Step-By-Step Guide to Smoking Ribs on a Gas Grill
By following this guide, you’ll be able to smoke your own delicious ribs on the grill without a standalone smoker. Let’s dive in:
Step 1: Prepare Your Rub or Marinade
Everyone has a favorite rub or marinade for their ribs. Other than the meat itself, the BBQ rub or marinade you choose is one of the most important aspects of grilling outstanding ribs.
The perfect rub or marinade for you depends on your preferences. Dry rubs and marinades are great for ribs, available pre-made and pre-mixed at the grocery store if you want to save time. We recommend making your own with a variety of herbs and spices you like, but there are dozens of delicious store-bought alternatives for sale at your local grocer.
If you’re marinating your ribs, give them a few hours to set before you starting smoking. The longer your ribs can set in their marinade, the juicer and more flavorful they will be.
Step 2: Purchase and Prepare Wood Chips
To smoke anything on a gas grill, you need wood. Wood chips are common because they’re cheap, readily available, and easy to work with. Depending on the type of wood you choose, you can imbue your meat with flavor – for example, hickory will create a powerful earthy flavor.
You can start with dry chips, but we think it’s best to soak them for at least an hour before use. Most pit masters use water, but you can use any of the following for more flavor:
- Fruit juice
You can’t put the wood chips on the flame directly or they will catch on fire – you need to put them into something that will not burn and will not emit toxic chemicals when you expose it to heat.
We recommend putting the woodchips in a smoker box, but using tin foil will do. Smoker boxes cost less than $20 at most shops are durable enough to use more than once.
Step 3: Start smoking!
Once you’ve prepared your ribs and your wood chips, you’re ready to start smoking.
Start by placing your smoker box directly on top of the burners you’re going to use. Turn the burner to maximum heat and wait until you see smoke come out of your grill.
During this step, patience is important. If you lift the lid, heat will escape and delay the experience.
Once the grill starts to emit smoke, reduce the heat to medium-low and place your ribs on the grate over the burner you aren’t using. If you’re using a rib rack, place the rack over this burner.
Try to keep a temperature of 225 to 235 degrees. The idea is to cook the meat slowly with indirect heat, so your wood chips will likely burn out before your meat is finished cooking.
Once the wood chips burn out, you’ll need to cook your ribs without smoke until they’re done. But don’t worry – during the 45 minutes of smoking, they will have picked up plenty of flavors.
Remember: you don’t want to disturb your ribs often while they’re cooking. The more often you lift the lid, the more heat you’ll let out.
However, you may consider spraying your ribs with apple cider vinegar occasionally to keep them moist. Smoking meats can dry them out but bathing them with apple cider vinegar during the process is a great way to keep them juicy and tender.
Smoking meats is a fun experience but purchasing a standalone smoker can be expensive. Fortunately, you don’t have to – with an inexpensive smoker box (or some tin foil crafting) and a gas grill, you can start smoking ribs this afternoon. You can smoke any kind of ribs with patience, from dinosaur-sized beef ribs to delicate baby backs.
If you’ve ever wanted to smoke ribs but felt like you couldn’t because you don’t own a smoker, give smoking ribs on the gas grill a try. It’s not as hard as it sounds and when you succeed, you’ll have BBQ ribs to be proud of.