So, you want to know how the pros grill up tender, juicy, lip-smackin', fall-off-the-bone barbecue ribs...
Well, ask 12 rib masters how to grill ribs and you can bet dollars-to-doughnuts you'll get 12 different answers – with each one swearing that his unique blend of wood, temperature, rubs, sauces, and times is better than the rest.
While they may not agree on the finer details though, there are several steps and items – core techniques if you will – that most will agree are an absolute must in order to grill great ribs:
- Be picky when selecting your ribs. Choose the rack that is both the thickest and least fatty.
- Make them easy to eat – trim off the rib tips, the small pointed end of the rack, and, if present, the flap of loose meat on the underside of the rack. These can be grilled and served separately.
- Make them pleasing to eat. There will be a membrane covering the underside (e.g. the bone side) of the rack which is very tough, difficult to bite through, and unpleasant to chew. Peel it off before cooking.
- DO NOT boil ribs before grilling. All it will do is wash away all the flavorful juices leaving you with bland, tasteless meat. Many people mistake braised ribs for having been boiled (If a restaurant ever serves you ribs that were pre-boiled then demand your money back and find a new place to eat.) Braising is done by cooking the ribs in a moist environment – such as a packet made of foil with a little more than a cup of cider vinegar and/or water in it – at a low temp. for a long time. Usually, this is the oven method for cooking ribs...
While most pro's do not braise their ribs - instead they cook low and slow to achieve the same effect: SEE TIP #6. However, on occassion some do advocate putting the ribs in a foil packet with a bit of cider vinegar for a portion of the grilling period.
- Grill over indirect heat. Whether you choose to grill ribs the fast way or the slow way, do NOT give in to the temptation to grill over direct heat – while it may speed things up it will also cook the meat before the fats and tough connective tissues have a chance to melt... leave you with a dry, chewy chunk of shoe leather. Bottom line: if you don't have the time to grill them indirectly, then it's not worth grilling them at all – which brings us to...
- The grand-daddy of the rib master's bible: low and slow is the way to go. The longer grill time and the lower temperature a rib recipe calls for, the more likely you'll end up with fall-off-the-bone ribs (it gives the collagen holding the meat to the bone more time to melt and moisturize the meat).
- Save the sauce until the last stage of cooking. Put it on at the start of grilling and by the time your ribs it'll have turned into a charred, black shell. Most recipes call for the sauce to be applied somewhere in the last ten minutes to one hour of grilling depending on the temperature they call for. If you're not using a recipe, a safe bet would be to apply in the final 10-20 minutes.
- Be patient. You'll know your ribs are about done when the meat has shrunk back 1/4 inch from the bone. Remember, Rome wasn't built in a day... and mind-blowing ribs aren't grilled in an hour.
Follow these eight cardinal rules of ribdom and you'll be well on your way grilling up one fine batch of lip-smacking meat sticks.
If you want to know the approximate grilling times for different types of ribs you'll find them on our How Long Do You Grill Ribs page.
Oh, and in case you're interested, here are a three little barbecue rib facts to tickle your noodle:
- Contrary to what the name may imply, baby back ribs do not come from baby pigs. They are cut from the top section (the loin section) of the rib cage that is attached to the pig's back. And they're shorter than the remaining section of 'spare' rib – resulting in the name baby backs.
- Since they're meatier, more flavorful, and more of a challenge to bbq, spare ribs, not babybacks, are usually the rib of choice for people who compete on the professional barbecue circuit.
- And to barbecue something means to cook it in the presence of smoke, not to slather it with sauce. So, if you ever talk shop with a serious rib lover, make sure you don't call your ribs 'barbecued' ribs unless your using wood, wood chips, or charcoal at some point in the grilling process – because if your not, then your not barbecuing ribs, your grilling them... and he just might call you on it.
Now, go enjoy those ribs!