How to Cook Ribs on a Charcoal Grill [10 Easy Steps & Recipe]


Smoke the perfect BBQ pork ribs on your charcoal grill with our recipe and step-by-step guide. Cooked over indirect heat and applewood, this smoked rib eye BECOMES to rival anything you’ve tasted before.

Barbecue ribs smoking on charcoal grill

Every good grill master knows a good rack of ribs, but some fail because they think they don’t have the right equipment. While ribs are traditionally cooked on a kamado smoker or grill, they can also be easily cooked on a charcoal grill.

Often underestimated for their flexibility, charcoal grills , unlike their gas brothers, can actually be turned into brilliant smokers without sacrificing the classic smoky flavor of grilling.

Today’s guide will show you the steps to cook ribs on a charcoal grill.

 Need a prescription? Check out our Texas Style Baby Back Ribs

Prepare yourself

There are a few key tools and ingredients YOU need to get your ribs piping hot.

Is required:

  • Charcoal grill
  • cabbage
  • hardwood pieces
  • Rib ribs(either rib ribs or baby tenderloin)
  • A good rib rub(ingredients below)
  • 1 disposable foil pan about half the size of your charcoal grill
  • A meat thermometer
  • Heavy Duty Aluminum Foil(if you intend to wrap your ribs)
  • Barbecue Sauce
  • a big knife
  • meat shears
How to cook ribs on a charcoal grill

How to cook the ribs

The key to any good round of ribs is proper preparation. This stage may affect or hamper the success of your meal, and neglecting good preparation will result in mushy, poor-quality ribs. It’s not enough to just throw them on the grill the way you bought them.

For your choice of ribs, I suggest going for pork. And then there are 2 types: pork ribs or baby back .

I personally prefer spare. They are cut from the belly of the ribs and are therefore much meatier. The baby back is a bit shorter but still a great option. Cooking time is typically 4-5 hours for leftovers and 3-4 hours for baby bake.

BBQ Ribs Recipe

It’s also important to note that your grill will dictate the size of the grate that YOU can grill at one time. We want most of the ribs to be revealed at once, so stacking them on top of each other is not a good idea. As a result, YOU can probably only place one rack of ribs or two racks of baby backs on the rack. Keep this in mind when preparing your ribs.

You then need to cut the ribs down to the rack. If you haven’t already, check out my complete guide to trimming pork ribs .

Begin by removing the membrane from the frame . Not many smokers do this, but it removes that thin skin from the back of the ribs, leaving them tender and full of flavor.

YOU can do this with just a table knife, inserting it between the membrane and the bone. Reserve pushing the sheet a little until it’s loosened enough to pull off with your hands. Use a paper towel if it’s too slippery.

Once you’ve managed to peel off the membrane, use meat shears to trim off the excess fat. If you don’t have scissors, use a sharp knife. When you do, check the ribs for loose meat. You’ll want to remove them so that all that’s left is a nice, clean rib.

Use a good rib rub

As with so many cuts of meat, a crucial step in preparation is thorough grating. This helps infuse the meat with flavor as it cooks, while creating a light crust on the pork that helps give it a satisfying crisp when eaten.

Lots of people like to use BBQ sauce, but I prefer not to. To me, a good marinade is better than any barbecue sauce .

Seasonings for steaks are widely available online or in stores , or you can even make your own by simply mixing the herbs and spices of your choice well in a bowl.

Rub applied to pork ribs

My Homemade Pork Dry Batter Recipe contains:

  • smoked peppers
  • brown sugar
  • garlic powder
  • Black pepper
  • onion powder
  • target
  • oregano

Whatever seasoning you choose, spread it generously over your ribs. Be sure to cover the entire shelf area including the back and edges.

I always do this right before cooking. Some people make it much sooner, but there’s still a risk that if you make it too early(like a day or more) the seasoning will start to ripen the meat and make it a bit more like ham. .

How to prepare the grill

Our main goal here is to turn our grill into a smoker. This really takes a bit of skill as we need to maintain a nice constant heat of around 120ºC. In addition to using a good meat thermometer, this requires a little knowledge of indirect cooking.

If you’re unfamiliar with indirect grilling, it’s a method in which chunks of charcoal are placed under one half of the cooking grate, leaving the other side exposed. Then place the meat on this transparent side and let the heat inside the grill cook it instead of the heat from the flames.

See my guide to indirect grilling for full instructions .

With this approach, we’re going to get a little creative and enlist the help of a disposable foil pan. We will fill it with water and use it to add moisture to our grilling environment, which contains ingredients to regulate temperature . More on that in a moment.

Make sure your grill grates and drum are completely clean before grilling. A spotless grill has many benefits. So if your grill is dirty, I would cook for half an hour to actually clean it.

After cleaning, remove the cooking grate and light the charcoal. There are a few methods for doing this. If you’re not sure how to do that either, take a look at my guide to lighting a charcoal grill.

You will need enough charcoal to cover half of the grilling surface and create 2-3 layers of charcoal.

Once the charcoal is lit, place it on the bottom of the grill and position it so that it only covers half of the grilling surface. Add several large pieces of hardwood to the charcoal. This will help us create smoke throughout the cooking process.

Place the grate back on the grill. Fill your aluminum pan with water and place it in the center of the grate just above the charcoal. The idea is that this creates a steady supply of vapor, but keep an eye on it – if it runs low you’ll need to top it up.

Remember, our goal is an indoor temperature of 250F/120C. If it goes beyond that, open the vents on the roof of your grill to allow some heat to escape. If necessary, you can leave them open to allow adequate ventilation to maintain a constant temperature.

How to grill ribs

Now that our grill is ready, it’s time to get those BBQ Ribs up and running! Place the grates on the grill grate, making sure they are positioned in the center of the grill with no charcoal underneath, next to the water pan. Place ribs side down on grill.

Choose to cook 3-4 hours for baby back ribs or 4-5 hours for pork ribs.

After an hour, check the ribs, make sure the coals are burning hot, and keep the grill hot . Also, check that there is enough water in the pan to maintain a healthy supply of steam.

Add a few more sticks of wood to the coals and turn the ribs for more even cooking.

Check out our guide to smoking ribs on a gas grill

How to wrap ribs

Another hour later THEY check the ribs. We want them to curve easily without breaking. If they haven’t reached that point, let them cook a little longer. However, if they’re easy to enjoy, wrap the ribs in aluminum foil. We do this to increase the internal temperature of the meat while preserving moisture, making it juicier.

Two racks of grilled pork ribs wrapped in foil

Place the wrapped ribs back on the grid. Check the coals and water again. Don’t add any more wood shavings this time as the ribs have picked up enough smoke.

Quit the smoke

Last stretch time. About an hour after placing the ribs in the foil, remove them from the foil and place them back on the grill. Cook for another 30-60 minutes. In this last round of cooking, we can lightly dry the surface of the ribs to add nice texture.

The final temperature we’re looking for is around 180F/80C. The reason for this is that this is the maximum temperature we can reach to keep the meat tender before it starts falling off the bone.

a meat thermometer to check the internal temperature of the ribs(if you don’t have one, check out my guide to the best surface grill thermometers ).

Of all the different cuts of meat, pork rib and baby back are the most difficult to control accurately due to the relative amount of meat involved.

The bone is at a different temperature than the meat, so when applying the thermometer, make sure the reader penetrates the meat without touching the bone.

If this is too ACTUAL, you can take a view-based approach. Pick up the ribs in the middle. Pay attention to the ends of the bones. If they come off, they’re done.

If the ribs have reached our target internal temperature or passed our eyesight test with the ends dropped, they’re done.

If you’re going to put sauce on top, leave it on the grill and follow my next step. If not, remove the rack and set it aside.

How to apply BBQ sauce

When the ribs are done quickly, apply your BBQ sauce. As tempting as it may be to stick the sauce together thickly, I highly recommend spreading it out in thin layers. This gives us the satisfying, sticky surface of our ribs.

If we apply it thickly, it doesn’t get a chance to dry and leaves an uncomfortably wet coat.

Brush pork ribs on the charcoal grill with barbecue sauce

Layer carefully by applying a thin coat to one side before flipping and doing the other side. Once both sides are covered, close the lid of your grill and let sit for 5 minutes before repeating the process again. A total of 4-5 bad repeats. Once done, remove from heat and set aside.


If they’re going to be served right away(I have instructions for holding and storing them in my next step if they don’t need to be enjoyed right away), you’ll need to carve the ribs.

Ribs cut into strips from individual ribs

Place the ribs bone-side up on a cutting board. Using tongs and a long, sharp knife, push the knife evenly between the bones. This should give you a smooth, even cut of the track.

The ribs shouldn’t need to be refrigerated afterwards, as they should be thick enough when sliced.

Serve with a side dish of your choice and enjoy!

How to Hold Ribs(If They’re Not Served Right Away)

Sometimes time and circumstances don’t allow you to enjoy your barbecue ribs right away. In this case, it is imperative that you preserve and store them in a way that does not greatly affect the taste or quality.

Remove ribs from grill and let cool for 10-15 minutes. Wrap the ribs tightly in a few layers with plastic wrap. It is important to note that YOU are not using aluminum foil as the BBQ sauce and the aluminum foil can react due to the acidic nature of the sauce.

If you plan to enjoy the ribs longer than an hour after cooking, place them in the refrigerator. For tips on reheating ribs, see my guide to reheating ribs.

Grilled ribs

Smoke the perfect BBQ pork ribs on your charcoal grill with our recipe and step-by-step guide. Cooked over indirect heat and applewood, this smoked rib eye BECOMES to rival anything you’ve tasted before.
Main course course
American cuisine , BBQ


  • 1 pork rib
  • 1 bottle of barbecue sauce
  • 1 tablespoon of smoked paprika
  • 1 tablespoon of brown sugar
  • 1 teaspoon garlic powder
  • 1 teaspoon ground black pepper
  • 1 teaspoon onion powder
  • 1 teaspoon kosher salt
  • 1 teaspoon dried oregano
  • durable foil


  • Remove the membrane from the back of the ribs and trim off excess fat. Pat the ribs dry with a paper towel.
  • Combine smoked paprika, brown sugar, garlic powder, black pepper, onion powder, salt, and oregano in a bowl.
  • Spread the dressing very generously on both sides of the ribs and around the edges.
  • Light your charcoal and place it on the grill. Allow to heat until the charcoal turns white with ash. Add wood chips and place the grate back on the grate.
  • Fill an aluminum pan with water. Place is on the cooking grate, directly over the coals. Get an internal grilling temperature of up to 80°C.
  • Set the ribs on the side of the grill without the charcoal underneath. Close the lid and cook for an hour.
  • After an hour, check the water and coals. Add a handful more wood shavings.
  • After another hour, wrap the ribs in a double layer of aluminum foil. Return to the grill and cook for another hour.
  • Remove the foil from the ribs and cook for another 30-60 minutes.
  • Apply a layer of BBQ sauce to each side of the ribs and cook for 5 minutes before adding another thin layer. Repeat this process a total of 4-5 times.
  • Remove from the grill and place on a cutting board. Leave to cool for 10 minutes.
  • Using a long knife and tongs, slice the ribs evenly and evenly between the bones.
  • Serve and enjoy!

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