Ready to cook one of the best loved BBQ meats out there? Here’s how to smoke ribs on your gas grill.
BBQ ribs remain a mainstay on the BBQ competition circuit and there’s a good reason why: When done right, there aren’t many meats that come out as beautifully tender, delicate and, well, as crazy delicious as ribs.
As delicious as they are though, they’re also incredibly easy to get wrong. For this reason, a good rack of ribs is the mark of a good grill master. If you can get these right then you’re well on your way to being a seasoned pro.
BBQ smokers and charcoal grills remain the tools of choice for most BBQ masters. They lend themselves perfectly to the kind of low and slow cooking that is so strongly associated with barbecue smoking. What you might not know though is that you can easily adapt your gas grill to be a more than capable platform to use for smoking your ribs.
In this guide today, I’m going to walk you through everything you need to know to turning out beautifully tender ribs using nothing more than your humble gas grill.
To kick things off, let’s look at the types of ribs you need to get.
How to Buy Good Ribs
Pork ribs are available at almost any market or supermarket, and should be affordable wherever you go. There are however different types of ribs that you need to be aware of so you can decide which kind you’d like. These are…
Baby Back Ribs
Also referred to as back ribs or sometimes even loin ribs, these are taken from the top of the rib cage, and can be found between the spareribs and the spin.
Baby back ribs are meatier than spare ribs, which makes them a popular choice for a lot of BBQ fans. They take less time to cook though, so can be a great option to go for if you’re cooking for a large group of people who need pleasing quickly.
Also sometimes referred to as side ribs, spareribs are taken from the rib cage close to the belly, and below the baby back ribs. These contain less meat than baby back ribs, but they contain more fat, which makes them perfect for smoking.
St Louis Style Ribs
These are actually spare ribs, but with the cartilage, rib tips, and sternum all removed. These trimmed down ribs are more rectangular in shape.
How to Prepare BBQ Ribs
To start off we need to wash and cut our ribs to get them ready for smoking. Start by rubbing the ribs under a cold water tap, washing off any loose fat or bits of bone that can sometimes find their way onto ribs. Dab dry with paper towels afterwards.
With meat scissors or a knife, cut off any loose bits or strings of meat of fat. This is important because if you leave these on then they might burn up while the ribs are cooking, leaving unpleasant bits of charred meat or fat on your food.
Perhaps one of the most important stages here is to remove the membrane of the ribs. This is a tough layer of fat that sits on the underside of the ribs. It’s important to do this because the fat could melt or render while cooking, making the ribs tough and sometimes almost inedible.
For a full guide to removing this, check out my guide to removing the membrane from ribs.
How to Marinate Ribs
It should be said that this isn’t a completely necessary step, and plenty of people like to cook ribs without marinating them at all. However I like to marinate them to try to add just a little bit more flavor to them.
Either way, this is a really easy thing to do. Simply follow this recipe and mix together brown sugar, ketchup, soy sauce, Worcestershire sauce, rum, chile sauce, garlic and dry mustard. Once well combined, coat the ribs on both sides with the marinade and allow to soak for an hour, or refrigerate overnight.
Use a Dry Rub
Unlike marinades, BBQ rubs are essential because they help infuse the outer layer of your food with a crisp texture to them. BBQ rubs are really easy to put together. Everyone has their own favorite rub recipe, but I like to use my BBQ pork rub. You can either follow this, or buy a pre-made version from a supermarket.
Once the rub is ready, remove your ribs from the refrigerator and dry down with paper towels. Apply a generous amount of rub to both sides of your rib rack. Wrap the ribs in foil and then put back in the refrigerator for another hour.
How to Smoke Ribs on a Gas Grill
This post is specifically about using a gas grill because the setup is different to conventional charcoal smokers or grills.
BBQ smoking in a grill requires creating indirect heat, whereby we create heat at one end of the grill and place the food at the other. The heat will then create ambient temperature in the grill, cooking the food like an oven without exposing it to direct fire heat. This is how ribs are cooked best. You can find my extensive guide to indirect grilling here.
So how do you do indirect grilling on a gas grill?
Most good gas grills allow you burner control, meaning that you can choose to have some burners off and some burners on. For example, if you have a 2 burner gas grill then you can set one burner one, and place your meat above the other burner on your grates.
This will take a bit of adjustment as you need to try to achieve a target cooking temperature of 225°F, so there will be some tweaking involved.
How to Smoke with Woodchips on a Gas Grill
The best way to really take your grill smoking to the next level is by using woodchips.
To do this you’ll need to invest in a smoker box. These are small steel boxes that can sit on the grates of your grill. You ignite them and as they burn, they help infuse your meat with added flavor. They’re really cheap (about $20-25) and are durable enough to last you for at least a good few years.
Note that we want to put them in a smoker box to help the chips last longer and emit stronger smoke. If you put them directly on the burners then they’ll just burn out quickly and create a load of ash, which will create a bad cooking environment.
Alternatively, you can use foil. However I would recommend against this because I just don’t find it as safe or as durable as using a purpose made smoker box.
Should you Soak Woodchips Before Using a Gas Grill?
Be sure to check out my guide to smoking wood chips here.
A lot of people advise soaking wood chips before smoking them to help reduce the risk of them burning up. You can simply do this in water, or be a bit more adventurous and smoke them in wine, beer, or fruit juice. If you decide to do this, do this at least an hour beforehand, and then leave them to drain and dry on a drying rack.
Put your dry chips in your smoker box, and then transfer your smoker box to your gas grill. Place it above the burner which you intent on igniting. Put your burner on maximum heat and wait until you see smoking coming from the box or grill. Once you see smoke, turn the heat down to medium-low and use your thermometer to tweak your grill to a target smoking temperature of 225°F.
Cook for about 45-50 minutes, or until ribs are done. Learn how to know when ribs are done in my guide.
To help enhance your ribs even further, you can use a apple cider vinegar spray to spray on to your ribs every 30 minutes or so. You can either buy these directly, or you can make your own by filling a spray bottle with apple cider vinegar.
Every 20-30 minutes, lift up the lid and quickly spray a coat of vinegar on to your ribs. This will help prevent them from drying out.
Cook for about 4-5 hours. About 20-30 minutes before they’re done, coat the ribs with your favorite BBQ sauce.