How long do you grill ribs ...

BBQ ribs on grillIf any one food can be said to epitomize grilling, it's ribs.  Many people consider ribs to be the ultimate display of barbecue skill and enjoyment.

Four of the most common types favored by backyard cooks are baby back ribs, St. Louis cut spare ribs (a.k.a. Kansas City ribs), beef back ribs, and beef short ribs - and each varies in cooking time.

Before we get into how long you should grill your ribs there's one important thing to keep in mind:  while dry spice rubs should be applied before you start to cook, sauces should not be applied until the last 20 minutes of cooking at the earliest.  Put 'em on any sooner and the sugars will burn leaving you with a ribs that look - and taste - like they've been smothered in coal dust.

And please, never ever, EVER boil your ribs before grilling them - you'll just be washing away all of their tasty goodness.

Now, on with the grilling...

There are are two basic ways to grill ribs:  the slow way and the fast way.  You can choose the one that best meets your needs - really good ribs in half the time... or to-die-for ribs that are well worth the wait.

Alright, let's start with what is probably the most well known of the bunch ...

Baby back ribs:

Baby backs - so named because they're smaller than spare ribs (no, they don't come from baby pigs) - are cut from the loin section of the pigs rib cage up near the spine.  The next time you're eating a bone-in pork chop take a closer look at it - cut off that nice slice of loin meat still attached to the bone and what's left is a baby back rib.

Since they're smaller from spare ribs and come from near the pigs back.  This is an area in which the muscles do very little work so they're much more tender than spare ribs and can be cooked in less time.

The fast way - 1 1/4 to 1 1/2 hours

Grill them - indirectly if at all possible - at medium heat, about 325° F to 350 ° F for 1 1/4 to 1 1/2 hours.  You'll know they're done when the meat has shrunk back from the bone about a 1/4 of an inch and it's tender enough to tear apart with your fingers (Careful - give the piece you're testing a moment to cool so you don't burn your fingertips.)

The slow way - 3 to 3 1/2 hours

  1. Prepare to grill - indirectly if possible - at a low, steady heat of 225° F
  2. Grill the ribs for 2 hours, bone-side down
  3. Wrap them  in foil and grill, bone-side up, for 30 minutes.  Don't be afraid to add an extra special touch here by pouring a  cup of apple cider or juice into the foil packet
  4. Unwrap them and grill for 30 more minutes bone-side down
  5. Finally, add your sauce and move the ribs to the hottest part of the grill and remove when the sugars have caramelized and you have a nice pasty coating with crisp spots - not more than 20 minutes

Next up...

Spare ribs:

Spare ribs come from the the belly of the pig - where bacon comes from.  Because they're larger and tougher  than baby backs they take longer and are more of a challenge to cook.  However, they also have more meat than baby backs and more fat marbling which makes them more flavorful.  The fact that they're a greater test of grillmanship and they deliver more flavor makes them the rib of choice with people on the profession barbecue circuit.

St. Louis cut ribs - also known as Kansas City cut ribs - are merely spare ribs with the rib tips cut off.   Removal of the tips makes the rib slab more attractive and helps it to cook more evenly.

Here's a quick rundown on how to grill 'em:

The fast way - 2 to 3 hours

Grill them - indirectly if at all possible - at medium heat, about 325° F to 350 ° F for 2 to 3 hours.  You'll know they're done when the meat has shrunk back from the bone about a 1/4 of an inch and the meat is tender enough to tear apart with your fingers (Don't forget to let the test piece cool a bit so you don't burn your fingertips.)

The slow way - 4 1/2 to 5 hours

  1. Prepare to grill - indirectly if possible - at a low, steady heat of 225° F
  2. Grill your ribs for 3 hours bone-side down
  3. Wrap them in foil and grill, bone-side up, for 30 to 60 minutes.  Same as with baby backs, you can an extra special touch here by pouring a  cup of apple cider or juice into the foil packet
  4. Unwrap them and grill for 30 more minutes bone-side down.
  5. Finally, add your sauce and move the ribs to the hottest part of the grill and remove when the sugars have caramelized and you have a nice pasty coating with crisp spots - not more than 20 minutes

On to the beef ribs...

Beef back ribs:

As you can tell by the name, back ribs are the upper half of the ribs and connect to the spine.  They offer a fair amount of meat between the bones but none on the top and bottom.  And, because they're a tougher cut of meat, they need to be grilled until they're well done to ensure you get a tender rib.  Don't let that stop you from giving them a try though - with a little care and patience you can turn them into one heck of a mouthwatering meal.

The fast way - 1 1/2 to 2 hours

Grill them - indirectly if at all possible - at medium heat, about 325° F to 350 ° F for 1 1/2 to 2 hours.  You'll know they're done when the meat has shrunk back from the bone and is tender enough to tear apart with your fingers (Don't forget to let the test piece cool a bit so you don't burn your fingertips.)

The slow way - 2 1/2 to 3 hours

  1. Prepare to grill - indirectly if possible - at a low, steady heat of 225° F
  2. Grill your ribs for 1 to 1 1/2 hours bone-side down
  3. Wrap them in foil and grill, bone-side up, for 60 minutes
  4. Unwrap them and grill for 30 more minutes bone-side down
  5. Finally, add your sauce and move the ribs to the hottest part of the grill and remove when the sugars have caramelized and you have a nice pasty coating with crisp spots - not more than 20 minutes

Beef short ribs:

Short ribs are cut from the section of ribs that hang down around the cow's stomach. 

When it comes to grilling or barbecuing, short ribs are considered by many to be the better choice when it come to beef ribs.  Why?  Because they reward you with more meat for the same amount of grilling effort and they tend to be a bit more tender than back ribs. Plus you can grill them to medium rare and have tender juicy meat unlike back ribs which don't become tender until they're well done.

Unlike the other three ribs we talked about, grilling short ribs fast or slow isn't a matter of selecting a particular cooking method - it's a matter of choosing the right thickness of meat and the doneness you prefer:

For short ribs that are medium rare, juicy and still have a bit of fat on them:

        Prepare to grill your short ribs -indirectly if possible - at low heat, 225° F

  • For 1" thick meat:  grill them for 1 hour or until the internal temperature reaches 150° F
  • For 1 1/2" thick meat:  grill them for 1 1/2 hours or until the internal temperature reaches 150° F
  • For 2" thick meat:  grill them for 2 hours or until the internal temperature reaches 150° F

For short ribs that are well done, juicy and have less fat left on them:

        Prepare to grill your short ribs -indirectly if possible - at low heat, 225° F

  • For 1" thick meat:  grill them for 3 hour or until the internal temperature reaches 180° F
  • For 1 1/2" thick meat:  grill them for 3 1/2 hours or until the internal temperature reaches 180° F
  • For 2" thick meat:  grill them for 4 hours or until the internal temperature reaches 180° F

Okay, enough said - time to light up those grills and dish up some finger-licking goodness!