Nothing says summer like grilled BBQ ribs! These baby back ribs on the charcoal grill are simple, delicious, and sure to please a crowd with tender, fall off the bone meat and crispy charred edges.
Coming from a long line of Texans, and having lived here my whole life, I like to think I know a thing or two about barbecue. I grew up on baby back ribs and brisket cooked all day long on a smoker during my childhood weekends spent at our family lake house.
Then I married another long-standing Texan who also loves his barbecue. In case you're confused, throwing some BBQ sauce on a piece of meat does not, in fact, make said meat 'barbecue'. Neither does cooking meat outdoors.
There is a distinct difference between grilling and barbecuing.
The main difference? Time. Barbecuing is a long, slow process over low heat, producing deliciously tender, juicy meat from cuts that may be tough and dry when cooked more quickly. Grilling is reserved for chicken breasts and burgers, which are cooked over high heat for a short period of time.
Now, I understand that I am lucky to live in the great state of Texas where we know good barbecue from bad and most people have the luxury of space to hold at the very least a charcoal grill. Which is what we have in our backyard, alongside the trusty gas grill.
While it might be ideal to BBQ ribs in a smoker, those are a little harder to come by, even for Texans. The amount of use a smoker would get in our backyard just doesn't justify the cost or amount of space it would take up. So the charcoal grill will do just fine. And that's how we made these delicious baby back ribs.
I say 'we' because I am not the resident griller in the Table household. That job is for Mr. Table. He enjoys drinking a cold beer, manning the fire and cooking meat all day. And he's good at it. So in this case, I'm just here to prep the food and explain what's happening.
How do you make ribs on the charcoal grill?
Start The Fire
First, you want to build a low-temperature fire on just one side of the grill.
Weber 22" Original Kettle - Check the price here.
Mr. Table suggests enjoying a cold beer while doing so. Remove the grates and add charcoal, and soaked wood chunks if you'd like a more smoked flavor, to one side of the grill.
On the other side, place a foil pan filled with water. This will help keep the ribs nice and moist.
Replace the grates, light the fire and let the grill get to an even temperature of about 275°F.
You'll need to monitor the fire and add more charcoal as needed throughout cooking to keep the temperature constant.
Prepare The Ribs
While the fire is coming to temperature, prepare your baby back ribs. I like to remove the membrane on the underside for more tender, flavorful ribs. You can remove it by sliding a butter knife underneath the membrane along the last rib until it comes free, then grab hold of it and pull it up along the entire rack. Then give your ribs a good, generous rubdown all over with my homemade BBQ spice rub.
Grill The Ribs
Place the ribs on the prepared grill on the side with the foil pan, over indirect heat. Cook for about 2 hours, rotating every 30 minutes or so to expose different edges to the hot side of the fire. After 1 ½ to 2 hours, wrap the ribs tightly in foil and place back on the grill to seal in the juices while you continue cooking for another 30 minutes or so.
Unwrap and Sauce
Finally, remove the foil. From here, you have a few options. You can go ahead and cut the ribs and serve if you've got an inpatient group. If you'd like a bit more char on the meat, return them to the fire without the foil, meat side down, for another 15-20 minutes. If you like your ribs saucy, place them back on the grill without the foil, meat side up, and brush them with barbecue sauce (like my homemade Texas BBQ sauce), 3-4 times, every 5 minutes or so to build a nice sticky layer of sauce.
When you've got your desired texture, remove the ribs, place them on a cutting board, slice with a large, sharp knife, and dig in!
- Mustard Potato Salad or Dill Potato Salad
- Pinto Beans or Baked Beans
- Skillet Cornbread
- Smoky Grilled Poblano Corn Salad
- Everything Summer Caprese Zucchini Noodle Salad
- Watermelon Feta Mint Salad
If you make this recipe, be sure to leave a star rating in the comments!Print
BBQ Ribs on the Charcoal Grill
Nothing says summer like grilled BBQ ribs! These baby back ribs on the charcoal grill are simple, delicious, and sure to please a crowd! (gluten-free, dairy-free, nut-free)
- Prep Time: 10 minutes
- Cook Time: 150 minutes
- Total Time: 160 minutes
- Yield: 1 rack ribs 1x
- Category: main dish
- Method: grilled
- Cuisine: BBQ
- 1 rack baby back pork ribs
- ⅓ cup BBQ spice rub
- BBQ sauce of choice (optional)
- Prepare fire in the charcoal grill. Remove the grates, place a pile of charcoal on one side of the grill only. On the other side, place a small foil pan filled with water. Start the fire and return the grates to the grill. Let the grill get to a low temperature (about 275°F.) You may also add pieces of wood to the charcoal for a more smoky flavor.
- While the fire is heating, prepare ribs. Turn ribs over so that the bone side is facing up. Remove the membrane along the back by sliding a dull knife (such as a butter knife) under the membrane along the last bone until you get under the membrane. Hold on tight, and pull it until the whole thing is removed from the rack of ribs.
- Rub ribs all over with spice rub. Once fire is ready, place the ribs on indirect heat - the side of the grill that has the foil pan. Cover and cook about 2 hours, watching to make sure the fire is maintained at a steady low temperature, adding charcoal as needed, and rotating the rack of ribs roughly every 30 minutes so that different edges of the rack are turned toward the hot side.
- After 1 ½ to 2 hours, remove ribs and wrap in foil. Return to the grill for another 30 minutes or so.
- When ribs are done, you can either remove them from the foil and place back on the grill, meat side down, for a little char, or place them meat side up and brush with barbecue sauce in layers, waiting about 5 minutes between layers. Or simply remove them from the grill to a cutting board, slice, and serve!
- If you're adding wood chunks to the grill, be sure to soak them in water for at least 30 minutes first.
- If you're feeling lazy (or if you're cooking solo) you can skip wrapping them in foil. We sometimes do and they still turn out delicious!
- This recipe also works great on a Big Green Egg or Traeger grill.
Keywords: BBQ ribs, ribs on the charcoal grill
Made this today. I used St. Louis style ribs, not baby backs. It was really hard to regulate the temp., but did the best I could. They came out really good, and I would stand by this recipe without reservation. Super Yum 🙂
I want to try this on an open charcoal pit with grate. Camping!
Thought I would take a large aluminum pan like one you put a turkey in to cover, since I dont have a lid to close! Think it would work?
Definitely worth a try!
Cooking them on a open charcoal grill. Have you had any comments about the best way of doing that?
Great method. I made mine on a big green egg, with charcoal, indirect. They were excellent. Thx!
I liked this recipe a lot! My ribs came out tender, juicy, and saucy in about 3.5 hours just by following the steps. It was my first time ever doing ribs on a charcoal grill, and I'll be using this recipe forever!
So glad to hear that!
I ended up with the best ribs I’ve ever been able to make!
Love this recipe
Worked great for me. As a new charcoal user, thank you.
Glad to hear it!
The first time I cooked ribs I followed these instructions, they turned out amazing! Now for the past 6 weeks or so this has become my Saturday ritual. Thank you so much 10/10 will use again.
I love hearing that! So glad you enjoy the recipe.
Kris Roth says
Just a little funny, unless you're all in rehab, your group might be *impatient*, not"inpatient".
I also had a Mr. Table when I was married, so I have very little experience on the grill. I'm really scared to try this, but I'm going to work up the nerve and do it, anyway. It sounds delicious. Thank you for sharing!
I've found with just about all things, the only way to learn is to do it! You've got this!
I forgot to soak the wood chips. First time doing this.
Nicholas Wallers says
After wrapping in foil and while saucing, do I still keep them over indirect heat?
I added 1tbsp white vinegar, 2 tablespoons brown sugar and s few splashes Frank’s hot, We like a tangy, sweet and spicy hot sauce.
Everyone loved it! Thanks so much for sharing the recipe!
Sounds great, thanks for sharing your tips!
cheryl coates says
Clear easy concise instructions thank you
Jeff Shikles says
I use my own rub. But I was looking for a different way to grill them that would take the all the fuss and guess work out if it. I've got them resting a little bit right now ...... They look and smell awesome........ To be continued shortly ......
I’m in the middle of cooking these right now but already I can tell this is the best rib recipe I have tried. They are so juicy and not dried out like normal for me. I can’t wait to try them. Our ribs are from our pigs and are a little thinner so I adjusted the time some but wow huge difference!! Thank you
Sharon Stone says
Omg update they taste awesome here in Sealy, TX. First time ever using charcoal grill.
So glad you liked them!
Sharon Stone says
Am still cooking trying your recipe. My grill said never use foil in the grill but I put the foil with water in as you said hoping not to ruin my grill will let you know how they turn out.
Kaleigh you have made me a believer. Normally wouldn't dream of commenting on a food blog, but damn, if this New Yorker isn't pleased with how his ribs turned out.
Bless you a thousand times.
Thanks for your kind comment, Cameron. You made my day! I'm glad the recipe worked well for you.
Hello trying recipe for the first time
How much water do you put in pan?
about a half inch or so is good!
Only one beer ?
That part's up to your discretion! 🙂
John Cevaal says
Hey do you keep the bone side on the grate the entire time or at every 30 minutes do you rotate. so its 30 min on the bones side, then 30 min on the meat side? or
You will keep the bone side down the entire time, just rotating the rack so different ends are closer to the fire. Hope that helps!
Dan BBQ lover says
When topping up the charcoal, it's not heating up enough with the lid closed. I have the vents open. Any tips? Thanks
Could you elaborate if you are placing the ribs over indirect heat in a foil pan? or are you putting the meat directly on the grill and a foil pan with water underneath?
The pan goes under the grates and the ribs go directly on the grill over the pan.
This worked out awesome! I followed your instructions exactly, pan of water, timing, etc. and the ribs were perfect. I use a Weber that has a portion of the grate with hinges, positioned that over the coal side so I could throw on a few more pieces of charcoal when I felt is was cooling down. Got to play cards with the kids on the deck while the ribs cooked, no fretting, a nice treat for mama! Thanks so much for such a great, simple explanation. Highly appreciated.
So glad that you loved them and found the recipe easy to follow. Thanks for leaving a review!
Michelle Whisnant says
I am cooking my ribs now. I have throughly enjoyed drinking my cold beer and making this recipe! This is my 1st time cooking ribs on the charcoal grill, all by myself. (I keep telling my husband to sit down and relax while wifey cooks dinner) Mr. Table sure knows his stuff about some grillin! Thank you so much for the recipe!!
Good for you! I'll tell Mr. Table you said so 🙂
Interesting recipe. I may have to give this method a try on my Weber charcoal grill. The way I usually make them is I liberally coat the ribs with salt, pepper, and garlic powder. (You can remove the membrane if you want, I usually don't.) Then I wrap them tightly in foil and put then in the oven at 300*F for about 2.5 to 3 hours (depending on the rack size / weight.) When they're done, I carefully drain all the juices and melted fat into a glass measuring cup and then cover it tightly with plastic wrap. Then I re-wrap the ribs and put them in the refrigerator over-night. The next day when it's close to dinner time I fire up my charcoal grill and get it ready. I put all the coals on one side. While it's getting heated up, I remove the ribs from the fridge and slice them into about 4 equal parts. This makes them easier to flip on the grill and easier to serve since you end up with about 4 ribs her "piece." I also fill a big cup with hickory chips and water at this time to get them soaking while the coals get ready. Once the coals are ready, the meat is usually close to room temperature and the hickory chips are soaked well. I'll put the ribs on the side of the grill that doesn't have the coals (indirect heat) and then sprinkle half the wood chips (drained) directly on top of the coals. I adjust both vents on the grill to about 1/3 of the way open. Then I go prep my sauce. For the sauce, I use store-bought Baby Ray's BBQ sauce. I reheat the meat juices from the day before in the microwave for about 1 minute to melt any solidified fat. Then I combine equal parts of BBQ sauce and meat juices and mix them together well. At this point, the ribs are ready to be flipped, so I take my sauce out and slather them judiciously with the sauce / juice mixture and flip them. I repeat this process every 5 minutes for about 30 minutes. At the 15-minute mark, I apply the remaining hickory wood chips to the coals. After 30 minutes, you've got some very delicious, meat falling-off-the-bone, smokey ribs. Om nom! (Works great for pork chops too, BTW.)
When you return the ribs to the fire in the final step if you want some char do you place them on the foil pan side or over the coals? Thank you! I'm going to try this recipe.
I'd place them over the coals where it will be hottest.
Rhonda Clark says
How many charcoal briquettes do you begin with?
It will depend on your grill and preference. We usually use a chimney starter like this one filled about halfway with charcoal.
This is my go-to recipe for ribs. Thank you for sharing!
I'm so glad you enjoy the recipe. Thanks for the review!
Ribs were delicious.! This was my first time barbecuing ribs on charcoal grill. It was intimidating but I had to challenge myself.
Should the vent on lid be opened a little or kept closed.? I had a struggle to keep temp at 275; it would increase to 400. Did I use too much charcoal at the start?
The vent can be either opened or closed to regulate your fire temperature. Opening it will allow more air in, increasing the temperature, while closing it will decrease the temperature. You could have started with too big of a fire. Grilling on a charcoal grill takes some playing with!
I can't wait to try this...I have two racks can I cook them standing on edge to cook both on the same grill...got a standard weber myself...
I haven't ever tried it that way, but it's worth a try! Let me know how it turns out. We also have a standard Weber.
John O. says
Look up charcoal snake method on youtube. Its a way of easily maintaining charcoal temperature by setting up your coals in a way where they burn slowly from one end to the other. This will give you more cooking space also. I'm doing 2 baby back slabs as I'm typing this lol. Good luck
Thanks for sharing the tip! I hope they turned out well.
Thanks for sharing! This was my first time preparing ribs and they were absolutely delicious!
Thanks so much for sharing your feedback! I'm glad they were a success for you!
Maybe a stupid question, but you cover the grill or leave it open? Thanks!
No it's not a stupid question! I leave it closed.