How To Grill Ribs On Charcoal

Grilling Ribs on Charcoal: A Step-by-Step Guide

Barbecue season is here, and what better way to celebrate than grilling up a slab of juicy, flavorful ribs? While there are countless ways to prepare and cook ribs, grilling them over charcoal is a tried-and-true method that yields delicious results. Not only does charcoal add a smoky flavor to the meat, but it also provides a crispy crust on the outside while keeping the inside tender and juicy. Below is a step-by-step guide to help you grill ribs on charcoal like a pro.

Step 1: Choose the Right Ribs

The type of ribs you choose can make a big difference in the final outcome. Baby back ribs, also known as loin ribs, are the most popular choice and are found at most grocery stores. They are tender and lean, with meat that separates easily from the bone. Spare ribs, on the other hand, come from the belly of the pig and are meatier, with more connective tissue and fat. They take longer to cook, but the result is a rich, flavorful meat that falls off the bone. Whichever type of rib you choose, make sure it is fresh, has a pink color, and is well-marbled.

Step 2: Season the Ribs

One of the keys to delicious ribs is properly seasoning them. Whether you prefer a dry rub or a marinade, the seasoning should complement the natural flavor of the meat without overwhelming it. A simple dry rub can be made by mixing together salt, pepper, paprika, garlic powder, and brown sugar. Massage the seasoning into the meat and let it sit at room temperature for at least 30 minutes before grilling. For a marinade, mix together olive oil, vinegar, mustard, honey, and Worcestershire sauce, and let the ribs soak in the mixture for a few hours or overnight.

Step 3: Prepare the Charcoal Grill

Grilling over charcoal requires a bit of prep work, but the end result is worth it. Start by removing the cooking grates and placing a chimney starter on the bottom grate. Fill the starter with charcoal and light a sheet of newspaper underneath it. Let the charcoal heat up for about 10-15 minutes until it is gray and ashy. Meanwhile, fill a pan with water and place it on the bottom grate to create moisture and prevent the ribs from drying out.

Step 4: Indirect Heat Cooking

Once the charcoal is ready, pour it onto one side of the bottom grate, creating a two-zone fire. This means that one side of the grill is hot for searing, while the other side is cooler for slow cooking. Place the cooking grates back on the grill and place the ribs on the cooler side, bone side down. Cover the grill and let the ribs cook for about 1-2 hours, depending on the thickness of the meat, flipping them occasionally.

Step 5: Add Smoke and Sauce

To add a smoky flavor to the ribs, place a handful of wood chips or chunks on top of the hot charcoal before grilling. Hickory, applewood, and mesquite are popular choices that pair well with pork. You can also add your favorite BBQ sauce during the last 10-15 minutes of cooking, brushing it onto the ribs and letting it caramelize. Be careful not to add the sauce too early, as it can burn and become bitter.

Step 6: Rest and Serve

Once the ribs are cooked to your liking, remove them from the grill and let them rest for a few minutes. This allows the juices to redistribute throughout the meat, resulting in a more tender and flavorful rib. Cut the ribs into individual portions and serve with extra BBQ sauce, if desired. Corn on the cob, coleslaw, and baked beans make great side dishes to complement the ribs.


Grilling ribs on charcoal may seem intimidating, but with a little practice and patience, anyone can become a pro. By choosing the right type of rib, seasoning it properly, and cooking it over indirect heat with added smoke and sauce, you can create a mouth-watering dish that is sure to impress your guests. So fire up the grill, grab a cold beer, and enjoy the delicious taste of summer.

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Frequently Asked Questions About Grilling Ribs On Charcoal

What type of ribs should I use?

St. Louis-style pork spare ribs are the best choice for grilling on charcoal because they have more meat and are easier to handle than baby back ribs.

How do I prepare the ribs for grilling?

Remove the membrane from the back of the ribs, trim excess fat, and apply a dry rub or marinade at least 2 hours before grilling. Let the ribs sit at room temperature for 30 minutes before grilling.

What is the best technique to grill ribs on charcoal?

Set up a two-zone fire with hot coals on one side and no coals on the other side. Place the ribs on the cool side and close the lid. Cook for 3-4 hours, turning and basting every 30 minutes until the meat is tender and pulls away from the bone. Use a meat thermometer to ensure the internal temperature is at least 145°F.

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