how to smoke ribs

How to Smoke Ribs Even if Your Grill is Smaller than Your Appetite

Are you a barbecue lover stuck with a grill that feels more like a dollhouse than a smokehouse? Does the sight of juicy, smoked ribs make your mouth water, but your mini grill leaves you intimidated? Fear not!

It’s possible to smoke ribs perfectly, even on a petite grill. Size isn’t everything, especially when you know the right techniques. In this guide, we’ll walk you through a foolproof method how to to smoke ribs, achieving that desirable fall-off-the-bone tenderness, even on the smallest of grills.

Imagine impressing your friends at your next BBQ party with a plate of mouth-watering, succulent, smoked ribs. No more feeling restricted by your small grill!

So, ready to outshine every BBQ master in town? Don your apron, pick up your tongs, and let’s get those ribs smoking!

What is Smoking Ribs?

Smoking ribs is a culinary technique often used in barbecue, where the meat is cooked at a low temperature over a long period of time in a smoker or a grill. This method uses indirect heat and smoke to slowly break down the connective tissues in the ribs, making them tender and flavorful. The smoke, usually from specific types of wood like hickory, apple, or mesquite, adds a unique, smoky flavor to the ribs. It’s a technique beloved by many BBQ enthusiasts and a delicious way to prepare ribs, regardless of the size of your grill.

Smoking Ribs
Credits to Seared and Smoked

Reasons You Need to Know How to Smoke Ribs

Sure, you can cook ribs using different methods, but nothing quite matches the distinct flavor and tenderness achieved by smoking. Even with a small grill, learning how to smoke ribs can turn you into the star of your next backyard BBQ. Not only will your ribs taste incredible, but your newfound skill will also make you the talk of the town!

Here are a few reasons why learning to smoke ribs is important and relevant:

  • Unparalleled Flavor: Smoking imparts a unique, rich flavor to the ribs that cannot be matched by other cooking methods.
  • Tender Goodness: The slow, low-temperature cooking process makes the ribs incredibly tender.
  • Impressive Skill: It’s a culinary skill that’s sure to impress your friends and family at gatherings.
  • Versatility: You can experiment with different types of wood for the smoke, creating a range of flavors.
  • Culinary Creativity: Smoking ribs allows for endless marinating, rubbing, and sauce options, further enhancing the flavor profile.

Smoking ribs on a small grill may seem challenging, but with the right knowledge, it’s quite feasible. Our method, designed specifically for small grills, will help you navigate the smoking process. You’ll be cooking up those tender, flavorful ribs you’ve been craving, regardless of the size of your grill. So, let’s stoke the fire and get started!

Preparing the ribs
Trimming the pork ribs

Step-by-Step Instructions to Smoke Ribs on a Small Grill

In the realm of barbecue, smoking ribs is an art. However, it can feel like a daunting task when your grill is a little on the petite side. Don’t worry – our unique process is designed specifically to help you overcome this challenge. We’re about to journey through a simple, yet effective sequence of steps to smoke your ribs to perfection, even on a small grill.

Here are the steps we’ll cover:

  1. “Choosing the Right Ribs”
  2. “Prep and Rub”
  3. “Setting Up the Grill”
  4. “Mastering the Heat”
  5. “Smoke ‘Em Up”
  6. “Rest and Serve”

Ready to become the BBQ master your friends and family will admire? Let’s dive right into the step-by-step process of smoking ribs on your small grill!

Step 1: Choosing the Right Ribs

The first step towards smoking great ribs is to choose the right cut. Baby back ribs or St. Louis style ribs are often the best choices for smaller grills due to their size. Look for ribs that have a uniform thickness for even cooking and a good amount of meat on the bones.

Step 2: Prep and Rub

Preparation is key! Remove the membrane from the back of the ribs – this allows your rub to penetrate more deeply into the meat. Next, apply a generous amount of your favorite rub on both sides of the ribs. Don’t be shy here – the rub helps to create a flavorful bark on the ribs as they smoke. After applying the rub, let the ribs rest in the fridge for at least an hour, or ideally, overnight.

rub on both sides of the ribs
Credits to The Kitchen Magpie

Step 3: Setting Up the Grill

Setting up your grill correctly is crucial. If you’re using a charcoal grill, set it up for indirect grilling by placing the charcoal on one side of the grill, creating a hot zone and a cool zone. For a gas grill, only light the burners on one side. Place a drip pan with a little water in the cool zone – this will catch any drips from the ribs and add some humidity to help keep them juicy.

Setting up your grill for ribs

Step 4: Mastering the Heat

Maintaining a consistent temperature is key to smoking ribs. You’re aiming for a low and slow heat, around 225-250°F. Use a grill thermometer to keep an eye on the temperature. If it starts to get too hot, you can adjust the vents or turn down the burners.

Temperature control

Step 5: Smoke ‘Em Up

Now, place your ribs bone side down in the cool zone, away from the direct heat. If space is limited, you may use a rib rack which allows you to stand your ribs up, fitting more onto the grill. Add your choice of wood chips or chunks to the hot coals or in a smoker box if you’re using a gas grill. Close the lid and let the magic happen. Depending on the size of the ribs, the smoking process can take anywhere from 4-6 hours. Remember, patience is key here!

Step 6: Rest and Serve

Once the ribs have a nice bark and the meat has pulled back from the ends of the bones, it’s time to take them off the grill. But hold on! Before you dive in, let the ribs rest for about 10-15 minutes. This allows the juices to redistribute throughout the meat. Now, serve them up with your favorite BBQ sauce on the side and enjoy the fruit of your BBQ labor!

Preparing cooked ribs

And there you have it! You’ve just smoked ribs on your small grill. Now that wasn’t too difficult, was it? Happy grilling!

Key Considerations For Successfully Smoking Ribs on a Small Grill

When smoking ribs on a small grill, there are a few additional considerations to keep in mind to ensure a successful barbecue.

Firstly, it’s essential to remember that the size of your grill doesn’t dictate the quality of your smoked ribs. Patience and temperature control are the real heroes. As with most things in life, practice makes perfect. If your first attempt doesn’t yield the results you were hoping for, don’t be discouraged. Keep trying, keep learning, and soon enough, you’ll be producing smoked ribs that rival even the most prestigious smokehouses.

Lastly, don’t forget about the cleanup! Smoking can leave your grill with considerable residue. Make sure to clean your grill thoroughly after each use to maintain its functionality and prolong its life. This step might not be the most fun, but your future self will thank you when it’s time to smoke the next batch of ribs!

Embrace the size of your grill, follow these guidelines, and you’ll be smoking delicious ribs in no time. Remember, it’s not about the size of your grill, but the flavor in your ribs. Happy smoking!

Spices and herbs on white 1173401
Spices and herbs

Taking it to the Next Level: How to Elevate Your Rib Smoking Game

Once you’ve mastered the art of smoking ribs on your small grill, you might want to explore new ways to enhance your BBQ experience further.

One way to elevate your rib game is to experiment with different rubs and marinades. There are countless flavor profiles you can explore, from sweet and tangy to spicy and smoky. You could even try making your own signature rub or marinade. The possibilities are endless, and each one provides a unique touch to your smoked ribs.

Another way to take your smoking skills to the next level is to learn how to make your own BBQ sauce. A homemade sauce can perfectly complement your smoked ribs, adding an extra layer of flavor that pairs seamlessly with the smokiness of the meat. Plus, you can adjust the ingredients to cater to your personal preference or dietary needs.

Lastly, consider experimenting with different types of wood for smoking. Each type of wood imparts a different flavor, allowing you to further customize the taste of your ribs. For instance, applewood gives a sweet, fruity smoke, while hickory provides a strong, bacon-like flavor.

With these tips in mind, you can continue to refine and enhance your rib smoking skills, taking your BBQ game to new heights. Happy experimenting!

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Bolner’s Fiesta
Rib Rub 20oz –

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MeatSoHorny Pecan Tom’s Rib Rub 

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SuckleBusters Hog
Waller Pork BBQ Rub – $14.98

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Rib Rub, 25 Ounces

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recteq Rossarooski’s
Honey Rib BBQ Rub –

Derek Wolf – Hickory

Derek Wolf – Hickory
Peach Porter Rub  $32.99

Alternatives to Smoking Ribs on a Small Grill

While smoking ribs on a small grill can produce incredibly flavorful results, there are other methods of cooking ribs you may want to explore.

One popular alternative is oven-roasting your ribs. Roasting can yield a similar tender result without requiring a grill or smoker. It involves baking the ribs at a low temperature for several hours, usually wrapped in foil to retain moisture. You can then finish them off under the broiler for a caramelized, crispy exterior. This method can be convenient for those living in apartments or areas where outdoor grilling is not possible.

Another alternative is using a slow cooker. This method involves very little hands-on time and still results in tender, flavorful ribs. While you won’t get the same smoky flavor as you would from a grill, you can add liquid smoke or smoked paprika to your sauce or rub to mimic that grilled taste.

Lastly, for those who want the smoky flavor without the long cooking time, a pressure cooker or Instant Pot can be a good alternative. With this method, you can cook your ribs in a fraction of the time it would take on a grill or in the oven. Again, a dash of liquid smoke can help to replicate that characteristic BBQ flavor.

Remember, the method you choose should best fit your resources, time, and flavor preferences. The most important part is to enjoy the process and the delicious ribs you create!

Dry Rubs vs BBQ Sauce

When it comes to flavoring ribs, there are two popular methods: using a dry rub or applying BBQ sauce. Both can produce delicious results, but they each have their unique characteristics and uses.

Dry Rubs: These are mixes of dry spices and herbs, sometimes with sugar, that are rubbed onto the meat before it’s cooked. They create a flavorful crust or “bark” on the surface of the ribs as they cook. Dry rubs are particularly effective for smoking or slow-roasting, as the extended cooking time allows the flavors to penetrate the meat deeply. The rub can range from simple salt and pepper to complex blends of sweet, spicy, and savory flavors. Some popular ingredients in dry rubs include brown sugar, paprika, garlic powder, onion powder, cumin, and chili powder.

BBQ Sauce: This is a sauce that’s typically brushed onto the ribs towards the end of the cooking time or served on the side. It can add a sweet, tangy, smoky, or spicy flavor to the ribs, depending on the ingredients used. BBQ sauce is usually tomato-based, but it can also be vinegar-based or mustard-based, and it often contains sweeteners like molasses or brown sugar. Applying the sauce too early in the cooking process can lead to burning due to the sugar content, which is why it’s usually added towards the end.

Whether you should use a dry rub or BBQ sauce comes down to personal preference and the specific flavor profile you’re looking for. Some BBQ enthusiasts swear by dry rubs for their ability to infuse the meat with flavor, while others love the moist, sticky finish that a good BBQ sauce can provide. You can even use both: a dry rub for the initial cooking and a BBQ sauce glaze near the end. This combination can provide depth of flavor, a nice crust, and a flavorful glaze, making your ribs a real BBQ treat.

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Rib Candy – Apple Cherry Habanero
17oz Bottle – $20.50

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Historic Lynchburg Tennessee Whiskey Swineapple Rib Glaze & Dippin’ Sauce –


Charlie Vergos Rendezvous (Memphis)
Famous Barbecue Sauce –

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Rib Rack BBQ Sauce, Variety Pack: Original, Sweet Honey, Southern Bourbon, and Campfire Cider – 4 Count –

Triple 9 Judgement Day “Competition BBQ Sauce”, 64oz – $21.99 

Slap Yo Daddy BBQ Sauce – Championship Barbecue Sauce from Pitmaster Harry Soo 

Wrapping Up and My Experience With Smoking Ribs on a Small Grill

And there you have it, the complete guide to smoking ribs on a small grill. We’ve walked through the process step by step, examined some key considerations, discussed how to take your rib smoking game to the next level, and explored some tasty alternatives. Remember, the beauty of barbecuing lies in the journey, not just the delicious end result.

Why listen to me, JL Surjan? Well, I’ve spent countless hours behind the grill, perfecting the art of smoking ribs. I’ve faced the challenges of working with a small grill and found ways to overcome them to produce succulent, flavorful ribs that are a hit at any gathering. I’ve tried and tested various methods, experimented with a plethora of rubs and sauces, and navigated through the pitfalls of BBQ. Now, I’m here to pass on that knowledge and experience to you.

So, whether you’re a BBQ beginner or an experienced griller looking for new tricks, I hope this guide inspires you to fire up your grill, try something new, and enjoy the satisfying process of smoking ribs, regardless of the size of your grill. Happy grilling, folks!


Disclosure: Our blog contains affiliate links to products. We may receive a commission for purchases made through these links. However, this does not impact our reviews and comparisons. We try our best to keep things fair and balanced, in order to help you make the best choice for you.

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