How to Tell When Pork Ribs Are Done

Written in 2024
by Adam

    There are tons of methods to test the doneness of pork ribs, but they can be confusing. Learn how to read meat and bone texture, poke it with a finger or two, and use a meat thermometer for foolproof cooking. Plus, get the best rib recipes!

    Ribs are often made at home, but knowing when they're cooked through can still be a challenge for even the most experienced of BBQers. If you're nervous about giving your guests a tough, undercooked rib; take a deep breath - you're in the right place to learn exactly how to know when your ribs are done.

    Whether your pork ribs are St. Louis-style spare ribs, baby back ribs or country-style ribs, you'll know that they're ready to eat the moment that they've been cooked for a long enough amount of time that the meat has become tender and juicy.

    1. The bend test (Also known as the bounce test)

    To test if your ribs are done, pick them up at the centre rib with a grill tong then gently bounce. If it cracks on the surface, it should be ready. When the meat feels close to breaking, it will crack through with a little bounce. If this does not happen or you only get one short break in your slab, give them more time on the grill and watch for that satisfying snap!

    The test for doneness for ribs is when the connective tissues have broken down and then the skin can easily stay intact around the slab. A slight bounce should be enough to split or rupture your tubular cracks in the thin layer of skin on top. It may take some practice to get a good sense of this cooking technique.

    2. The twist test

    Another technique is to grab ahold of the tip of a bone in the middle. If you twist, it should start to break free from the meat. This means that these tougher connective tissues have begun to dissolve into gelatin before your eyes.

    Be gentle when you twist, as your ribs may not actually be done, and it's simply the force that's 'passing' the test.

    3. The toothpick test

    To get a sense of how well-cooked your ribs are throughout the rack, we recommend using that telltale toothpick test. It takes some time to get used to this test, so you may want to practice with it in parallel with the other methods listed above.

    To test your ribs, put a toothpick into the meatiest part of your ribs and if it slides in without any resistance, then they're done. We would suggest testing in a variety of different sections throughout your ribs to make sure that they are done to your desired tenderness!

    4 . The time test

    The best cooking temperature is between 225°F and 250°F as this will allow you to break down the fat on the ribs as well as getting a slight bark. Usually, cooking ribs at 225°F takes 4 to 5 hours for baby back slabs or 6 to 7 hours for spare rib slabs.

    Generally, around this time they will be slightly undercooked, the perfect time to sauce those bad boys up and get them onto a hot grill for around 5 minutes on each side. If you're cooking your ribs at higher temperatures, you will, of course, need to reduce the time slightly, for example, if you are rocking at 325°F it could take as little as 90 minutes to cook, they will of course be slightly tougher than the longer cooked ribs.

    But let's be honest, knowing timings isn't always going to work, every bit of meat if different and requires slightly different cooking times.

    5 . Cutting into it

    This is a classic, but you can just cut into it. The centre of the meat should be white and there should not be any pink juice. If you have cooked with smoke remember that the ribs will probably be pinker on the outside, the centre should however be white when cooked properly.

    You don't always want your ribs to 'fall off the bone'

    If you're new to bbq or smoking, you're generally going to aim to make your ribs 'fall off the bone' however it's not always the case! Ribs that fall off the bone are generally steamed or boiled. This can make them have an almost mushy, soggy texture and it certainly robs them of their full flavour.

    What you are looking for is still tender, succulent meat. However, it should come away from the bone with a slight tug. Think of the texture of a prime steak, bursting with juicy flavour.

    It almost melts in your mouth but with enough meaty texture to be truly satisfying. That’s how your ribs should taste when they’re cooked to perfection!

    Why using a BBQ thermometer isn't always the best way to test the doneness of ribs

    Using a thermometer for cooking ribs is not always accurate. When you test ribs for doneness, the problem is often that there are too many bones and not enough meat. Furthermore, because different parts of the ribs vary in thickness, they cook at different speeds.

    You may face an issue with your readings as even though the meat in the middle of the bones is just as hot, it can be cooler than that next to it.

    Use a meat thermometer to ensure the cooking temperature is stable but not necessarily how well done the ribs are.

    Written by Adam

    Adam is the creator of the SmokeGuys website, running it since 2016. Hater of coriander, lover of all things meat... Adam currently works in marketing with a dream of being able to make food his full-time 'job' in the longer term.

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