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How to Smoke Ribs on a Charcoal Grill

So I’m no stranger to smoking – in fact, it is one of my absolute favorite ways to cook. There’s something about crackling wood or charcoal that just takes an otherwise plain piece of meat to amazingly delicious levels. Everyone deserves to know how to smoke ribs on a charcoal grill.


pork ribs on a plate


It can take a slab of beef with salt and pepper and turn it into a tender, flavorful main dish, and the same goes for today.

There’s lots of way to cook ribs and I’ve done it all. Pressure Cooker, Slow Cooker, in the oven or even just a quick cook on a gas grill. Don’t get me wrong, they’re good. But the difference between good and great lies in the smoke.


rack of ribs on a table


Give this a shot. Even if you don’t have a fancy smoker (I don’t), you can still easily achieve this on a classic charcoal grill (so long as it has a lid).

And while you’re at it, make a batch of your favorite bbq sauce ahead of time or try my Root Beer Espresso BBQ sauce. It has a subtle sweet heat that goes amazingly with ribs.


ribs being brushed with sauce


I hope you love this recipe as much as I do – let me know how it turns out!


Until next time. X

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How to Smoke Ribs on a Charcoal Grill

smoked ribs on a plate with sauce on the side

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pork ribs on a plate

How to Smoke Ribs

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The secret to awesome smoked ribs lies in the technique. Find out how to smoke ribs on a charcoal grill that are tender and so delicious!

  • Total Time: 5 hours, 15 minutes
  • Yield: 1 full rack 1x


  • 1 full rack of pork spare ribs
  • vinegar or oil, for brushing
  • 1/4 cup light brown sugar
  • 2 tsp paprika
  • 1/2 cup prepared bbq sauce


 To prepare the ribs

  1. With the meat side down, trim off the fat from the rounded, fatty edge until the top of the rib bones are shown. This section usually starts around the 4th rib – you should be able to feel the ribs separate from the top rounded part (they’re held by cartilage).
  2. Discard this or save it for stock or beans.
  3. Flip the ribs over so that the bone side is down and feel along the edges of the meat. Cut off any stringy bits of fat or splintered bones so that you have a smooth edge all around.
  4. At this point you can flip it back to bone side up, make a shallow cut in the membrane and pull it off, or you can leave it on. I left mine on.
  5. If you buy pre-trimmed (sometimes called St Louis style) ribs from the store, you may skip the trimming.

Applying the rub

  1. Combine the brown sugar and paprika in a small bowl.
  2. Grab about half of the spice rub and generously coat the ribs.
  3. Flip them and repeat for the other side.


  1. Set about 20-30 charcoal briquettes in a tall pile on the grill, near the grate.
  2. Keep the grate open slightly, and open more or less throughout cooking in order to keep the grill at a steady 250-275°F.
  3. Light about 10 briquettes in a starter or on the other side of the grill, then add to your existing pile. You can add charcoal as the others die down during cooking, but don’t light them. They will ignite naturally from the existing charcoal.
  4. Place the ribs on the grill meat side up.
  5. Fill a small metal pan (about 4-6 inches deep) with water and place it on the grill next to the ribs, between them and the coals.
  6. Close the lid and cook.
  7. After about 2 hours, open the grill and check the color – make sure it has stayed at a steady 275°F (add more coals as necessary). Spray the ribs with water or vinegar. It will remove the smoke so you can see the color more accurately. You want a deep reddish brown. If it appears splotchy, keep cooking and check every 30 minutes (spraying each time) to check until the ribs are an even deep red-brown all over.
  8. Baste the ribs with a thin layer of bbq sauce and cook for 15 minutes.
  9. Flip them, baste the other side and cook again for another 15 minutes.
  10. Grab heavy duty aluminum foil that is long enough to fully cover the ribs, then dilute about 2 Tbsp of bbq sauce with some water so that it is rather runny. This will keep the sauce from clumping and burning your ribs.
  11. Spray the foil with your water or vinegar, then spread the thinned bbq sauce over it in the shape of your ribs.
  12. Place the ribs in the sauce meat side down, then lightly spray and sauce the top before closing up the foil.
  13. Continue cooking at 275°F for another 2 hours. You can do this on the grill or in a preheated oven, as it wont absorb more smoke after it is wrapped.
  14. To determine if the ribs are done, gently hold the full rack in your hands (use pot holders or gloves – it will be hot). If the rack bends very easily, it might be overdone. If it is stiff, it needs more time. You can also try pulling the bones away from the meat in the center of the rack. They should require a slight pull, but will still slide out of the meat easily.
  15. Let the ribs rest at room temperature for 20-30 minutes before slicing and serving.



  • spray bottle with water or vinegar
  • heavy duty aluminum foil
  • firewood or charcoal – about 20-30 briquettes + more as needed
  • small heat proof pan filled with water

Scale up this recipe as much as you’d like. You can make one or several racks of ribs at a time!

  • Author: Sarah | AwayFromTheBox
  • Prep Time: 15 minutes
  • Cook Time: 4 hours
  • Category: Main Dish
  • Method: Grill
  • Cuisine: American
The secret to awesome smoked ribs lies in the technique. Find out how to smoke ribs that are tender and so delicious!

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  1. I love how easy you make it to smoke ribs on a grill! I’ve been wanting to smoke things on my own grill and will give this a try!

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