How to Cook Ribs With Indirect Heat


Ribs are a prime example of the grilling mantra "low and slow." When cooked for several hours over indirect heat, the ribs become melt-in-your-mouth tender. While grilled ribs aren't particularly difficult to cook, they do require a time commitment -- but when you take that first bite of juicy, succulent meat, your belly and your guests will thank you.

Preparing the Grill

  • Both charcoal and gas grills can be set up for indirect grilling. For charcoal grills, build charcoal into a mound or pour it into a chimney starter before lighting. Once the coal is gray with ash, spread it onto one side of the coal grate. For propane grills, light the burners on one side of the grill to medium heat. If your grill has a thermometer, aim for around 250 degrees Fahrenheit.

Cooking Technique

  • Place the ribs, bone-side down, on the cool side of the grill. If your grill is on the small side, you may want to cut the rib rack into smaller portions to fit the pieces more easily. If necessary, the ribs can overlap to ensure that they're not directly over the flames. Cover the grill, making sure the air vents are opened to prevent the grill from getting too hot. If you're using a charcoal grill, you may need to light more charcoal to add to the grill grate in case the coals cool and extinguish.

Times and Temperatures

  • Cook the ribs until they're very tender, about three to four hours for baby back ribs, and five to six hours for spare ribs. If you've cut the ribs into smaller portions, they may be done in as little as one to two hours. According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, ribs must be cooked to a minimum internal temperature of 145 F to ensure safety. Ribs are one example where cooking them above the recommended temperature will produce more tender results. Aim for about 180 F to 190 F. It can be difficult to get an accurate temperature reading on ribs because of the bulky bones, but insert a thermometer into the thickest part of the meat in several places to get a general idea. The easiest way to tell if the ribs are done is by checking the bones. Grab a bone in the center of the rack, and if it twists and pulls away from the meat easily, your ribs are done. Allow the ribs to rest for five to 10 minutes before slicing and serving.


  • A flavorful barbecue sauce is an integral part of the rib experience for many people. When the ribs are fully cooked, brush the ribs with sauce and move them over to the hot side of the grill. Allow the ribs to cook on the hot side of the grill until the sauce is sticky and caramelized, about four to five minutes.

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