When you buy ribs from a big-box store like Kroger, will they still have the membrane attached? Or will you have to remove it yourself? It’s a fair question—and one that pitmasters would love to have the answer to. We’ll attempt to explore the issue here.
Do Kroger Ribs Have Membrane?
When shopping for ribs at Kroger, look for the word “Natural” on the package. In our experience, these hormone- and antibiotic-free ribs have usually had the membrane removed in advance. If this is the case, it will save you the time and hassle of removing the layer of caul fat yourself.
What Is The Membrane On Pork Ribs?
A raw rack of pork ribs will have a pale whitish layer of skin that runs along the underside. This is known as the peritoneum, which also may be called caul fat or silverskin. In barbecue parlance, we refer to it as the membrane.
Caul fat is there to hold the major internal organs in place. In the case of the rib membrane, that means the heart and lungs. As such, this material is very tough.
You might recognize the membrane if you’ve ever trimmed a pork or beef tenderloin for the grill. There’s usually a layer of caul fat running along one side of these cuts as well, unless the butcher has removed it beforehand.
Should You Remove The Membrane Before Cooking Ribs?
As we pointed out, the membrane is a tough piece of tissue. When it cooks, it shrinks and toughens even more. While it isn’t harmful (see below), it will make the rib meat more difficult to chew.
What’s more, the membrane will make it more difficult to separate the ribs. Since you’ll probably want to divide the cooked ribs into portions for serving purposes, it’s in your best interest to remove the membrane.
There’s another excellent reason why you should take the time to trim off the membrane: It creates a barrier between the meat and your seasoning rub. Even worse, it might prevent the smoke from fully permeating the meat.
We’ve also found that the membrane can cause the rib meat to cook unevenly. While you don’t necessarily want every bite to taste the same, it’s important for the meat to cook to the target temperature throughout.
On an aesthetic level, the membrane creates other problems. The rib rack won’t look as impressive with this unappetizing layer of fat in the way.
Can You Eat The Membrane?
Eating the ribs with the membrane still attached isn’t dangerous. You may even have eaten caul fat before—the material is sometimes used to make sausage casings, among other things.
However, the membrane doesn’t make any positive contributions to the barbecue. It doesn’t taste like anything, and the texture is stringy and tough. Your goal is to make perfectly tender and moist pork ribs—the membrane will only get in the way.
How Can You Tell If The Membrane Is Attached?
Before you purchase a rack of prepackaged ribs, ask the salesperson if they still have the membrane attached. If they don’t know, speak to the butcher to see if you can get a clear answer.
Of course, in a big-box store like Kroger, this might be easier said than done. It doesn’t hurt to ask, but you should be prepared to check the rib rack no matter what they say at the butcher counter.
Set the rib rack on a work station with the bone side facing up. The membrane will be instantly recognizable if it’s attached. You’ll see a pale whitish layer clinging to the bones—almost as if there’s a sheet of nearly-opaque plastic stretched over them.
How To Remove The Membrane
It’s not difficult to remove the membrane yourself. To start, you just need to get a firm grip on one end of the rib rack, using paper towels to strengthen your hold if necessary.
Use your other hand to gently pull up on the corner of the membrane. Then slide your fingers between the bones and the membrane, moving slowly down the entire length of the rib rack. The membrane should peel away easily.
Pro Tip: Should the membrane tear while you’re working, be sure to go back and remove every piece.
Do Kroger Ribs Have Membrane Still Attached?
Kroger’s normal store brand will usually have the membrane attached. That’s true of most prepackaged ribs from big-box stores.
However, if you see a package that’s labeled “Kroger Natural Ribs,” we would suggest that you buy it—assuming you were there to purchase ribs in the first place.
This product contains no antibiotics or hormones, which would make it plenty appealing on its own. However, we’ve found that the membrane has usually been removed from these ribs already when we prep them for the grill.
While we can’t guarantee that Kroger’s “Natural” ribs won’t have the membrane on them, it seems that they do make a bit more effort when preparing this product for sale. As a bonus, the flavor and texture are often superior as well.
What If The Membrane Is Scored?
Other supermarket chains, such as Publix, have another practice: They notch the rib tips and score the membrane instead of removing it. This makes it virtually impossible to remove the membrane in one piece.
Since the membrane will be easier to chew when it’s been scored this way, it’s fine to cook the ribs in this fashion. In fact, you might find that the ribs hold together better as they approach the target temperature.
Alternatively, you can attempt to remove the scored membrane. Just be aware that the process will take a long time, as you’ll have to peel off each segment separately. It’s easier just to leave the rack the way it is and accept any negative consequences.
Buying ribs that have already had the membrane stripped from the bone can save you a bit of time in the kitchen. If you can find Kroger Natural ribs, by all means give them a try. However, we wouldn’t waste time on an extensive search.