Should You Flip Ribs When Grilling? (Answered)

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Matt Richard

Nearly all mainstream food blogs say you should flip ribs when grilling to prevent them from burning.

However, most authentic barbecue lovers (myself included) would disagree because that process dries out the meat, making it mushy and flavorless.

Key Takeaway

You don’t need to flip ribs when grilling. Instead, you should use an indirect heat method, which involves setting up two heat zones on your grill. One side will be hotter than the other. Then, place the rack of ribs on the cooler side and cover it with the lid. This approach allows the ribs to cook slowly with low, indirect heat that won’t char or burn them.

Keep reading to learn how to set up your gas or charcoal with two heat zones (for indirect heat), and get tips to know exactly when to take your ribs off to ensure you don’t overcook them.

Why You Don’t Need to Flip Ribs on the Grill

If you place the ribs directly over the flame (known as cooking with direct heat), the ribs will burn. Additionally, they won’t cook all the way through.

Since ribs are thick meat (with bones), they take much longer to cook than thinner meat like a hamburger or hot dog wiener.

As a result, since ribs are on the grill (or smoker) for significantly longer, they must be cooked at a lower temperature. The lower heat prevents the ribs from drying out or burning.

How to Grill Ribs With Indirect Heat

To grill ribs with indirect heat, you’ll need to create a “safe” or “cool” zone. This area is where you place the meat, so it’s not directly over the flame.

The setup varies based on the type of grill you’re using. Below, I’ll go over how to set up a safe zone for a gas and charcoal grill.

Setting Up the Safe Zone on a Gas Grill

The cooking temperature on gas grills (propane or natural gas) is much easier to control than on charcoal ones.

You can set the temperature to 225°F and let the indirect heat work its magic. [1]

The best way to take advantage of this method on a gas grill is to place the ribs in the center of the grate. Then, turn on the side burners but leave the middle one off.

This way, the ribs aren’t directly over the flame, and you won’t need to flip them.

Setting Up the Safe Zone on a Charcoal Grill

You’ll be rewarded with incredibly flavorful meat if you have the time and patience to oversee a charcoal grill.

However, unlike a gas grill, there’s no temperature dial. Instead, you’ll need to use an appropriate amount of charcoal for cooking the ribs how you want them.

The best way to light the charcoal is to use a chimney starter. Here are the steps to do that:

  1. Crumple newspaper and put it at the bottom of the chimney starter
  2. Place the chimney starter on the grill grate
  3. Fill the cylinder 1/4 full of charcoal
  4. Light the chimney starter from the bottom
  5. Wait about 15 minutes for all of the charcoal to catch fire
  6. Carefully pour the charcoal onto the lower grate

However, don’t spread the charcoal evenly over the lower grate. Instead, arrange it on half the grate and leave the other half empty. This placement creates a safe zone.

Pro Tip

Put the top grill grate on and set your ribs opposite where the coals are burning. This way, the ribs can cook without being directly over the flame.

Remember to keep extra charcoal nearby to replace the fully burned pieces.

How to Tell When Ribs Are Done

Identifying when ribs are done is tricker than other meats because of the sheer size. As a result, it can take a bit of practice. Still, here are three reliable methods to ensure you get it right.

The Bend Test

Using tongs, pick up the rack of ribs and hold them in the middle. You’ll know they’re done if they bend and start to break.

Why does this technique work? Because if the ribs are thoroughly cooked, the connective tissues have broken.

As a result, only the skin holds the rack together. So naturally, the slab will bend when you hold it in the air.

This method ensures you’ve made the perfect rack of “fall off the bone” ribs.

The Twist Test

Like the test above, the twist test checks if the connective tissue has broken down. When performing this assessment, ensure you don’t burn your hand, as the slab might be hot.

Since the meat is cooked, the end of the bones should be visible (usually around half an inch).

First, grab the bone in the center of the rack. Next, gently twist it to see if it breaks away from the meat. If it does, then the ribs are ready.

If you have to use quite a bit of force, you should keep cooking.

The Toothpick Test

This test is one of the simplest. Insert a toothpick into the meat between the bones.

If the toothpick moves in and out with little resistance, you’ve achieved the correct doneness. However, if the toothpick moves slowly, you may need to cook the ribs longer.


Remember to check the internal temperature of the ribs using a meat thermometer before serving to ensure your tests are correct.

The FDA-recommended internal temperature to serve ribs is 145°F. [2] However, they’ll taste terrible at that temperature. So instead, cook to 195°F-203°F for best results. [1]

Frequently Asked Questions

If you still have questions about grilling ribs, check out the answers below.

Do You Grill Ribs With the Bone Side Up or Down?

You should place the rack of ribs with the bone side facing down. That way, the meat will cook more consistently, and the flavor will be more prominent.

Why Do Ribs Take So Long to Cook?

Ribs are a tough cut of meat and require a longer cooking time than most other cuts. This is because the connective tissue in ribs needs to be broken down before it becomes tender.

Can You Cook Ribs in Aluminum Foil?

Using aluminum foil is a great way to expedite the cooking time without sacrificing flavor. A tightly wrapped rack of ribs in aluminum foil will keep the ribs juicy and tender.

Final Thoughts

So, do you need to flip ribs when grilling?

The answer is no – as long as you use indirect heat. Meaning the flame isn’t directly under the meat.

By cooking your ribs at a lower temperature for a longer time, you’ll achieve those succulent and tender results we all love.

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Hey, I'm Matt Hollingshead, a BBQ enthusiast, beer connoisseur, and the founder of Grill Mentor. When I'm not trying new recipes with my Traeger or sampling a craft beer, I'm publishing articles for this site.

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