You’re in the mood for ribs tonight, but the only ones you have are frozen solid. Is it still all right to fire up the grill, or do you need to wait until tomorrow? Let’s find out what happens if you toss ribs on the grill without thawing them first.
Can You Cook Ribs Frozen?
It’s possible to cook ribs without thawing them first, but you should plan on adding about 50 percent to the total cooking time. Ribs take a long time to cook anyway, so this can be problematic. We would recommend thawing the meat in a cold-water bath or the refrigerator whenever possible.
Tips For Effective Thawing
When it comes to defrosting frozen ribs, some techniques work better than others. The main thing to remember is that you should never thaw ribs at room temperature. That will keep them in the “danger zone” between 40 and 140 degrees for too long.
When meat is left in the danger zone for longer than 2 hours, it becomes a potential breeding ground for dangerous bacteria. That’s why you should keep meat refrigerated prior to cooking and thaw any leftovers as soon as possible.
Note that if the ambient temperature is very hot—say, above 90 degrees Fahrenheit—bacteria could begin to spread more rapidly. Never leave meat out at room temperature for longer than 1 hour during hot weather.
Now that we’ve covered what you shouldn’t do, let’s talk about the most effective methods for thawing frozen ribs.
In The Refrigerator
This is the safest and most effective technique for thawing frozen meat. Unfortunately, it’s also the most time-consuming. If you want to thaw your ribs in the fridge, be sure to plan ahead.
After removing the ribs from the freezer, place them in a container large enough to hold the rack. If any portion of the rib rack is hanging off the edge of the container, you’ll run the risk of cross-contamination when the juices begin to drip off.
Set the container on the lowest shelf of the fridge, toward the rear if possible. This will keep the ribs chilled as they thaw, without subjecting them to the mild temperature swings that occur every time you open the refrigerator door.
Putting the ribs on the lowest shelf also prevents any thawing juices from dripping onto ingredients stored below. Even if you’ve placed them in a container beforehand, you can never be too careful.
When thawed in the fridge, a full rack of ribs should be ready to cook in about 24 hours. A larger rack might take up to 36 hours. Since you can leave the thawed ribs in the fridge for up to 4 days, it’s better to pull them from the freezer sooner rather than later.
In Cold Water
It’s both safe and effective to thaw meat in cold water, provided you do it correctly. It also takes less time than the refrigerator method. We prefer this technique for smaller portions, but it works fine for full rib racks if you have enough room to submerge them.
To begin, seal the frozen ribs in a leak-proof container. A zip-top bag will work, but only if you can fit all of the ribs inside. Force as much air as possible out of the container before forming a tight seal.
Find a container that’s large enough to hold all the ribs you’d like to thaw, plus enough cold water to cover them. Add the sealed ribs and fill the container with cold tap water. Don’t use warm or hot water, or the meat will enter the danger zone before it’s had a chance to fully thaw.
Change the water every 30 minutes to keep it nice and cold, adding ice cubes if necessary. A full rack of baby back ribs might be fully thawed after an hour or so, but larger racks of spare ribs could take 4 to 5 hours in the water bath.
It’s important to cook the ribs right away once they’ve been thawed using the cold-water technique. Don’t leave them in the fridge afterward, or you could be inviting a host of bacteria to your barbecue.
In The Microwave
We aren’t proponents of the microwave method, especially for large cuts of meat like whole rib racks. Use the refrigerator or cold-water bath whenever time allows.
If you must use the microwave, set the unit’s power to 30 percent. If it’s running at full power, you may end up partially cooking the ribs while the rest of the rack is still frozen. Alternatively, you can use the defrost feature, assuming your microwave has one.
After removing the ribs from the freezer, take them out of the packaging. It’s important to remove any plastic or foam wrapping, because these will melt in the microwave, painting your meat with hazardous chemicals.
Place the ribs in a microwave-safe container. It’s best to use one with a lid, so you can rest it over the top without forming a tight seal. Set the container in the microwave.
Let the microwave run for 3 minutes, then rotate the container. Set the timer for another 3 minutes and continue to defrost until the ribs are thawed. The whole process might take up to 8 minutes total, depending on the size of the ribs.
If your unit is equipped with a defrost setting, follow the manufacturer’s instructions, but stop the cycle halfway through to rotate the container. Otherwise, the ribs might not thaw evenly.
It’s vital to cook the ribs immediately after thawing if you use the microwave. If you aren’t planning to cook them right away, use the refrigerator to thaw the meat.
Can You Cook Frozen Ribs Without Thawing?
If you don’t want to take the time to thaw the ribs before cooking them, you certainly can. Just be aware that the cooking process will take longer, so you might not save quite as much time as you’d hoped.
It takes about 50 percent longer to cook meat from its frozen state than it would if it were defrosted. Since it takes 5 to 6 hours to cook most ribs anyway, that means you could be looking at a 7.5 to 9 hour cooking process.
In my opinion, it’s better to thaw the ribs using the cold-water method if you’re hoping to save time. You’ll have better control over the temperature, and it might even be faster than cooking them frozen. This is true especially if the rib racks are on the smaller side.
Whether you’ve thawed the ribs or not, make sure they’ve reached an internal temperature of at least 195 degrees before you take them off the heat. They’ll continue to cook as they rest, giving the ribs a succulent and tender texture when it’s time to serve them.
How To Cook Frozen Ribs On The Grill
If you opt to cook the ribs without thawing them first, your first step is to preheat the grill. Although we usually recommend a cooking temperature of 225 degrees, you can turn up the heat to 250 or 275, especially when you’re starting with frozen ribs.
One potential pitfall when cooking ribs from a frozen state: The seasoning rub won’t adhere as well. You can attempt to get around this by coating the rib rack in mustard before adding the spices, but the mixture might wash away as the excess moisture is forced out of the meat.
Once you’ve seasoned the meat and the grill has reached your desired temperature, place the ribs directly on the grill and close the lid. Cook undisturbed for 3 to 4 hours.
If you’d like, you can wrap the ribs in foil at this point, then return them to the grill until they reach an internal temperature of 185-190 degrees. This should take 2 to 5 hours longer, depending on how large the ribs are and the consistency of the grill temperature.
Remove the wrapper for the last hour or so to allow the bark to crisp up again. You can also apply barbecue sauce during the last 15 to 30 minutes of the cook. Let the ribs rest for 10 to 15 minutes, then serve.
The Bottom Line
It’s no more difficult to cook frozen ribs than it is to prepare thawed ribs, but it does take longer. Since the cold-water method is just as fast—if not faster—you might want to try that instead.
Best of luck, and happy grilling!