Should Ribs Be Cooked Bone Up or Down? (And Does It Matter?)

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Are you wondering if it is better to cook your ribs bone up or bone down? We know the answer!

In this TheGrillingDad.com guide, we’ll discuss:

  • Whether it is better to cook your ribs bone up or bone down
  • Tips for making ribs
  • And much more!
two racks of ribs on black grill grates

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Should You Cook Ribs Bone Up or Down?

While it might not seem like a big deal, there is actually a correct answer to whether you should cook your ribs bone up or down. This is because the bones play a huge part in directing the heat toward the meat. 

For best results, you should cook your ribs with the bone side down. This is because ribs cook best when they are cooked over indirect heat, and the bones help keep the heat from hitting the meat directly. Plus, this helps your ribs to get a nice smoky flavor all the way through. 

Also, if you cook your ribs bone side up, this can cause moisture to pool in the center of the meat and cause the meat that is touching the grate to become tough and chewy. So, if you would like to serve some nice succulent ribs, it’s best to cook them with the bone side down. 

Want to learn more about why you should cook your ribs bone side down? Keep reading, we’ve got all the info! 

Do All Types of Ribs Get Cooked Bone Down?

Pork ribs and beef ribs are entirely different animals (literally), but despite this fact, we believe that any type of ribs you cook should be cooked bone down. This is because while they are different meats, the bone still helps to cook the meat in the same way. 

If you’ve got boneless ribs, however, like country-style ribs, then those should be cooked in a pan.

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

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Should You Cook Ribs Bone Down in Aluminum Foil?

Wrapping your ribs in a foil is a common tactic that grillers use to help keep the meat moist. But when you use foil, do you still need to keep the ribs bone down?

The truth is, if you have your ribs wrapped in foil, whether they are bone down or up is up to you. Some professionals say that bone-up ribs is the way to go, as the foil will capture any moisture and direct it back to the meat. But others say that you need to stick to bone down, even when you’ve got foil.

The bottom line is that it’s up to you. We just recommend using caution when you cook your ribs in foil, as it is very easy to overcook them this way. Reference our 3-2-1 ribs recipe for more information on how you can cook the perfect ribs using foil!

If you’d rather watch the 321 method, here’s a short video:

 

How to Cook Ribs Wrapped in Butcher Paper

Besides foil, butcher paper is another option when it comes to wrapping ribs. It isn’t nearly as waterproof as foil, however, which means it is much more permeable. Many people choose to wrap their ribs in butcher paper to preserve the bark or exterior of the ribs from getting too soggy. 

Those who wrap their ribs in butcher paper tend to place the ribs on the grill bone up. This is for the same reason as foil because liquid does still gather at the base. Not to mention that many people swear that’s how they get the ribs to be smokier. While we haven’t personally experienced a smokier flavor from cooking bone up, we can say it does make some juicy ribs!

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Should You Always Wrap Ribs?

The decision of whether or not you should wrap your ribs is up to you. Most people choose to wrap their ribs when they have BBQ sauce or another spice rub on their meat. 

In our home, we always wrap our ribs (usually in aluminum foil), and this is because we slather them in all sorts of sauces and spices before we cook them. As a result, the meat is very messy and we don’t want all this sauce to drip down into the grill or get the grate messy. 

While we love our ribs this way, our ribs are less smokey-flavored than those that cook directly on the grill grate. So if you want really smoky ribs, you can skip the foil or use the 3-2-1 rib method, which involves wrapping the ribs in foil later–the choice is yours. 

Related >> 

Adding Grill Marks to Ribs

You might think that smoking your ribs bone side down means you won’t get any nice grill marks on the meat. But the truth is, if you want grill marks on your ribs, you can still add them even when you smoke the ribs bone side down. 

All you have to do is smoke your ribs bone side down as instructed, and then when there are 30 minutes left of the cooking time, flip your rack of ribs over to add some nice grill marks. Just be aware that if you have sauce on your ribs, it might burn a bit when you do this! 

Editor’s Note: If you are cooking your ribs in foil or butcher paper and want to add grill marks, you can remove them from the foil and place them directly on the grill for the last 30 minutes of cooking. 

Tips for Smoking Ribs

Now that you know when to cook your ribs bone up and when to cook them bone down, let’s talk about some rib smoking tips! 

1. Prepare a Rub or Sauce

Ribs are delicious, but often they need a little something to make them amazing. A sauce or rub on a rack of ribs will go a long way. You can grab a premade one at the store or make one yourself with items you already have on the spice shelf. 

Related >> How To Remove the Membrane Before Smoking Ribs

2. Low and Slow

Ribs are best cooked over low heat for a long period of time. We recommend starting between 225°F and 250°F and planning to cook your ribs for 4-5 hours. 

3. Use Indirect Heat

If it’s an option with your grill, cook your ribs over indirect heat. With a gas grill, this may mean only turning on one burner or perhaps only turning on one zone of your grill. If you have a single-zone grill, try to find the less hot part of your grill and place the ribs there. 

4. Set a Timer

While it might be tempting to just lift the lid and check on your ribs from time to time, it’s best to use a timer and check the temperature of the meat in the last 30 minutes. Every time you open the grill or smoker, you will let out heat which can cause your ribs to cook unevenly. Plus, it’s really difficult to eyeball when ribs are done. Just be patient and only open the lid when absolutely necessary. 

5. Don’t Overcook Ribs

Everyone knows that the longer you cook ribs, the more tender they get! Until the point they turn to mush, however. While it is great to cook ribs low and slow, you definitely don’t want to overcook them, either. As we mentioned above, set a timer, and then check back with your temperature probe during the last hour to get an estimate of when your ribs will be done!

Related >> How To Tell When Ribs Are Done

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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