If you’re a fan of BBQ, then you know it’s hard to beat smoker pits and charcoal grills when it comes to cranking up juicy ribs. The smoke catches on just right and the tenderness is unmatched. But what do you do when you have a gas grill instead?
We understand the daunting risk of ending up with dry, bland meat when a gas burner is in the picture. But what if there was a way to avert this, and perhaps end up with pitmaster level results.
Let’s show you how!
Choose the Perfect Ribs
Great ribs start with a great rack. Get a substandard quality and you can bet the outcome will be just that. So take your time when shopping around and ask for help if need be.
The good news is healthy ribs are not hard to come by. Have a look around your local supermarket or meat market, and if these do not supply a quality cut, try online vendors.
To simplify your task, here are some popular pork cuts that have been tested and tried on the grill.
Baby Back Ribs
These are drawn from the highest part of the rib cage, where the ribs actually meet with the spine. Baby back ribs are shorter than spare ribs but meatier. Depending on your location, they may go by different names including; Canadian back ribs, loin ribs, or just back ribs.
Unlike baby back ribs, these are found further down the sides of the pig reaching close to the breastplate. In layman’s terms, they are referenced to as just “spares” or “side ribs”. They carry less meat and may take longer to cook.
St. Louis Style Ribs
Typically these are spare ribs, only more trimmed to a neat square shape. The skirt containing cartilage and the sternum bone is removed before finally slicing the rib tips. St. Louis cut is shorter than whole spare ribs, but longer than baby back ribs.
Steps on Preparing the Ribs
Once you’ve selected the perfect rib rack, time for a few preparations before hitting the grill. Some people opt to skip right into the main course and start smoking and this could work. However, taking the time to properly season your ribs could be a whole game changer.
You might want to do this the previous night with no rush, but in case you are pressed for time, you can also do this on the go. Follow these steps.
1. Rinse and Cut
Use running water to wash away any cartilage and tiny bones. While at it, use the opportunity to trim off pieces of dangling meat otherwise, they could burn on the grill if left on. Once satisfied, go ahead and dry your ribs with a paper towel.
Next, you’re going to remove the silvery membrane off your rack. For this, use a sharp knife and slide it in from one end of the rack. After making an entry point, use your fingers to peel off the layer gently until it all comes off.
For this step, have a bowl big enough to fit the ribs while sparing some more room for the marinade.
Pour about 4 cups of apple cider vinegar into a bowl making sure that the ribs are entirely submerged. Proceed to squeeze one fresh lemon into the solution before finally wrapping the bowl with clear foil. Let it refrigerate for at least an hour.
3. Use a Dry Rub
Here’s the fun part. You can use just about any spice combinations you have in your pantry and rub those in generously. Be sure to coat both sides of the rack and use your fingers to reach in between the crevices. The essence of a dry rub, apart from boosting flavor, is to promote a crunchy crust that’s going to be a delight to chew on.
For those in need of inspiration, here are some great ingredients to mix up for a homemade dry rub.
- Brown sugar
- Kosher salt
- Black pepper
- Garlic powder
- Cayenne pepper
- Celery seeds
Remember to apply your BBQ dry rub only after drying your marinated ribs. Also, drizzling some oil onto the surface helps the spices stick on better. And once the rub is on, tie everything together by letting the rack sit in the fridge for 30-60 minutes.
Smoking Ribs on a Gas Grill
It all comes down to this. Given, a gas grill is faster and needs less effort to maintain the fire and smoke like a charcoal version, but on the flip side, the probability of temperatures spiking is also very high. So you may want to keep a close eye on this.
The indirect heat method maintains even in this procedure and this is how to achieve it. Grab your smoker box and fill it with some wood chips. A combination of hickory and mesquite has been found to pair excellently when smoking ribs, but you are not limited to this.
According to some pitmasters, soaking wood chips beforehand is essential to prevent them from catching fire. And if you have no time for this detail, you can alternatively pour a cup of water instead.
Go ahead and place your smoker box on one side of the grill, below the grates but on top of the heat tamers. The work of the heat shield is to accommodate the fire by inhibiting direct flames. Without this accessory, the chips would burn to ash in seconds and make a mess.
Now that your smoker box is positioned, bring the grill up to temperature by igniting the burner closest to where the smoker box rests. Turn it to a high while leaving the other burner(s) dormant. Again, this is for the sake of avoiding direct heat under the ribs.
Give the cooker a few minutes to come up to 225F-235F, and maintain temperatures there. When you begin to notice thin blue smoke emitting, you know that the grill is ready. Adjust the burner to a medium so you can maintain the required range.
It’s better to allow the smoldering first before closing the door lid or else you might lose temperatures when you get back to check.
Place your ribs on a rib rack or directly onto the grates and let the cooking begin. The overall time is estimated to be around 3- 4 hours but this might vary depending on the cut and how big a slab you have laid out.
Midway through the cooking period, the chips will likely diminish and this is okay. You don’t need to worry about replenishing unless you want an extra-strong smoky flavor. The first 45 minutes are enough to impart the needed amount as long as the chips burn correctly.
A pro tip, have a spray bottle of apple cider vinegar on standby to coat the surface now and then. It helps to prevent the ribs from drying out. And 30 minutes to the end of the cook, smear some BBQ sauce for that extra kick.
How to Tell if the Ribs are Done
Being that we are working with a bone-in cut, it’s impossible to get an accurate reading from a meat thermometer. The probe is inhibited from reaching deep enough to give correct internal temperatures, yet again the bone itself may exaggerate true temperatures.
In that case, your best bet is to try swiveling one of the bones to the center and see how that goes. If the bone is flexible then it’s also very likely that the ribs have achieved a fall–off–the–bone kind of consistency.
Another way to tell if the ribs are done is to stick a toothpick between two bones. If there’s no resistance, that’s a good sign. And if you cut through the thickest part without realizing pink juice, you’re on the right track.
Upon achieving the desired level of doneness, have the patience to let your ribs rest for about 15 minutes or so. Rushing to slice the meat up will lead you to lose a great amount of juice. The resting is needful to redistribute the juices back into the meat and, therefore, hold in as much as possible.
Once done, you’re all set! Bring out your sharpest knife and carve into the ribs, then serve!
Frequently Asked Questions
1. Is soaking the wood chips before using a gas grill necessary?
This is debatable. The whole point of soaking is to promote smoldering rather than the chips catching fire. Unless you know your way around your gas grill or have it calibrated, it is wise to take this safety precaution. In other cases, just a splash of water is enough.
In the spirit of adventure, substituting water with beer, wine or fruit juice could reward you with a fresh flavor altogether.
2. What is the 3-2-1 method for ribs?
Any pitmaster will tell you that it is the most ideal method for smoking ribs. The first three hours are dedicated to smoking the ribs bare, the next two hours the meat is wrapped in foil, and the last hour unwrapped again.
The science behind the 3-2-1 ribs is that the initial 3 hours are spent absorbing the smoky aroma whereas the next two hours work to tenderize the meat while sealed in the foil wrap. The finishing hour helps the meat attain a crusty golden bark, hence producing perfectly smoked ribs.
Forget about having to purchase a brand new smoker pit for a BBQ session as your humble gas grill is more than able to get the job done. The only trick is to stay ahead of the temperatures by playing with the burners. Next time you’re smoking ribs, try the above-recommended method and let us know how it goes!