Should You Flip Ribs While Grilling

by | Jul 18, 2023 | Barbecue, Grilling | 0 comments

Should You Flip Ribs While Grilling

Grilling ribs may seem pretty straightforward to beginners. All you’ve to do is apply the dry rub and grill them, right? 

However, trust me, in all these years of grilling, I’ve realized that it’s slightly trickier than that. Many little things can go wrong, and cause your ribs to become dry and burnt! 

One of these mistakes is when you flip your ribs too often or too less while grilling. 

The truth is you don’t have to flip the ribs if you’re using the indirect heat method or a rib rack. On the contrary, if you’re grilling other types of ribs on direct heat, it’s best to flip them every 20 to 30 minutes. 

Read on to know more about flipping ribs while grilling!

When to Flip Ribs While Grilling?

As I mentioned earlier, you shouldn’t flip your ribs every time. Instead, consider three things when you’re planning to grill and flip the ribs.  

1. Type of Ribs 

If you’ve used ribs for cooking previously, you may already know that there are three main types of pork ribs – baby back ribs, spare ribs, and St Louis cut ribs. 

Rib TypeBaby Back RibsSpare RibsSt Louis Ribs
OriginNear the pig’s backboneStarts after the baby back ribsStarts after the baby back ribs
TextureTenderLess tenderLess tender
Flipping required or notYes, every 20 minutes (if grilling on direct heat)No (option – every 30 to 40 minutes)No (optional – every 30 to 40 minutes)
  • Baby Back Ribs

These types of ribs are present near the highest area of the pig’s back. They are also connected to the pig’s backbone. 

The reason why they’re known as “baby” back ribs is because they tend to be smaller and leaner compared to spare ribs. 

When you’re grilling baby back ribs on direct heat, I recommend you flip them every 15 to 20 minutes. It is because these ribs are more delicate, and may get charred due to constant exposure to high heat. 

  • Spare Ribs

Spare ribs are the favorite for most of us, including me, because of their rich meaty flavor. 

These ribs start where the baby back ribs end, and extend to the pig’s breast bone. However, note that they are less tender than baby back ribs. 

You don’t have to flip spare ribs too often, as they’re tougher and fattier compared to baby back ribs. Hence, they can cook well on direct heat too. In my experience, it is best to flip them after every 40 minutes. 

  • St Louis Cut Ribs

St Louis Cut ribs are similar to spare ribs, but they’re trimmed a bit. This trimming helps in removing excessive cartilage and breastbone from the meat. I love these ribs, as they’re more uniform and easier to cook!

With St Louis Cut ribs, you also don’t have to necessarily flip the ribs while grilling as they’re less tender. 

2. Grilling Method 

You can either grill your ribs on direct heat or go for indirect heat. This can also affect whether you should flip your ribs or not. 

  • Direct Heat

In this cooking process, you place the ribs directly on the grill grates above the propane flame (gas grill) or hot charcoals (charcoal grill).

If you’re grilling ribs this way, then it is necessary to flip them every 20 to 30 minutes. It is because, in the direct heat approach, the heat is towards the ribs, which leads to faster and uneven cooking. 

If you don’t flip your ribs while grilling on direct heat, the meat may become charred or dry and not juicy. 

  • Indirect Heat

Using the indirect heat approach is best if you’re skeptical about flipping your ribs. 

To cook the ribs with this approach, you don’t place your grills directly over the coals or the propane flame. Instead, you keep an area in the grill empty (no flames or coals on one side). Then, you can place your ribs in this area. 

The heat from the surrounding flame or coals helps in slow-cooking the ribs, which will tenderize the meat, and make it less prone to charring or drying out. 

As the ribs are not in direct contact with the heat, there’s no need to flip the ribs. 

3. Use of Rib Rack

For me, rib racks have been a savior for huge BBQ gatherings! They allow you to stack ribs vertically, and grill all of them together. 

Another benefit is that you don’t have to flip the ribs, as rib racks help with even cooking, eliminating the need for flipping! 

Pros and Cons of Flipping Ribs While Grilling 

So now, the question is should you or should you not flip your juicy rack of ribs when grilling? Let me tell you some pros and cons if you decide to do it. 

Pros of Flipping Ribs While Grilling 

If you’re cooking ribs on direct heat, or opting for baby back ribs, you’ll get various advantages while flipping the ribs. 

  • The ribs won’t be excessively burnt or charred, even if you cook for a longer time. 
  • Flipping ribs will lead to even cooking, and uniform texture!
  • Reduce the chances of ribs sticking to the grill grates. 

Cons of Flipping Ribs While Grilling

Doing anything excessively, even flipping ribs, can do more harm than good! 

One time, I kept flipping the ribs repeatedly and faced the below problems.

  • Ribs may dry out and lose their moisture due to overcooking. 
  • Ribs may lose out on the smoky flavor, that we all love. 

Step-by-Step Guide to Grill Ribs Properly

Since you already know that it’s not necessary to flip the ribs while grilling, let me guide you through the whole process of grilling the juiciest ribs out there!

Method 1: Direct Heat

Direct heat isn’t the best cooking method out there to cook ribs. It may leave the ribs overcooked, dry, and tough to eat. 

Yet, there is one way to ensure that your ribs cook perfectly, stay juicy, and have tender meat. Here’s what you need to do. 

  1. Preheat the grill temperature, and bring it to 400° F on your meat thermometer.
  2. Get your ribs, and trim out the unnecessary sections. 
  3. Prepare the dry rub by combining 3 tablespoons of brown sugar, 1 ½ tablespoons of salt, 1 ½ tablespoons of paprika, and 1 teaspoon of garlic powder. 
  4. Coat the ribs with the dry rub on the bone side of the ribs first properly, and then proceed to the meat side. 
  5. Leave some dry rub aside to make the mop sauce. 
  6. Then, make a mop sauce by adding 1 cup water, 1 cup distilled white vinegar, ½ cup cider vinegar, and ¼ cup dry rub. 
  7. Boil the ingredients of the mop sauce at medium heat.
  8. Next, place the ribs on the grill. I prefer keeping the bone side on the grill.  
  9. Wait for 15 to 30 minutes for the ribs to grill. 
  10.  Once done, apply the mop sauce generously, and let the ribs grill again. 
  11.  Repeat the 9th and 10th steps for 90 minutes.  

Method 2: Indirect Heat

I highly recommend opting for indirect heat over direct heat, if you want juicy and tender ribs. As I stated earlier, indirect heat reduces the chances of charring or burning your ribs and also allows your ribs to cook slowly. 

Most steps are the same as method one. However, there’s one slight change. 

Instead of placing the ribs right on top of the coal/propane flame, keep them in an area where there’s no direct contact between them. 

  • You can create an area like that by putting coals on one side of the grill only. 
  • In the case of the gas grill, just turn on the far-right and far-left burners, and keep the center burners off. 

If you’re using the indirect heat method, there’s no need to flip the ribs. You should also keep the temperature at the lowest (around 220 degrees Fahrenheit – 250 degrees Fahrenheit). 

How to Know When Ribs Are Done?

Each type of rib has its own cooking time. 

For instance, baby back ribs may take about four hours to grill, whereas spare ribs or St Louis ribs take about five to six hours to cook. 

Yet, if you’re confused, there are some ways to tell when ribs are done cooking. 

1. Use a Toothpick

Using a toothpick is the simplest way to know if your ribs are grilled or not. 

You just have to poke a toothpick inside the ribs. If the toothpick slides inside without facing any resistance, the ribs are cooked properly. 

Tip: Ensure that you poke holes in multiple places, and see if the ribs are cooked evenly. 

2. The Crack Test

In this method, you need a pair of tongs. Then, just pick up the ribs, and bounce them carefully. Don’t do it excessively, or else it might fly away! 

After moving around the ribs, check for cracks. If you notice large cracks, your ribs are good to go. 

On the contrary, if the crack is too small, place them back on the grill for some time.  

3. Appearance 

If you’re only a beginner, don’t rely on this method entirely. 

Some BBQ pitmasters believe that if the meat pulls back up the bone, the ribs are done grilling. 

However, you need to be experienced, as overcooking or meat shrinking may also cause the meat to pull back the bone. 

Final Thoughts

I won’t deny, it’s a task to perfect the art of grilling ribs! Yet, if you keep at it, you’ll soon become a pro. 

You just need to remember all the tiny details, including the fact that you should only flip the ribs when it’s necessary. If you’re cooking on indirect heat, or using a rib rack, you can skip flipping. 

Related Questions

Should you flip ribs in foil?

You can flip ribs in a foil after 30 minutes of grilling, but just make sure that you flip the entire foil. You shouldn’t pierce or open the foil during the grilling process unless you want to apply a mop sauce.

Why are my grilled ribs dry?

If your grilled ribs are dry, it’s because they got cooked too fast, or you took them off the grill too soon. 

Should You Smoke or Grill Rips? 

Smoked ribs are more tender than grilled ones. However, if you don’t have a smoker, you can still have a similar effect by using indirect heat on your grill. You can also use wood chunks on your grill for the smokey flavor.




Colin has been grilling, smoking, and barbecuing in his yard for as long as he remembers.  His favorite dish is pork belly smoked on his favorite offset smoker. Read more about Colin here.


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