How to Cook Ribs on a Charcoal Grill
By: Jack Mancuso
You’ve probably already seen some of my rib recipes, like those for 3-2-1 ribs and Nacho Ribs. In this article, however, I’m getting more general. Many people do not have a gas grill or smoker, but charcoal setups are easy to come by and easy on the budget. What are the tricks to making ribs on a charcoal grill?
Benefits of Charcoal Grilling
First, there is absolutely nothing wrong with charcoal grilling. Don’t let your neighbor with the fancy, bells-and-whistles rig get the best of you. There are some distinct benefits to charcoal grilling.
- Flavor: Charcoal imparts a unique, smoky flavor to the ribs that barbecue enthusiasts highly seek. The smokiness adds a rich and complex taste that enhances the overall eating experience. And the smell is enticing.
- Temperature Control: Believe it or not, well-tended charcoal grills provide excellent temperature control. You can get the slow and steady cooking required for tender, juicy ribs.
- Caramelization: The intense, direct heat from charcoal grilling creates optimal conditions for caramelization, resulting in delicious, searing, crispy edges and flavorful bark.
Ribs benefit from adding rubs to the meat’s surface before putting them on the coals. Some of the seasoning blends you can try out include
- Cuso’s Dust: This helps create a crust.
- Cuso’s Hot Honey: Sumptuous, sweet-heat flavor profile.
- Cuso’s Maple Bourbon: Adds smokiness ideal for fire-cooked food.
- Smoky Garlic Buffalo: The taste of traditional wings in rib form.
And just when you thought our all-natural blends were only for protein, use our Grass Seasoning for the root vegetable medley side suggested below.
Beef ribs and pork ribs cook a little bit differently. Baby back ribs cook more quickly due to their size (2 hours, indirect heat), while spareribs take 3-4 hours. Beef baby back ribs are similar to pork but watch them as they can burn easily. Beef short ribs have lots of marbling and need a longer grilling time, often around 3 to 4 hours over charcoal. The higher fat content and larger size require a lengthier cooking process to render the fat and tenderize the meat properly.
- Prepare the Ribs: Start by removing the membrane from the back of the ribs for better seasoning penetration. Season the ribs liberally with a BBQ rub or your favorite seasoning blend. You can let the ribs sit in the seasoning for a while to absorb the flavors, ideally for 30 minutes to a few hours in the refrigerator.
- Prepare the Charcoal Grill: Set up your charcoal grill for indirect grilling. This means placing the charcoal on one side of the grill and cooking the ribs on the other side to avoid direct heat. If you'd like a smokier flavor, add soaked wood chips directly to the coals or use a smoker box.
- Start the Fire: Light the charcoal using a chimney starter or your preferred method. Once the coals are covered with ash, spread them out in an even layer on one side of the grill, leaving the other empty for indirect cooking.
- Grill the Ribs: Place the ribs on the grill opposite the coals so that they are not directly over the heat. Close the lid on the grill, making sure the vent is partially open to maintain a steady temperature. The ideal temperature for cooking ribs is around 225-250°F (107-121°C).
- Maintain the Temperature: Keep an eye on the temperature and adjust the air vents to regulate the heat. You might need to add more charcoal or adjust the vents periodically to maintain a consistent temperature.
- Add Smoke (Optional): If you want a smokier flavor, add more soaked wood chips or chunks to the coals after the first hour of cooking.
- Check for Doneness: After about 3 hours for baby back ribs or 4-5 hours for spareribs, check for doneness. The ribs should have a nice bark on the outside and should have pulled back from the bones. You can also use a meat thermometer to ensure the internal temperature of the ribs reaches around 190-203°F (88-95°C).
- Apply BBQ Sauce: If you like saucy ribs, apply your favorite BBQ sauce during the last half hour of grilling, allowing it to caramelize.
- Rest and Serve: No cheating! Once the ribs are done, remove them from the grill, tent them loosely with foil, and let them rest for 10-15 minutes before slicing and serving.
I like both beef ribs and pork ribs as choices for grilling and barbecuing, each offering unique flavors and textures. Here's a comparison:
- Flavor and Texture: Beef ribs, particularly the beef back ribs and short ribs, have a rich, meaty flavor and a hearty texture. The meat tends to be more substantial and chewier compared to pork ribs.
- Cooking Method: Beef ribs typically require a longer cooking time to become tender and juicy. They are often best when cooked low and slow, so the connective tissues break down, and the meat becomes succulent.
- Cuts: Common beef rib cuts include back ribs, plate ribs, and short ribs. Back ribs are similar to pork baby back ribs, while plate ribs come from the belly area and offer tremendous marbling and rich flavor. Short ribs are well-marbled and can be cut in different styles (English, Korean, or Flanken).
- Flavor Pairings: Beef ribs pair well with bold and robust flavors, such as tangy BBQ sauces, dry rubs with earthy spices, and smoky marinades.
- Flavor and Texture: Pork ribs, which include baby back ribs and spareribs, are known for their tenderness and slightly sweet flavor. Baby back ribs are leaner and more tender, while spareribs have more fat and connective tissue, resulting in a richer flavor.
- Cooking Method: Pork ribs cook more quickly over charcoal than beef ribs due to their tenderness.
- Cuts: Baby back ribs come from the top of the rib cage between the spine and the spareribs, and they are shorter, curved, and meatier. Spareribs are bigger, flatter, and have more connective tissue. This is why spareribs benefit from low and slow treatment.
- Flavor Pairings: Pork ribs are often paired with sweet and tangy barbecue sauces, fruit-based glazes, and dry rubs featuring sweet or savory spices.
Buttery Vidalia casserole
Grilled watermelon and pineapple skewers
Root Vegetable Packets (seasoned)
Pale Ale (citrus if you can find it)