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Here’s the Deal on Flipping Ribs When Grilling

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When it comes to grilling ribs, there are a few things that you need to know in order to get them just right. For one, should you flip them over once or twice? How do you do it?

And what else can you do to make sure they come out juicy and delicious? In this article, we will answer all of those questions and more!

So whether you’re a newbie when it comes to outdoor cooking or a seasoned barbecue veteran, read on for the best tips and tricks for flipping your ribs like a pro!

The Type of Ribs Matters

The next time you’re standing in front of the meat counter, contemplating which ribs to buy, you might be overwhelmed by all of the choices.

But don’t worry, we’re here to help. Not all ribs are the same, and the cooking method will heavily depend on what you want for the end result. The ribs themselves are also an important factor to consider. 

For example, back ribs are great for grilling because they have a lot of meat, and they withstand heat well.

On the other hand, spareribs are better suited for slow cooking because they have plenty of fat to render, and throwing them on a hot grill might just ruin them without proper preparation. 

When it comes to flipping the ribs, you first need to consider the type of ribs you’re working with.

Some types of ribs will need to be flipped more often than others, and some shouldn’t be flipped at all. 

Indirect Heat Will Give You Best Results

To get that delicious, fall-off-the-bone final product, ribs need to be cooked for long periods of time, and at low, indirect heat.

Smokers are best suited for cooking ribs, but that doesn’t mean it can’t be done on a grill. Cooking ribs is a bit of an art form —there’s no one right way to do it.

But if you’re looking for tender, juicy ribs that are packed with flavor, then you’ll want to use indirect heat.

This cooking method involves placing the ribs on the grill over a drip pan, so they’re not directly exposed to the flames. 

This helps to prevent the meat from drying out and also allows the fat to render slowly, resulting in ribs that are full of flavor.

Additionally, indirect heat helps to create a nice crust on the outside of the meat, while still keeping the center nice and moist. 

If you’re using indirect heat to cook your ribs in this way, you won’t need to worry about flipping them at all, as there’s no direct source of heat to scorch or burn the underside of the rack. 

What If I Don’t Have Time to Slow-Cook Ribs?

If you don’t have time to slow-cook your ribs, you can still enjoy a delicious rack in less time. In this method, you will need to flip your ribs periodically in order to avoid burning them. 

This might sound crazy, but you need to start by boiling the ribs in water first. This should take between 20-25 minutes, or until the ribs are soft, but not overly tender (falling apart).

After this step is where your grill will come in. 

If it takes your grill some time to heat up, you’ll want to fire it up before the boiling process, as it needs to be producing high heat.

Once you’ve boiled your ribs, take them over to your high-heat grill, and lay them meaty-side down. This will help to create a sear and lock in those juices.

Let it cook in this position for about ten minutes and flip. Now, lather the topside in your favorite barbecue sauce, and allow to cook for about three more minutes.

Then, move them to low, indirect heat and cook for 20-30 minutes longer, flipping them every five minutes or so. 

If cooking with charcoal, this is a good opportunity to infuse some smoky flavor into your ribs, but be careful not to overcook them!

This method is best suited for thinner cuts of ribs, such as baby back ribs. 

When to Flip Your Ribs on the Grill

If you’re a new grilling enthusiast, you’ve probably wondered when you should flip your ribs on the grill.

It’s a common question, and unfortunately, as we’ve discussed, there’s no single answer.

The type of ribs you’re cooking, as well as the method of cooking will impact the number of flips necessary. 

For example, if you’re using direct heat to cook your ribs, you will need to flip them less frequently.

But if you’re using something like a gas or charcoal grill that gets much hotter than a smoker or pellet grill, you’re going to need to flip them more often. 

Not everyone likes to stand by the grill the whole time, but it’s a necessary sacrifice to make for perfectly cooked ribs.

Next, we’ll cover some of the most common types of ribs out there, and discuss how often you should flip them.

Baby Back Ribs

As we mentioned, baby back ribs are a thinner cut of rib, and thus they cook quicker than other types if exposed to too much heat.

When using direct heat, you’ll want to flip these every five minutes or so. 

If cooking with indirect heat, you can get away with flipping them much less, to the point of not needing to flip them at all.

Baby back ribs also benefit from some pre-cooking, whether in boiling water as we mentioned earlier, or in an oven set to low heat. 

St. Louis Style Ribs

St. Louis style ribs are a bit larger and tougher than baby back ribs, so they need to be cooked slowly in order to tenderize the meat. When using direct heat, you’ll want to flip these every eight minutes or so. 

The meat will be tough, but you can also minimize this by removing the tough membrane from the underside before starting the cooking process.

If cooking with indirect heat, you can get away with flipping them once, about halfway through the cooking time, or once every hour and a half, depending on how low the heat is. 

Pork Spare Ribs

Pork spare ribs are the largest and fattest of all the rib cuts, so you might think they definitely need to be cooked slowly in order to come out nice and tender.

However, this isn’t necessarily true. You can actually use direct heat to cook these. 

When using direct heat, you’ll want to set your grill to approximately 325 degrees Fahrenheit, and only flip them once —about halfway through.

For these, you don’t want to remove the tough membrane on the underside. 

When initially placing them on the grill, set them bone-side down, and flip them meat-side down halfway through.

This will help to make that tough membrane nice and crispy, and the bones will protect the meat above so that it cooks more indirectly. 

How to Setup Your Grill for Indirect Cooking

Just because you don’t have a smoker or charcoal grill doesn’t mean you can’t use it with indirect heat. The setup is simple.

Turn the two outside burners on medium heat, and leave all of the burners in the middle off. Set your ribs in the center, and they will be cooked indirectly from the heat produced by the two outer burners. 


Now that you know all there is to know about flipping ribs on the grill, it’s time to get out there and put your newfound knowledge to use.

Experiment with different methods, and find what works best for you.


Lover of the outdoors and great food. If I'm not in my backyard cooking up a feast, I'm deep in the backcountry camping....and cooking up a feast! Follow along and let's create something great.