Although getting an authentic barbecue flavor when cooking ribs on a gas grill can be difficult—gas grills are great for hot and fast cooking but not so efficient when you need to turn a rack of ribs into tender, smoky barbecue—there are some tricks you can use to barbecue ribs on your gas grill.
This example uses a full rack of trimmed spareribs, which will take from 1 1/2 to 2 hours to cook. You can use baby back ribs with this same method, but you will need to reduce the cooking time about 5 minutes per stage.
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What You Need
Since the ribs will be cooked indirectly, your gas grill must contain at least two burners and be large enough to fit the rack of ribs on one side while leaving space on the other. The heat will not be below the rack of ribs but instead on the other side of the grill.
To barbecue ribs on the grill, you will need these ingredients:
- Fuel for your gas grill
- 1 rack of pork ribs
- Sharp knife
- Good rib rub
- Wood chips or chunks for smoke
- Aluminum foil
- 1/2 cup (120 mL) apple juice
- Good barbecue sauce for ribs
Not using a gas grill? Try barbecue ribs on a charcoal grill for even better results.
Prepare the Rib Rack
It is rare to find store-bought spareribs that are properly prepared. You will need to do some basic trimming before cooking. Ideally, what you're looking for is a rack of ribs with a square shape and an even thickness throughout. Make sure you inspect the ribs for any loose pieces of meat, fat, or bone.
Cut off any excess scraps or excessive fat from the rack, but make sure not to cut off all the fat, just reduce the thicker parts. Since these ribs are cooked faster than they would in a smoker, the benefit of the fat isn't as great. You need fat to keep the meat moist, but you don't want to end up with an overly fatty finished product. Once done trimming, rinse the rack of ribs with cold water and pat dry with paper towels.
Rub the Ribs
Once the ribs are trimmed and rinsed, it is time to apply the rub. A good rib rub adds flavor but doesn't overpower the meat. Apply the rub evenly over the meat, covering the back and front as well as the sides and ends. Apply as much rub as will stick, letting the excess fall away. The natural moisture of the ribs will hold all the rub you need.
You can apply the rub up to an hour before you start cooking, but any longer will affect the texture of the meat, giving it a hamlike flavor and texture. If you need to return the rack to the refrigerator after putting on the rub, wrap it tightly with plastic wrap and handle it gently. Preferably, try to get the ribs on the grill within 10 to 20 minutes of applying the rub.
Make Smoke Bombs
Creating proper smoke on a gas grill while cooking at lower temperatures is a real challenge. While you might be able to give these ribs a hint of smoke, they are not going to have a strong smoke flavor. That is the sacrifice of cooking ribs on a gas grill. You can try throwing in a couple of smoke bombs to generate smoke. This is a quick, easy, and cheap way to make smoke on a gas grill.
Start by placing about 1/2 cup of damp, but not wet, wood chips on a piece of foil. Wrap the wood chips so that one side has a single layer of foil. Poke several holes through the foil to let the smoke out. Place the smoke bombs under the cooking grate as close as possible to the burner you are using to create the indirect heat.
You will need to preheat the grill hot enough to get the combustion of the wood started. Once you see smoke coming out of the smoke bombs, turn down the heat, place the ribs on the grill, and close the lid.
Place the Ribs on the Grill
Where you place the ribs on the grill is most important. You need indirect heat to cook ribs without drying them out or overcooking them. The goal is to hit temperatures up to 375 F/190 C.
If you have a grill with the burners running front to back, you will need to use one of the burners on either end. Let's say you are using the left side burner. This means you place your smoke bombs directly over this burner (and under the cooking grate). The ribs will be placed on the grate to the right of the hot burner. If the rack of ribs is short enough to be placed running parallel to the burners, set it near the hot burner but not over it. Otherwise, you might have to place it in a more diagonal position on the grill, which will require rotating the rack of ribs occasionally to even out the cooking.
Place the rib rack bone-side down on the grill, close the lid, and adjust the grill until it holds a temperature of 300 F/150 C. Let the ribs cook for 30 minutes. Don't open the lid as keeping it closed will hold in as much smoke as possible. Don't expect a lot of smoke to billow out of the grill as there won't be a tremendous amount of smoke production.
Wrap the Ribs
Once the ribs have been on the grill for 30 minutes, check that they are browned on all sides. If they appear raw on the surface anywhere, continue grilling for another 10 to 15 minutes; otherwise, move on to the second phase.
This step makes the ribs tender by steaming them with apple juice (or another type of liquid). The secret is to wrap the ribs tightly in foil while keeping all the juice inside the packet. You want to make it as watertight as possible after pouring in the apple juice.
Place the tightly wrapped ribs back on the grill in the indirect grilling space. Close the lid and increase the grill temperature to around 375 F/190 C. At this temperature, the apple juice will boil, tenderizing the ribs and cooking them quickly.
After the ribs have been steaming in foil for 30 minutes, it is time to turn down the heat and unwrap the ribs. They should be mostly cooked at this point, which means they will be more flexible; if you pick up the wrapped rack on one end, it should droop down. If you open the foil and the ribs are not browned completely, close up the foil and continue grilling for another 10 to 15 minutes.
Once the ribs are ready to continue, set your grill temperature around 250 F/120 C, but definitely not more than 265 F/130 C (the burning temperature of sugar). Place the ribs back in the same place to finish cooking.
When smoking ribs, it is up to you whether to add sauce or not, but with the gas grill method, it's ideal to use a good barbecue sauce. It brings authentic barbecue flavor to your ribs and adds to the surface texture of the meat.
The secret to a good sticky rib is multiple coats of barbecue sauce. The best method is to sauce one side of the ribs, close the lid, and cook for 5 minutes. Then open the lid, flip the ribs, and sauce the other side. Continue doing this for 30 minutes, and you will have a heavy coating of barbecue sauce. Five minutes after you put on the last coat (with at least two coats per side), remove the ribs from the grill, cut into portions, and serve.
If you don't have apple juice, you can substitute with many different liquids. Other juices like orange and pineapple work well, as do types of stock or broth. If you have a bottle of beer on hand, mix in a couple of tablespoons of sugar first. Soda can also be swapped in, or even water.