Can ribs be Too tender?
Contrary to popular belief, ribs can be too tender and should not be falling off the bone.
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When you take a bite out of a rib, there should be a bite mark left showing. In fact, during bbq competitions this bite is the first thing a judge considers before even judging the flavor of the ribs. If your first bite leads to the whole piece of meat coming off the bone, it is too tender.
With most meat, “falling off the bone” has become associated with being a good thing. However with ribs, the goal is for the ribs to be tender yet have a slight tug when biting into them.
When should I pull ribs off the smoker?
Use the “bend test” to make sure your ribs are cooked perfectly.
When cooking ribs, you are not cooking for a set amount of time, but rather for the tenderness of the ribs. If you want to aim for a temperature, depending on how tender you want them, you can pull them off anywhere between 195 and 203. However, to use this method correctly you will need a thin probe and even then you might get an inaccurate reading due to the presence of bones and thinner pieces of meat.
The best way to check the ribs is by doing the “bend test”. This involves using a pair of tongs and grabbing about ⅓ of the ribs with the tongs and letting the rest of the ribs hang. If the ribs hang down almost vertical and you can see large cracks in the middle of the ribs, then your ribs are done!
If the ribs hang more at a 45 degree angle or large cracks are not forming, then your ribs could use some more time on the smoker.
Do ribs get more tender the longer they cook?
Yes, the longer ribs cook the more tender they become.
Like most pieces of meat in BBQ, ribs start off as an extremely tough piece of meat. The presence of low and slow heat allows the connective tissue in the meat to break down and the fat to render leading to an extremely tender and juicy piece of meat.
A good starting point for the ribs is to cook to an internal temp of 203 degrees.
However, if ribs go past 210 degrees, they begin to dry out. The moisture in the meat begins to evaporate at this temperature leaving you with extremely tough ribs.
What temperature should I cook ribs when using the 3-2-1 method?
A great temperature to smoke perfect ribs is 225 degrees.
The lower the temperature, the longer the cook and the more smoke you are able to put into your ribs. Smoking at 225 allows your ribs to take on the maximum amount of smoke possible.
If you want, you can go as high as 275 for your ribs and still have amazing quality. This temperature will reduce your cooking time significantly but may limit the amount of smoke flavor the ribs are able to take on.
What about spritzing the ribs?
Spritzing your ribs is optional, but you run the risk of negatively affecting your ribs.
Spritzing in BBQ is the process of spraying a liquid on your meat every so often to stop your meat from drying out. The type of liquid ranges from apple juice to apple cider vinegar or simply water.
There are countless arguments for and against spritzing your ribs. Below are the pros and cons of this BBQ debate.
Pros of spritzing your ribs:
- By constantly spraying your ribs with a liquid you can ensure they will not dry out.
- You can add an additional layer of flavor and help the crust develop carmerlization by using a sweet liquid like apple juice.
- Spritzing can aid in the attraction of smoke as smoke is attracted to wet surfaces creating an extra level of smokiness.
Cons of spritzing your ribs:
- Too much spritzing will wash off the rub leaving your ribs with a bland crust.
- Extra cooking time. With most ribs being cooked in 225-250 temperatures, adding a cool liquid to the meat slows down the rise of their internal temperature.
- The crust is softened. As ribs are cooked, the surface dries out and forms a delicious crust with great flavor. Spritzing can hamper the development of crust and reduce the overall flavor of the ribs
Do I need to wrap the ribs when I smoke them?
You can wrap ribs for about an hour to speed up the cooking process and add an extra layer of flavor.
Wrapping ribs in foil is something almost every pitmaster does in competition when looking to get the perfect rack of ribs. In fact this step has become known as the “Texas Crunch” and is a great way to speed up the cooking process of ribs and add a little bit extra tenderness to the ribs.
When the ribs are wrapped in foil, they begin steaming, raising the temperature of the meat and getting a little bit extra tenderness as the meat begins to separate from the bone during this time.
Pitmasters also use this time to add an extra layer of flavor by using butter, brown sugar, or apple juice to the ribs to be cooked in.
How long to let ribs rest in foil?
Ribs can be wrapped in foil for up to an hour during the cook. Any longer and the ribs run the risk of being overcooked and mushy.
An hour wrapped in foil allows the pit master to slightly speed up the cook as the ribs steam inside the foil causing their internal temperature to rise quicker then if they were unwrapped on the smoker.
However, if you wrap the ribs any longer than an hour you run the risk of the ribs becoming overcooked leading to a mushy texture.
One of the common ways to cook ribs is the 3-2-1 method. In this method the ribs are smoked for 3 hours, wrapped and put back on the smoker for 2 hours, then unwrapped and sauced for an additional hour on the smoker. However, this method has a tendency of overcooking the ribs making them too tender.
This method goes wrong during the two hours in the foil as the meat will fully separate from the bone, the bark becomes lost, and the meat takes on a mushy texture due to simmering in liquid for 2 hours.
Do the ribs need to be probe tender?
No, using a probe to check the tenderness is not the best way to determine the tenderness of the meat.
While this is a useful method for large cuts of meat like ribs and brisket, the presence of bones in the ribs along with thin pieces of meat will affect this method of testing. Look to use the “bend test” as your main way to check the tenderness of your ribs.
What can I do if my ribs are too tender?
If your ribs are too tender it is due to overcooking them.
If you used the 3-2-1 method for your ribs, this most likely happened during the 2 hours when the ribs were wrapped in foil. When you wrap your ribs for two hours they are steaming inside of the foil and simmering in liquid for the majority of this time. It is during these two hours where the meat can lose its bark and the texture becomes mushy.
This article was written by Robert McCall, the founder of bbqdropout.com. Robert also owns and operates the BBQ dropout YouTube channel where he demonstrates his first-hand experience cooking all kinds of meats and strives to provide helpful, authoritative content for people looking how to barbecue.
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