How to Make BBQ Ribs on a Charcoal Grill


Cut Pork Ribs
Cut Pork Ribs

The explosion in the popularity of barbecue and all those shows about barbecue competitions might have you believing that you need a big, expensive smoker to make great barbecue ribs. The truth is, you don’t. While very good barbecue ribs can actually be made on a Gas Grill the best piece of equipment to prepare a rack or two of great ribs, is a charcoal grill. Of course, it must be a full-sized charcoal grill with a lid and good airflow control, but if it is, it can be set up to do some excellent, low and slow barbecue. The trick is to convert the grill into a mini water smoker and all you really need is a couple of disposable aluminum pans, some wood for smoking and a rack or two of ribs.

To accomplish this your charcoal grill must reliably hold low temperatures for long periods of time. While most can, some can not. You need to determine if yours is the kind that can. To test it, build a fire in your grill and adjust the vents so that the internal temperature of the grill stays stead at a temperature around 250 degrees F (120 degrees C). The grill will need to hold this temperature for at least four hours. It may be necessary to add additional fuel to the grill during the cooking process. We will discuss that later. The grill must also be large enough that a rack of ribs can sit on half the cooking surface and have room around the edges for airflow and smoke.

What you need:

  • Full-sized charcoal grill
  • Rack of ribs
  • A BBQ Rib Rub
  • Charcoal
  • 2 disposable aluminum pans about half the size of your charcoal grill
  • A pitcher of warm water
  • Hardwood chunks
  • A reliable meat thermometer
  • Heavy duty aluminum foil (if you intend to wrap your ribs)
  • A BBQ Sauce for Ribs
  • A large knife

The ribs used for this method can be spare ribs or baby back ribs. Spare Ribs are larger and will take up to 5 hours to cook. Baby Back ribs will take about 4 hours. If you choose to do more than one rack of ribs, the grill must be large enough to accommodate both racks. There are rib holding racks available with allow multiple racks of ribs to stand on their sides, making more room. The average charcoal grill might be able to accommodate three, even four racks with one of these.

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