Ready to cook one of the best loved BBQ meats out there? Perfectly smoked ribs are fall-off-the-bone delicious and packed full of flavor. Luckily you don’t need a smoker to make them. Here’s how to smoke ribs on your gas grill.
BBQ ribs remain a mainstay on the grilling competition circuit and it’s not hard to see why. When done right, there aren’t many meats that come out as beautifully tender, delicate and crazy delicious as ribs.
The problem with ribs though is that as tasty as they are, they’re also incredibly easy to get wrong. I’ve seen plenty of examples of ribs coming out dry, bland and tough.
For this reason, a good rack of ribs is the mark of a good grill master. If you can get them 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 tool for barbecue smoking.
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 two main different types of ribs that you need to be aware of so you can be confident that you’re getting the best ones for your barbecue.
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, these 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. This trimmed down cut is more rectangular in shape than other types.
How to Prepare BBQ Ribs
To start off we need to wash and cut the meat to get it 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 the meat’s surface. Dab dry with a paper towel 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. 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 meat tough and sometimes even 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 do it just because it’s another opportunity to enhance the flavor of the meat even further.
Fortunately it’s really easy 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
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 a paper towel. Apply a generous amount of rub to both sides of your rib rack. Wrap it 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.
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 while leaving other burners on. For example, if you have a good 2 burner gas grill then you can set one burner live 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 (107°C), so there will be some tweaking involved.
Place your wood chips in your smoker box, and then place the box over one of your activated burners. Turn the burner up to maximum heat and close the lid of your grill. Wait for smoke to begin to emit from your grill, and then turn the heat down to medium-low.
Check the internal temperature of your grill, and once it settles at 225°F (107°C) then place your ribs over one of your dormant burners.
Your wood chips might burn out during cooking, but refrain from adding more. Your ribs will absorb a lot of smoke during cooking, so try to avoid exposing it to even more.
Using a spray bottle containing apple cider vinegar, spray a little bit of the substance over the surface of the ribs. Do this every 30 minutes. This will help prevent the ribs from drying out as they cook.
Smoke for 4 to 5 hours, or 6 to 7 hours if you are using a St Louis cut. About 20-30 minutes prior to them being cooked, apply a thick coat of BBQ sauce over the surface of the ribs.
How to tell when ribs are done
Unlike other types of meat, you can’t use a meat thermometer to know when ribs are done. The meat tends to be too thin, and where it is thick enough to allow you to take a reading, it’s not a fair reflection of the state of the meat elsewhere across the ribs.
Luckily there are 3 easy ways you can use to tell when ribs are done:
- Use a toothpick. Stick a toothpick between any two bones along the rack. The pick should be able to enter without any resistance
- Cut into the thickest part of the meat and look for pink juice. If there isn’t any then you are good to go
- Cut the end bone off the rack and taste for doneness
How to Smoke with Wood Chips on a Gas Grill
The best way to really take your grill smoking to the next level is by using wood chips.
To do this you’ll need to invest in a smoker box. These are small steel boxes that contain lit wood chips. They then sit on the grates of your grill, while the smoke they emit infuses your meat with added flavor. They’re tend to be fairly cheap (about $20-25) and are durable enough to last you for at least a good few years.
Note that we want to put the chips in a smoker box to help them 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 Wood Chips Before Using a Gas Grill?
Be sure to check out my guide to soaking 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 for added flavor. If you decide to do the latter, 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 to your gas grill. Place it above the burner that 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 (107°C).
What is the 3-2-1 method for ribs?
Because ribs are so easily prone to drying out when smoking, the 3-2-1 method is a way of trying to lock in as much moisture into the meat as possible.
The method involves smoking the meat as normal for three hours, before then smoking for two hours wrapped in foil. It’s then finished off by smoking unwrapped for one final hours.
Three. Two. One.
The reason why this is seen as an effective cooking method is because it allows the ribs to absorb the aromas and flavors of the smoke during the first three hours, while the two hours in foil allows the meat to steam and become more tender. The final hour then allows it to form a bark, rounding it off beautifully.