How to Smoke Ribs on a Charcoal Grill (Super Easy Guide)

Timothy Woods
Published by Timothy Woods
Last Updated On: June 20, 2024

If you want to try smoking pork ribs and other meat but don’t have a smoker yet, you can start by using what you have.

A grill with a lid can be used to start out smoking pork ribs and other meat before you invest in a dedicated smoker.

We have investigated many different methods of smoking pork ribs and other meat on a grill, and our expert advice will help you get started by smoking spare ribs on a grill!

Quick Summary

  • Smoking ribs on a charcoal grill involves soaking the ribs in a brine solution and the wood chips in water, setting up the grill, and building a charcoal fire.
  • Smoking ribs on a charcoal grill is a feasible alternative to a dedicated smoker, requiring a lid, adjustable chimney or holes, and an internal thermometer.
  • The smoking process requires maintaining a temperature between 250°F and 300°F, turning the ribs, adding coals and wood, and topping up the water in the drip pan every hour.

A grill can be used as a makeshift smoker, and you can successfully smoke ribs on your grill.

A few simple modifications to your grilling technique will open a whole new world of smoking meats on your grill!

How Can A Grill Be Used As A Smoker?

An open and closed lid smoker

If you are not in the position to outlay a wad of cash for a dedicated smoker, a charcoal grill can be turned into a smoker that can serve as an alternative to getting smoked ribs in the interim.

The grill needs to fulfill a few requirements to double as a smoker.

  • It must have a lid. A lid will keep the heat and the smoke inside the grill.
  • Adjustable chimney or holes. The lid should have a chimney or holes that can be adjusted for air, smoke, and indirect heat control.
  • An internal thermometer. If your grill does not have a built-in thermometer, you will need to purchase a thermometer to monitor the internal temperature of the grill.

If your grill matches these criteria, you are ready to start smoking! Smoking spare ribs on your grill is a good place to try your charcoal grill as a smoker.

Or, you can try these smoker-plus grill combos instead.

Smoking Spare Ribs On A Charcoal Grill

Opening and closing the lid of a charcoal grill with a ribs inside

Before we get going on the method for smoking spare ribs on a grill, you will need a few supplies to make the process work.

  • Smoking wood. You will need some wood chips or smallish chunks of wood suitable for smoking. Some good options are hickory, applewood, cherry, or oak.
  • A metal tray for water. An old metal oven dish or aluminum foil food tray is needed under the grill to provide moisture and catch drippings from the meat.
  • A bucket. This will be for soaking your wood chips.
  • A rub or basting for the smoked ribs. Your favorite rub or basting for the spare ribs should be prepared beforehand.

Once you have all these items on hand, you can prepare the meat and the grill, and the wood for the smoking process.

Preparing The Grill And The Ribs

Charcoal grill with bright flame high heat

It is best to start the preparations the night before you intend to smoke the ribs.

The process works best when the smoked ribs and wood are given this additional time.

According to Shea Goldstein of Dixie Chik Cooks, it is also best to check the weather as rain kills your smoking plans.

Make sure you have the appropriate amount of charcoal and wood chips to smoke the ribs low and slow.

Soak the smoked ribs in a brine solution for about 3 to 6 hours. Soaking the ribs in brine overnight is better, but a minimum of 3 hours can work.

The brine solution helps the ribs to absorb the smoke flavor better.

Dump your wood chips in a bucket and soak them in water for a minimum of 2 hours.

If you start the night before, simply leave the wood to soak in the water overnight.

On the day you will be smoking the ribs, remove them from the brine and pat it dry with a clean kitchen cloth.

Now is the time to set up the grill and build a fire.

  • Build a charcoal fire. Place a pile of charcoal in the center of the grill grate and light the fire as you normally would.
  • Place the water tray in the center of the coals. Move half the coals to one side of the grill and the other half to the other side. Place the metal dish or aluminum foil dish in between the two piles of charcoal.
  • Half fill the tray with water. Fill the tray halfway with water. This will steam and help keep the ribs moist and act as a drip pan to catch drippings and prevent fire flare-ups.

Close the grill and give it a couple of minutes to heat up. In the interim, cover the ribs with your favorite rub.

Don’t use a rub with too much sugar, as the sugar could burn and give a bitter taste to the meat.

If you have a basting BBQ sauce, do not apply it now; rather, it is best to wait until the last hour of cooking before applying the basting.

Open the grill and place a handful of the wet wood chips on either side of the drip tray. The wood should start to smoke immediately.

Place the ribs on the cooking grill directly above the drip tray. If possible, place the ribs directly under the vent or chimney in the lid of the grill.

This keeps the meat in the direct flow of the smoke.

Moisture is as critical to the process as the smoke, so always ensure the water in the aluminum tray is sufficient [1]!

Now comes the waiting and monitoring!

Monitoring The Ribs Smoking On The Charcoal Grill

Closed lid of a charcoal grill smoker

The temperature inside the grill, with the lid on, should be maintained between 250°F and 300°F. This is the ideal temperature for what is called low-heat smoke.

The grill temperature should not get higher than 325°F, which will cook the meat too fast and possibly burn the meat.

If the temperature gets too hot, raise the lid for 2 or 3 minutes to let the heat escape, and the coals burn down a little.

If you don’t have a thermometer on your grill, a general guide is if you can hold your hand over the cooking grill for between 8 to 10 seconds, the temperature should be right.

Every hour you must perform the following.

  • Turn the rib meat. Turn the smoked baby back ribs over to ensure an even smoke and cook.
  • Add coals if necessary. If the temperature is starting to drop, add a few more coals.
  • Add more wood. Add another handful of the wet wood chips.
  • Top up the water in the drip pan. This water will evaporate during the process and should be replaced.

In the last 30 minutes of cooking, baste the ribs with your favorite basting every 10 minutes.

The total time it should take to smoke a couple of racks of ribs on your grill should be about 3 hours if you use the temperatures we have indicated for a slow smoke. It includes letting the ribs rest and sprinkling garlic powder or another seasoning.

But, as Jeff Phillips explains, “Low and slow is the key to smoking ribs.” [2]



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About the author

Timothy Woods
CEO / Co-Founder
Timothy Woods holds a Kinesiology and Exercise Science degree from Jacksonville University and is CCC & GMU Certified. He's also the main man behind Carnivore Style. This food aficionado combines science and experience to spread the word about the carnivore lifestyle.
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