Real Barbecue Ribs on a Gas Grill

Secure your backyard barbecue fame for barbecue ribs by following this step-by-step barbecue rib recipe, and heed our "6 Secrets to Smoking Meat" advice.

We have include suggestions, from our years of backyard research, for trusted products we believe will help you attain, in our humble opinion, one of life's great pleasures

We believe that... "Barbecue is the Mystical Communion of Fire, Smoke and Meat" 

6 Secrets to the Greatest Barbecue Ribs on a Gas Grill

We barbecue on a gas grill using the indirect cooking method. This means that the ribs are placed next to, rather than directly over, the fire. The heat is kept low, and the ribs are cooked slowly. Patience pays big dividends! All to attain that incredible smoke flavored, moist, cooked to perfection BBQ ribs that allude so many!

The stuff you'll need:

Patience  Low and slow is the real secret. We're talking low heat (180 - 250 F/80 - 121C) for an extended cooking period. You'll need a full bucket of this virtue when doing ribs on a gas grill. Figure about 1.5 hours/pound.

Gas grill  Your grill must have at least two burners for the indirect heat method. You will use only one. You don't "need" a top line cooker to get good results, however...if you have the passion for cooking BBQ, and you want a commercial grade cooker (infrared), look at this beauty! We use (and love) the 5 burner version of this exceptional cooker, but suggest that this Char-Broil Quantum 4-Burner Infrared Gas Grill will fit the bill for most enthusiasts.

Meat  Try to buy fresh! If the frozen (or "previously frozen") vacuum packed "slab-o-ribs" is all that is available, it will do fine as long as they are not "enhanced" with water, salt, flavorings, and goodness knows what else.

Spices  Use the best spices you can get for the best barbecue ribs.

Hardwood chunks/chips  Use only hardwood for barbecue ribs like Hickory, Oak, Mesquite, Cherry, Apple, etc. (or a combination), to your taste.

Metal pan  Filled with at least 1/2" of water, placed under the cooking rack below the ribs, and used to control the inevitable flare-ups, distribute the heat more evenly and provide some moisture.

Smoker box, or pouch  Some grills come with a Barbeque Smoke Box for the wood chips, but if your cooker does not have one, just make an envelope/pouch from heavy-duty aluminum foil, and put a couple of handfuls of pre-soaked (in hot water for about 10-15 minutes) chips on the foil. Fold into an envelope/pouch shape, and poke several holes in the top to release the smoke.

Mop tool  For the barbecue ribs basting sauce (mop). This is just a miniature version (12-18" long) of a string-mop you might have for cleaning the kitchen! This is the "pros" choice for applying the sauce, and for ease of cleaning and long reach, we prefer this Sauce Mop with Removable Head. More on this subject in the "Prepare a Mop?" section, below.

Oven/Grill thermometer  The one that is on most grills is not that good. You really need to know what's going on inside the grill! For exceptional accuracy, we trust the Taylor Classic Oven Thermometer, and the Taylor Connoisseur Oven Thermometer.

Instant-read thermometer  Be safe, and ensure the meat has reached the ideal temperature of 205 F (93 C). This will assure you achive those tender, luscious barbecue ribs you pay a whole bunch for at the local "rib joint"! Our "hands down" choice for speed of read, accuracy and price is the CDN Proaccurate Stainless Digital Thermometer. The only instant-read thermometer that that we know to be faster, and another choice of professionals (albeit rather expensive), is the Splash-Proof Super-Fast Thermapen - Instant Read Thermometer, Perfect for Barbecue, Home and Professional Cooking

Tongs  A good pair of tongs are indispensable when handling ribs. Long and strong is the secret, so we suggest the professional type Lodge Camp Dutch Oven 16-Inch Stainless Steel Tongs, or the Oxo Good Grips 16-Inch Locking Tongs.

Rib Rack  The answer to cooking ribs with limited real estate! You need one that is strong enough to hold the ribs upright, and regardless of price, few meet the need. We found one that fits the bill with Steven Raichlen's Ultimate Rib Rack. A little pricey, but it works great!

Let's talk meat ...

Spare Ribs, Country Style or Baby Back Ribs? It's your choice! It's all good but...we prefer traditional spare ribs when we barbecue ribs on a gas grill, especially St. Louis Style, and this recipe is our way to barbecue this American classic. What's the difference...?

Well, Country Style and Back Ribs (Baby Back or Canadian Back) are both pork loin back cuts. See the word loin? Yep, it's loin and not rib meat! We love that rib meat, so for us it will be...

Spare Ribs, St. Louis Style, with the brisket bones and backbone removed. If the intact (whole) spare rib slabs are all that is available, have the meat cutter remove the brisket bones and backbone for "best bet" ribs.

We think that the best spare ribs are less than 3 lbs.(1.4kg), with at least an 11 rib count. If you get some that weigh more, no worries, you'll just have to spend a little more effort basting and increase the cooking time. We cook and love it all!

Now, let's prepare the meat...

NOTE: Ribs should be always kept in the refrigerator (approx. 40°F/4.4°C) before preparation.

  • Take the meat out of the refrigerator. We like to allow ribs to come to room temperature for less "on grill" time. You can do all of the meat, rub and mop prep the day before to make it a lot easier when "the gang" shows up.
  • Rinse in cold water.
  • Remove any excess fat and extraneous meat pieces, or stuff you don't want to eat. Never touch the fat between the bones. This provides the flavor and moisture needed for great barbecue ribs. Just remove the excess fat surrounding the good stuff.
  • Remove the membrane (on inner side). We feel this is a must when you barbecue ribs, as it allows the smoke and rub to penetrate the meat more thoroughly. For this chore we have used all kinds of blunt, "pokey" things like a "Phillips"-type screwdriver, or something similar. Poke it in somewhere at the center and lift the membrane until you can get a grip on it this slippery devil (we use a paper towel). Pull it all off.
  • Rinse again, pat dry with a paper towel.

Great barbecue ribs start with a rub!

The ribs are first "rubbed" with a simple, dry, spice-accented rub recipe. All for that unforgettable tender, perfectly seasoned, eating experience!

Now, for some great barbecue ribs, let's start with this truly classic rub. Do not let the simplicity of this basic rub fool you. It works great, and you can adjust the recipe (as the "pros" do) to make it "yours". Check out our Dry Rub Secrets page for more on this.

Basic Rub Recipe

Mix together thoroughly the following:

  • 1/4 cup dark brown sugar (packed). We prefer "turbinado" sugar for ease of use, but either one works fine.
  • 1/4 cup coarse Kosher or sea salt.
  • 1/4 cup sweet paprika (vs. the hot kind)
  • 3 tblsp ground pepper (fresh peppercorns recently ground!)
  • 1 tblsp garlic powder (not garlic salt)
  • 1 tblsp dried onion flakes (fresh will not work in this recipe)
  • 1 tsp cayenne pepper (no, it will not be "hot")

This recipe is enough for 3 to 4 racks of ribs and can be stored in an airtight container in the refrigerator for up to 4 months.

To Mop or Not to Mop?

Do barbecue ribs need a mop?A long time favorite with many experienced rib cookers (and we've learned to love it) is to frequently apply a mop (baste sauce), during the cooking cycle, to flavor and keep the meat moist. Mops are usually a watery mixture of vinegar, water and spices applied with a basting "mop".

Notice the spices in the basting sauce are similar to the rub? You want to compliment the flavors of your rub and it is OK to use just the basic spices of the rub (with vinegar and water). Experiment and have fun!

Here is a simple favorite:

Basic Barbecue Rib Mop

  • 1/2 cup vinegar (apple cider type, for our taste)
  • 1/2 cup water
  • 4 tblsp prepared yellow mustard
  • 3 tblsp olive or peanut oil
  • 1 tblsp garlic powder
  • 1 tblsp chili powder
  • 1 tsp cayenne

Mix well in a bowl, to be applied with a mop tool or...you can use just the water, vinegar and oil, in a spray bottle. Many folks use just apple juice! If using the mop tool, stir each time before mopping. Never save mop sauce left in the bowl (it is tainted with the meat's raw juices). Otherwise the sauce will last a long time in the refrigerator.

If you wish, to maximize the flavor, apply the rub a few hours (up to a day) before cooking time. Just wrap the ribs in plastic-wrap, or a covered glass/plastic container, and put them into the refrigerator.

O.K., you have a good rub recipe, now...

  • Slather the meat with a thin coat of any common yellow table mustard (not mandatory but a cool method many top contenders use) when applying a dry rub. This will not impart a mustard flavor as that cooks out) but holds the spices close to the ribs, keeps the meat moist, does not block the smoke and leaves a nice thin seasoned coating.
  • Sprinkle the rub on the ribs, and if you chose not to use the mustard, rub it on the meat. Guys, do not over season (women rarely do). We are the "Cookin' Cousins" (men) and have learned the lesson when cooking barbecue ribs; a light application is sufficient!

Get the Grill Ready

  • Fire-up one side and get the temperature to hold at about 200-220°F (93-104°C). We found it to be imperative that a good oven thermometer is used to ensure the temperature is true.
  • Put the chips (pre-soaked in water for about an hour) in the smoker-can, or the prepared smoker pouch, next to the flame. Now, close the grill and let the smoke get started. This will be the last time, during the cooking cycle, you will have anything to do with the smoke. Too much smoke when cooking ribs on a gas grill makes the meat bitter tasting and smoking is actually done in the first couple of hours.
  • Place a pan of hot water (no sense wasting fuel to heat the water) under the meat side of the grill.

Cook 'Em

  • Place spare/back ribs on the grill, opposite side of the fire, bone side down, to begin cooking. Avoid the ribs touching. When cooking barbecue ribs on a gas grill, never let the meat overlap the fire. You cannot undo crispy or burnt ribs! Close the lid and...
  • Resist peeking! You're loosing precious heat. Open the lid only far enough to do the job. Check the ribs for the first time in about 15-20 minutes to make sure the temperature is holding at around 200°F (93°C), and then check about every half hour to mop, turn 'em over to prevent "the singe". Mop should be applied lightly and sparingly.
  • You have time! If you have judiciously maintained the cooking temperature, peeked, mopped and turned the ribs quickly, you can leave your station several times before the ribs are done. When barbecuing ribs on a gas grill think 5-8 hours 'til end-of-shift. When the meat starts to pull away from the end of the bones, grab that instant-read meat thermometer and...
  • Check the meat between the bones, looking for 205°F/96°C. to be the magic number. Spare ribs will need about 5 to 8 hours to fully cook. Country Ribs and Back Ribs can take longer. Use the tongs and wiggle a rib to test. Meat should be tender, and be loose from the bone, when done.

Barbecue ribs have a wonderful, natural flavor, so we emphasize the need to season lightly. If you wish, you can now bring out your favorite barbecue sauce and baste during the last half hour of cooking. We do not barbecue ribs with barbecue sauce, as this interferes with smoke absorption...and there goes your fame!

NOTE: If you cannot serve them immediately, wrap in aluminum foil, place in a brown paper bag and set aside . This gives you some time to get the meal together, and really helps make the meat tender!

Serve Em!...

...warm, cut individually and for the Cookin' Cousins" taste, eat 'em just as they are, but...many folks like a "finishing sauce". This is nothing more than a barbecue sauce, of your choice, served as a side dish (or two), for the folks who would like to put something more on their ribs. Lets eat!

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