Mistakes You're Making When Cooking Ribs

At the risk of sounding like cavepeople, we have to admit – sometimes you just can't beat eating meat right off the bone. No other cut provides that opportunity so conveniently as a rack of ribs. Although it seems like juicy, flavorful ribs are the stuff dreams are made of, that deliciousness is based firmly in reality. Amazing Ribs says the meat between the bones on a rack of ribs is full of connective tissues that melt into sweet, meaty goodness, not to mention all the well-marbled fat ribs have to offer, which is a surefire sign of good flavor.

Unfortunately, ribs can be quite tricky to cook and the process is plagued by a handful of mistakes that are all too easy to make. If what you thought would be deliciously tender, flavorful ribs have ever turned out chewy, tough, bland, or worse – burnt, you know you've gone wrong somewhere. But don't worry, we've rounded up common mistakes you're likely making when cooking ribs and giving you simple ways to avoid them.

You're not removing the membrane from your rack of ribs

First things first, ribs are not something you can just toss onto the grill and cook. They require a bit of TLC prior to cooking which, if done properly, will make all the difference on the plate. If you're not removing the thin membrane that runs along the back of the rack of ribs, you're in for a chewy ordeal.

According to The Spruce Eats, that white, transparent membrane may look like fatty connective tissue but it will not break down in the same way. Instead, it remains tough, chewy, and not at all appetizing. Also, Danielle "Diva Q" Bennett, a chef and ambassador for Traeger Grills told us the membrane will prevent spices, sauces, and smoke from absorbing into the meat so it's best to get rid of it. To do so, The Kitchn says to slip a knife underneath the membrane to loosen it at one end, then grasp that end with your hand (you can use a paper towel to help get a good grip) and simply peel it off. Now that you've removed the pesky membrane, you can move on to seasoning – a task that's easy to blunder if you're not careful.

You're applying seasoning and sauce to your ribs all wrong

Now that your ribs are membrane-free, the next step is to add a little flavor. It would be a sad oversight to skip seasoning altogether and even worse to add it at the wrong time. The Cooking Channel suggests that because ribs are such a fatty cut of meat, they can easily handle a combination of a dry rub and a sauce, rather than just one or the other. So, don't skimp! Apply a spice rub to your ribs at least 15 to 20 minutes before cooking them. For an extra boost of flavor, you can apply the rub the night before you intend to cook. Apply enough dry spices to cover the meat evenly but not so much that the rub is falling off.

Next, choose a sauce. Homemade barbecue sauce is great if you can spare the time and ingredients but if you prefer something store-bought, Delish recommends Sweet Baby Ray's barbecue sauce for its balanced flavor and subtle smokiness. Just be sure not to jump the gun on when you apply it; otherwise, the sauce may burn. The Kitchn says waiting until the last ten to 15 minutes of cooking to apply barbecue sauce prevents the sugars in the sauce from scorching as the ribs continue to cook. This leads us to the actual cooking of the ribs. It's the final step towards a finger-licking good meal, but it's also a hotbed for mistakes.

You're not pre-cooking your ribs, or you're using too much heat

Once your ribs have been properly prepped, it's time to apply some heat. If you think ribs belong on the grill from start to finish or that they should be cooked over high heat the entire time, think again. It turns out, a surefire way to render your ribs completely tender and juicy is to pre-cook them in the oven, like culinary Queen Bee, Ina Garten. Her recipe for Foolproof Ribs calls for cooking racks of ribs in an oven at 350 degrees Fahrenheit for 1.5 to 1.75 hours, then finishing them on the grill for an additional 10 minutes (via Food Network). This method allows the ribs to cook thoroughly at a gentle, even heat while still picking up that tasty grilled flavor in the final moments of cooking.

If you're intent on forgoing the oven and utilizing your grill for the entire rib-cooking process, just remember a rack of ribs requires more nuance than burgers and hot dogs. The Kitchn says to be sure to place the ribs over low or indirect heat for the majority of the cook time. In the final few moments of cooking, you can transfer the ribs to a high, direct-heat area of your grill to achieve a nice charred effect. At this point, your mouth may already be watering but don't mistake a cooked exterior as a sure indication that your ribs are done.

You're not checking to see if your ribs are done

It's easy to look at a beautifully sauced and charred rack of ribs and think they're ready to eat. But, without knowing what to look for, you may be pulling your ribs off the fire too soon, or too late. And really, what's the point of carefully prepping, seasoning, saucing, and cooking a bunch of ribs if you're just going to botch the cooking time by mistake?

The Kitchn says you'll know your ribs are fully cooked and appropriately tender when the meat begins to recede from the bone, exposing about a half-inch of the thinner end of the rib bone. Also, the entire rack should bend slightly in the center when you pick it up. If you're more content to rely on the temperature, the FDA recommends an internal temp of 145 degrees Fahrenheit but "Diva Q" Bennett prefers to shoot for a sweet spot between 200 and 208 degrees Fahrenheit, which she says ensures a perfectly tender rack of ribs. With these tips on hand, your next rack of ribs is sure to be deliciously and happily mistake-free.