Although I love having leftovers on hand, ribs aren’t the easiest smoker staple to reheat. They’re best enjoyed shortly after they’ve achieved the perfect internal temperature, when they can slide right off the bone with little effort.
If you should find yourself with a batch of leftover ribs, though, the least you can do is reheat them properly. Here’s an in-depth guide to the various methods—and a verdict on which one is best.
How To Reheat Ribs
I prefer to reheat ribs in the smoker. That’s the best way to cook them in the first place, after all, so why not give them an extra dose of smoky goodness? You’ll be able to reheat them slowly, which will allow the meat to retain its succulent texture. The key is to heat the ribs until the meat is nice and hot—about 165 degrees Fahrenheit.
Should I Bring Ribs to Room Temperature Before Reheating?
If you let the ribs sit at room temperature for 30 minutes or so, they’ll reheat more evenly. Just remember not to leave them out for any longer than an hour, or they’ll be spending too much time in the “danger zone” between 40 and 140 degrees.
Can You Eat Cold Cooked Ribs?
Assuming that you’ve cooked the ribs to a safe internal temperature—145 degrees is the safety benchmark, but ribs are best when cooked to at least 195—it’s fine to eat the leftovers cold.
As long as you follow these guidelines, there’s no harm in eating cold cooked ribs. I’ve done so myself from time to time, but I still think they taste better when you heat them up.
Best Way to Reheat Ribs (And 5 Other Options)
In the Smoker
This is hands-down my favorite method for reheating ribs. In fact, if you can afford the time it takes to fire up the smoker, it’s great for all kinds of smoked meat.
Set the smoker temperature to 250 degrees Fahrenheit. While you’re waiting for it to heat up, smother the ribs in a layer of barbecue sauce and wrap them in foil. This will help prevent the meat from drying out.
Heat the ribs until they’ve achieved an internal temp of 145 degrees. It should take 20 to 30 minutes, depending on the size of the ribs and the predictability of your smoker.
At this point, remove the foil wrapper and let the ribs continue to cook until they’ve heated to 165 degrees, about 10 minutes. Turn them over as needed to prevent scorching. The sauce should caramelize nicely, giving the ribs an appealing sticky texture.
In the Oven
Don’t want to take the time to fire up the smoker? Reheating ribs in a low oven should yield similar results. You won’t get that extra hit of smoke flavor, but using the oven makes it easy to maintain control of the temperature.
This is also a great method if you’re only reheating a few ribs at a time. It’s not worth the hassle of dealing with the smoker unless you have a rack or two to heat up.
Set the oven to 250 degrees, then coat the ribs in sauce and wrap them in foil as you would if you were using the smoker. Heat for 20 to 30 minutes.
After removing the foil wrapper, set the ribs on a baking sheet. You can line the sheet with foil for easy cleanup if you’d like, but coat it with a layer of cooking spray before putting the ribs on it. Otherwise, the foil might stick to the ribs.
Continue to heat the ribs for 10 minutes, or until they’ve hit the 165-degree mark. Serve hot.
On the Grill
I’ve ranked this option third because while it offers unbeatable flavor, it can be a pain to set up the grill for reheating purposes. This is true especially if you’re using a charcoal-fired unit—it’s probably not worth wasting the fuel.
If you don’t mind taking the time and effort, or if you have a gas grill that you can fire up in a hurry, it’s fine to reheat ribs on the grill. The key is to use indirect heat, adding wood chips if desired to boost the flavor.
Turn your gas grill to high, or build a two-zone fire if using a charcoal grill. Allow the unit to preheat while you bring the ribs to room temperature for 30 minutes.
Coat the ribs with sauce and wrap them loosely in foil. When you’re ready to put them on the grill, turn the heat down to medium if using gas, then add the ribs. For charcoal, set the wrapped ribs on the cooler side of the grill.
Allow the ribs to reheat for 5 to 6 minutes, then turn them over and let them heat on the other side for another 5 minutes or so. Remove them from the heat when an instant-read thermometer inserted into the center of the rack reads 165 degrees.
In an Air Fryer
If you haven’t yet discovered the joys of air frying, try using the device to reheat your ribs. This method heats the meat quickly and efficiently while giving the bark a crispier texture at the same time.
When using the air fryer, I like to separate the ribs first. This will be easier on the unit and make the ribs more enjoyable to eat once they’re hot.
Set the air fryer to 350 degrees while you slice up the ribs. This is a higher temp than I would use for the smoker or oven, but this device gets the job done faster.
Coat the ribs with a small amount of oil (no more than a teaspoon or so per 5 to 6 ribs). Set them in the air fryer and wait for 5 to 8 minutes. The ribs should be heated through, with appealingly crisp exteriors.
In a Sous Vide Bath
Note that it will take about 30 minutes to bring the ribs to room temperature, then at least that long again for them to reheat. When using the sous vide technique, you need to plan on about 45 minutes per inch of the food’s thickness.
After the ribs have been at room temp for 30 minutes, use the vacuum sealer to encase the ribs in an airtight bag. Don’t add sauce yet—with this method, the ribs aren’t in danger of drying out.
Your next step is to fill the sous vide basin with just enough water to submerge the package of ribs. Set the machine to 150 degrees, then add the ribs and let them heat for 45 minutes to an hour, depending on the size of the ribs.
This is a great method to use if you want to reheat the ribs slowly and enjoy them in 2 to 3 hours. You can leave them in the sous vide bath for that long without worrying. Once you’re ready, take them out of the wrapper and add sauce, if desired, then serve.
In the Microwave
There’s a reason I’ve listed this option last: I don’t like to use it. The microwave is a useful tool when it comes to melting butter, but otherwise, I prefer to save it as a last resort.
That said, you can use the microwave to reheat ribs if you’re in a hurry. The trick is to prevent excess moisture loss, which is what makes microwaved leftovers so inferior to their slow-heated brethren.
One way to do this is to fill a microwave-safe ramekin or small bowl with water and set it in the unit along with the ribs. The water will create steam as it heats, adding moisture to the meat.
Another option would be to soak a couple of paper towels in water and sandwich the ribs between them before you heat them up. This method is more straightforward, ensuring that the moisture goes directly into the ribs.
Whichever option you choose, set the unit to medium power. You don’t want the ribs to heat up too quickly, or they’ll have an unappealing spongy quality.
Heat the ribs in increments of 1 to 2 minutes until they’ve achieved an internal temperature of 165 degrees. Add sauce, if desired, and serve immediately.
The Bottom Line
Since I prefer to slow-cook ribs on the smoker whenever the opportunity arises, I would stick to the same method when it’s time to reheat the leftovers.
When you’re reheating ribs, you want the meat to retain as much flavor and texture as possible. What better way to achieve this than to give them another hit of smoke? Best of all, you can set the unit to a low temperature, which is the best way to prepare ribs in the first place.
Best of luck, and happy grilling!