Have you ever come across some black spots when prepping a rack of pork ribs? Some people may smoke plenty of ribs and never encounter this phenomenon. However, if you do, you can still move forward with the barbecue—and we’re here to tell you why.
Black Veins in Pork Ribs
Once in a while, you might see black veins in pork ribs. This is nothing to worry about. It’s just dried blood that has turned black through exposure to the air. Often, you can get rid of it by rinsing the rib rack under cold running water.
Are There Veins in Pork Ribs?
If you look closely at a rack of pork ribs, you’ll see that there’s a vein running between the bone and membrane of each rib. We often notice them when removing the membrane from the rack before adding the seasoning rub.
When you press on the tip of the vein, a spot of blood will appear. This can serve as a guideline when removing the membrane. You can insert your knife right into the vein before peeling the membrane back.
While we recommend taking the membrane off to promote flavor and tenderness, there’s no need to remove the individual veins. Once the ribs are cooked, you shouldn’t even notice them.
What Are The Black Veins in Pork Ribs?
When blood is exposed to air, it turns red. That’s because it contains a protein called hemoglobin, which carries oxygen through the bloodstream.
When hemoglobin binds to oxygen, it absorbs a bluish light, thereby reflecting a red light into our eyes. While the blood from animals differs from human blood in other important ways, the red color is present in the blood from most animal species.
If the blood is exposed to air for a long time, the hemoglobin breaks down, forming new compounds. These chemical changes make the blood appear darker as it dries. That’s why you’ll sometimes see black veins in pork ribs.
Is It Still Safe To Eat The Ribs?
When you see those black veins, the first thing you should do is try to wipe off the blood using paper towels. Sometimes, it will disappear right away, and you can move forward with the prep.
You might need to rinse the rib rack under cold running water to dislodge the black bits. In this case, make sure to dry the ribs off with paper towels before returning them to the work station, and disinfect the sink immediately afterward.
The black spots might not disappear entirely. If this happens, go ahead and prepare the ribs as you normally would. The dried blood won’t do any harm—it just has an odd appearance that can be off-putting, especially for picky eaters.
Do You Have To Remove The Membrane From Ribs?
It’s not dangerous to leave the membrane in place when smoking pork ribs. However, we recommend it for several reasons.
First and foremost, the membrane will toughen up when it’s cooked. This makes the ribs more difficult to chew. Since rib meat should be tender enough to melt in your mouth, the chewy membrane detracts from the experience.
Flavor is another important factor. When you leave the membrane in place, the seasoning rub will stick to that layer instead of the meat itself. That can have an adverse effect on the flavor, especially if you want to peel the membrane off once the ribs are cooked.
While we’re on the subject of flavor, the membrane will also create a barrier between the rib meat and the smoke. That’s not desirable either, for obvious reasons.
It’s usually easy to remove the membrane—enough so that we don’t see any reason to leave it intact. If you want to try smoking a rack with the membrane attached to see if you notice a difference, feel free to do so, but we think you’ll agree with us in the end.
Do You Need To Remove Anything Else From Pork Ribs?
Aside from the membrane and the dried blood, is there anything else you should trim off the rack before seasoning and cooking the ribs? This is a question that many first-timers ask.
Loin back ribs—sometimes called “baby back” ribs owing to the fact that they’re smaller than spares—are easy to prepare. Once you’ve removed the membrane, just trim off any bits of meat that hang over the edge, as well as any large deposits of fat.
Pro Tip: Don’t go overboard when trimming the fat from a rack of baby backs. Smaller bits of fat will render out as the meat cooks, providing flavor as well as moisture.
Spare ribs are another story. Unless you buy a rack of St. Louis-style ribs, which have already been trimmed in the manner we’re about to describe, there are a few more steps in the process.
A full rack of spare ribs has three parts: the skirt meat, the rib tips, and the rib section itself. When you remove the skirt and the tips, you’re left with a rectangular slab that will cook more evenly and look more presentable on the plate.
The skirt is located on the back side of the rib rack, toward the center. It’s permissible to leave it in place, but it will cook through more quickly than the rib meat. In fact, it will probably burn, which is unappetizing as well as impractical.
On the bottom edge of the rack, you’ll find the rib tips. This section contains the sternum, which also causes the ribs to cook unevenly.
There’s also a great deal of cartilage in the rib tip section. While some people don’t mind the chewier texture, others are turned off by it and prefer not to consume the tips at all.
To remove the skirt, flip the rib rack over so that the bone side is facing up. Once you’ve located the skirt, trim it away using a sharp boning knife. Set the meat aside if you want to cook it separately. The ribs should appear fairly even at this point.
The rib tips are located along the bottom edge of the rack. Try to fold the rack in half lengthwise to find where the bones and the tips meet. Since bones don’t bend, this should help you identify the right spot.
There may also be a strip of fat running along the rack, separating the ribs from the tips. However, this feature isn’t always obvious, so we wouldn’t rely on it.
Separate the rib tips from the rack using your boning knife. Bear in mind that the point of separation isn’t a straight line—you’ll need to feel along the rack to determine where the division should take place.
Set the rib tips aside. You can either put them on the smoker at the same time as the ribs, remove them when they reach the optimal temperature, or save them for another use.
At this point, you should have a competition-worthy rack of trimmed spare ribs. Season and smoke them according to your chosen recipe.
Black veins in ribs aren’t anything to worry about. If you’re bothered by them, your butcher might be happy to exchange the rack for another one, but there’s a good chance they’ll give you the same advice that we just have.
Hi there! I’m Darren Wayland, your BBQHost. My love of great barbecue inspired me to curate this site as a resource for all my like-minded fellow pitmasters out there. When I’m not researching and learning all I can about the latest tips and techniques, you can find me at the grill—that is, if you can spot me at all through the clouds of sweet-smelling smoke. And since you asked, yes, that probably is barbecue sauce on my face. Welcome to the party!