How to Smoke Ribs on a Kettle Grill (Pro Tips Using The 3-2-1 Method)


Smoking ribs on a kettle grill is easy if you can stabilize the temperature of your cooker and hold it in the perfect low-and-slow range. Kettle grills are versatile cookers that can grill, roast and smoke meat. Smoking pork ribs on a kettle grill takes a little practice, but once you know the basics, ribs aren’t difficult to master on your kettle grill.

The best way to smoke ribs in a kettle grill is using the 3-2-1 method. This method involves smoking the ribs for 3-hours uncovered, 2- hours wrapped in foil, then 1-hour uncovered basted with a glaze. In total, it should take about 6-hours to smoke ribs at 220°F. The best way to set up your kettle grill is by using the Snake Method or the Minion method, which should provide enough heat to last over 6-hours.

Smoked Pork Ribs on a Kettle Grill

Smoked Pork Ribs on a Kettle Grill
Prep Time 10 minutes
Cook Time 6 hours
Additional Time 10 minutes
Total Time 6 hours 20 minutes

Ingredients

  • - Whole rack of pork spare ribs or baby back ribs
  • - Pork dry rub
  • - Yellow mustard or olive oil for a binder
  • - Apple, cherry or pecan wood

Instructions

    1. Remove the membrane from the ribs. The membrane is the thin rubbery layer that covers the bones. When cooking beef ribs, leave the membrane intact.

    2. Apply a binder to the ribs help the seasoning stick to the meat. Most people use mustard as a binder, but you can also use olive oil, mayonnaise, etc. The binder has no impact on the flavor, so don’t worry too much about it.

    3. Sprinkle a generous amount of pork rub to the ribs, covering both sides. Allow time for the rub to work its way into the meat. Chilled meat attracts more smoke, so make sure the ribs are chilled.

    4. Make sure your kettle grill is clean and clear of grease. A dirty grill will produce bad smoke, which will make your meat taste disgusting. Clear out old ash, otherwise it could choke out your fire.

    5. Light your kettle grill and bring the temperature up to the 230°F range. See below for how to best light your kettle for smoking ribs.

    6. Scatter wood chunks on the charcoal for smoke flavor. Apple and cherry work really well with pork ribs, but use whatever smoking wood you prefer.

    7. Place a thermometer probe in the kettle grill and wait for the temperature to reach the 220°F to 230°F range. Before adding meat, make sure a nice thin smoke is coming out of the kettle grill.

    8. Place the ribs on the grill. Make sure the ribs are uncovered and chilled.

    9. Smoke the ribs for 1-hour, then mop the ribs with a mop sauce or spritz the ribs with a spray bottle using apple juice, apple cider vinegar, beer or whatever liquid you prefer. It’s important to keep the ribs moist so they don’t dry out.

    10. Continue to mop/spritz the ribs at least once per hour.

    11. Once the ribs have been smoking for 3 hours, remove them from the grill.

    12. Wrap the ribs in two layers of aluminium foil. Make sure the sharp bones don’t pierce the foil. Give the ribs one more mop/spritz before wrapping tight.

    13. Close the lid and cook the ribs for 2-hours, holding the temperature in the 220°F range.

    14. After 2-hours cooking in foil, remove the ribs from the kettle grill and unwrap.

    15. Baste the ribs in your favorite barbecue sauce that goes well with pork ribs.

    16. Place the ribs back onto the grill uncovered and cook the ribs for 1-hour.

    17. Test the ribs by poking with a thermometer probe. It should feel like poking butter. You don’t want the meat too tender where it will fall off the bone, but it should peel off the bone easily.

Nutrition Information:

Serving Size:

9 oz

Amount Per Serving: Calories: 369Total Fat: 17ggSodium: 140mgmgSugar: 0.3ggProtein: 54gg

Fire Up Your Kettle – How To Light Your Kettle Grill to Smoke Ribs

There are a few different ways you can arrange your charcoal in a kettle grill, but the most important thing is to make sure the temperature is held in the 220°F range for at leat 6-hours. The two most common ways to arrange your coal is by using the Snake Method or the Minnion Method.

The Snake Method

For any long cook in a kettle grill, one of the best ways to lay out your coals is the snake method. This method involves lining the charcoal briquettes around the outer layer of the grill so the coal resembles a snake. Once you light the head of the charcoal snake, the other coals will slowly catch and should maintain a stable 220°F for several hours. For smoke flavor, scatter chunks of wood along the first half of the snake so you get a steady flow of smoke for the first half of the cook. The second half of the cook, the charcoal snake, won’t need wood because the ribs will be wrapped in foil, so it won’t take on more smoke.

  1. Lay the first layer of charcoal briquettes along the outer layer of the grill. Make the snake 2 or 3 coals wide on the bottom layer of the snake.
  2. Add a single upper layer of charcoal briquettes to the snake so the snake is at least 3 wide and 1 high. Experiment with different sized snakes and note the temperature differences and how long the snake burns.
  3. Make sure the charcoal snake is the shape of the letter C. You don’t want the snake’s head and tail touching.
  4. Scatter chunks of wood along the first half of the snake, spacing out the wood a few inches apart.
  5. Light about 6 or 8 charcoal briquettes in a charcoal chimney and wait until they are fully alight.
  6. Place the lit coals at the head of the snake. Make sure the lit coals are touching the unlit coals of the snake head.
  7. Adjust the intake vents so they are open 1/4 and keep adjusting until the temperature stabilizes at 220°F.
  8. Once the temperature stabilizes at 220°F, add the ribs to the kettle grill.

The Minnion Method

The Minnion Method is where you fill the bottom of the grill with charcoal briquettes and make a crater in the middle and fill the crater with lit coal. The unlit coals will slowly ignite from the middle, moving outwards. As with the snake method, the Minnion Method needs to hold the temperature in the 220°F range, and should provide enough heat to cook for the five hours required for ribs.

  1. Place a charcoal chimney at the bottom of the kettle grill in the middle of the lowest grate.
  2. Pour charcoal into the chimney so it’s at least half full. Place a fire lighter at the bottom of the charcoal chimney.
  3. Pour charcoal briquettes all around the chimney so the briquettes cover the bottom grate about 3 or 4 deep.
  4. Ignite the chimney and wait for the coals to fully light.
  5. Once the charcoal briquettes in the chimney are fully lit, tip the chimney and pour the hot coals into the crater in the middle of the charcoal basket.
  6. Scatter chunks of wood in the middle of the of the pile of charcoal. Make sure the wood spread out a few inches apart on the inner part of the pile of briquettes. You only need smoke for the first half of the cook. If wood is on the outer layer of the fire, it will smoke when the ribs are covered in foil and therefore be a waste of wood.
  7. The hot coals in the middle will work their way to the outside and provide a consistent heat for several hours.

When Are Ribs Done?

Most smoked meat is cooked to internal temperature rather than time. This is done by using leave-in meat thermometers and instant-read thermometers. Ribs are difficult to probe, but perfectly smoked ribs will measure 195°F to 205°F. However, anything above a 150°F is considered safe. Most people don’t probe ribs, but instead go by feel. Ribs should be as soft as butter when poked with a probe and nearly fall off the bone. Make sure you don’t overcook the ribs because you want the meat attached to the bone. If you overcook the ribs, the meat will fall off the bone, which defeats the purpose. The main reason we love eating ribs is to actually eat the meat off the bone.

Different Pork Ribs For Smoking

There are so many cuts of ribs, but the most common are pork ribs. Baby backs and Spare ribs are probably the most common but there are also St. Louis Ribs, Kansas City Style Ribs, Rib tips, Riblets, Rib roast and button ribs. Beef ribs should be treated differently than pork.

Pork RibsSectionNumber of
Ribs Per Rack
MeatDescription
Spare RibsBelly11 – 13Decent amount of meatLots of fat and bone cartilage which give the ribs flavor.
Baby BacksLoin8-13Quality loin meat attached to these ribsThese bones are connected to the pork loin.
St. Louis Style RibsBelly12-13Moderate amount of meatSpare ribs with the sternum, rib tips and cartilage removed. Traditionally covered with barbecue sauce.
Kansas City Style Ribs
Belly12-13ModerateServed with a tomato sauce.
Rib tipsBelly4 to 6 (2 inch ribs)ModerateSmall cuts of cartilage taken from the spare ribs with no bones. 
Country RibsShoulder8 ribs per shoulderVery meatyThese ribs look more like a pork chop and contain more meat than bone.
Different types of pork rib

Best Rub For Smoking Pork Ribs

There are dozens of good rubs on the market, and the best way to find a good rub is to try as many products as you can until you find a rub that suits your taste. A good place to start is with the famous pitmasters themselves. Barbeque guru Malcolm Reed sells a line of rubs and sauces under the brand name Killer Hogs. Check out the Killer Hogs Store on Amazon here. Then there’s the other barbeque champion Harry Soo with his Slap Yo Daddy rubs. He also has an Amazon store here.

Beef Ribs on a Kettle Grill

There are two kinds of beef ribs that you will find at your butcher; long ribs and short ribs. Long ribs are taken from near the rib eye, so those ribs have rib eye steak attached!

There are a few differences between smoking beef ribs and pork ribs, and one of the major differences between the two is the type of rubs and sauces that you use. Sweet flavors generally go better with pork than they do with beef. Therefore pork rubs and pork rib sauces will have a high sugar content. The other difference between smoking beef and pork is the choice of wood. Softer woods such as apple and cherry blend well with pork, whereas beef can handle stronger wood flavor such as hickory and mesquite.

How to Smoke Beef Ribs on a Kettle Grill – 10 Steps

You can smoke beef ribs on your kettle grill similar to the 3-2-1 method of smoking pork ribs. However, there are a few subtle differences.

  1. Apply a binder to the beef ribs such as mustard or hot sauce.
  2. Keep the membrane intact (unlike pork ribs where it is removed).
  3. Apply a beef rub to both sides of the ribs or make a simple seasoning of salt, pepper, garlic powder and onion powder.
  4. Set up your smoker using the Snake or Minion method and stabilize your grill temperature so it is sitting in the 250°F range.
  5. Throw on two or three chunks of hickory, pecan, or your choice of wood.
  6. Lay the beef ribs on the kettle grill bone side facing down towards the flame.
  7. Smoke the beef ribs for three hours, spritzing/mopping every hour.
  8. After 3-hours of smoking, remove the ribs and wrap them in aluminium foil. Before closing, baste the ribs with garlic butter or a sauce such as Worcestershire or soy sauce.
  9. Place the ribs back in the kettle grill and cook for another 1.5 hours.
  10. Remove the ribs once they are soft like butter and rest for half an hour.

Rib Racks on a Kettle Grill

One disadvantage of a kettle grill is the cooking capacity. The grill area on a kettle grill is perfect for the average family, but if you want to cook for a large crow, you can only fit so many rib racks on the grill at one time. If you want to smoke a larger amount of ribs in your kettle grill, consider buying a rib rack. A rib rack will allow you to cook triple the amount of ribs at one time. Rib racks are inexpensive and should be available at your local barbecue supplies store on you can buy a Weber rib rack on Amazon.

Best Wood For Smoking Ribs

If you asked five pitmasters to name their favorite smoking wood, you would likely get five different answers. Wood is a personal choice, however some woods go better with certain meats. Fruit wood blends well with pork, which is why apple and cherry are so popular. Mixing and matching wood is common practice when smoking meat, and I always encourage people to experiment. I like to have a variety of wood on hand and throw in a couple of chunks of hickory and apple when smoking ribs.

My Favorite Meat Smoking Tools

Thanks for checking out this article. I hope you learned a few things. Here are some of my favorite tools I use when smoking brisket that may be useful to you. These are affiliate links, so if you decide to purchase any of these products, I’ll earn a commission. But in all honesty, these are the tools I recommend to my family and friends who are just starting out.

Meat Thermometer: There are dozens of fancy thermometers on the market, but I still use my trusty TP20. For around $50, I have a high-quality meat thermometer with two probes, and can track the temperature of my smoker with one probe, and my meat with the other probe. The ThermoPro TP20 is an Amazon Best Seller because it’s the easiest thermometer to operate, is durable, highly accurate, and comes with pre-programmed meat settings.

Instant Read Thermometer: Arguably, the second most important tool you need is a fast and accurate instant-read thermometer. These tools play an important role in the latter stages of the cook when the meat needs regular checking in multiple areas. I use the ThermoPro TP19 because it can do everything a ThermaPen can do, but for a fraction of the cost. You can check out the TP19 on Amazon here.

Butcher Paper: Wrapping brisket in butcher paper has become a huge trend in barbeque thanks to Aaron Franklin. Wrapping your brisket in paper will give you a nice brisket bark. However, you can’t just use any old paper, it has to be unwaxed, food grade paper. You can find it on Amazon here.

Advanced Thermometer and Automatic Temperature Controller: Once you’re ready to take things seriously, the FireBoard 2 Drive is a six-channel Bluetooth/Wi-Fi thermometer that can monitor up to 6 pieces of meat, control and graph your cook sessions on your smartphone, and attaches to an an automatic blower that will convert your charcoal smoker to a set-and-forget. This is one of the most advanced meat thermometers on the market. You can check it out on the FireBooard website here.

Related:

Competition Style Pork Ribs on a Traeger or PitBoss Pellet Grill (7 Types of Ribs)

Best Meat Thermometers For Under $50

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