How To Grill Perfect Ribs: Best Flavor and Texture

How To Grill Perfect Ribs: Best Flavor and Texture

Grilled ribs are always a crowd pleaser. They are tasty, indulgent, juicy and messy to eat. Best eaten without forks or knives, grilled ribs bring out the playfulness in us. And the best part is something so good is not tough to master. From the type of ribs to cook, how to prep and knowing how long to grill ribs you can go from zero to hero in no time.

First things first, grilled ribs take time. Be prepared to spend time if you want to do it right.

Types of ribs available and the one you should select

When one says grilled ribs it invariably is pork ribs. They are easier to cook than beef and more versatile in flavor, giving you options to try different recipes for rubs and sauces.

You can get your desired type of pork rib at most stores or your local butcher. The three best types to choose from are baby back ribs, St. Lois or spare ribs and country style. How long do ribs take to grill is determined by your choice of cut?

Baby Backs

No, be sure they do not come from baby pigs. They are cut from the top of the rib cage, close to the spine. These are a little curved and have about 13 bones on the rack. The cut being leaner and tender baby back ribs grill time is lower than the other cuts. If not careful, you can risk drying out these types of ribs. The curved bones on a baby back cut are 3-6 inches long and are suitable for about two people. If you want a meatier version just ask your butcher for a reduction of slab off the roast.

Spare ribs and the St. Louis-style cut

These come from the belly and tend to be meatier. These take longer to cook than baby backs. They tend to carry the meat between the bones rather than on top, hence take longer to cook though are known for more flavor. The odd shape is owing to a layer of fat and cartilage at one end. The famous St. Louis-style cut is nothing but the center cut of the spare ribs with the fat, cartilage and connective tissue removed. This makes them more uniform in shape and easy to brown on each side. Each slab of spare ribs can server up to 3-4 people.

Select the cut depending upon how long you plan to cook ribs. A good rule of thumb is baby backs for 4-5 hours at 225°F and spare ribs for 5-6.5 hours.

If looking to do it for the first time, I suggest going for baby back ribs.

Prepping and getting the rack ready

Removing the membrane, the most common rookie mistake one tends to make is forgetting to remove the membrane. While essential, it’s easy to do. Located on the underside of the rack, if not removed it will make your grilled ribs chewy. All you need to do is lift off the membrane and peel it off the surface. At one end of the rack insert a blunt knife like a butter knife between the membrane and the bone. Loosen the edge by lifting the blade, taking care not to pierce it. Hold the corner with a kitchen towel and peel it off. You should be able to take it off in one go.

How to season ribs with a dry rub

A dry rub can make all the difference. They ensure that the flavor not just stays on the top of the meat but penetrates and lends a distinct character with every bite. The most essential ingredient for any dry-rub is salt, followed by pepper. If in doubt about the flavor profile, just use these two, and you will not regret. Table salt or kosher salt work best. While table salt mixes well with other ingredients, kosher salt dissolves well and is generally great for seasoning. Sea salt, on the other hand, does not stick to well and can be hard to incorporate with the other ingredients.

While pepper is essential along with salt, you can choose from a whole range of spices right from cumin, thyme, onion powder, garlic powder and more.

To not let the flavor of the rub, overpower, go with salt, pepper and a bit of brown sugar. While you season both sides focus on the meaty side and don’t forget to tap and press to ensure that the rub doesn’t fall off. For the seasoning and the salt to impart flavor, you should let the meat sit for at least 4 hours. I have had the best experience with making the meat sit overnight. Even if in a real hurry do not settle for less than an hour.

And remember to bring the meat to room temperature before you start cooking.

How long to grill pork ribs?

Like all things good, ribs that take time. Be ready to be there, pay attention for however long it takes to cook ribs on the grill. Your choice of cut will impact how long does it take to grill the ribs. The temperature to get the perfect roasted rib is between 225 to 300 °F, so a steady 250 °F should be good.

At 250 °F baby backs cook in about 4 hours while spare ribs can take about 5 hours to get done.  A lot of people cook their ribs at 225 °F if you plan to do so adjust the time to prepare accordingly.

Secrets to great flavor and perfect grilling

Use indirect heat for a gas grill light the burners only one side with a charcoal grill put the coals only one hand. Do not use lighter fuel to prep your grill use a wad of newspaper with coal placed on top. This is essential to ensure that ribs are cooked inside out and get a crispy exterior. Cooking on direct heat will burn the outer part whereas the inside might stay undercooked.

Wood flavor

Depending on where you live, choose from what is available. While the vote is divided on soaking them or not, soaking them works for me. Go on added pre-soaked wood chips after 30 minutes or so.

When to add the sauce- You might wonder when does the sauce come in, well not before you start grilling. You can make your sauce or get your favorite store bought one. Add the sauce thoroughly into the cook, about 30-40 minutes before the ribs are done. Use a mop or a spray bottle, select one based on your level of comfort and ease of use. With a mop you have more control thus resulting in an even application, a bottle can work just fine too.

Basting

Use a broom or a spray bottle, select one based on your level of comfort and ease of use. Keep checking the temperature on your grill, and in case it gets too high baste the meat with either water or a mixture with your choice of ingredients that could include vinegar or a fruit juice. The glucose in the liquid can give a nice touch to the crust.

An interval of about 30 minutes is reasonable to check your ribs, temperature, and refilling the wood chips. If using a smoker wrap the rack in foil for 30 minutes-1.5 hours, this lets the meat soak in the flavors and reabsorb the liquids lost during the cook. It also enables the meat to get tender.

How to tell when ribs are done

Grilled ribs are not meant to fall off the bone; a perfectly cooked one should come off the bone if you taste them. They should be a little chewy and should offer some resistance. Picture a grilled steak, but tender. Though USDA says that a rib is safe to eat at 145 °F, but that doesn’t mean it is ready at that temperature. At this temperature it is tough and the texture certainly not what you are aiming. The collagen is responsible for the meat to retain its structure and only starts to melt at around 200 °F. At this temperature, the fats and the collagen melt, making the meat tender, juicy and just entirely done. Everyone has their method to check if the ribs are done or not. Here are a few of them along with the one I prefer.

The bend test

This one is preferred by a lot of people. Pick up an end of the rack with a pair of tongs, try and bend it or probably give a little bounce. If the ribs are done, you should be able to see a crack appear. The bones are not entirely done if a small crack appears on bending. A perfectly cooked rack of ribs should almost be ready to break away. Doing it a couple of times will give you the what to look for.  This test works well for most people as each rack might take a different time to cook. A simple thing to note here is not to break the rack, just bend it and check if it ready to cut or not.

The Toothpick test

This is the one I prefer and recommend too. All you got to do is to prick the meat with a toothpick. If the toothpick goes in quickly without resistance, your grilled ribs are done. The reason I recommend this test is that the rack might not be cooked evenly across. And unlike a bend test, you can use a toothpick to test the meat at several places. After a while, with this test, you will start getting better results with this test compared to the bend test.

Twist and test

Another method followed is the twist test. With this method, you hold the end of a bone, somewhere from the middle of the rack and twist it. If the bone starts to break free from the bone on twisting, the ribs are done. The breaking free of the bones is a result of collagen breaking down at the right temperatures.

The taste test

Though not a personal favorite, the test is used by quite a few cooks out there. What they do is pull off a bone from the end, check the look and feel of it and finally eat it. If you like the idea of enjoying a bite of the ribs you have toiled to cook, you might enjoy this test. But what do you if the bones are not done, would you start pulling off another bone from the rack after a while? Ideally, the stand should stay intact till you carve them and serve them to the guests.

Bringing it all together, keep the following in mind and your next barbeque will be a sure-fire hit. Grill your ribs with time and care, no sauce or rub or a fancy grill can replace the slow cook and respecting the complexity of the cut. The quality of your grilled ribs is mostly determined by the time you let the rub set-in, how long you cook the ribs on the grill and how often you check and baste them as they grill.

Four quick tips to part with

  1. Which cut to select: Use baby backs and do not forget to remove the membrane
  2. How much time to cook ribs on the grill: Maintain a steady temperature of about 225-250 °F. Baby backs to should cook in about 4 hours at this temperature. Keep checking and basting to let the ribs retain moisture and cook evenly.
  3. Finishing the ribs: Ensure you grill them over indirect heat whichever grill you chose, add the sauce no earlier than 30-45 minutes towards the end.
  4. Checking when the ribs are done: Do a toothpick test on more than one place along the rack. If it goes un-resisted your grilled ribs are done if not put it back for another 30 minutes.

Invite friends, get the grill ready and grill some delicious ribs. Happy grilling!