How to Make Beef Ribs Tender on the Grill: A Step-by-Step Guide

Grilled beef ribs can be an amazing centerpiece for a summer barbecue when they come off the grill fall-off-the-bone tender. However, it can be tricky to get beef ribs just right since they contain a lot of connective tissue that needs to break down. Follow this guide to learn how to make beef ribs tender on the grill every time.

Select the Right Cut of Beef Ribs

The first step is choosing the right cut of ribs for grilling. The best options are:

  • Beef back ribs – These are cut from the rib section near the back of the cow. They contain a good amount of meat between each bone. Back ribs are usually sold in a full slab.

  • Beef short ribs – Short ribs come from the belly/plate section and contain less meat but lots of connective tissue. They work well for braising but can also be grilled.

  • Flanken style ribs – These are cut across the bones into thin slices. Flanken ribs grill up quickly since the meat is thinner.

For very tender grilled ribs, opt for beef back ribs. Short ribs and flanken ribs can work too but may need a little longer cooking time.

Trim and Prepare the Ribs

Before cooking, you’ll need to get the ribs ready by:

  • Removing the membrane – There is a papery membrane on the backside of the ribs that should be peeled off. This will allow smoke and seasoning to better penetrate the meat.

  • Cutting into individual ribs – For back ribs, you’ll need to cut along between each bone to separate them into single ribs. Leave flanken or short ribs whole.

  • Trimming excess fat – Use a sharp knife to trim off any large sections of hard fat. Some marbling is ok.

  • Seasoning – Sprinkle both sides of the ribs lightly with salt and pepper or add your favorite dry rub.

Grill Low and Slow

The key to tender grilled beef ribs is cooking them low and slow. Some tips:

  • Heat the grill to between 250-275°F. If using charcoal, pile coals on just one side.

  • Cook indirect by placing ribs on the side without direct heat underneath.

  • Close the lid to hold in heat and moisture.

  • Cook for 2-3 hours, flipping every 30 minutes. This allows time for the collagen to fully break down.

  • Spritz with apple juice or broth during cooking to prevent them from drying out.

  • Wrap in foil if ribs start browning too much before they are fully tender.

  • Check tenderness by poking the meat between the bones. It should shred easily when ready.

Finish on Direct Heat

Once the ribs are tender, move them over direct heat to finish:

  • Turn grill up to medium-high, around 400°F.

  • Place ribs directly over the coals, meaty-side down first.

  • Grill for 2-3 minutes per side to caramelize the outside.

  • Brush with barbecue sauce during the last few minutes if desired.

Rest and Serve

Let the ribs rest for 5-10 minutes before cutting into individual ribs and serving. The resting time allows the juices to reabsorb back into the meat.

Serve the grilled beef ribs hot with your favorite barbecue sides like cornbread, coleslaw, beans, potato salad, or mac and cheese.

Tips for the Best Grilled Beef Ribs

Follow these tips for fork-tender beef ribs every time:

  • Remove membranes – Skipping this step means the seasonings and smoke won’t penetrate into the meat as well.

  • Cook low temperature – High heat will cause the ribs to dry out. Keep temps 250-275°F.

  • Use indirect heat – Direct heat will burn the ribs before they become tender.

  • Allow plenty of time – Be patient! For meat to break down, ribs need to cook for 2-3 hours.

  • Check doneness – Judge tenderness by poking the meat rather than just going by time.

  • Caramelize at the end – Get crispy outsides by quickly grilling over direct heat right before serving.

Oven Method

While grilling is ideal, you can also make tender oven-baked beef ribs:

  • Preheat oven to 300°F.

  • Prepare ribs the same way with salt and pepper or dry rub.

  • Place ribs meaty-side up on a baking sheet. Bake uncovered for 1 hour.

  • Wrap the baking sheet tightly in foil and continue baking for 1.5 hours more.

  • Unwrap, brush with barbecue sauce and bake 30 minutes more.

  • For crispy outsides, broil for 2-3 minutes per side at the end.

While it takes longer in the oven, the low gentle heat will still break down the ribs until fork tender.

Choosing the Right Wood for Smoking Beef Ribs

Adding wood chips or chunks to your charcoal imparts nice smoky flavor to beef ribs. Good woods to use are:

  • Hickory – The classic smoking wood. Provides a strong, bacon-like flavor.

  • Oak – Imparts a mellow, subtle smokiness. Doesn’t overpower the meat.

  • Mesquite – Has an intense, earthy smoke flavor. Use in moderation or mixed with a milder wood.

  • Cherry and Apple – Both give a sweeter, fruity smoke that pairs well with beef.

Soak wood chips for 30 minutes before adding to the coals to prevent them from burning up too quickly. Wood chunks don’t need soaking.

Sauce and Rub Suggestions

Flavorful sauces and dry rubs enhance the beefy taste of ribs.


  • Sweet and smoky barbecue sauce
  • Bold molasses or coffee barbecue sauces
  • Tangy vinegar sauces
  • Spicy pepper sauces


  • Brown sugar for sweetness and bark
  • Smoked paprika for color and flavor
  • Chili powder, cumin, garlic, onion, etc.
  • Pepper and salt
  • Spices like cinnamon or cloves

Come up with your own signature sauces and rubs to make your grilled beef ribs truly unique.

Know When Beef Ribs are Done

Checking doneness for beef ribs can be tricky. Here are some ways to test when they are ready:

  • Temperature – Use a meat thermometer to check the internal temperature. Ribs are done between 195°F-205°F.

  • Tenderness – Try poking a fork between the bones. If the meat shreds apart easily, they are fully tender.

  • Bone looseness – Grab a rib bone and wiggle it. It should twist fairly easily if ribs are done.

  • Visual test – Look for meat pulling away from the ends of the bones. This indicates tenderness.

  • Toothpick test – Stick a toothpick into the meat and check that it goes in and out without resistance.

Go by tenderness rather than just cooking time. Every grill and batch of ribs can vary.

Troubleshooting for Tough Beef Ribs

If your beef ribs turn out chewy and tough, some things to check are:

  • Insufficient cooking time – Be sure to allow at least 2-3 hours for grilling or 4-5 hours for baking.

  • Cooking temp too high – High heat dries out the ribs before the collagen breaks down fully. Keep temps 250-300°F.

  • No indirect heat – Direct heat chars the outside before the inside cooks through. Always use indirect.

  • Didn’t remove membrane – The membrane prevents smoke and seasoning penetration. Always peel it off.

  • Cut of ribs – Flanken or short ribs may need longer cooking time than back ribs.

  • No resting time – Juices will run out and meat seems drier if not rested 5-10 minutes before cutting.

  • Overcooking – If ribs go past 205°F internal temp, they’ll get tough again.

With the proper methods and some practice, you’ll be serving amazing fall-off-the-bone tender beef ribs this grilling season.

Cook the Perfect Juicy Beef Ribs Every Time | Dino Ribs


What is the best way to tenderize beef ribs?

Braising, which is actually slow simmering (after browning in a bit of oil or butter), brings irresistibly tender and boldly flavored results to this meaty cut of beef. Because short ribs require long, slow cooking for tenderness and flavor, braising is the perfect technique for cooking them.

How do you tenderize ribs on the grill?

Leave the rack of ribs in tact (don’t cut them into individual ribs). Put your favorite rub on the ribs or maybe some BBQ sauce, seal them in foil, (put them on a cookie sheet in case the foil leaks). Put the rib foil packs on the cookie sheet in a 300˚F oven for about 2 hours.

How do you keep beef ribs moist on the grill?

Maintain a low and steady temperature: When smoking ribs, it’s crucial to maintain a consistent temperature. Aim for a temperature between 225°F and 250°F (107°C and 121°C) throughout the cooking process. This slow and low cooking method helps break down the collagen in the meat and keeps it moist.

Should beef ribs be boiled before grilling?

Tenderness: Beef ribs are known for their tough connective tissues. Boiling them before grilling helps break down these tissues, resulting in more tender meat that’s easier to eat. The slow, gentle simmering process allows the collagen in the connective tissue to convert to gelatin, which moistens and softens the meat.

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