As you may know, we prefer to err on the side of “too much” rather than risk coming up short when it comes to barbecue. In other words, we tend to buy more product than we need.
This means we often have a lot of meat left over. Sometimes, we find that we don’t even have to cook all of it. This applies to pork ribs as well as other staples like beef brisket and pork butt.
If you have leftover ribs–whether they’re still raw or already cooked–is it okay to store them in the freezer? If so, for how long? Let’s explore these questions together.
Can You Freeze Ribs?
You can freeze pork ribs whether they’re raw or cooked. The meat should keep in the freezer indefinitely, but it’s better to thaw raw ribs within 4 months and cooked ribs within 6 months. Otherwise, the texture might be off when you’re ready to serve them.
How Long Do Pork Ribs Keep In The Fridge?
After you buy fresh pork ribs, you should be able to store them in the refrigerator for up to 4 days before you cook or freeze them. If you already know you’re planning to freeze the meat, though, we would urge you to do so as soon as possible.
How Can You Tell If Ribs Have Gone Bad?
When pork goes bad, you can often tell by the smell of it. Raw pork doesn’t have a distinctive odor on its own, but when it’s spoiled, it may smell sour, overly sweet, or give off the scent of rotten eggs.
Pork will sometimes turn a brownish color when it’s exposed to oxygen. This is normal, and not necessarily a sign of spoilage. However, if the ribs have a dull gray color, or if you see any patches of green or white mold, it’s time to throw them out.
Can You Freeze Raw Ribs?
Yes, it’s fine to freeze uncooked pork ribs if you don’t intend to cook them off within the next few days. If you’ve purchased a whole case of rib racks at a good price, freezing them can be a real money-saver. Tips on freezing raw ribs can be found in the separate section below.
Before adding ribs to the freezer, ensure that the freezer temp is set to 0 degrees Fahrenheit or below. That’s the only way to inhibit the growth of new bacteria that could render the meat unsafe to eat.
When they’re properly stored, ribs should keep in the freezer for up to 12 months. To help them retain optimum texture and flavor, though, we suggest thawing and cooking them within a 4-month time frame.
Keeping meat in the freezer for too long can cause it to dry out. This may result in ribs that are tough to chew, even if you’ve cooked them to the ideal temperature. That’s why we recommend that you thaw them sooner rather than later.
Can You Freeze Cooked Ribs?
Similar rules apply to cooked ribs. They should keep for up to 4 days in the fridge, but if you aren’t planning on eating them within that time frame, go ahead and freeze them instead.
Make sure the meat has cooled thoroughly before you attempt to freeze it. Also, don’t leave leftovers at room temperature for longer than 2 hours, or 1 hour if the room temperature happens to be 90 degrees or higher. Even if you don’t intend to freeze the ribs right away, wrap them and put them in the fridge until you’re ready to do so.
Again, the ribs might dry out if you keep them in the freezer for too long, so try to use them up within 4 to 6 months.
Does It Matter What Type Of Ribs They Are?
Not all pork ribs are the same. There are baby back ribs, the leaner, smaller racks taken from the area along the hog’s spine. Then you have spare ribs, which come from the belly region, and St. Louis-style, which are spare ribs that have been trimmed of the tips and excess cartilage.
Do these distinctions matter when you’re preparing to freeze the ribs? Not really. The same safety and quality guidelines apply, no matter what type of ribs you’re dealing with.
However, we should mention that racks of spare ribs and St. Louis-style ribs weigh more than baby backs. A rack of baby back ribs only weighs 1.5 to 2 pounds, whereas spare ribs weigh up to 4 pounds per rack. That could affect the amount of time needed for thawing.
Tips on Freezing Ribs
- Keep the freezer at or below 0 degrees Fahrenheit at all times.
- Avoid opening the freezer unless you’re adding or retrieving ingredients.
- Divide the ribs into portions. That way, it will be easier to thaw and prepare only as many as you need.
- If the ribs are cooked, make sure they’re cool to the touch before you freeze them. If they steam inside the package, they’ll create condensation, which will lead to freezer burn. It may also cause the freezer temperature around the package to rise.
- Wrap the ribs well in freezer paper, plastic wrap, or aluminum foil. You can also use freezer bags, as long as you force as much air as possible out of the package before you seal it.
- Label all packages with the contents and the date. It’s also helpful if you mention whether the ribs in the package are cooked or raw. If this is the second time you’re freezing the ribs, add that to the label as well.
How To Thaw Frozen Ribs
It’s always best to thaw meat in the refrigerator. This will give it the time it needs to achieve the right texture without inviting hazardous bacteria to form and multiply.
When thawed in the fridge, a full rib rack should be ready to cook in about 24 hours. Larger slabs might take up to 36 hours. Just to be on the safe side, try to pull the ribs from the freezer 2 days before you plan to cook them.
As an alternative, you can thaw the ribs in a cold-water bath. Leave them in their packaging, placing them in an additional zip-top bag if you’re worried about leaks. Set the package in a large container filled with cold water. They should thaw at a rate of about 30 minutes per pound. Be sure to swap out the water every half hour or so.
Don’t thaw the ribs by leaving them on the counter. You should never leave meat at room temperature for that long, whether it’s been frozen beforehand or not. If you’re in a hurry, use the cold-water bath instead.
We also advise against using the microwave as a thawing method, especially for bone-in meat like pork ribs. The machine will cause the meat to cook through in patches while others remain frozen solid. That’s a clear invitation for bacteria to grow.
Cooking raw ribs from their frozen state is also an option. However, you should add about 50 percent to the cooking time if you go this route. It can take 5 to 6 hours to smoke a rack of pork ribs anyway, so you might not be saving yourself as much time as you think.
How To Reheat Frozen Pork Ribs
It’s easy to reheat ribs that were cooked before you froze them. If time allows, thaw them in the refrigerator first. If you pull them the evening before you plan to cook them, they should be ready for reheating in time for dinner.
To reheat ribs on the grill, preheat your unit to 425 degrees Fahrenheit. Place the ribs on a baking sheet and cover them with aluminum foil. Depending on the size of your baking sheet, you may need to add a second sheet of foil in order to ensure even coverage.
Set the baking sheet on the grill and close the lid. Allow them to reheat for 17 to 25 minutes, basting with barbecue sauce about halfway through the process, if desired.
If you haven’t thawed the ribs beforehand, you can still reheat them using this method. It will take a little bit longer for them to heat through–perhaps as long as 30 minutes. Try not to peek at the ribs until you’re ready to add the sauce, or you’ll prolong the cooking time even more.
The Bottom Line
It’s safe and effective to freeze ribs if you don’t plan on consuming them within the next few days. In fact, you might want to buy more than you’ll need just so you can stock up for your next barbecue. This is true especially if you find a great deal on ribs, since you never know when that might happen again.
Best of luck, and happy grilling!