Want to know the secret to perfectly cooked BBQ ribs? Here’s our guide explaining everything YOU need to know and how to tell when the ribs are done.
Cooking pork ribs is a lot smarter than it seems. The thin layer of meat that spreads on the grate makes timing difficult.
With the BBQ ribs you have to find the perfect balance. They should be smoked long enough to melt their fat, but not cooked so long that they dry out.
This way we can get that nice dripping off the bone feeling that we all love.
In this post, I’m going to break down all the possible tests YOU can do to know when your perfect BBQ pork ribs are ready to eat.
A quick note: there is often disagreement as to what “done” really means. In this article, I discuss when meat is safe to eat. This is when enough tough connective tissue and fat have been broken down to make it delicious. This is commonly accepted as 145°F/63°C( source ), at which point the ribs are wonderfully tender.
Let’s go to the exams!
The curve test
This method has proven itself over the years and is still my favorite to this day.
It’s quick and easy and gets the job done. And who doesn’t like to get their hands dirty when grilling?
Lift the ribbed grid with pliers. Gently lift it up and shake or shake it slightly. Pay close attention to how easily the meat breaks or separates from the bones.
This is a good indicator of whether the meat is done or not. The larger the crack, the more finished the rib.
If the crack is small, you need to put the grate on the grill a little longer.
This method may take a little practice to get used to, but once you get the hang of it, you’ll never look back.
The toothpick test
Some methods are tried and tested for good reason, and the toothpick test is a great example.
It’s one of the easiest ways to taste cooked meat and is perfect for BBQ ribs.
Using a simple toothpick, carefully prick the meat between the rib bones. When you’re done, the toothpick will slide into the meat with very little resistance.
To be absolutely sure, I often poke a few holes in other parts of the shelf. The thickness of the meat can vary in the same cut of meat and YOU can never be sure!
We love the toothpick test because it makes the meat look great without really making its surface too dangerous.
But be careful not to burn your fingers!
The test of time
If you prefer to rely on simple target times and temperatures, like with an oven, you can simply follow this rule.
Pork ribs should be cooked to 225°F on your grill or smoker. When cooking baby back ribs, aim for 3 to 4 hours. If you’re making St. Louis Ribs, you’ll need a little more time, around 5-6 hours.
However, your ribs are not ready yet.
Then cover the grid with BBQ sauce and cook on high for another 10 minutes to allow the sauce to sizzle and soak into the meat.
This allows the pork ribs to slowly reach the ideal internal temperature before being bombarded with heat to get them to their destination.
The obvious downside here is that it’s not the most reliable method. It does not take into account a number of variables that can affect how the meat WILL BE cooked.
The button test
As the name suggests, this test involves taking a small piece of meat off the grill and testing its readiness.
The taste test is a great way to work up an appetite while you wait for the main meal. Plus, there’s no waste as you can eat every bit you taste.
The downside here is that you risk eating raw meat. Not only is this disgusting to eat, but it has obvious health and hygiene implications.
But, well, nothing was risked, nothing gained…right?
The upcoming test
This method relies on the naked eye, but is commonly used by experts who say that meat that’s falling off the grill bone is a good indicator of doneness.
A good guide is to look for meat that rises about an inch from the grate.
There’s not a lot of science behind this method, but I like it because it doesn’t disturb the meat as it cooks. This means that the cooking heat should remain constant and YOU don’t have to go anywhere near the heat.
The obvious problem here is your lack of confidence. Meat can shrink at higher temperatures, even if the center of the meat is undercooked.
Not only that, but if you’re cooking at a consistently low temperature of around 225°F, the meat may not spring back until later. This could mean the meat is overcooked when served.
The Peek-a-Boo Test
This is another visual test, but YOU have to get stuck in the flesh.
When you think the ribs are almost done, cut into the meat and take a quick look.
Signs to look for are a white color developing around the edges. Also note the absence of light pink spots as these indicate blood stains.
When you’ve smoked your ribs, it’s common for the meat to be pink in color around the edges. However, any meat closest to the center should be light brown or white.
While somewhat impractical, many people like this test as it allows them to get a broader understanding of when the meat is done. If you’re a fan of grilling, then this method could help you develop skills pretty quickly.
The big downside here, however, is that once you cut the pork ribs, the meat IS exposed. If they have to cook longer, the exposed surface of the pork or beef will cook faster and may even dry out.
This isn’t an issue if you’re wrapping them in foil, so it’s still a perfectly fine method if that’s your preferred roasting method.
The turning test
I love quick and easy tests like this.
In the simple torsion test, a piece of the rib is cut off and then clamped in the middle. Gently turn it over and watch the meat fall off the bone.
The farther the meat is pulled from the bone, the closer it is to being done.
This makes that particular bone unsightly, but it’s often a good indicator of how the rest of the shelf is faring.
Frequently Asked Questions
What Temperature Should You Grill Ribs At?
As a general rule of thumb, a temperature of 107°C(225°F) is recommended when cooking ribs on the grill or smoker. At this temperature, the ribs will take 5-6 hours to cook.
There are variables that can die. For example, do you wrap your ribs? Do you cook on a grill or smoker? However, 225°F is always a safe bet.
In any case, your preferred cooking temperature will be determined by your cooking method.
If you have time, you can set the grill to low and slow . If you’re short on time, you can turn up the heat a bit to speed things up for a long time. This puts you at risk of drying out the meat, so try to smoke it on the grill if you can.
See my guide to meat smoking times and temperatures .
Ribs should generally be grilled at a minimum temperature of 88°C(190°F). This is the ideal temperature, which will break down all the connective tissue responsible for its lack of tenderness. However, cook the ribs on the charcoal grill at a temperature of 225°F to still tenderize them.
You can follow these steps to make your ribs as tender as possible:
- Smoke them unwrapped for 3 hours.
- Cook for 2 more hours, this time wrapped in foil.
- Cook for another hour, wrapped in aluminum foil, but this time on a higher heat.
Unlike a charcoal grill, a gas grill is great for quick grilling. You will definitely be working with high temperatures here too. But like a charcoal grill, a constant 107°C heat will ensure your ribs cook for around 6 hours.
Of course, the temperature is also influenced by various factors, such as whether or not the ribs are wrapped in foil.
However, because gas grills are great for quick cooking, you don’t have to work at the standard temperature of 107°C(225°F). Instead, you can increase the temperature to 350°F(163°C) and cook the ribs on a rack without wrapping them. This way you only need 1-2 hours to break down and support much of the connective tissue.
After about 2 hours, watch for a deep color and wrap in aluminum foil to allow some steam to escape. It can then be placed back on the grill and cooked for about 1-2 hours.
How are rare ribs?
Ready-to-eat ribs should be light brown or white. They may be slightly pink in color near the surface, but the center of the flesh should always be white or brown.
Feel and texture
The ribs easily detach from the bone if you tear them with your teeth( source ). There may also be a slight crack.
The taste varies depending on the type of meat. However, cooked ribs are tender and sweet in taste.