Cooking Rib Tips – How to Choose, Flavor, and Cook Ribs

Last updated on June 17th, 2020

Time to Read: 6 minutes

Have you ever scrolled through your social media feed and seen a picture of a delicious, juicy-looking rib? Or perhaps you’ve gone to another tailgate and wondered just how they cook such great-tasting meat. Who hasn’t wanted to know the secrets behind those delectable meals? Here’s a list of useful cooking rib tips and tricks so that you can barbecue your own delicious ribs.

Our Top Cooking Rib Tips

Before You Start

The best tender, pull-apart ribs take a long time to cook. It is a long and involved process. Be patient. You may want to dedicate one whole day to cooking ribs. Commitment and patience will make your ribs delicious. Don’t skimp on any steps!

Purchasing Your Slabs

When it comes to the best cooking rib tips, it all starts with the meat. All meat isn’t created equal, and it’s difficult to turn a bad slab of meat into a fine slab of cooked ribs.

Breed

Whether you go to a butcher shop or a supermarket, don’t just get the bargain deal. Different breeds have different flavors and tastes, though as a beginner, you may not be able to differentiate just yet. Some recommended breeds are Duroc and Berkshire. 

Quantity

If you are cooking for guests, don’t underestimate the amount of ribs each person will eat. Usually, adults eat 1/2 a slab of ribs. Children eat up to 1/3 of a slab. Hosting a tailgate? Bring more. People eat more as they graze.

Cut

As a beginner, you’ll need to know that there are two cuts of ribs: baby back and spare ribs. Some cooks say that spare ribs are far more flavorful than baby back ribs. Baby back ribs come from the back of the pig. Spare ribs come from the belly. You may hear baby back ribs being referred to as loin backs or loin ribs. Baby back ribs are more well-known and are easier to prepare. Beginners normally start with baby back ribs.

Composition

Look for slabs that have a lot of meat between the bones. The more meat, the better! Choose ribs that look plump. Avoid ribs that look too fatty. Avoid ribs that have so little meat that the bones are visible. These are called “shiners.”

Preparing the Meat

The Membrane

rib membrane removal

There is an off-white membrane on the ribs. It is technically called the “pleura.” It is tough, tasteless, and often gets stuck between teeth. If you don’t remove this pleura, the ribs may not fully absorb the rich flavors you’re trying to add. 

There are two membranes on ribs. The first is thin and transparent. To remove it, use a knife or a meat thermometer to get beneath the membrane. Then, using pliers or paper towels, pull it off. The membrane is slippery, so paper towels or pliers will give you the grip you need. 

There is another membrane that is heavy and thick. Leave this one on.

Some places will skin ribs before selling them. This trick to cooking ribs is recommended because it makes your job easier. Just purchase skinned ribs! Another option is to leave the membrane on. However, for beginners, this isn’t recommended.

Flavor (Rub or Marinade)

Layer your flavor! This is among the most important of cooking rip tips. There are a plethora of spices and rubs available in stores, or you could even try to make your own. The first layer could be your spice blend or some mustard. One of our experts recommends blending mayonnaise, Dijon mustard, Worcestershire sauce, and some Chipotle hot sauce.

Some rib aficionados swear that adding sugar or brown sugar to a rub makes the ribs even more delicious. You can use a marinade or a dry spice rub. 

The basic ingredients are salt, pepper (maybe try lemon pepper), brown sugar, and chili flakes. That’ll give you tangy, sweet, and spicy goodness that you’ll surely love. Feel free to go crazy! 

Give your ribs time to absorb the flavor. Thirty minutes in the fridge is enough. Don’t add barbecue sauce after the ribs have been cooked. Instead, slather it on while they’re over the fire as a glaze. That’ll help seal in the flavor. To do this, you can coat the ribs with the barbecue sauce and put them back on the smoker for 15 to 20 minutes. 

Brine

Don’t brine the ribs. Brining is when you soak or saturate food with salty water for a long period of time. There should already be salt in your rub. If you rub and brine your slabs, they might become too salty. 

The Cook

cooking rib tips

Wood

Get the right wood. Hickory chunks are great because they smolder and don’t flare up as much as chips do. Don’t try sap woods such as pine–they are mildly toxic! If you don’t have access to hickory, try apple, oak, or cherry. Take your ribs out of the fridge and let them warm up to room temperature.

Heating the Grill

If you’re just starting your ribs journey, you may not have all the advanced cookery yet. And that’s okay. Just use a simple charcoal grill. The space may be smaller, but you won’t need to invest. Add your coals slowly until the temperature reaches about 250 degrees Fahrenheit. Put your coals on one side of the grill and put your ribs on the other side. Keep charcoal ready nearby. 

If you don’t have a thermometer, try the Mississippi test. Hold your hand above the fire. If you can say “Mississippi” only three times, then it’s hot enough. If you can’t hold it there for at least two seconds, then it’s not hot enough. Try and find the sweet spot that’s not too hot and not too cool. 

Don’t miss our reviews of the top tailgate grill for you to use this year.

Maintaining the Grill

After you’ve got the right temperature, put the grate back, and place your ribs on it. Make sure that the lid’s damper is above the meat. When you add your ribs, the temperature will drop slightly, so you may want to start just a little bit hotter. It’s easier to add heat than it is to take it away. Every half-hour, you should be adding some coals. Just try to maintain a constant temperature of 220-250 degrees. Do not forget about your ribs! 

If you’re smoking your ribs, there’s no need to open the grill. Most seasoned chefs don’t recommend that you flip or baste your ribs. All you have to do to cook great ribs is maintain the temperature and watch the coals. This makes it easier for you. If you absolutely must open the lid, minimize the time it is open. 

Finishing Touches

Most chefs recommend waiting four hours. You can test if the ribs are ready by using a rubber mitt. Put the slab on your mitt and raise your hand up and down. If the ends of the slab bounce, then they will need another hour or so. But if you raise them and they begin to fall apart, they’re probably overcooked. The ideal slab will be slightly limp and tender. 

When using the smoking technique, the goal is to get a silky finish and texture for your meat. This silky texture is a result of collagen that breaks down during the cooking process. 

Allow the ribs to rest for 15 to 20 minutes before serving. This will give them time to cool and fully absorb the flavor.

With these helpful cooking rib tips in mind, you should be well on your way to cooking delicious slabs of ribs. Good luck, chef!