The number one mistake people make when trying to grill ribs is too much heat. Barbecue Ribs should not be cooked quickly over a high direct heat source but low and slow. Now there are several ways that you can make great barbecue ribs on a grill and avoid making charred meat sticks. Your basic strategy needs to watchful patience. After that, there are a few different paths you can take to make it easier for you.
A Four-Part Cooking Area
First, there is straight grilling. Like I said you will want to grill indirectly, meaning that you have a fire on one side and the food on the other. Actually, you want a four-part cooking area. Imagine four boxes stacked with two on the bottom and two on the top. In the top left box are the ribs. Below the ribs is a large pan to catch the drippings. In the top right box is another large pan filled with water. This added the moisture to the environment that will keep the ribs from drying out. Below the water pan is your fire.
Of course, there are variations to this basic layout and you probably need to do a little experimenting to determine what is going to work best for you and your grill. A couple of variations include using wood chips, soaked in water and added to the charcoal fire, if you are using a charcoal grill, or in a smoker box if you are using a gas grill.
Cook Ribs Low and Slow
You will need to cook your ribs like this for several hours. You want the inside of your grill to hold a temperature around 225 degrees F/110 degrees C. The ribs should not overlap the fire or they will burn and dry out.
If you want the smoke flavor you will probably have to add more wood every hour. This is particularly important in the first two hours. Your ribs will be done when they become tender and the meat is loose around the bones.
You can also precook your ribs to speed up the process or to increase the tenderness of the ribs. Ribs cooked on a barbecue smoker at a low temperature for several hours will be very tender. Ribs cooked on a grill, especially a gas grill, will not be as tender even cooked indirectly. To make your ribs tenderer you can precook by either boiling the ribs for about 30 minutes or by placing them in a slow cooker. This will get the ribs going and not dried out. Once you are ready to grill then you can season the ribs and cook them indirectly until done. The disadvantage of this is that the ribs will not absorb the flavor of the smoke very well and you can literally boil out the flavor of the meat. Remember, if you boil, slow cook, or oven roast ribs it must be at a low temperature, around 225 degrees F/110 degrees C.
Go Easy on the Seasonings
Now when it comes to seasoning ribs you want to be very conservative. Good ribs have a great flavor all to themselves. It is also important to avoid adding barbecue sauce to ribs early in the process.
Most barbecue sauces, whether store bought or homemade, contain some kind of sugar (tomatoes contain sugar). This can cause your barbecue ribs to burn, even cooked indirectly. I suggest using a good rub before you grill and maybe a barbecue sauce after the grilling is done. However, if you want to use a sauce, try using a mop. A mop is a thin barbecue sauce (mainly vinegar or water) that you brush on during grilling to help maintain moisture and to add flavor. Sometimes you will hear it referred to as a baste.
So remember, keep the temperature low. A good grilling temperature for barbecue ribs is about 225 degrees F/110 degrees C. Also keep a close eye on your ribs. Once the surface of the meat starts to burn there's no going back. Another good tip is to fill a spray bottle with a thin barbecue sauce.
By thin I mean practically water. I use a mixture of paprika, water, and a few other seasonings. By spraying the ribs with this mixture during grilling you will add moisture, reduce burning and add flavor to your barbecue ribs.