Do you ever feel unsure of how long to grill ribs? It often comes down to personal preference — many food-lovers prefer their ribs to ‘fall off the bone,’ meaning they’re so tender, the meat will basically fall apart.
However, if you ask competition judges, they generally prefer the ribs to have some texture and not fall off the bone as you take a bite.
So, what is the perfect time? The truth is, there’s a sweet spot that we always make sure to aim for to achieve those perfect ribs — and we’re going to share it with you.
Avoid Ribs if You Don’t Have Time
Great food requires time, effort, sweat, and sometimes tears (especially if you’re dealing with onions!). It’s a process that simply can’t be rushed — and that goes primarily for ribs. Ribs require time and attention from the moment they hit the grill. You have to observe the temperature or you could end up with inedible char.
Under-cooked ribs are tough and chewy. Just imagine grandpa gnawing his way through some chewy ribs — not a pretty sight and definitely not something you should ever serve your guests.
Over-cooked ribs will fall off the bone — maybe you’ll lose some down the grates as you remove them from the grill. Keep in mind, though; we’re making ribs, not pulled meat!
Preparing ribs also isn’t a quick-fix process. You must prepare the ribs early to give yourself ample cooking time.
As you prep the ribs, you’ll have to remove the membrane, trim, rinse, dry, and season the meat — so don’t skimp on time with this process.
Getting the temperature and timing right is crucial if you want juicy, tender ribs or chewy, burnt and charred ribs.
In the following guide below, we will take you through the different phases and times of grilling and smoking ribs to perfection. However, before we dig in, let’s take a quick look at the various ribs available.
The Type of Rib Determines Grilling Time
Most often, when people talk about ribs, they mean pork ribs. However, that’s not to say that pork is the only type. Beef short ribs have become immensely popular (probably due to their Flintstone vibes), lamb ribs are also super delicious when cooked just right.
We’re going to stick to pork ribs here, and there are three popular types to try out:
- Spareribs: Cut from the meaty lower part of the pig.
- Louis-style ribs: Same cut as spareribs, minus the breastbone and cartilage.
- Baby back ribs: These are found where the spine and ribs meet. Now, don’t worry, baby back ribs aren’t from baby piglets — they simply get their name for the shorter size than spareribs.
Although these are different types of ribs, they all require low and slow cooking to become moist, juicy, and tender.
The cut will determine the cooking time.
Due to the difference in size, cooking time will differ. Spares will need significantly longer than baby backs. For example, if you were to cook the two types at 225 degrees Fahrenheit, baby backs will need four to six hours, whereas spares need five to seven hours.
The type of grill you’re using will also impact how the ribs cook and the flavors. A charcoal grill is ideal for ultra-tasty, tender ribs due to its low n slow process. But, that’s not to say that it’s impossible to cook delicious ribs on a gas grill — it’s very much possible, and we’re going to show you how.
Grilling Ribs on a Charcoal Grill
How long the ribs need on a charcoal grill depends on the temperature. Ideally, the grill will remain at a consistent temperature of 225 degrees Fahrenheit (107 Celsius).
Keep in mind, we’re aiming for low and slow cooking here, and even at 225 degrees Fahrenheit, the ribs will still need at least five hours — maybe even six hours — to finish.
Unlike grilling steaks, the ribs’ internal temperature won’t determine whether they’re done or not. Of course, when cooked to the safe internal temp of 190 degrees Fahrenheit, the ribs will be safe to eat; however, they might not be delicious just yet.
In fact, it takes a significant amount of time for the connective tissues to break down and become tender. Most of the time, we need to cook the ribs to an internal temperature of 205 degrees Fahrenheit to become tender.
A basic timeline could look similar to this:
- Unwrapped smoking: Three hours.
- Cooking wrapped in foil: Two hours.
- Unwrapped at a high temperature: One hour.
Depending on your grill, your ribs might require slightly more or less time than mentioned above. It’s essential to rotate the ribs occasionally throughout the cook — you must also check on the fire, smoking wood and the water pan every 30 minutes or so.
Always test for doneness, don’t go by time or temperature. We’re going to cover how you can test for the perfect doneness in a minute.
Grilling Ribs on a Gas Grill
Gas grills are more suitable for hot and fast cooking — they aren’t ideal for low and slow cooking, but you can surely make it work.
What you need to do is create a two-zone fire by igniting only half the burners. Once the temperature is at a steady 225 degrees Fahrenheit, place the meat on half of the grill away from the burner.
When the meat is on the grill, it should take about the same time as a charcoal grill (around six hours). Again, you must rotate the meat throughout the cook and wrap it in foil following the same guideline we mentioned above.
Ready Vs. Done: Understanding The Difference
The difference between “ready” and “done” determines whether you’re serving out-of-the-world delicious ribs or only good ribs. As we mentioned above, just because they’re fully-cooked, it doesn’t mean they’re perfectly cooked.
Ready ribs are cooked to a safe internal temperature at 145 degrees Fahrenheit. They’re safe to eat, but most likely still tough and chewy.
Done ribs have had a chance to reach higher temperatures between 190 and 205 degrees Fahrenheit. As the meat cooks to these higher temperatures, the fat and collagens melt and make the meat tender, moist, and absolutely delicious.
3 Tell-Tale Signs of Done Ribs
When cooking on a grill, you can never be 100 percent sure of the outcome. Maybe it’s an unusually cold and windy day, making it harder for the grill to maintain a steady temperature. The meat might be thicker or thinner than the last time, requiring you to adjust the cooking time and temperature.
Following the quick guide we shared above is a sure way to achieve delicious ribs; however, you still need to check for doneness before pulling the ribs off the grill.
Below, we have listed three tested and proven methods to know that your ribs aren’t just “ready,” they’re done.
The Bend Test
Using a pair of tongs, grip a slab of ribs by the center and lift it. Lift it very gently — if you notice the meat is beginning to crack or fall from the bone, the ribs are done. Now, don’t lift the slab too high or it might just break.
The Toothpick Test
No, we aren’t looking for uncooked batter — we’re testing resistance! Stick a toothpick between the bones. If there’s no resistance, the ribs are done and ready for you to enjoy. Check at several places to ensure the meat actually is done — some areas of the rib will be thicker than the rest, which will take the longest to cook.
The Twist Test
Grab the tip of the bone and give it a slight twist. If the ribs are done, the bone should begin to break free of the meat as the fat and collagen have melted and turned into gelatin.
Last Tips About Cooking Ribs
To conclude: Ribs shouldn’t fall off the bone — they should be tender and moist but still have some texture. You should be able to get a nice and clean bite or pull the meat from the bone using your fingers; however, it shouldn’t just fall off.
Although “fall-off-the-bone” is a term often used to describe deliciously tender meat — in reality, that meat is either steamed, boiled or grossly over-cooked. Meat that doesn’t have texture will be mushy and flavorless to eat.
Here are some last tips to help you make the best ribs:
- Start small: If you’re new to ribs, go for baby backs. These are easy to cook, well-marbled and tender when cooked well.
- Take your time preparing: Don’t rush the process! Take your time to remove the membrane and find seasonings or rubs you like.
- Consistent temperature is everything: Maintaining that temp on the grill is essential. Try to keep it within 225 and 250 degrees Fahrenheit, but don’t go over that. Once the meat is cooked, you can finish it off over high temperatures between 325 and 350 degrees Fahrenheit.
- Sauce: The sauce shouldn’t be added in the last minutes of cooking. Ideally, you should start to sauce the meat during the last 30 minutes of cooking. Brush a nice layer of sauce onto the ribs, then close the lid — open to re-apply every five to eight minutes until a nice glaze is achieved.
That was it, our ultimate guide on how long to grill ribs. Hopefully, you have learned something and feel ready to slap a slab on the grill. Let us know how it went by sharing your experience in the section below.