Want to make smokey barbecue ribs but don’t have the money for a dedicated smoker?
In this recipe, we’ll show you how you can smoke ribs on a standard gas grill.
I used a cheap tube smoker, but don’t worry if you can’t get your hands on a tube smoker, I’ll give you some easy DIY options as well.
How to smoke ribs when you only have a gas grill
If you want the best bbq rubs possible, you’ll always get the best results cooking on a dedicated smoker.
But if all your have available is a propane grill, you can still turn out very good ribs.
The most important step for getting a gas grill ready for smoking is using a two-zone cooking setup.
Our guide on smoking on a gas grill will walk you through the intricacies of the setup, but the basic idea is that you create a hot zone on one side and a cool zone on the other where your food will sit.
This prevents direct heat from grilling your ribs.
Once the grill is good to go, you could really follow any of our pork rib recipes.
We’ll be using a rack of baby back ribs with a 3-2-1 cooking method which is the most forgiving way to cook fall-off-the-bone ribs.
I recommend a 12” tube smoker. These tubes give off a solid 5 – 6 hours of steady smoke and can be used with any wood pellets of your choice.
This hexagon tube stays put and won’t roll around your grill top once the pellets start burning off, and they’re super easy to cleanout.
If you can’t get your hands on a smoke tube you can wrap some wood chips in aluminum foil and poke a few holes.
What type of pork ribs to buy to smoke
The two main styles of pork ribs you will see in the store are baby back ribs and spare ribs. You may also see St Louis Style ribs, which are just spare ribs trimmed into a more rectangular shape, usually for competition.
For this recipe, I went with Baby Back Ribs, although you can’t go wrong with either style. Depending on the size of the ribs you choose, you might want to modify the wrap time.
For example, with really small baby back ribs you could wrap for just one hour, or if you prefer more of a firm texture.
BBQ Ribs on the gas grill
1. Setup your gas grill for smoking
Whenever smoking on a gas grill, be sure you have adequate propane in the tank. Long cooks generally use less than a quarter of a tank, but having a full-sized tank on standby is always good practice.
Turn on the burner that is on the far left of your grill and set it to medium heat. If using a digital thermometer, insert it now and close the lid. Monitor your temp until you reach a steady 225°F – 250°F.
Give your grill time to preheat and get to the desired temperature. If you quickly overshoot your target temp, turn your dial down. If after 20 minutes you are still only at 180°F, turn your dial-up. If you’re having a hard time getting your grill to 225°F – 250°F, you may have to consider turning on additional burners if you have them.
This may seem tricky, but once you’ve played with your grill a little bit you will know exactly where your burners need to be to cook at your desired temp.
2. Prepare your ribs for smoking
While the grill is coming up to cooking temperature, you can prep the ribs.
Pat dry a rack of baby back ribs and remove the membrane. You could trim the ribs competition style, but since this is a casual home cook, not much trimming is needed. Just take off any uneven parts of meat or flaps of fat and you’re good to go.
Let the ribs sit at room temperature until the grill is steady and the smoke is ready.
3. Add the smoke with a pellet tube
Once the grill temperature is holding steady in the cooking range, it’s time to add the smoking element.
Fill the tube smoker with the pellets of your choice. I like a combination of hardwood and fruitwood pellets or a premade competition blend but there are a large number of wood combinations you can use for ribs.
Light the pellets at the open end with a torch or fire starter and let them burn at full flame for about five minutes.
After five minutes, blow out the live flame and put the smoker tube on the hot side of the grill. This is the side with the burners lit.
You should have a steady stream of rolling smoke emanating from the tube. It should last roughly six hours. Enough smoke for this recipe.
4. Season the ribs and put on the grill
With the temperature steady and smoke rolling, it’s time to season the ribs with a dry rub. I used Christie Vanover’s Pork Rub collaboration with Spiceology. The larger granules sit on the meat’s surface longer, integrating with the fat and smoke as it slowly renders into the meat throughout the cook.
Season both sides of the ribs, being sure to pat into the meat with your free hand. Once liberally coated with dry rub, place the rack, bone side down on the “cool zone” of the grill. The one opposite the lit burners and smoking tube.
Once the ribs are on, it’s a straight-forward 3-2-1 cook: three hours unwrapped, two hours wrapped in foil, one hour unwrapped.
5. Smoke ribs for three hours
This first part of the cook allows the meat to absorb the smoke flavor while the application of the rub helps create that traditional mahogany color and bark we get when smoking meat.
I don’t bother spritzing the ribs in the first three hours as it allows the smoke, fat and dry rub to intermingle and really set into the meat.
The smoke from the tube should be at its heaviest in the beginning, making it perfect for the initial smoke.
Toward the end of the first three hours, the surface of the ribs will be darker in color and tacky to the touch. The fat has started to render and the smoke and rub flavors have melded together.
6. Wrap ribs for two hours
After three hours of being smoked, remove the ribs from the smoker and place bone side down on 2 layers of foil – we double layer so the bones don’t poke through the foil.
With the meat side up, coat the ribs evenly with a sweet sauce of your choice – for this recipe, I used Frank’s Stingin’ Honey Garlic sauce. This sauce works great for the ribs as the honey tacks up nicely while the garlic and soy add increased depth of flavor and umami.
Place three pats of quality butter on top of the sauced ribs, roughly 1 tablespoon for each pat – I use Kerrygold – and wrap the ribs up tightly in the foil.
Place the foiled ribs back on the indirect side of the grill and cook undisturbed for two hours.
7.Uncover and sauce ribs for one hour
After two hours in aluminum foil, remove the ribs from the grill and open up the foil. The ribs should be extremely moist as they’re almost steamed in the foil packet in their own juices and the butter/sauce mixture.
Using the foil as a tray, place the ribs meat side up and apply another light coating of the dry rub, then more sauce of your liking to the top of the ribs.
This final coat of sauce will glaze on the meat and become sticky and tacky in the best way. I love a good dry rub Memphis-style rib, but there’s something to be said about sticky ribs with a perfect glaze on top. Finger-lickin’ good!
I used Tiger Sauce for the final layer of sauce. It pairs extremely well with the initial layer of Frank’s Stinging Honey Garlic, adding a deeper heat while complimenting with a subtle sweetness. It has just the right amount of sugars to caramelize into a fantastic glaze.
Once the ribs are evenly sauced, place the ribs uncovered back on the grill for the last hour.
8. Remove and serve
Let the ribs rest for ten minutes or so, then cut between the bones, serve and enjoy!
Smoked Baby Back Ribs on a Gas Grill
- 1 rack baby back ribs (at least 2lbs)
- ⅓ cup dry rub (Christie Vanover’s Pork Rub)
- 3 tbsp butter
- ¼ cup sweet BBQ sauce (Frank’s Stingin’ Honey Garlic)
- ¼ cup sweet heat sauce (Tiger Sauce)
- Prepare gas grill for two zone cooking at 225°F – 250°F.
- Trim excess fat off ribs and remove any loose bits of meat.
- Remove the membrane from the back of the ribs.
- Apply dry rub evenly over both sides of the ribs. Save 2 tbsp of rub for later.
- Light smoker tube and place on hot zone of grill when steady.
- Put ribs uncovered on a “cool side” of the grill away from lit burners.
- After 3 hours, remove the ribs to two layers of foil.
- Add an even coat of sweet sauce (Frank’s Stingin’ Honey Garlic).
- Add three tablespoons of butter on top of the meat.
- Wrap tightly in foil and place back onto grill for another 2 hours.
- After 2 hours, remove ribs and unwrap. Turn the ribs meat side up and glaze with a sweet heat sauce (Tiger Sauce).
- Place back onto grill for another hour.
- An hour later, remove the ribs from the smoker slice in between the bones and enjoy.