How to Smoke Ribs on a Charcoal Grill

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Smoking ribs on your charcoal grill is an excellent way to cook them. Most people mistakenly use too much heat when cooking ribs, which turns flavorful ribs into charred bone. Because smoking involves cooking the ribs slowly over indirect heat, you end up with ribs that are juicy and flavorful. Learning to cook the perfect ribs is not only rewarding, but can make your next gathering almost perfect.

Things You'll Need

  • Wood chips
  • Ribs
  • Rib-rub seasoning
  • Charcoal grill with lid
  • Fire tongs
  • Charcoal briquettes
  • 2 drip pans (aluminum cake pans)
  • Rib rack
  • Stemmed grill or oven thermometer
  • Meat thermometer
  • Remove the membrane found on the bone side of the ribs. The membrane can be removed by inserting a butter knife underneath it and pulling it off.

  • Shake rib-rub seasoning on one side of the ribs and rub it into the meat with your hands. Then, flip your ribs over and repeat on the other side. Store the ribs in the refrigerator.

  • Soak the wood chips in water for 30 minutes. For ribs, consider using alder, apple, cherry, hickory or maple chips. Alder chips have a light flavor good for salmon, chicken and pork. Apple or cherry chips provide a sweeter, fruity flavor excellent for pork, poultry and other birds. Hickory chips are very popular with a strong flavor used for smoking beef, pork and ham. Maple chips have a sweeter smoky flavor good for game, poultry and pork.

  • Place about 25 to 30 briquettes into a pyramid on one side of your grill. Add ½ cup of lighter fluid. Wait until the fluid has soaked into the charcoal before using a long-handled lighter or match to ignite the coals.

  • Once the flame has died down, place your drip pan on the other side of the grill. Using your fire tongs, rearrange the charcoal briquettes on the other side so they cover that side of the grill.

  • Take your ribs out of the refrigerator. You want your ribs to be close to room temperature before they go on the grill. Otherwise, you can send the meat into shock.

  • Wait about 20 minutes until most of the coals are covered with a white ash. Then, place a handful of wood chips directly on the charcoals. For more smoke, you can wrap a cup or two of wood chips in aluminum foil, poke a few holes in the foil and place it on the coals.

  • Fill your drip pan two-thirds full with a liquid such as apple juice, wine, beer or water. You can also add spices and herbs to the liquid.

  • Replace the food grate on the grill. Place your rib rack on the grill over the drip pan. Place your ribs in the rib rack. Place another aluminum pan over the charcoals and fill it with hot water.

  • Adjust both the bottom and top vents so they are about halfway open. Place the lid on the grill so that the top vent holes are over the ribs.

  • Place your stemmed thermometer in the vent hole to monitor the temperature. You want the temperature to be about 225 degrees Fahrenheit. You can control the temperature by adjusting the bottom vent holes--close them when the temperature gets too high, open them when it gets too low. Never close them all the way.

  • Every 30 to 60 minutes, add six charcoal briquettes to the fire. It is better to add hot coals, but cold coals are fine. You may also want to add a few more wood chips at these times as well, especially during the first two hours.

  • Your ribs are done when the internal temperature of the meat reaches 180 degrees Fahrenheit. Typically, it takes four hours to cook baby-back ribs and five hours to cook spare or St. Louis cut ribs. Add an extra hour if you are cooking at a high altitude.

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  • Photo Credit Roland
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