How to Cook Barbecue Ribs On a Gas Grill

rack of ribs on wood dish

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How to Cook Barbecue Ribs On a Gas Grill

I love to host friends and family for backyard get-togethers, but the standard menu of hot dogs and hamburgers can only go so far. That’s what prompted me to expand my grilling repertoire. If you’d like to learn how to cook ribs on a gas grill so that they come out perfectly every time, you’ve come to the right place.

What Items Will You Need?

Before you begin, you should make sure you have all the ingredients and tools necessary for cooking ribs on the grill. Here’s a checklist to help you get started.

Tip: Be sure to have all your tools ready to avoid delays. Use high-quality aluminum foil, thin aluminum foil will break when wrapping the ribs.

  • High-quality gas grill with plenty of fuel
  • At least 1 full rack of pork ribs
  • Chef’s knife
  • Marinade (you can make your own with soy sauce, apple cider vinegar, chicken stock, and garlic)
  • Seasoning rub (a blend of brown sugar, kosher salt, garlic powder, smoked paprika, and freshly ground black pepper works well)
  • Beer or apple juice for steaming
  • Prepared wood chips, slightly damp
  • Your favorite barbecue sauce
  • Aluminum foil – (good quality, thing foil will just break!)
  • Heatproof gloves (preferably silicone)
  • Sturdy grilling tongs
  • Silicone brush (for adding the sauce)

Other Recommended Items

If you enjoy cooking outdoors, the following items are sure to be useful. While you don’t necessarily need them for grilling ribs, this is a good all-purpose grilling checklist.

  • Flat spatula
  • Double-pronged fork
  • Digital meat thermometer
  • Disposable aluminum pans
  • Heavy-duty platter
  • Wire grill brush

Prepare the Rib Rack for Your Gas Grill

Before grilling ribs, you’ll need to take a few extra steps to ensure that the meat is as tender and tasty as possible. 

Depending on the rib cut you choose, you might want to trim the ribs and remove the membrane. I like to inspect the ribs and trim any odd chucks or thin areas that I know might burn or dry. 

Good Pork Rib Cuts For Grilling

The first step when learning how to grill ribs is to locate the perfect ingredients. Not sure what type of ribs you should buy? Here’s the rundown on some of the most popular ones.

orange square Spare Ribs

With their large bones and visible swaths of connective tissue, spare ribs are easy to recognize. They can be tricky to cook properly, but if you get the hang of it, you’ll be rewarded with some remarkably tender meat.

orange square St. Louis Ribs

Essentially spare ribs with the broad tips removed, St. Louis ribs are notoriously difficult to prepare. Unless you’re already a true grill master, we would recommend sticking with baby back ribs or spare ribs to start.

orange square Baby Back Ribs

Baby back ribs on gas grill is a natural pairing, and one that’s easy to master. You should also have an easy time finding them at your local supermarket.

Check Your Ribs

No matter what type of ribs you choose, you should always make sure to give them the once-over before preparing them for the grill.

First of all, check the rack and trim off any loose hanging bits of fat or bone. You might also need to trim the fat to give it a uniform thickness, but be careful not to cut off too much—fat is essential to the flavor and texture of the finished product.

Once the rack is in good shape, rinse it under cold water and pat it dry with paper towels.

Marinating

The day before you plan to cook, place the ribs in a nonreactive dish. Drench them with the marinade of your choice (see above for a quick fix), turning the rack to ensure that they’re fully covered. Place them in the refrigerator overnight, or for up to 24 hours.

When you’ve removed the ribs from the marinade, pat them dry with paper towels to remove the excess moisture. The flavors should have fully permeated the meat.

Let’s Season the Ribs (Rub the Ribs)

The next step is to coat the rack with your choice of seasoning rub. You can use the ingredients we’ve listed above as a reference, but your options here are virtually limitless.

How Much Rub Should I Use?

There’s no hard and fast rule, but you should make sure to have enough rub to generously cover the entire surface of the rib rack. It’s better to go slightly overboard than to skimp on this step. Try to have at least 1/4 cup of rub on hand for each full rack of ribs.

Tip: The amount of rub or seasoning is entirely up to you and your liking. Apply seasoning to your taste and watching out for seasoning such as pepper, kids do not like too much pepper.

When to Apply the Rub

When it comes to applying a dry rub, the quantity matters less than the time frame. Don’t be tempted to add the rub too far in advance—this can give the meat a mushy texture and a ham-like flavor.

Ideally, you should apply the rub no more than 10-20 minutes before putting the ribs on the grill. Fortunately, that’s about as long as it takes to prepare the gas grill.

Technique

Gently massage the dry rub into every crevice of the rib rack, making sure to cover the whole surface. For best results, try to use the natural grain of the meat as a guide, and apply the rub in this direction (rather than crosswise). This will help to boost the flavor.

Turn Your Gas Grill Into A Smoker Using Smoke Bombs or Grill Smoker Boxes

Cooking on a gas grill has plenty of perks, and convenience is at the top of the list. There’s no need to wait for the coals to ignite and die down to the proper temperature—just set the flame jets to low, and you’re ready to get going.

smoking grill

However, because these grills don’t impart much flavor on their own, it’s in your best interest to add some natural wood smoke to the mix. If you want to learn how to cook ribs on a gas grill without sacrificing flavor, this is an essential step. That’s where smoke bombs and grill smoker boxes come into play.

What are Grill Smoke Bombs?

The grill smoke bomb technique is quick, easy, and inexpensive. To pull it off, all you need is a good supply of aluminum foil and a few handfuls of wood chips.

The method involves wrapping damp wood chips in foil and placing them next to the gas-powered flame jets. As it heats up, the moistened wood will begin to smolder, thereby imbuing the food with a savory, smoky richness.

What is a Grill Smoker Box?

A smoker box is an attachment that’s specifically designed to hold wood chips for grilling. These units are sometimes affixed to the side of the grill, but they can also be placed inside the main cooking chamber. While they’re a more popular choice for gas grills, smoker boxes are available for charcoal-fueled units as well.

Turn Your Gas Grill Into a Smoker

The key to making authentic baby back ribs on a gas grill is to transform your unit into a smoker. While the wood chips are an essential part of the process, the temperature itself is just as important. You’ll need to maintain a low and slow heat in order to get the results you crave.

To turn your gas grill into a smoker, turn on a single burner. For vertical burners, turn on the jet that’s furthest from the gas tank; for horizontal burners, turn on the burner that’s closest to the rear of the cook box. When the grill has heated to 300-325 degrees Fahrenheit, you’re ready to employ one of the smoking techniques listed below.

The Grill Smoke Bomb Technique

Simply moisten a handful of wood chips and allow them to dry enough so that they’re damp, but not dripping. Place the chips on a piece of aluminum foil about 1 foot square and carefully wrap them so that one side is covered by only a single layer of foil.

Using a metal skewer or the tines of a fork, poke the single foil layer in several places to allow the smoke to escape. Repeat the process until you have 3-4 smoke bombs.

Place the packets beneath the cooking grate, as close to the burner as possible. Use the burner opposite the space where you plan to cook the ribs, as you’ll be using indirect heat. Light the burner, set it to medium-high, and wait until smoke begins to pour from the holes in the foil.

Once the smoke appears, place the ribs on the grate, adjacent to the burner that’s being used for the smoke bombs. Turn the heat to low and close the lid. Continue to cook the ribs as directed in Let’s Cook the Ribs, below.

The Grill Smoker Box Technique

If your gas grill doesn’t have a smoker box attachment, you can purchase one separately. Alternatively, you can fill a disposable aluminum pan with damp wood chips, seal it tightly with foil, and poke holes in the foil to allow the smoke to escape. Either way, the method is a slightly more sophisticated version of the grill smoke bomb technique.

Simply position the filled pan over the lit burner and wait for the wood chips to smolder. Be aware that the wood will likely be spent after about 2 hours, so if the meat is taking longer than that to cook, you might have to swap in a fresh batch of chips.

Related: Best wood for smoking pork meats.

Let’s Cook the Ribs

Place the ribs bone-side down on the cooking grate, adjacent to the lit burners. Close the lid and make sure the temperature of the grill is holding steady at 300 degrees. If necessary, you can adjust the flame to raise or lower the temperature.

bbq ribs served on tray

Smaller rib racks should be able to fit over the unlit burner without getting too close to the flames. If the rack is too large, you might need to place it in a diagonal position in order to close the lid. In these cases, you should periodically adjust the ribs during the cooking process in order to promote even cooking.

How Long To BBQ Ribs

All in all, the ribs should take about 3-1/2 hours to cook. However, there are a few additional steps to take into consideration.

First of all, it’s important to keep the lid closed for the first 30 minutes of cooking. This will prevent the smoke from escaping so that the meat absorbs as much flavor as possible. If you’ve positioned the ribs diagonally, they should be rotated every 30 minutes. Otherwise, keep the lid closed for the first 2 hours.

When the ribs have browned all over, it’s time to move on to the next step. The next hour or so should be devoted to the wrapping phase (see Time to Wrap the Ribs, below). When this stage is complete, you’ll add the sauce and let the ribs cook for another 15-20 minutes. The final 10-15 minutes will give the meat time to rest. Always check the meat’s internal temperature and follow USDA minimum internal temperature guidelines.

Time to Wrap the Ribs

Should you wrap your ribs?

Is the wrapping step truly necessary? Not always, but we would definitely recommend it. Here’s why.

Wrapping the ribs in foil allows them to retain much of their moisture. When you add apple juice or beer, as we’ve done here, the liquid will create a steam bath for the ribs, giving them a juicy tenderness as they cook through.

What do you put on ribs when wrapping them?

Start by laying out a sheet of aluminum foil that’s large enough to hold the rib rack with plenty of room leftover. Fold up the sides to create a lip around the edges.

Add the ribs and pour in about 1/2 cup of apple juice or beer, then tightly wrap the foil around the meat so that the liquid doesn’t run out. Return the ribs to the grill and cook at 300 degrees for another hour.

At this point, the rack should feel loose and pliable when you pick it up with the tongs. If not, let the ribs cook for another 15 minutes.

Apply Your Favorite Barbecue Sauce

If you’ve marinated and seasoned the ribs properly, they’ll taste delicious even without barbecue sauce. Still, that finger-licking goodness is one of the best aspects of the rib-eating experience.

When it comes to barbecue sauce, there are many different styles. In North Carolina, the sauce has a tangy mustard base. In Kansas City, meanwhile, the flavors tend more toward tomato and molasses. Choose the one that appeals to you most. Since you’ll have to plan the meal for at least one day in advance, you might even consider making your own sauce from scratch.

When To Add Sauce

Don’t be tempted to add sauce until after the wrapping stage. If you put it on too early, the sugars in the sauce will burn, and all your efforts will be rewarded with a bitter, acrid flavor.

After unwrapping the ribs, carefully brush the entire rack with the sauce of your choice. Decrease the heat to about 250 degrees Fahrenheit and return the ribs to the grill. Cook for about 15-20 minutes, or until the sauce has set.

Once the ribs are finished cooking, allow the meat to rest for 10-15 minutes before serving. If you’d like, you can offer additional sauce on the side for dipping.

Summary

So now you’re an expert on how to grill ribs! The next time you host a barbecue, your guests are sure to be impressed by your knowledge and skill. Once you’ve sampled the results for yourself, this is a technique you’ll want to return to time and again.             

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