How to Tell if the Membrane is Still on Ribs

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Have you just bought a tasty rack of ribs that you can’t wait to grill? Before you do, you’ll need to remove the membrane if it’s still in place. Wondering how you can tell if the membrane is still on ribs? We’ve got all the info. 

In this TheGrillingDad.com article, we’ll cover:

  • How to tell if the membrane is still on ribs
  • Why you should remove the membrane
  • And much more!
a rack of raw ribs on a cutting board next to spices

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How to Tell if the Membrane is Still on Ribs

Ribs are a delicious dish and a great option when you’ve got a crowd to feed. There’s nothing like biting into a tender and juicy pork rib! But before you can make ribs for your family and friends, you need to remove the membrane if it is still on your ribs. 

You can tell if there is still membrane on your ribs by asking the butcher when you purchase them. If you’ve forgotten and have already made it home, then you will want to position the ribs bone side up and look for a silvery or pale white coating on the surface of the ribs. 

This coating may almost look like a plastic bag, and it will be stretched over the ends of the bones. It may cover your rack of ribs entirely or only cover part of the rack of ribs, which is why it is easier to ask the butcher if the membrane is still on your ribs rather than try to figure it out yourself. 

Read on to learn more about how to tell if the membrane is still on ribs and why you should remove it before cooking your ribs. 

More Information About How to Tell if the Membrane is Still On Ribs

As we mentioned above, the easiest way to know if you should plan to remove the membrane from your ribs is by asking the butcher if the membrane is still on the ribs. If this isn’t an option, use the following process to see if the membrane is still on your ribs. 

Use the Light

Remove your ribs from their plastic wrapping and place them on a cutting board in a well-lit area. Ensure the bones are up. Look for a white or silver coating. Remember, it may not cover the entire rack of ribs and may only cover a portion. 

Touch

If you still aren’t sure if there is a membrane on your ribs. Use your finger to see if the ribs feel smooth, almost rubbery. If so, use a finger to pry the corner of it from the ribs. If it comes apart from the rack, this is the membrane, and it should be removed from your ribs prior to cooking. 

What is the Membrane on Ribs?

If this is your first time coming in contact with the membrane on ribs, you might be confused as to what it is. 

This bit of the pig is known as the caul fat or peritoneum, and it is a flat of tissue that is thick and semi-permeable. While there is no purpose for it once an animal has been killed, during the life of the animal, this fat is used to keep its organs in place. 

Although it is semi-permeable, it will block seasoning and flavor from getting to your ribs and should be removed prior to adding a rub or sauce to your rack of ribs.

How Can You Tell the Difference Between Fat and Membrane on Ribs?

Because the fat on ribs is also white and opaque when the ribs are raw, some people have difficulty telling what is the membrane and what is the fat. 

The only way to really tell the difference is to compare the fat on the underside (bone side) with the other side of the ribs. If you notice that the fat on the bone side has a different sheen to it, almost silvery, then this is the membrane. 

Some people can tell by touch, as the membrane is more slick and tough than fat. But if you’ve never encountered membrane on ribs before, it may be difficult for you to be able to tell the difference using this method.

Do You Have to Remove Membrane from Ribs?

Removing the membrane from ribs is no easy task. This may leave you wondering if you have to remove it. And the truth is, you don’t have to, it is safe to cook the ribs with the membrane on.

But, the membrane, as we stated previously, will prevent smoke and flavor from getting into your rib meat. Not only that, but the membrane gets very tough as it cooks. This means if you try to remove it later, it will be more difficult than it is now.

While it is safe to eat the membrane on ribs, it certainly isn’t nice (think tough and chewy), which is why we recommend removing it from the get-go, so you aren’t struggling to do so later.

For our 321 smoked ribs recipe, we remove it. You can check out the video here:

What Happens If You Forget to Remove the Membrane on Ribs?

It happens to all of us, you were so busy trying to get the ribs in the smoker that you forgot to remove the membrane! Don’t panic, as the membrane is perfectly safe to eat. 

The unfortunate part is that the membrane isn’t nice to eat, so your guests will likely peel it off before enjoying the ribs (or attempt to). Additionally, when you cook ribs with the membrane on, it ruins the presentation of the meat. This means your desire for picture-perfect ribs is probably not going to work out. 

The last thing we need to mention is that the membrane blocks smoke and flavor rubs from getting to the meat. So if you’ve cooked your ribs with membrane, then you will likely have some somewhat bland ribs on your hands, especially if you cooked them bone down. 

Related >> Should Ribs Be Bone Up or Done When Smoking?

Can You Remove the Membrane After Cooking The Ribs?

It is possible to remove the membrane from the ribs after you cook them. Just know that this process will be much more difficult than if the ribs were raw. 

The membrane will shrink as the ribs cook, which means it will be more tightly adhered to the ribs. But if you can get a finger under one end, it shouldn’t be too difficult to remove the membrane in large chunks. 

The benefit of doing this is that you can still add some BBQ sauce if you are worried about your ribs being flavorless. 

Related >> How To Tell When Ribs Are Done

Do You Have to Remove the Membrane from Beef and Pork Ribs?

Both beef and pork rib racks come with a membrane on them. In either case, the membrane is tough, chewy, and not pleasant to eat, so we recommend you remove it from the ribs prior to cooking.

It is especially important to remove the membrane from baby back ribs as the membrane in these areas gets stringy when cooked. If you forget to remove the membrane from these, then you will likely have a tough time eating them! 

Do Some Baby Back Ribs Not Have a Membrane?

All types of ribs, no matter what animal they come from, have some sort of membrane. If you are looking at your ribs and can’t find the membrane, then it is likely that the store removed the membrane before you purchased it. 

As mentioned previously, it is essential to remove the membrane from baby back ribs as they come from the back area of the cow, which has some of the toughest connective tissue. This membrane will not be nice when served on the ribs. 

Related >> What’s the difference between baby back ribs and spare ribs?

Should You Remove the Membrane From St. Louis Ribs?

St Louis-style ribs are a bit unique. When you pick up these ribs, they should already have the membrane removed. If for some reason, yours still has the membrane on, we still recommend removing it. 

Professionals, however, typically choose to leave the membrane on St. Louis-style ribs because they should come out juicy and tender regardless if the membrane is still on them. In our opinion, unless you are trying to win some awards with your BBQ skills, it’s best to just remove the membrane before you cook St. Louis-style ribs. 

Do Stores Remove the Membrane from Ribs?

Most of the time, if you buy your ribs from a large store like Costco, Sam’s Club, or a Kroger chain store, the membrane will already be removed when you purchase the ribs. It is still worth checking, however, otherwise, you might find yourself with the one rack of ribs with the membrane not removed!

If you buy your meat from a smaller grocery store or a local butcher, this is likely when you will need to remove the membrane yourself. But, if you do have a local butcher and don’t want to deal with the membrane, you can ask for it to be removed before you buy the ribs. Just know that removing the membrane makes the ribs more delicate and less likely to hold their shape.

Hope Davis

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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