Cooking ribs can be intimidating; so can using a grill, especially if you've never done it before. But it's way easier than you think. It takes a little preparation, but once you have those ribs on your propane grill, cooking them "low and slow" will give you a fall-off-the-bone finished product.
There are three major steps to follow: preparing the ribs, preparing the grill and cooking. You also want to make sure you're choosing the right style pork ribs for your tastes, because your finished ribs will be only as good as your initial ingredients.
Types of Ribs
There are three major types of ribs: back ribs (also frequently called baby back ribs), spareribs and country-style ribs. Baby back ribs come from the center portion of the pork loin. A full rack usually weighs between 1.5 and 1.75 pounds. These are the types of ribs that most people choose for grilling and slow-cooking.
Spareribs come from the belly of the hog. They usually have less meat, but they're thought to be more flavorful and they're larger than baby back ribs. The popular St. Louis-style ribs are spareribs that have some of the bone and rib tips removed to create a different shape. St. Louis style spareribs are often used for frying or cooking on the stovetop.
Country-style ribs probably aren't what you think of when you hear the word "ribs," but they're worth a mention. These types of ribs come from the sirloin end of the pork loin. Country-style ribs aren't served as a rack or half-rack of ribs; they're served individually because they contain more meat for each rib. The best cooking methods for country-style ribs are grilling and roasting.
Choosing and Preparing Your Ribs
To cook ribs on a propane grill, your best best is to choose baby back ribs. You can make St. Louis ribs on a gas grill, too, but those may be better cooked in an oven. When picking a rack of baby back ribs, look for one that has an even layer of meat across the ribs. Make sure all ribs are evenly covered and that you can't see any rib bone sticking out of the top or bottom. The meat should be a light pale pink with white marbling (or fat) evenly dispersed throughout the meat.
After choosing your perfect rack, remove the ribs from their packaging and pat them dry with a paper towel. Lay them down, meat side up, on a cutting board and use a sharp knife to remove any excess fat or "silver skin," which is a membrane of connective tissue that can be tough and chewy.
After you remove excess fat and silver skin, turn the rack over to expose the rib side. Use your fingers to feel for a membrane covering all of the ribs. Slide a butter knife under the membrane and use it to pull it away from the ribs. Pull the entire membrane back and remove it completely from the rack of ribs.
Dry Rub or Sauce?
After you prepare your meat, it's time to season it. When slow-cooking pork ribs on a gas grill, it's a good idea to season them with a dry rub and then add a sauce later if you want one. Because baby back ribs are naturally flavorful, you don't need a lot to get the job done.
You can make a basic rib rub by combining 2 teaspoons of sea salt, 1 teaspoon of black pepper, 1 to 2 teaspoons of paprika and 1 to 2 teaspoons of granulated garlic. Mix it well, then rub it evenly over both sides of the rack of ribs.
If you also want to add a sauce, like barbecue sauce, follow the advice of the National Pork Board. They recommend waiting until the last 30 minutes of cooking and then brushing the ribs with a generous layer of the sauce. If you want more sauce, you can serve it on the side of your finished ribs.
Propane Grill-Cooked Ribs
At some point during the preparation process, you can preheat your grill to medium heat (or around 300 to 325 degrees Fahrenheit). Grilling Companion offers a good trick to maintain the grill's temperature if your grill has three burners. Turn the two outside burners to medium-low and leave the middle burner off. This helps give off even heat and makes it less likely that the ribs will overcook.
Once the grill is hot, place the ribs in the middle of the grill plate and close the grill cover. If you want to really lock in flavor and moisture, you can wrap your ribs in foil before placing them on the grill, but it's not necessary if you'd prefer to skip it.
Leave the grill cover closed and cook the ribs for two hours. After two hours, you can check the ribs and use a meat thermometer to see if they're done. According to the USDA Food Safety and Inspection Service, the ribs are done when they reach an internal temperature of 145 degrees Fahrenheit. Let the ribs sit for at least three minutes before cutting and serving them.
Pork Ribs Nutrition
The precise nutritional facts of your ribs depend on exactly what you put on them — some sauces and rubs have added sugar that will up the carbohydrates, grams of sugar and calories. But, if you stick to natural herbs and spices or use sauce without any added sugars, the nutrition of your pork ribs will come close to this.
According to the USDA Branded Food Products Database, a 4-ounce serving of baby back ribs contains:
- 183 calories
- 21 grams of protein
- 11 grams of fat
- 4 grams of saturated fat
- 75 milligrams of cholesterol
- 300 milligrams of potassium
- 105 milligrams of sodium
- 29 milligrams of calcium
Baby back ribs are also naturally carbohydrate-free, so they fit in nicely with a low-carb or keto diet, as long as you don't add sugary sauces or rubs to them.