How to Turn Your Grill Into a Smoker

By the editors of Cook's Illustrated

You don’t need a massive contraption to get rich, smoky flavor.

For ribs with deep, crusty bark and satisfying chew, Memphis pit masters rely on huge smokers to cook the racks low and slow. Even here in Boston, without these large contraptions, we still found a way to achieve similar results by converting a charcoal kettle into a makeshift smoker.

  RIBS

For slow, steady, indirect heat, we bank all the coals to one side and pile lit coals on top of unlit coals to keep the fire going without opening the lid. Sprinkling soaked wood chips—rather than large chunks—over the coals introduces just enough smoke flavor, and a pan of water placed under the racks helps stabilize the air temperature and moisten the meat. (To replicate this method on a gas grill, we place the soaked wood chips and water in disposable aluminum pie plates and set them on the burners.) These modifications are so successful that the ribs only need to spend 90 minutes on the grill to get the big, Memphis taste we were after.

MEAT ME IN ST. LOUIS

  RIBS

St. Louis-style (as opposed to baby back or classic spareribs) refers to spareribs that have been trimmed of belly and skirt meat and excess cartilage. The minimal fuss involved in using them makes them our top choice for barbecue.

SPEEDING UP MEMPHIS-STYLE RIBS

After we figured out a way to turn the grill into a smoker, we also found a few ways to cut down on the time it takes to make this dish. Traditionally, Memphis dry-rub ribs are a 24-hour-plus project: The racks are rubbed with spices, left to sit overnight, and then slow-smoked for the better part of a day. Here’s how we mimicked the smoky, pleasantly chewy results in less than half the time.

1. A BRIEF RUBDOWN

Because the meat layer is so thin, an overnight rub is unnecessary. Applying the rub (a blend of salt, brown sugar, paprika, and other spices) just before cooking infuses plenty of sweet-spicy flavor.

2. GRILL ‘EM

  RIBS

Thanks to our grill setup, we get great smoke flavor by grill-smoking the ribs for 1 1/2 hours.

3. FINISH IN THE OVEN

  RIBS

We then transfer the ribs to a low oven to cook 2 to 3 hours more. Water added to the baking sheet helps keep the meat moist.

RECIPE FOR MEMBERS: Memphis-Style Barbecued Spareribs

You can get the same flavor as Memphis pit masters in your own backyard with our recipe for these succulent, rich spareribs.

In My Favorites
Please Wait…
Remove Favorite
Add to custom collection