ribs are a much-beloved institution with purists and traditions that run deep into many local cultures. With that in mind grill and smoker, manufacturers have spent years developing a wide range of outdoor cooking appliances that are meant to cater to barbecue, including claims of making the best ribs.
It’s important to note that there is a difference between a smoker for ribs and a grill for making ribs. Indeed, there are purists who insist that a traditional grill has no business making ribs and that ribs are only meant for a smoker. If you so much as mention the idea of boiling ribs, these individuals will likely shoot you a dirty look, and you might even be in for a stern lecture.
For people who have to mind their budget, investing in a separate smoker for barbecue and a grill for steaks and hamburgers simply doesn’t make sense. If you are in a chapter of your life where you’ve got the money to invest in a grill, but you still want to enjoy succulent, tender ribs from time to time, there are a few options.
How Can I Make Tender Ribs On A Charcoal Grill?
To identify the best grill for making ribs, we need to take a quick tour behind the principles needed to cook them. If you drop a rack of pork spareribs over direct fire, you will likely burn the exterior black and crispy, long before the interior is cooked. The meat you end up with will also be pretty tough.
This is due to all the connective tissue in the ribs. To soften this connective tissue into succulent gelatin, instead of meat fibers you have to floss out of your teeth, you need to slow cook them. For some, this does mean putting the ribs in a crockpot for two or three hours. Once they show signs of being tender, you can lay them on the grill with the meaty side up and lightly glaze them with your favorite sticky barbecue sauce.
To a barbecue ribs purist, this idea of simmering or braising ribs is unacceptable, as much of the fat and flavor ends up in the braising liquid.
Features For Making Ribs Entirely On The Grill
If you are uncomfortable with the idea of braising ribs before grilling them, then your other option is to look for a charcoal grill with an offset smoker or enough horizontal space in the firebox to make a fire on one end while placing the ribs on the other. These grills let you perform “Slow and Low” methods to improvise as a traditional smoker, without you having to invest a lot of money in a smoker cabinet or wood pellet grill.
Best Charcoal Grills For Slow Smoking Ribs
Can I Make Ribs On A Gas Grill?
Gas grills are another one of those things that competition barbecue purists might argue against. Yet gas grills are very convenient, and they tend to be easier to clean up than charcoal grills with offset smokers, or wood smoking cabinets.
To smoke ribs on a gas grill, you are going to need some significant space and a grill that has independently controlled burners. You then turn on one burner on the far side of the grill, while placing the rack of ribs on the other side. When you close the lid the heat circulates to indirectly cook the ribs and break down the connective tissue. A heavy-duty aluminum foil pan under the ribs will catch any drippings to reduce the mess that falls on the inactive side of the gas grill.
To add smoke to the equation, you can buy a metal “Smoker Box” and set it over the flames. This is usually a box made out of heavy-duty aluminum or stainless steel with perforated holes in it. The heat from the flames causes wood chips or chunks to smolder, giving off smoke, which the meat absorbs.
Dialing in the flame is the most important part of the equation. You want the heat registering on the lid thermometer to hover right around 250 to perhaps 270 degrees. This means turning the burner element down. Just make sure that the flame it’s producing is a rich blue. A low propane flame that’s yellow could mean that not all the propane being released is burning.
Any stray hydrocarbons in the internal air could land on the very receptive meat, which could impart a “Butane Flavor.” You tend to see this oxidation problem more with propane grills. A natural gas grill burns much cleaner at any temperature.
Best Gas Grills For Making Ribs
Are Wood Pellet Grills Good At Making Ribs?
There are some people who would argue that wood pellet grills should be classified as smokers. This is due in large part to the fact that the heat and smoke they produce is indirect. If we set this technical argument aside, a wood pellet grill can cook most of the things you would think about grilling over a direct flame.
There are even a few that have adjustable “Broiler Plates” which allow you to directly introduce flame to the food you are cooking. This makes them a good option for times when you want to put some attractive sear marks on a Steak or a piece of chicken after you finish cooking it to temp in hot smoke.
Some wood pellet grill manufacturers don’t have internal broiler plates, but instead, offer units with a “Searing Box” on one of the side tables. The side burner runs off propane and creates intense heat for times when you want to sear a piece of meat.
When it comes to making ribs on a wood pellet grill, you don’t need to worry about these direct heat features. They are there more for the times when you are cooking something like a steak that does better with direct flame rather than indirect heat. For ribs, you simply set your target temperature on the wood pellet grill and insert a probe thermometer into the thickest part of the meat. As the ribs reach your desired level of tenderness, you can glaze them with sauce or leave them plain.