How to Tell if Ribs Are Done (6 Easy Methods)

Ribs are a favorite in our house. But they can also be a difficult cut of meat to cook. So how do you know if they are done? We’ve got the answer!

In this article, we’ll cover:

  • How to tell if ribs are done
  • Tips for cooking ribs
  • And much more!

If you want a simple, fool-proof process you can use a 321 method of smoking ribs, which you can see in this video:

What You Need to Know About How to Tell if Ribs Are Done

There are several different types of ribs on the market. From the typical pork ribs to country-style boneless ribs, or beef ribs, no matter what type of ribs are your favorite, you need to make sure they are done before you remove them from the grill. Otherwise, you could end up with food poisoning or another foodborne illness. 

The best way to know if ribs are done is by using a temperature probe. For pork ribs, you’ll want them to be at least 195°F, and for beef ribs, you are looking for a temperature right around 200°F. The ribs will cook a small amount more as they rest, but they should be at these temperatures before you pull them off the grill. 

But what if you don’t have a temperature probe on hand? Well, you’re in luck because there are other ways to tell if ribs are done. Read on to learn all about them and find the method that is right for you. 

Related >> What’s the Difference Between Baby Back Ribs and Spare Ribs?

How to Tell if Ribs are Done(6 Easy Methods)

Method #1: The Look

One of the things that make ribs unique when compared to other cuts of meat is that they are always cooked with the bone in (except for country style boneless ribs but we will loop back to them later). These bones are nice because they can help you tell when the ribs are done. 

Rib meat shrinks as it cooks, and once about ¼ inch of the bones is visible, this is a sign that you can take the ribs off the grill. Of course, this method isn’t foolproof, however, so we still recommend using a thermometer to double-check your assumption before you remove the meat from the grill. 

Editor’s Note: The meat pullback can sometimes come later in pork ribs, meaning they’ll be overdone before you see it happen. We recommend checking the temperature of your ribs frequently, so you don’t overcook them. 

Method #2: The Toothpick

The toothpick is a favorite test among grillers, and it is fairly easy to carry out. All you have to do is take a toothpick and try to insert it into the meat between the bones. If the toothpick passes easily, the ribs are likely done, and if you encounter resistance, it’s better to leave them in a little longer. 

While this method is less variable than the look, what you consider to be resistance can be different than what someone else considers resistance, and there is still a chance you may consume undercooked ribs. 

Related >> How Many Ribs in a Rack? All You Need to Know

Method #3: The Bend Test

The bend test is a bit unique and can take a little time to get the hang of. Essentially what you will do is pick up the ribs with your tongs, gently bouncing them back and forth. If the ribs crack down the middle, then the ribs are ready to eat. 

If the ribs don’t develop a deep crack, or maybe just a small one, they likely need a little more time. Like the other methods we’ve listed so far, this one is a bit subjective, so I would use a thermometer to double-check before removing your ribs from the grill. 

Method #4: Twist Test

As the name of this method suggests, you’ll be attempting to twist one of the bones away from your rack of ribs. If the bone twists away easily, allowing the meat to fall off the bone, then your ribs are ready to eat. 

The issue with this test is that if the meat isn’t ready, you’ll need to use a different rib next time you try. And for the time after that. This could result in you losing a lot of ribs to your test, leaving less for you to eat. But if you’re the only one eating ribs and you don’t mind, have at it. 

Method #5: The Timer

This next method to tell if ribs aren’t done isn’t technically a method but rather a strategy for cooking ribs. For this strategy, you will need to know approximately how long your ribs will take to cook before you put them in the oven. 

You will then set the timer, and when it’s done, that’s when your ribs will be finished. While this method can work, we recommend only using it in combination with another method. This is because cooking times can vary widely from grill to grill, and if your meat is slightly thicker than the cut used in the recipe, you could find yourself severely undercooking your ribs. 

Method #6: Take a Taste!

Although this final method can be a bit risky if you are reasonably sure your ribs are done and just want to be 100% certain, don’t be afraid to cut yourself a small bite. This will also give you a chance to visually inspect the meat. 

If the meat is tender, flavorful, and there are no red spots, then it’s probably ready to serve! 

Editor’s Note: Sometimes smoked ribs can retain their pink color even when fully cooked. This is why we don’t recommend visually testing to see if your ribs are done. If you truly want to become a master griller, then it is best if you invest in a thermometer, so you don’t need to rely on your eyes to know when your ribs are ready to eat! 

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Related >> How To Calibrate A Meat Thermometer

How Do You Tell If Ribs are Overcooked or Undercooked?

Because ribs are a piece of meat that typically are cooked for hours until they are done. And during these hours, the ribs will start out tough, become tender as they cook, then turn to mush as they are overcooked. So if your ribs are tough and dry, they are undercooked. If they are more like mush–well, then you’ve cooked them a bit too long.

What Color Should Rib Meat Be When Done?

Many people think that rib meat should only be tan or white in color, but this isn’t always the case. Sometimes pork ribs stay a bit pink when they are smoked, and they are safe to eat. This is why you should always use a thermometer to judge when your ribs are finished. 

How Long Should You Cook Ribs?

How long you need to cook your ribs will depend on the type of ribs you are making as well as the temperature of your grill. It is also important to note that smoking ribs and grilling ribs take different amounts of time.

In general, for pork ribs, you should wrap them in foil and cook them for 3 hours at 300°F. For beef ribs, you’ll want to cook them even longer, generally at least 4 hours at 225°F.

Before you make your first rack of ribs, you’ll want to find a good recipe to follow. This recipe will let you know what temperature to cook your ribs at and for how long to cook them.

Tips for Cooking Tender Ribs

1. Go Low and Slow

We know you are impatient to eat your delicious ribs, but the reality is ribs have a lot of fat and connective tissue, which is only nice once it has been melted back into the meat. This takes hours to accomplish, meaning you’ll need to cook your ribs as low and slow as possible. 

Related >> Should You Cook Ribs Bone Side Up or Down?

2. Cover Your Ribs

Yeah, we know there is a lot of controversy about whether or not you should cover your ribs. Honestly, if you want tender ribs, this is the only way to go. Slather your ribs in BBQ sauce, then cover them loosely with foil which will allow the sauce to bake into the meat nicely. 

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3. Sauce Your Ribs

There is no reason to cook your ribs dry. Slather them in a BBQ sauce at minimum, and if you are up to a challenge, consider adding other ingredients to make a nice marinade to drench your ribs in. 

4. Use Indirect Heat

Ribs are cooked on the grill more often than the oven, and it’s for a good reason. Ribs cook best when they are cooked over indirect heat. This gives the meat the heat it needs to allow the fat to melt without burning the exterior. Slide your ribs over to the side of the grill (whether you are using a pellet or a gas grill) to ensure they aren’t directly over the flames. 

5. Don’t Overcook Your Ribs

While you might be tempted to just leave your ribs on the grill a bit longer because you are busy doing something else, this isn’t a good idea. Rib meat gets mushy when it is overcooked, and it won’t be pleasant to eat. If your ribs are done too early, we recommend pulling them off the heat and moving dinner up an hour.

Related >> Should You Remove the Membrane Before Smoking Ribs?

Photo of author

Hope Davis

Born in Denver, Colorado as the oldest of 5 children, I learned at a young age that the grill was one of the best ways to prepare food for a crowd. And during the winter storm months, when the snow was likely to knock out the power to our house, the propane grill was a lifesaver! You wouldn’t believe the number of things you can cook on a grill when necessary. With parents who couldn’t tell salt from pepper unless you told them, I spent my late teen years making my own seasoning mixes and marinades to dress the meat before barbecues. It wasn’t long before I developed a secret marinade that people still beg me to make for them today! When I was 21 years old I bought my first smoker. Picked up some cedar chips for making a cedar plank salmon...and well, the rest they say is history! I’ve been grilling and smoking all kinds of creations ever since and I’m always excited to share my passion with others through my favorite medium--writing!

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