How to Cook Ribs on the Grill (and Only the Grill) for the Ultimate Barbecue Main Course

Burgers, hot dogs, steak and sausage have nothing on barbecued ribs. They’re saucy, smoky and, yeah, a little bit messy—and that’s why we love ’em. Luckily, you don’t have to be a pro-level pitmaster to cook a top-notch rack at home. Wondering how to cook ribs on the grill? If you know how to set yourself up for indirect heat, you can do it in five easy steps.

What you’ll need:

  • A rack of ribs (such as pork ribs, baby backs or spareribs)
  • Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
  • Rib rub (optional)
  • Barbecue sauce
  • A grill
  • A heat-resistant brush
  • Tongs
  • Cutting board
  • Chef’s knife and/or paring knife

Do you need to cook ribs before grilling them?

While braising and oven-roasting your ribs will tenderize them before they hit the grill, it’s not strictly necessary if you know how to cook with indirect heat. Instead of throwing those ribs directly onto a sizzling hot flame, you’ll strategically arrange your grill into cool and hot zones. This allows the ribs to cook slowly at a lower temperature, so they’ll come off the grill just as tender without heating up your kitchen. Plus, as the experts at Serious Eats explain, indirect heat imparts a smokier flavor, especially if you use a charcoal grill.

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How to Cook Ribs on the Grill

how to cook ribs on the grill pork ribs on a cutting board
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Step 1: Prepare the ribs

Before you cook the ribs, you’ll want to prep them for the best texture and flavor. That means removing the membrane (aka silverskin) from the ribs. It’s the thin, silvery layer found on the underside of the ribs, and while it’s safe to eat, it cooks up unpleasantly chewy and tough. It’s easy enough to ditch: Just run a small, sharp knife under one corner and use your hands to gently pull the sheet-like layer from the meat. While you’re at it, trim any excess fat to reduce flareups during the grilling process.

how to cook ribs on the grill seasoning a rack of pork ribs
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Step 2: Season the ribs

Once the ribs are trimmed, it’s time to season them. While a generous sprinkle of salt and pepper would suffice, this is your chance to get creative with a rub or seasoning blend. If you want to go the homemade route, a combination of sugar, onion powder, garlic powder, salt and pepper is a place to start—experiment with ratios to your taste. Be generous with the salt: You should use about ½ teaspoon kosher salt per pound of meat. (If you have the foresight or want to go the extra mile, you can season the meat a day in advance, wrap the ribs tightly in foil and refrigerate them overnight. Just remember to bring them to room temperature about an hour before cooking them.)

how to cook ribs on the grill woman preparing a charcoal grill
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Step 3: Prepare the grill

Preheat the grill to about 300°F and prepare it for indirect cooking. For a gas grill, that means turning off the center burner and reducing the side burners to medium-low. On a charcoal grill, leave the center clear with the coals arranged on either side. For both gas and charcoal grills, a drip pan arranged underneath the ribs will catch grease and prevent flareups (not to mention make cleaning up a lot easier). When the grill is hot, scrape any debris off the grates with a grill brush and coat them with a thin layer of oil to prevent sticking.

how to cook ribs on the grill
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Step 4: Cook the ribs

Place the ribs bone-side down on the cooler part of the grill. The bone side usually has less meat, so this allows the ribs to cook gently. Close the grill and cook until the ribs are extremely tender and the meat easily pulls away from the bone (or until an instant thermometer reads 180°F to 190°F), rotating halfway, about 1½ to 2 hours, depending on how thick your ribs are.

how to cook ribs on the grill basting grilled ribs with barbecue sauce
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Step 5: Finish the ribs with sauce and a final char

For maximum charred, smoky flavor, finish the ribs on the grill. Increase the temperature to 375°F and move the ribs to the grates over direct heat. Brush the top of the ribs with barbecue sauce, cover and cook for about 5 minutes. Using tongs, flip the ribs so the meat side is down, and brush the other side with sauce. Cover and cook for another 5 minutes. Continue basting and flipping the ribs until the barbecue sauce starts to caramelize and thicken and the ribs are lightly charred in spots, about 10 minutes more. Transfer the ribs to a cutting board, cut into pieces and serve.


Senior Food Editor

Katherine Gillen is PureWow’s senior food editor. She’s a writer, recipe developer and food stylist with a degree in culinary arts and professional experience in New York City...