Why You Should Cook Your Ribs Past Done & How To Know When They're Ready

As you already know from many of my Science of Barbecue articles smoking meat is a technique that slowly melts fat and relaxes the collagen in meat allowing water into the muscle fibers creating gelatin. This process is called rendering and it is the main reason why you should cook your ribs past their “done” temperature. If you are cooking pork ribs past the temperature of doneness, how do you know when the ribs are ready?


Ideal Technique & Temperature For Cooking Ribs

Ideally, you will smoke or slow roast your ribs using the 3-2-1 technique. This is the easiest rib technique to master and provides fairly consistent results. Prepare and season the ribs with your favorite rub. Preheat your smoker, charcoal grill, or gas grill to 225°F - the ideal temperature for cooking ribs. Smoke/slow cook for 3 hours using indirect heat. Wrap the ribs in foil with some liquid and continue cooking for 2 hours. Unwrap the ribs and cook one more hour, at which point you can sauce and sear, or add another 30 to 60 minutes to slow-cook the sauce on.



Why Do You Cook Ribs Past “Done”?

The accepted finished temperature of pork is 145°F, however, this has not given the collagen inside your ribs time to become gelatin for that perfect bite. That begins to happen when temperatures inside the meat reach 165°F. Continue cooking ribs until they reach around 195°F to 203°F for maximum render. You can keep an eye on this using a meat thermometer between the bones, however, you need to exercise caution as the meat nearest the bones will register as warmer than the meat in the middle. It can be a tough balance with thicker probe thermometers.


How Do You Know When Your Ribs Are Ready?

If you find that the probe on your old BBQ meat thermometer isn’t the right size and haven’t gotten yourself a new one, like the Napoleon Bluetooth Wireless BBQ Thermometer, yet, try one of the following techniques. While they’re open to interpretation and definitely not fail-safe, these techniques can be helpful in making sure your ribs are ready for serving.


The Bend Test

Carefully pick up your ribs using tongs or heat resistant barbecue gloves. You can either bounce them or bend them gently. Cracks should begin to appear on the surface of the meat between the bones. When the ribs nearly break in half from this test, you know they are pretty much there. If only a shallow crack appears, give them a little longer.

A variation that avoids breakage, is to try carefully pulling two parallel bones away from each other. If the meat begins to tear, then they’re tender enough to eat. If not, cook for a little while longer.



The Twist Test

Carefully twist a bone in the middle of your rack of ribs. If the bone begins to break free of the meat – but doesn’t slide out, that means that the ribs are done because the collagen has melted.

You don’t want fall off the bone ribs. This means that they were cooked passed the point of perfectly done, or they were boiled somehow.


The Skewer Test

Simply use a thin wooden skewer (like for kebabs) or a toothpick to test the meat. Press it in between two bones and if little to no resistance is met, then the ribs are ready.


The Test of Time

Leave your ribs be. Trust in the cooking method of 3-2-1 and don’t worry about it. Generally, it takes between 5 and 7 hours of slow cooking for the thicker spare/side rib, while it only takes 4 or 5 hours to cook. The thing about timed cooking like this is that variables like meat/bone thickness, outdoor temperature, and more can have a direct effect on the length of time it takes to finish your ribs to perfection.



If you are using a rib rack when slow cooking or smoking your ribs, remember that they are a lot closer together and will need up to another hour to cook.




Why should you cook your ribs past done? The long and short(rib) of it is that it provides the collagen and fat in the ribs to melt and render giving you a tastier and more tender outcome. How do you know they’re ready? The best way is to use a BBQ Thermometer to ensure you reach the perfect internal temperature of between 195°F and 203°F. The other tests are open to interpretation and take practice to perfect. How do you make sure your ribs are perfectly done? Share your secret technique, favorite rib recipe, or just your success stories on our social pages like Facebook and Instagram, using the hashtags #BBQRibs and #NapoleonGrills.

Happy Grilling!

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