When it comes to a delicious and authentic BBQ cookout, ribs are one of the first types of food that come to mind.
In terms of how to best prepare a rack of ribs – well, conventional BBQ wisdom is that ribs should always be cooked low and slow on a smoker. But that’s not the only way to enjoy this all American classic.
As it turns out, cooking ribs on the grill is a perfectly viable and easy way to get the job done as long as you know what to do and how long to grill ribs.
So if you were asking yourself “how long do you grill ribs?”, you’ve come to the right place. In this article, we’ve created a complete guide to grilling ribs for legendary results. By the end, you’ll be well on your way to BBQ glory!
The Type of Ribs Matters for How Long You Cook Them
The first thing that comes to mind for many when they think of ribs is classic pork baby back ribs.
While these are an incredibly popular option, there are actually quite a few more types of ribs out there to choose from. And which type of ribs you’re cooking can make a pretty big difference on how long you should grill ribs.
Compare pork baby back vs St. Louis style ribs for example. Each come from a pig and are actually cut right next to each other on the rib cage. But baby back ribs are markedly more tender and therefore require less time in the heat, reducing the required cooking time for a rack by as much as an hour.
You’ll also notice below that there’s a fairly wide range of time we recommend for how long to grill ribs. The reason is because there can be a little bit of variance in size between rib slabs, and not all rib slabs are created equal. Bigger slabs will require a longer time on the grill than smaller ones.
Patience Is Key
One more note before we touch on specifics in terms of how long to grill ribs. Any cut of BBQ isn’t going to be the type of food that you can just throw in the microwave like it’s a bowl of ramen noodles.
For ribs, a little bit of time and patience is going to be crucial to a successful cook. You’ll also need to pay attention to them and be able to check on progress every so often while they’re on the grill.
If you aren’t careful, you run the risk of under cooking or over cooking your ribs. Under cooking ribs leads to food with a tough and chewy texture. Nobody wants that.
Over cooking ribs on the other hand leads to meat falling off the bone when you pick them up. While “fall off the bone” might sound catchy, that’s not exactly what we’re looking for when it comes to cooking ribs.
There’s definitely a sweet spot when it comes to cooking a rack of ribs. The goal is to cook a tender rib that can be picked up by the bone and eaten with your hands. Achieving that perfect balance of tenderness and flavor on the grill simply requires a little bit of time and patience.
Use a Two Zone Grilling Set Up
You want to use a two zone grilling set up when grilling ribs, essentially turning your grill into a convection side cooker where your food is cooked with indirect heat.
Indirect heat cooking will lead to even, tender, and tasty results when it comes to low and slow cooking on a grill. Using direct heat will mean that you run the risk of over cooking the outer layer of your ribs before the inside has had a chance to properly cook. The end result of that would be a charred outside and a tough, chewy inside.
You can read more about indirect heat grilling here, but essentially you should turn on the burners on only one side of your grill, and place your food on the other side of the grill (the indirect side) to cook.
How Long To Grill Ribs
Here’s a quick reference guide for how long to grill a few of the most common types of ribs. For each type, we’ll give guidelines on how long to cook the fast way (higher temperature) or the slow way (lower temperature).
Remember, it’s generally best for your end results to go with the lower temperature and longer time option. Personally, I would never cook ribs “fast” as I believe far superior results can be achieved by doing things the low and slow way. But sometimes life happens and we get into a hurry before dinner time.
It’s also worth noting that these guidelines for how long to cook ribs are only general rules of thumb. What you’re really trying to do is cook your ribs until they reach an internal temperature of 203°F (measure using a probe thermometer), which is the optimal time to take your ribs off of the cooker. More on this in a moment.
The longer you cook (and the lower the temperature), the more time your meat has for fat to render and connective tissue to break down – which leads to the mouthwatering and tender results we’re after.
How Long to Grill Baby Back Ribs
Baby back ribs are cut from the loin section of a pig, and come from the part of the rib cage that connects to the backbone of the pig. If you’re lucky, your butcher might have even left an inch or so of tender loin meat on the top side of your rib rack.
Baby backs typically come in slabs of 11 to 13 ribs and are incredibly tender and not quite as meaty as some other cuts. Because of this, they don’t need to spend as much time on the grill or smoker to break down connective tissues and reach optimal tenderness.
The Slow Way (Ideal):
If you’ve got time on your side, set your grill’s temperature to 225°F and cook your ribs for about 4 to 5 hours, depending on the size of your slab.
The Fast Way:
If you’re looking to get baby back ribs done in a hurry, set your grill to 325°F and place your ribs on the indirect side and cook for about 1 1/4 to 1 1/2 hours. By then, the meaty section should have shrunk back from the bone a tiny bit and the meat should have a nice tenderness to it.
How Long to Grill St. Louis Style Ribs (or Spareribs)
St. Louis style pork ribs come from the sparerib portion of the pig, which is cut just below the baby back section of the rib cage. Spareribs have the rib tip section attached, whereas St. Louis style has the rib tip section chopped off.
This cut of ribs is naturally larger and tougher compared to baby backs, and tastes meatier and can be much more flavorful. Since they are larger and tougher, they require a little bit more time on the grill to finish.
The Slow Way (Ideal):
For proper low and slow grill cooking, set your grill’s temperature to 225°F and place the ribs on the indirect side to cook for about 5 to 6 hours.
The Fast Way:
If you’re in a rush for St. Louis style ribs, set your grill’s temperature to 325°F and grill the ribs on the indirect side for approximately 2 to 3 hours.
How Long to Grill Beef Back Ribs
Beef back ribs come from the same section of a steer as the prime rib roast. In case you didn’t know, prime rib is a prized cut of beef and butchers can typically get top dollar for it. Because of this, beef back ribs typically have bone exposed and minimal meat on top of the bones. The fingers in between each of the bones will house the meaty goodness of beef back ribs.
Beef back ribs are a tough cut of meat that requires some time on the cooker to truly tenderize. Get it right and your BBQ ribs will be the stuff of legend.
The Slow Way (Ideal):
For low and slow cooking, set your grill’s temperature to 225°F and place the beef back ribs on the grill to cook for about 4 1/2 to 5 1/2 hours.
The Fast Way:
For low and slow cooking, set your grill’s temperature to 325°F and grill the ribs on the indirect side for approximately 2 to 2 1/2 hours.
How Long to Grill Beef Short Ribs
Beef short ribs are a prized cut of BBQ pit masters around the country. They’re known for being high in fat and full of incredibly robust and delicious beefy flavor.
Additionally, the meat is all on top of the bones when it comes to the short rib section. With this cut, we’ll want to cook them low and slow on the grill at 225°F.
The amount of time it takes to cook beef short ribs has more to do with the thickness of the beef layer on top of the bone. Most cuts will have 1 to 2 inches of beef on top.
- For 1 inch thick beef: cook at 225°F for about 1 hour for medium rare results (130°F internal temperature)
- For 1 1/2 inch thick beef: cook at 225°F for about 1 1/2 hours for medium rare results (130°F internal temperature)
- For 1 inch thick beef: cook at 225°F for about 2 hours for medium rare results (130°F internal temperature)
How to Tell Ribs Are Ready
The USDA recommends that pork and beef both be cooked to an internal temperature of 145°F to be considered done. Many professional chefs cook beef steak cuts to only 128°F or so before they are served.
It’s important to note here the difference between “safe to eat” and finished.
Since ribs are tougher cuts of meat, they should be cooked longer and until they reach a higher internal temperature so that the connective tissues and fats have ample time to break down and render.
Ribs (and many other BBQ cuts like brisket) are generally cooked until an internal temperature of 190°F to 205°F. Aaron Franklin, a BBQ idol of mine, recommends that you cook to an internal temperature of 203°F.
The best way to tell if ribs are ready is to measure internal temperature of your meat with a probe meat thermometer. When measuring, make sure that the probe measures a thick section in the center of the slab. The bones are sure to be piping hot and will throw off your temperature reading if the probe gets too close.
There are also a couple of quick checks you can do if you don’t have a thermometer handy:
Slightly Twist a Bone
Grab the tip of a bone from the middle of your slab and give it a slight twist. You should feel the bone easily start to break from the meat, indicating that your meat is the perfect tenderness. If the bone comes out without resistance, you might have cooked them a little too long. If it doesn’t tear free from the bone at all, they might need to spend more time cooking.
The Bend Test
You can also pick up your slab with a pair of BBQ gloves or thongs. The meat should just start to bend and separate off of the bone when they are perfectly finished. Be careful to not do this test too quickly, as your slab could be ruined if all of the meat fell off of the bone onto your grill grates!
Which Type Of Grill Should I Use for Grilling Ribs?
When it comes to how long to grill ribs, the type of grill doesn’t make a huge difference. In other words, you can expect your cooking time to remain the same whether you’re using a charcoal grill, gas grill, kamado grill, or pellet grill.
That being said though, it’s more ideal to use grills that use charcoal or wood pellets as a fuel source. Wood pellets and charcoal both smoke when ignited, and the smoke will impart delicious smokey flavor into your ribs.
Of course, you could also convert your gas grill into a smoker by utilizing a pellet tube smoker if you are looking to grill ribs on a gas grill but want to get a little bit of smokey flavor in there.
Other Tips for Grilling Ribs
If you’re a beginner, try baby back pork ribs first. These are definitely the easiest cut to work with, and frankly pretty hard to mess up. On a per pound basis, they’re also the cheapest cut of ribs so if you mess them up bad you won’t be out too much money. After you’ve mastered baby backs, move on to a more challenging cut of pork or beef ribs.
Caramelize BBQ sauce on top in the oven after coming off the grill. If you want to truly wow your crowd, broil a layer of BBQ sauce on top of your ribs before serving – it’s simple and quick! Just set your oven to broil at 500°F, baste a layer of sauce on top, then broil for 3 to 4 minutes.
Use a water pan in your grill to help maintain moisture. Ribs have a tendency to dry out, so it won’t hurt to include an aluminum foil pan filled with water inside of your grill while your ribs cook. This will help to keep the cooking environment nice and moist. You could also spritz apple cider or water onto your ribs every hour or so as an alternative to a water pan.
Don’t go too crazy with different seasonings. If you cook your ribs properly, the flavor will be incredible – period. Just use your favorite BBQ rub to prepare your ribs. Personally I love Texas style BBQ so I only season my ribs with salt and pepper.
Plan ahead for leftovers. A full slab of ribs is a big hunk of meat, so leftovers are likely – so plan ahead and check out our guide on how to reheat leftover ribs!
There you have it – if you came to this article asking how long to grill ribs, I hope you know the answer now! At the end of the day, you want to make sure your ribs reach about a 203°F internal temperature, but use the above guide as a reference point for expectations of how long you should grill ribs.
Did you grill ribs recently? How did it go? Which type of ribs did you make? We’d love to hear about it in the comments section below.
Looking for more ideas and grill expertise? Check out our resource on how long to grill chicken next.