Because they contain a lot of bone and connective tissue, pork ribs benefit from low-and-slow cooking applications. But what if you don’t have that kind of time?
Whether you’ve waited too long to defrost the ribs or you just decided to pull them off the supermarket shelf, here’s how to grill ribs fast so that you can have dinner ready on schedule.
How To Grill Ribs Fast
Although it’s preferable to cook ribs for several hours over a low fire, it’s possible to prepare them more quickly over a charcoal fire. It helps if you use baby back ribs, which are leaner and cook more quickly as a result. You can also speed the process along by par-cooking the ribs beforehand in boiling water or the microwave.
About Pork Ribs
Pork ribs are much smaller than beef ribs, so that’s a step in the right direction. The larger the cut, the longer it takes to cook.
Even within the framework of pork ribs, though, there are a few types to choose from. The back ribs, or loin back ribs, come from the upper section of the animal’s rib cage. As such, the meat is lean and exceptionally tender.
If you can find baby back ribs, they’re a good choice for fast grilling because they’re smaller than regular loin back ribs. That’s where the “baby” part of the name comes in. Contrary to what some novices believe, they’re not taken from the ribs of baby pigs.
Spare ribs, which typically cost less than back ribs, come from the animal’s sternum. There’s more meat on spare ribs, but you’ll also have to deal with a considerable amount of fat. As a trade-off, the ribs have a more intense pork flavor.
St. Louis ribs are also taken from the sternum, but they’ve been trimmed to remove the triangular-shaped pieces of cartilage that usually hang from the bottom. Although they have a more attractive appearance, there’s no reason why you can’t do this trimming yourself.
Because spare ribs and St. Louis ribs are fattier cuts, we would recommend sticking with back ribs if you’re hoping to spur the process along. The lean meat takes less time to cook without compromising their texture.
As we mentioned, back ribs aren’t as flavorful as the ones that come from the sternum. That’s why it’s important to season the ribs well in advance. As an alternative, you can add your favorite barbecue sauce once the meat has finished cooking.
We would also recommend cooking the ribs over a charcoal fire or on a pellet grill. Gas grills might be quicker, but they won’t contribute as much flavor. It only takes 15 to 20 minutes to start a fire in a charcoal or pellet grill, and the results will be well worth it. You can use the time to prepare the ribs for cooking.
How To Grill Ribs Fast: A Step-By-Step Guide
First of all, pick up a supply of good quality ribs from your local butcher. I prefer to buy local whenever possible, but if that’s not an option for you, baby back ribs are readily available in most supermarkets. Try to buy the meatiest ribs you can find.
Once you’ve unwrapped the ribs, trim them to remove any excess fat, if necessary. For your convenience, we’ve included separate instructions for grilling ribs over charcoal and pellet-fueled units. Note that if you choose the pellet grill method, the process will take a good deal longer.
Take a look at our separate section below for more tips on how to save time when grilling ribs. If you choose to par-cook the meat beforehand, you can leave the ribs on the grill for just 5 to 10 minutes to give them a hit of smoky flavor.
For Charcoal Grills
Once you’re ready to cook, build a medium-hot fire in your charcoal grill. We would recommend building a two-zone fire, leaving one side of the grill completely free of coals.
While the grill is heating up, wash the ribs under cold running water and pat them dry with paper towels. Rub them all over with a thin layer of olive oil.
If you’re planning on serving a sauce with your ribs, season them with kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper. Otherwise, use a seasoning rub. You can opt for a store-bought version, or make your own using kosher salt, black pepper, smoked paprika, garlic powder, onion powder, cumin, and cayenne pepper.
Place the prepared ribs on the no-coals section of the cooking grate. Replace the cover and allow the ribs to cook for 20 minutes. At this point, you can add the barbecue sauce if you’ve decided to use it. Return the ribs to the grill and let them cook for 20 minutes longer.
At this point, the sauce should have had a chance to adhere to the ribs without burning, and the meat should be cooked through. Remove the ribs from the grill and let them sit for 10 minutes before serving.
On a Pellet Grill
The process is a bit different if you’re using a pellet grill. It also takes more time–about 3 hours total. While it’s still quicker than the typical 6 to 8 hour cook time, this may be a deal-breaker for weeknight dining. Keep this in mind before you start cooking.
To begin, set the pellet grill to 500 degrees Fahrenheit. Use your favorite homemade or store-bought rub to season the ribs, first applying a thin layer of olive oil to help the spices adhere. Alternatively, you can use a simple blend of kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper and apply a sauce when the ribs are almost finished cooking.
Place the ribs directly on the cooking grate and close the lid. Let them cook for 15 minutes.
Without opening the lid, turn the grill down to 325 degrees. Allow the ribs to cook for another two hours.
At this point, check the ribs for doneness. One method is to look at the ends of the ribs to see if the meat has pulled back. If they’re finished cooking, there should be about 1/4 to 1/2 inch of bone protruding from the ends of the ribs. If you don’t see this much bone, close the lid and let the meat cook for another 15 minutes before checking them again.
You can also use an instant-read thermometer to check the internal temperature. The ribs should be cooked to at least 195 degrees before you take them off the heat.
Once you’ve determined that the ribs are done, you can add a sauce, if desired, and let the grill do its work for another 10 minutes or so. Let the meat rest for 10 minutes before slicing and serving with additional sauce on the side.
Other Tips for Grilling Ribs Fast
- Parboil the ribs before you add them to the grill. This will take about 5 minutes. The meat might not be as tender, but using baby back ribs helps to offset this issue.
- When trimming, remove the membrane from the ribs. This allows the meat to cook more quickly.
- You can also use the microwave to partially cook the ribs before adding them to the grill. First, remove the membrane, then season the ribs as desired. Use a sharp kitchen knife to separate the ribs, then place them in a microwave-safe casserole with the cut side down. Add water to the dish and microwave for 12 minutes, turning them halfway through.
Ribs are a great choice for low-and-slow cooking. However, there’s no reason why you can’t enjoy that same finger-licking goodness when you’re pressed for time. By choosing the right type of pork ribs and using a charcoal or pellet grill to amp up the flavor, you can make this dish a part of your regular weekday routine.
Best of luck, and happy grilling!