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Ribs: Can You Overcook Them?

Ribs are some of the best cut meats found on the grill for finger food outings and backyard bar-b-ques. Here’s how to ace them.

It is a type of meat that is meant to be slow-cooked. When you think of ribs, the first thought for most people is to slap them baby backs right on the plate, and let’s have them!

But can ribs be overcooked?

The short answer is yes, ribs can get overcooked, and they are salvageable if caught early. Of course, if the ribs are charred black as coal, then it’s too far gone. The best way to not overcook them is to cook them the way they are meant to be cooked: slowly and over indirect heat.

Ribs can be cooked in the oven, grill, smoker, or slow cookers. Slow cookers will cook the meat by itself with the settings, but the ovens or grills take a little experience and hands-on fun with home cooking. 

We will go through this experience and walk you through the steps with some added advice on how to give you those mouth-watering ribs that can make a person scream in pleasure. 

The Right Internal Temperature

The USDA has some of the best information regarding cooking temperatures of any type of meat. It is essential to remember pork and chicken contain the most bacteria and need to be fully cooked when served. There should be no red or pink in the center whatsoever.

All ground meats need to be cooked to 160°F, but the safe minimum internal temperature for ribs is 145°F measured by a meat thermometer. Once the meat is cooked to this temperature, remove the ribs and leave them to sit for three minutes before cutting or doing anything to them.

Some people like to cook their meat to a little higher than that, but it is essential to remember that the higher the temperature, the drier the meat will become.

Cooking Ribs in the Oven  

The choice is for the person who is cooking the ribs as to how they want to cook them. Some people may not have a grill or may not want to cook outside at that time. Oven baking is perfect for slow-cooking ribs to where the meat falls off the bone the same way.

The main idea is not to be intimidated when baking ribs. Cooking with lower temperatures and slow cooking allows forgiveness should the meat become a little dried out. Cooking the ribs in the oven will allow the same pork flavor, but not the smoke flavor most traditionalists crave.

Never fear; we can help you get that same great flavor with other ingredients. The taste can come from a special kind of rib rub at the cook’s choice. Some of the rubs add the same smokey flavor, with various other flavors included.

When in doubt, go for our favorite: Bad Byron's Butt Rub.

Recommendations for the Oven

We recommend removing the membrane, adding the rub, and wrapping the ribs in aluminum foil at the halfway point of cooking. Keep the oven at 250°F throughout cooking. Some people may wish to briefly broil the ribs at 500°F (optional) but only do this until the meat sizzles.

Spare ribs will cook for four hours, and baby back ribs will cook for 3½ hours. Both should be covered in aluminum foil to retain moisture halfway through the cooking time. The best temperature is 165°F, which is slightly higher than the USDA minimum for the fall-off-the-bone effect.

Another way to keep the flavor of BBQ is by adding BBQ sauce. A good BBQ sauce gives an authentic taste and keeps the ribs moist through the cooking process. BBQ sauce burns quickly, though, so add the sauce closer to the finishing mark and drop the temperature to 200°F.

It only has to stay in the oven for 10 to 15 more minutes to perfect the sauce.

Cooking Ribs on the Grill or in a Smoker

The thing about ribs is hot fires will burn the ribs faster than they will cook them.

When cooking on a grill, it more or less becomes a smoker because ribs need to be cooked with indirect grilling. This means the charcoal and the fire are on one side of the pit while the meat is on the cooler side as the smoke cooks the meat instead of the fire.

Preparing the ribs is the same any way you decide to cook them. Remove the membrane and add the rub. Some people like to use mustard, Worcestershire sauce, or olive oil. Other items that contain vinegar act as a meat tenderizer, so it helps in the cooking process.

Heat the smoker to 225°F with your choice of wood. The ribs can sit on the indirect part of the grill for 5 to 6 hours and should be checked on at the five-hour mark. Add aluminum foil and BBQ sauce for about thirty minutes more of cooking. 

The 3-2-1 Method of Smoking Ribs

This method is a favorite among BBQ pros and is used more than any other method because it is easy to remember. It comes in a three-step process that goes like this:

  • Smoke the meat for three hours;
  • Cook the meat for two hours and wrap it in foil;
  • Unwrap and cook the meat for one hour;
  • Pull the meat off the grill and leave it alone for up to thirty minutes.

It is critical not to touch or cut the meat during the resting time, as it will cause it to release all of its juices.

There are a few pointers to remember while smoking ribs:

No matter how you cook them, leave the lid and keep the door closed at all times.

As mentioned earlier, we want to explain how important it is to remove the membrane. The membrane does not cook well and affects how the meat out. We highly recommend not skipping this step. 

Seven Ways to Tell If Ribs Are Done  

Here are seven ways the professionals judge on testing the meat for doneness:

Take the meat’s internal temperature. The meat thermometer should register a temperature from 145°F to 165°F with the probe inserted in the center.

Check for cracks in the meat; they are a sign of doneness. Grab the ribs with a pair of thongs and check for cracks in the meat upon picking it up. The bigger the cracks, the more the meat is ready to eat.

Poke the meat and check for resistance. Stick a toothpick through the meat and check for resistance. No resistance means it is ready;

Time-test. This is the 3-2-1 method (cook slowly for 3 hours, cook wrapped in foil for 2 hours, grill for 1 hour), which never fails.

Taste-test, always a favorite for the hungry. Just be careful of doing this too early; you don’t want to be tasting undercooked meat as it can make you sick. 

Color-test. Last but not least, tear the meat and check for no pink or red colors in the middle.

When the meat falls from the bone, you know it’s close to done. If the meat pulls back from the bone 1/4 to 1/2 inch, then it is done.

Salvaging Overcooked or Undercooked Ribs

Good news: you can fix overcooked ribs. Mix apple cider vinegar with BBQ sauce as a 50/50 mixture and cover the ribs. Follow up with wrapping the ribs in aluminum foil with the oven at 300°F for no more than an hour. The steam and vinegar will tenderize the ribs.

If you find you have undercooked ribs, cover them with aluminum foil and cook them for another hour. Make sure they keep their moisture for the tenderness and enjoy eating them one mouth-watering bite at a time when they are done.