Ribs are always considered the hallmark of great BBQ.
If you can make some incredibly sticky ribs, with smokey flavor and tender texture, hey, you’re a BBQ champion. But, oftentimes, it’s easy to mess up a few good slabs of ribs if you’re not careful.
The key to perfect ribs is the cooking time. With the correct amount, you will produce consistent results, from one cook to another. So, what would it be then? Let’s find out in this article.
We’ll begin with an explanation of why ribs take a while to cook and the ideal cooking time (hint: it depends). Then, we’ll go into all the factors that affect how long to grill ribs.
After that, we’ll teach you two ways to make ribs on a charcoal and gas grill, with the timeline included of course. We’ll then end the article by showing you two simple tests to make sure that your ribs are ready.
Without any further ado, let’s begin, shall we?
Why Do Ribs Take So Long To Cook?
Ribs take so long to cook because they have more connective tissues and fat compared to your regular pork chops and steaks. When cooked, ribs need time to convert these collagen into edible gelatin and for the fat to render. If you undercook ribs, they will turn into a tough and dry slab of meat.
Now, that doesn’t mean that ribs should take a whole day to cook. In fact, if you overcook them, ribs will become too mushy, which isn’t desirable either. The right amount of time is around 5.5 to 6 hours, sometimes more or less depending on several factors.
Factors Affecting How Long To Cook Ribs On The Grill
The more preferable way to cook ribs is barbecuing or smoking low n slow. With this method, the internal temperature of the grill is around 225F (107C) to 275F (135C). The cook can go on for 6 hours straight. Keep in mind that you also have to position the ribs away from the fire.
The benefits of barbecuing ribs is that they have plenty of time to fully break down. You can also add smoking wood throughout the cook, which lends flavor to the ribs and helps them develop a smoke ring. The only downside is the length of the cook. Not everybody has the time to do so.
The other way to cook ribs is grilling or hot n fast. You can finish a rack of ribs in 2 hours with this method. Some people can even do it for only 1 hour. The internal temperature of your cooker will be from 375F (190C) to 400F (204C). And you cook the ribs directly on top of the heat source.
The one good thing about this is that you save on time. However, you can burn the ribs easily if not careful. Furthermore, the ribs won’t have a strong smokey flavor since smoke doesn’t have enough time to impart its aroma. The majority of the flavor will come from the dry rub and BBQ sauce.
There are distinctive differences between barbecuing and grilling ribs. Choosing one over another will affect how long you have to cook them. You also have to consider the type of ribs, which is the second factor.
Type Of Ribs
Pork is the most popular when it comes to ribs. Don’t get me wrong. There are also beef ribs, which is amazing to cook with. But for the purpose of this article, let’s focus solely on pork ribs.
There are two main kinds of pork ribs. On one end, we have the baby backs. They have around 10 to 12 ribs in one slab. They’re also leaner and more tender, which is a good option to begin with for new backyard cooks.
And no, they aren’t from a baby pig. The reason they’re called baby backs is because they’re smaller compared to the second kind of pork ribs, which is the spares.
Spare ribs are bigger and flatter than baby backs. They also have more fats and connective tissues. Now, there is another type of pork ribs called St. Louis style ribs. They’re actually spares but nicely trimmed into a rectangular shape. You will find this type common in the BBQ competition circuit.
Because of their differences, it takes different time lengths to cook baby backs and spares. Assuming you choose the barbecuing route, spare ribs usually require 6 hours, if not more depending on the size of the ribs. The baby backs, on the other hand, only need 5 hours, sometimes less.
How Long To Grill Ribs On Charcoal?
Low n Slow
The best method to cook ribs on a charcoal grill using the low n slow method is the 3 2 1 ribs. Essentially, it follows an order like this.
- For 3 hours, you cook the ribs without any wrapping.
- For another 2 hours, you cook the ribs wrapped in either aluminium foil or butcher paper.
- For the last 1 hour, you cook the ribs naked again until they’re done.
The total hours of this whole process is 6 hours. But that can change depending on the factors we discussed above in addition to how well your cooker can maintain its temperature.
You start off by removing the membrane off of your ribs. Apply your dry rub. Let the ribs sit while you get your cooker going. Once your cooker is ready, it’s time to put the ribs on.
Throughout the cook, you need to have a consistent temperature of around 225F (107C) to 275F (135C). That is the internal temperature of your cooker. Don’t forget to add wood in the first 3 hours and reintroduce it again in the last hour if needed.
Speaking of the last hour, you can also apply your favorite sauce to your ribs during this time. Coat the first layer then close the lid to allow the sauce to firm up. Then continue to add additional layers every 10 minutes until you achieve that glossy exterior, which is typical of classic ribs.
Hot n Fast
If time is against you, you can still cook the ribs on a charcoal grill fast. It will take approximately 2 hours to do so.
Now, because you cook the ribs on direct heat, you probably want a dry rub without any sugar. That will prevent the ribs from burning when you’re grilling them.
You also want to have a spraying bottle to spritz the ribs throughout the cook to keep them moist. You can just use water or mix water with some apple juice. It’s up to you.
Then, go ahead and get the grill started. The internal temperature should be around 375F (190C). You also want to cook with the lid open at first.
Once the grill is ready. Put the ribs on and keep a close eye on them. With the direct high heat, the ribs can burn much easier. Therefore, flip them every 5 minutes or so.
After about 1.5 hours, you want to crank up the temperature to about 400F (204C). Place the ribs away from the heat source, close the lid, and let it cook for another 30 minutes.
The final step is to apply the BBQ sauce. Just follow the instructions outlined in the previous Low n Slow section. Once the ribs are done, let them rest for about 15 minutes then serve.
If you’re a visual learner, I include a YouTube video from Lyle of No Hippie BBQ & Cooking for your convenience. He will teach you how to cook ribs Hot n Fast method. Enjoy!
How Long To Grill Ribs On A Propane Grill?
A gas grill isn’t great at smoking low n slow. However, you’re still able to do it if your grill has at least two burners.
Simply turn off one burner and leave the other one on. You can do the same for three- to even four-burner gas grills. As long as you have a direct and indirect heat zone, you’re good to go.
Wait for the grill to get to the target temperature range (225F to 275F). Then place the ribs on the indirect heat area. The time length should be the same as in a charcoal grill, roughly 6 hours.
If you decided to cook the ribs hot n fast, it would be easier. Just turn the heat up to 375F and follow the exact process described for the charcoal grill.
2 Simple Ways To Know That Your Ribs Are Ready
According to the USDA, the safe internal temperature to consume pork is 145F (62C), with an extra three-minute rest time. However, for ribs, the meat might not be tender enough at that temperature.
Keep in mind that ribs have connective tissues and fats. They need time to completely break down so that the ribs become probe tender and deliciously moist. With the extra time, the internal temperature of perfect ribs should be from 190F (87C) to 203F (95C).
That’s when the ribs are not only safe but also amazing to consume. Now, to get to this point consistently, you just need to cook the ribs low n slow, meaning 225F (107C) to 275F (135C) for about 6 hours. Remember that low n slow is a more preferable way to cook ribs.
There are also two simple ways to tell when your ribs are done.
- The bend test – With your tongs, lift the ribs from one end. If you see any crack where it starts to bend, the ribs are done.
- The twist test – Simply grab the tip of one of the bones in the middle of the ribs. Twist it slightly. If the bone breaks free from the meat, hey, your ribs are ready to be served.
Ribs, if cooked the wrong way, are either dry and tough or too soft and mushy. If cooked correctly, they’re toothsome, with terrific flavor and juicy tenderness.
Therefore, when it comes to cooking ribs, a good rule of thumb is about 6 hours at a low n slow temperature range. You can also grill ribs with direct high heat. This reduces the cooking time down to 2 hours. However, your ribs will have a grilled flavor, as opposed to a smokey one.
Another factor that affects how long to grill ribs is the type of ribs. Spares are bigger than baby backs. They also have more fat and collagen. Therefore, spare ribs need more time than baby backs to be properly cooked.
So, keep this information in mind next time you’re cooking ribs on the grill. That way, you can plan ahead in case you’re short on time. If you have a whole day available for you instead, have a blast.
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