Cooking ribs can be tricky. Do it right, and you’ve got flavorful, tender meat that is pretty much what dreams are made of — but one false move and you’ll be stuck gnawing rubbery, tough flesh off a bone like a caveman.
With grilling season just around the corner, mastering the art of perfect ribs is important. And everything — from the quality of meat you choose and the temperature of the grill to the flavor of the barbecue sauce — makes a difference.
Ready to learn how grill tender, fall-off-the-bone ribs? Follow this step-by-step guide, and your backyard barbecue guests will be talking about your ribs forever.
1. Make a rub
The first thing in preparing tender ribs is creating a rub that’s sure to delight your taste buds and add to the ribs’ already delicious flavor. We like to keep things simple with a rub consisting of just three ingredients: salt, pepper and cayenne pepper.
After applying a generous amount of the rub to the ribs, let them sit and marinate for a good 30 minutes.
2. Precook the ribs
Most people place their ribs directly on the grill after they marinate. Though this will produce delicious ribs, we recommend precooking them in the oven first. Wrap the ribs in foil, and place them in the oven at 300 degrees F for 45 minutes. Precooking them helps intensify the flavor and naturally brings out the juices, ensuring your ribs will be anything but dry.
3. Grill the ribs
This is the easy part! Place the ribs over indirect, medium heat on your grill. The temperature should be about 325 degrees F. Cover the grill, and cook the ribs for approximately two hours.
Do not check on the ribs for the first 30 minutes — this is crucial! If you open the grill too many times, you put the ribs at risk of drying out.
After the two hours are up, use a fork to make sure the ribs pull off the bone easily. If so, they are done. If you’re using barbecue sauce, now is the time to slather the ribs in it.
What is indirect heat? The cooking does not take place directly over the heat. If you’re using a gas grill, turn on half the burners, and place the ribs on the unheated side. This allows them to cook more slowly and evenly and makes it less likely for them to burn. You can learn how to create an indirect heat zone on your grill, with tips from celebrity chef Michael Symon.
4. Cool the ribs
After the ribs are fully cooked, take them off the grill, and let them rest for 10 to 15 minutes. Allowing the meat to rest lets the moisture build up again and prevents the juices from running out of the ribs as you cut them. If you cut the meat right away, you lose a ton of vital juices pertinent to the overall flavor. We know you’re hungry and your mouth is watering, but it’s worth waiting an extra 10 minutes.
Common grilling mistakes
The most common mistakes people tend to make when grilling ribs — or grilling meat in general — include:
- Grilling over direct heat. Any meat that is two inches thick or more should be grilled indirectly.
- Putting on the barbecue sauce too soon. Save this for the end. You don’t want the sauce to burn.
- Peeking too often. If the recipe calls for a closed grill, do your best to not peek. Once per hour is fine, but any more than that, and you run the risk of losing too much moisture.
- Getting tipsy. We know it’s more fun to grill with a drink in hand, but try to limit yourself to just one until the food is served.