Kansas City’s barbecue sauce is tomato-based, thick, sweet and smoky. These Kansas City-style spareribs are a perfect example of that style of barbecue.
When asked how to cook BBQ pork ribs, every pit master out there will insist that low and slow with smoke is the only method. While I tend to agree, there are situations where that method may not be feasible. So then what…no ribs? Although the low-n-slow method is traditional for southern-style barbecue, once you learn how to cook BBQ pork ribs in an oven or directly on the grill, I doubt any of your guests will complain.
How to Cook Pork Ribs Using the Low and Slow Method
Start the charcoal 30 minutes prior to cooking. Prepare the grill for indirect grilling. You’re aiming for a temperature of 225 to 250-degrees F. Place ribs bone side down on the grill grate or use a rib rack if you’re cooking several racks of ribs. If using a rib rack, place the meat side of the ribs facing the fire. Add the smoking chips and cover the grill.
On average, baby back ribs will take about 4 hours while spare ribs need about 5.
At the outset, your main goal is to watch and adjust the temperature. The heat will have a tendency to climb up to the 300-degree F range rather quickly. Adjust the vents or completely close them in order to maintain the optimum temperature. Once you have it under control, it will eventually level out and remain somewhat constant. Check the temperature about every 30 minutes, or so and adjust the vents as needed. There will come a point where the charcoal will need to be replenished, usually about the halfway point. Be sure to start the charcoal for about 20 minutes before adding it to the grill. This is also the time to add more smoking chips.
At the halfway point of the cook, rotate the ribs. Move the racks that were closest to the fire towards the back while replacing it with the racks that were furthest from the fire. Also, invert them, that is rotate the part of the rack closest to the fire away from it. This will insure even cooking across all the slabs. It is also at this point where you want to start basting the ribs. Using a basting sauce or spray bottle of apple juice, baste ribs every 30-45 minutes. I prefer a basting sauce if my ribs are laying on the grill grates, but the spray bottle if I have them set in a rib rack. It’s a messy endeavor to try to baste ribs in a rib rack, plus time consuming and I really don’t want the lid off my grill that long.
Remove ribs from the grill and baste with your favorite barbecue sauce, if desired. Allow ribs to rest for 15 minutes before serving. Cut into serving sizes and serve them up. Serve with additional sauce on the side.
Understand that barbecue ribs have no set rules in time. It will depend on the temperature of the grill, weather conditions, the amount of meat on the ribs and other factors. With experience, you’ll soon know how close to being done your ribs are, just by looking at them. The meat will shrink away from the end of the bones by about a 1/2 inch on each side. The meat will pull away cleanly from the bone and will have a dark appearance, but not burned. A sharp paring knife can be used to check for tenderness. It should slide easily through the meat between the bones. As a safety measure, cook an additional rack of ribs. Use this as your sacrificial slab. When you think they are about done, cut a piece off and try it. Continue to cook if not done before testing again.
How to Cook Pork Ribs Using the Direct Grilling Method
Although the direct grilling method cooks pork ribs much faster, two additional steps should be considered…a marinade and a basting sauce.
With the Low-n-Slow method, the fat in the meat is rendered off slowly. As this happens, the fat acts as a basting sauce which aids in keeping the meat moist and tender.
A similar result is obtained with the oven method. In addition, as the ribs cook they create a small amount of steam. The aluminum foil contributes to tenderness by trapping in this moisture.
The direct grilling method offers none of these advantages, therefore we must do it manually. Once you understand how to cook pork ribs using the other methods, it’s easy to see how direct grilling might easily burn the outer layer or dry them out. A marinade will slightly tenderize the meat while the basting sauce will aid in keeping the meat from drying out or burning.
Prepare your ribs by removing any excess fat and the membrane. Unless you have your own special marinade recipe, Italian salad dressing will work just fine. Season the ribs with a little salt and pepper and brush liberally with the dressing. Wrap tightly with plastic food wrap and store the ribs in the refrigerator. Marinate for at least 2-4 hours. Overnight would be best. As far as the basting sauce is concerned, an easy method is a spray bottle filled with apple juice.
Proceed with the rest of your recipe and start the charcoal 30 minutes before you want to cook. Remove the ribs from the marinade and allow to reach room temperature. Prepare the grill with a medium fire for direct grilling. Once the coals are ready, brush the grates with oil and place the ribs bone side down. Cook for about 1 hour. Turn every 15 minutes and apply a spritz of the apple juice to both sides. Continue this process until the ribs are tender. If flare ups occur, extinguish them with the apple juice. During the last 10 minutes, apply a coating of your final sauce to both sides and turn. Do this a couple of times. Remove ribs and give them another coat of your sauce. Allow to rest for 15 minutes before serving.
Like the oven method, smoking chips aren’t practical with the direct method. Sure, you could add some soaked chips to the fire, yet the minor smoke flavor you’ll achieve isn’t worth the grief of working in a cloud of smoke.
How to Cook Pork Ribs on a Gas Grill
Although this article is about charcoal grills, great slabs of pork ribs can be had on a gas grill, as well. It’s just that I don’t use my gas grill very often and feel like I’d be leading you to the slaughterhouse if I were to try to tell you how that is done. Don’t worry, I’m not throwing you gassy people under the bus. Here’s a guy that can help you out.
Meet Derrick Riches. He’s the BBQ Guru over at About.com. He’s a great guy and he knows his ‘Que! Here’s his article:
How to Cook Pork Ribs in the Oven
Prepare the ribs as directed in your recipe. Preheat an oven to 350-degrees F. Place the ribs with bone side down on a wire rack in a roasting pan. If you’re doing several slabs, it’s OK to stack them on top of one another. Cover pan tightly with aluminum foil. Bake for 1 hour. Remove the ribs from the oven and carefully drain off the fat. Continue baking ribs uncovered for 30 to 45 minutes or until tender. Turn and baste occasionally with your particular sauce during the last 20 minutes of cooking. An option at this point is to turn on the broiler and sear the ribs for an extra crusty texture on the surface or to caramelize the sauce. Take care, though. Sweet and tomato-based sauces tend to burn easily. Remove the ribs from the oven and allow to rest for 15 minutes. Brush again with your sauce and serve.
An additional trick to the oven method is to utilize liquid smoke in your sauces . Contrary to popular belief, liquid smoke is an all natural product. Use in moderation. A little goes a long way. Experiment with it and eventually you’ll create a pretty good rendition of smokey flavored BBQ ribs.
Here’s another way to cook pork ribs
The BBQ PitBoys show you a method that’s a crossbreed of the direct and low-n-slow methods.
And yet…a few more perspectives
Here’s an article that I published at my barbecue column at the Examiner. We start by getting things smokey and charred on the grill, then we Lo-n-Slow it in the oven. The inside of your house will smell like heaven. Here’s the link if you want to check out that method: How to Cook Barbecue Ribs the Easy Way.
The fine folks at QualityGrillParts.com have assembled a great guide on the art of perfect smoked pork ribs. Here’s the link if you want to check out their technique: Smoked Ribs: The Ultimate Guide for Pork Ribs!
All these methods should convey one main point about cooking pork ribs…there are no set rules. Do what best works for you, but work it to perfection.
I know I often mention that there are no set rules at TopRibs, yet there may be a few. One that comes to mind as I write this post is, “NEVER BOIL YOUR RIBS!“. As a child, I remember my Granny use to boil ribs with cabbage. I didn’t like them then…I don’t like them now! Unless you’re making soup stock or must be fed intravenously, all you’re doing is boiling out all that tasty pork flavor and leaving it in the water. Stick to the above methods…please?
Enjoy your ribs and always remember…admire the fire!