How to Cook Ribs on the Grill—Including Baby Back Ribs, Spare Ribs, and More

·5 min read
Southern Baby Back Ribs
Southern Baby Back Ribs

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TABLE OF CONTENTS

  1. On This Page

    • Shopping for Ribs

    • Pork Baby Back Ribs, Pork Spare Ribs, and Beef Back Ribs

    • Country-Style Pork Ribs

    • Beef Short Ribs

    • When Are Ribs Done?

Grilled ribs are a staple of American barbecue, and for good reason; when cooked properly, they're fall-off-the-bone tender with deep, meaty flavor. There are pitmasters worldwide who are committed to perfecting their rib-grilling technique, but that doesn't mean you have to leave it to the professionals. Keep reading to learn all about the most popular rib cuts—pork and beef alike—and how to cook ribs confidently at home.

How to Shop for Ribs

When shopping for ribs, you first need to decide whether you're opting for pork or beef. Pork ribs are smaller, and beef ribs are bigger, which translates to different cooking times. Beef ribs are also fattier than pork ribs, which yields an intense, beefy flavor when the fat renders. Since pork ribs have a lower fat content, the flavor is milder, so if you want to highlight a punchy marinade, it's best to go with pork. Lastly, pork ribs are considerably less expensive and easier to source than beef ribs.

As for the different cuts of pork ribs, the three most popular are baby back ribs, spare ribs, and country-style ribs. Baby back ribs come from the upper section of the pig's rib cage—the part that's connected to the backbone. Their name refers to their location on the hog, as well as their small size compared to spare ribs. Baby back ribs are lean and tender with a curved shape and higher price tag than spare ribs. Spare ribs, on the other hand, begin at the end of baby back ribs, with a flatter, more rectangular shape. They're generally cheaper than baby back ribs, and their larger size means they feed more people. Country-style ribs aren't actually ribs; they come from the pig's shoulder! While their name is misleading, they're a delicious cut with rich flavor from a combination of lean loin meat and fatty shoulder meat.

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The two most popular cuts of beef ribs are back ribs and short ribs. As the name suggests, back ribs come from just beneath the backbone, and refer to the meat remaining once the prime rib and ribeye have been removed. While there isn't a lot of meat on the back ribs, the meat is high-quality and succulent. Short ribs are cut from the chuck area, and are nicely marbled, which gives them rich flavor. Although they're most commonly braised, short ribs are also excellent on the grill.

For all ribs, look for cuts with good meat coverage over the bones, even fat marbling, and even rack thickness. The color of the meat should be a vibrant pinkish-red, which indicates freshness.

How to Grill Pork Baby Back Ribs, Pork Spare Ribs, and Beef Back Ribs

These ribs all have the classic rib appearance, and take well to the same low and slow grilling treatment.

  1. The night before grilling, remove the membrane from the underside of the ribs (if your butcher didn't remove it already). Just insert a knife between the membrane and meat to loosen the skin, then use your fingers to pull it off.

  2. Marinate the ribs, preferably overnight.

  3. Clean and preheat your grill on low heat, establishing an area with indirect heat and greasing the grates.

  4. Remove the ribs from the marinade and add them to the grill over indirect heat, bone-side down.

  5. Cover the grill and cook, rotating once or twice, until the meat is tender and the internal temperature reaches somewhere between 180 and 195 degrees. Depending on the size of your ribs, this could take 1-2 hours.

  6. Let rest for at least 10 minutes before separating and eating.

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How to Grill Country-Style Pork Ribs

Since country-style ribs are quite fatty, it's best to cook them extra slowly, which will allow the fat to render fully.

  1. Clean and preheat your grill on low heat, establishing an area with indirect heat and greasing the grates.

  2. Remove the ribs from the marinade and add them to the grill over indirect heat.

  3. Cover the grill and cook, rotating once or twice, until the meat is tender and the internal temperature reaches somewhere between 180 and 195 degrees. Depending on the size of your ribs, this could take 2-3 hours.

  4. Let rest for at least 10 minutes before separating and eating.

How to Grill Beef Short Ribs

In contrast with other cuts, short ribs are best grilled to a lower temperature (about 145 degrees) over higher heat. Salt and pepper is all you need to highlight this delicious cut.

  1. Clean and preheat your grill to high heat. Grease the grates.

  2. Season your short ribs with salt and pepper, then add them to the grill.

  3. Cook, turning frequently, until the internal temperature reads about 145 degrees. This should take around 10 minutes, depending on the size of the ribs.

  4. Let rest for at least 10 minutes before serving.

RELATED: 10 Tips for Buying Quality Meat That'll Ensure You Get the Best Bang for Your Buck

How to Tell When Ribs Are Done

The most reliable way to check ribs for doneness is by using an instant-read thermometer. Stick the thermometer into the center of the meat, making sure to avoid touching any bone. Ribs are technically safe to eat at 145 degrees, but it's best to cook most cuts of ribs until somewhere between 180 and 195 degrees when you're cooking them low and slow. If you're cooking short ribs, however, it's best to grill them at a higher heat and take them off the grill once they reach approximately 145 degrees.