How to Cook Ribs on a Charcoal Grill

Grilling burgers, hot dogs, chicken breasts or the occasional kabob are fairly easy staples of barbecue. For the grilling foodie, the holy grail of the grill is smoky barbecue ribs cooked slow and low over charcoal. The taste is incomparable and once you master the technique, you’ll be grilling ribs for all of your friends and earning the title of true grill master and backyard chef. Here’s a simple, no-fail method for how to cook ribs on a charcoal grill.

Rub, Mop and Smoke

There are three key elements for perfect ribs on the charcoal grill: rub, mop and smoke. The rub is a dry marinade which is rubbed into the meat to tenderize and inject superior flavor. The best rubs have a combination of “heat and sweet”, typically a spice combination of brown sugar, cayenne pepper and other spices such as garlic, paprika and onion flakes. Generously rub the ribs – they can be pork or beef, bone-in, spareribs or baby-back ribs – with the spices and allow time for them to incorporate. Many people swear by rubbing the meat the evening before and wrapping in plastic wrap to set in the fridge overnight. Just be sure to remove the meat from the fridge and let it rest at room temperature prior to grilling. Taking the chill off the meat before you place it on a hot grill will reduce drying or toughness.

Prepare the Mop

If you’ve ever watched a professional grill ribs, you’ll see the mop. The mop is a hand-sized version of a string mop that’s food quality and designed to soak up liquid marinates and “mop” the meat on the grill during cooking. If you don’t have a mop, you can use a brush, but if you’re a rib lover, the investment in the right tools is always best. As for the substance you’ll be dipping the mop into, it should be similar to the dry rub ingredients, but include tasty liquids such as vinegar and a few tablespoons of oil. The mop is what caramelizes on the surface of the ribs, giving them a great char and amazing flavor.

ribs charcoal grill

Ready the Grill and Prepare to Smoke

Charcoal grills can be trickier than gas grills because maintaining a constant temperature is difficult, especially for several hours as is required for great barbecue ribs. Start with about a dozen briquettes and get them to the gray/white stage for grilling. You will need to add a handful of briquettes a couple of times during this process to keep the heat even. Depending on the amount of ribs you’re cooking, plan for the entire grilling process to take 3-7 hours. Yes, it’s worth it! Add a handful of hardwood chips (hickory, cherry, and mesquite) which have been soaked in water for about an hour. This is how you’ll generate the smoke.

Cook the Ribs

Place the meat on the grill to receive indirect heat. Also, add a pan of water under the meat to add moisture and collect the drippings. Mop the ribs at the start, and every 30 minute during cooking time. Try to refrain from opening the grill in between these times. Don’t worry, with the indirect heat, the ribs are cooking slowly and acquiring that smoky flavor. When you see the meat starting to retract from the ends of bones, it’s time to check the temperature. Place a meat thermometer into the thick of the meat between the bones. When the internal temperature is 205 (F), the ribs are done. Be sure to let the meat rest at least 10 minutes before serving to let the juices redistribute.

Try this method at your next barbecue for a delicious, tender and smoky rack of ribs. Once you learn how to cook ribs on a charcoal grill, you’ll never go back to the oven again.



Glazed Ribs with Avocado-Pineapple Salsa


Barbecue is a true American art form. Creating delectable racks of ribs slow cooked with a smoky flavor, slathered with barbeque sauce or a spice rub is sure to make anyone’s mouth water! While these classic ribs are undeniably yummy, trying new recipes and using different ingredients can also produce ribs that are just as delicious. Below is a recipe for sweet and spicy glazed ribs with a healthy, fruity salsa that will make your taste buds tingle!


  • 1/4 cup ancho chile powder
  • 1/4 cup plus 1 tablespoon ground cumin
  • Kosher salt and freshly ground pepper
  • 2 racks baby back ribs (about 5 pounds total)
  • 4 jalapeños, seeded and thinly sliced
  • 8 garlic cloves, smashed
  • 1/2 cup plus 2 tablespoons fresh lime juice
  • 1/2 cup honey
  • 1 pound fresh pineapple rings, cored and sliced into 1/2 inch thick slices
  • 2 tablespoons light brown sugar
  • 1/4 cup finely diced red onion
  • 1/2 cup chopped cilantro
  • 1 large Hass avocado, diced

For the Glazed Ribs:

  • In a bowl, combine the ancho powder with ¼ cup of the cumin, 2 tablespoons of salt and ½ teaspoon of pepper. Rub this spice mixture all over the ribs. Place the ribs on a rimmed baking sheet, cover with plastic wrap, and refrigerate overnight, or at least for 2 hours if you are in a rush.
  • Preheat the oven to 350°. Add ¼ inch of water to the baking sheet and bake the ribs for 45 minutes. Then cover with foil and bake 30 minutes longer until they are tender. Pour off the pan juices.
  • Meanwhile, in a blender or food processor, blend three-fourths of the jalapeños with the garlic and ½ cup of the lime juice. Blend in the honey and the remaining 1 tablespoon of cumin. Simmer this glaze in a saucepan over low heat until glossy and thickened. This should take 15 minutes.
  • Raise the oven temperature to 450°. Brush the ribs with half of the glaze. Roast for 20 minutes, turning once. Brush on the remaining glaze.
  • Grill or broil the ribs over high heat, turning once, until caramelized, about 5 minutes. Cut between the bones and serve with the salsa.

For the Avocado-Pineapple Salsa:

  • Preheat a grill or broiler to high heat. Grill the pineapple rings, turning once, until they are lightly charred, about 5 minutes. Finely dice the grilled pineapple and transfer to a bowl.
  • Add the brown sugar, red onion, avocado,cilantro, the remaining jalapenos, and 2 tablespoons of lime juice. Season with salt and pepper. The salsa is ready to enjoy!

These delectable ribs are coated with a Southwest-inspired glaze of cumin, jalapenos, ancho chiles, and garlic. The fruity salsa with the creamy avocados perfectly balances out the flavor. The chunky salsa works very well with the spicy and heavy pork flavors. These flavors complement each other perfectly, and make for an absolutely finger-licking-good dish!

Try this southwestern-inspired recipe of glazed ribs with avocado-pineapple salsa. The spicy glaze of the baby back ribsis perfectly complemented by the fruity salsa to make for a delicious dish!