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Head Country

How to Cook Ribs on the Grill From Start to Finish

Pork spare ribs are a BBQ classic. A sure way to impress your friends and family at this summer’s cookouts is to serve up a platter stacked high with racks of ribs, each packed with tender, smoky flavor. How to cook ribs on a grill is one of those skills that keeps on giving—and it’s one you can share with other BBQ lovers, too.

The good news: ribs are as impressive as they are easy to grill and BBQ. Here, World BBQ Champion Doug Scheiding of Rogue Cookers walks through how to cook pork spare ribs from start to finish, step by step.

How to pick the best rack of ribs for grilling?

Get St. Louis-style racks weighing 3-4 pounds. Trim the ribs from there. What to look for in the meat: A nice, deep, red color. Choose a rack that doesn’t have a lot of fat; instead, opt for racks with striations between the ribs.

Ribs often come in multiples per pack, especially at club stores. Don’t be afraid to dig into the selection, being sure to compare for color, shape, meatiness, and marbling.

How do I trim ribs for grilling?

Trim each rack of ribs as close to a rectangle shape as you can get. A good goal is to trim down to 10 bones. Why? Because a normal grill is about 19 inches deep. When you trim down to 10 bones, you can load a rack of ribs onto a standard grill from front to back.

When you’re prepping to cook ribs on the grill, be sure to remove large pockets of fat, too—anything that keeps you from seeing the meat underneath. You can do this most easily with a small boning knife.

Want yours cut St. Louis-style? Easy. Flip your ribs to be bone-side up on your favorite cutting board. Find the longest rib bone. Insert a sharp knife right at the top, and cut straight down through the cartilage. Continue cutting along the tops of the rib bones until you can separate the rack from the tips. And there you have it—a St. Louis-style rack of ribs.

(Don’t throw the large pieces you trim from your ribs away! You can smoke them right alongside your St. Louis-style ribs. This meat is excellent right off the smoker or added to a big pot of beans, rib sandwiches, or a heaping plate of BBQ nachos.)

Do I have to remove the membrane on a rack of ribs before grilling?

No, it isn’t an absolute must. But yes, when it’s time to cook ribs on the grill, it’s a good idea to remove the membrane on a rack of ribs before you put them over the heat. Use a knife to cut through the membrane and then, using a paper towel for grip, pull the membrane from the meat in (hopefully just) one motion.

As with grilling the perfect rack of ribs, practice on this makes perfect.

How do I season a rack of ribs for grilling?

Add canola, grapeseed, or avocado oil all over the top and bottoms of the ribs, as an adherent. Put only one rub on the bottom (bone side) of the ribs. Try not to use a rub with a lot of sugar. That sugar can burn and taste bitter.

Doug uses Head Country Original Championship Seasoning. On the tops of the ribs, Doug advises to layer the flavors. Try using 2-3 seasonings there.

Try putting the Original down first, then layer on High Plains Heat second. Then, spritz it (Doug likes to use apple juice) and let it sit for about 10 minutes.

What temperature is the best for grilling BBQ pork ribs?

Start the ribs at 300 degrees, decreasing the temperature to 250 degrees after about 3 hours. Put the thicker side of the rack of ribs toward the back of the grill.

As you’re going in and out of the grill, that’s going to maintain more of a constant temperature and cook more evenly.

How long does it take to cook ribs on a grill?

Total, 5-1/2 to 5-3/4 hours. To start, you will cook the ribs for 3 hours at 300 degrees with no foil or covering. Spritz it about every 30 minutes (use apple juice for this), just to make it moist. This will keep a dry, hard bark from developing.

At 3 hours, you’re ready to wrap. You’ll put the rack from the grill onto a large sheet of foil, or two sheets of foil overlapped. At this point you will add a light coating of brown sugar over the top of the ribs. Doug says to try 3-4 ounces of Coca Cola per rack.

Fold the aluminum foil in a A-frame shape, crimping the foil at the top. Load the ribs back onto the grill and cook for 2-1/2 to 2-3/4 more hours, decreasing the temperature to 250 degrees F. Then, if desired, it’s time to glaze.

Lightly use a brush, distributing the glaze over the tops (meat side) of the ribs. The ribs go back on the grill at 250 degrees for about 5 minutes, to let the glaze set.

Pull the ribs off the grill and allow them to rest for 5 minutes before slicing from the top to the bone-side with an electric knife.

What should I serve with BBQ ribs from the grill?

Try Head Country Cole Slaw, our Easy Baked BBQ Beans, and this recipe for Grilled Street Corn (Elote).

Get Doug’s full recipe for Fall-Off-The-Bone Pork Spare Ribs, including a handy ingredients list and a play-by-play how-to.

Find more expert BBQ and Grilling videos from Doug, including more must-have BBQ tools and how to host a BBQ for 20 to 200.