Do Ribs Need To Rest, and If So, How Long Is The Wait?

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rack of st. louis cut style ribs resting

Large slabs of meat—like beef brisket and pork butt—need to rest for a significant amount of time before you can dig in. Do pork ribs play by the same rules? And if so, how long should you wait before you serve them? In our guide, you’ll learn how long to rest ribs after taking them off the smoker—and a few other pointers as well.

Do Ribs Need To Rest?

Ribs should rest for at least 10 to 15 minutes in order to allow the juices to redistribute. If you skip this step, the meat might be too dry. The resting period should allow you just enough time to get all your sauces and sides together.

Why Meat Needs To Rest

When you’re as enthusiastic about food as we are, your immediate impulse is to serve the meal when it’s piping hot. The waiting game can be frustrating, but when it comes to smoked meats, it’s a necessity.

Resting the meat allows the protein fibers to relax and reabsorb moisture that was forced out during cooking. If you were to slice into a roast or a rack of ribs immediately after taking it off the heat, most of these precious cooking juices would spill out onto the work surface. Once that happens, there’s no way to put them back in.

As a bonus, the meat will have a chance to cool off slightly as it rests. You don’t need to let the ribs sit for so long that they get cold, but they’ll be cool enough for you and your guests to handle.

How Long To Rest Ribs For Optimum Results

homemade smoked barbecue st louis style pork ribs with sauce

The ribs should rest for at least 10 minutes after you take them off the heat. If you tent the meat with foil during this time, they should be the perfect temperature when you’re ready to serve them.

Don’t wrap the foil too tightly, or the ribs will steam inside the wrapper, softening the bark. Your goal is to keep the meat warm and to prevent any insects or debris from landing on it. The foil will also dissuade any passersby from snatching a bite before serving time.

10 to 15 minutes is a sufficient resting period for pork ribs. If you have other items to prepare in the meantime, you can let them rest a bit longer, but try to serve them within 30 to 45 minutes. Otherwise, they’ll start to cool off.

When To Add Sauce To Ribs

applying sauce to bbq baby back ribs

Try not to apply sauce until the last 30-45 minutes of cooking. This is particularly important when it comes to store-bought sauces, which tend to have a high sugar content. The sugar in the sauce will burn if it’s exposed to the direct heat of the smoker for too long, which will ruin the taste of the ribs.

You might be able to get away with applying the sauce an hour before you take the ribs off the heat, but be careful. If you need to leave them on the grill for longer than half an hour, keep them over indirect heat whenever possible. Watch the meat closely for signs of scorching, and flip the racks over every 5-10 minutes.

Serve the ribs with extra sauce on the side for dipping. Some chefs like to separate the racks into individual ribs and toss them in more sauce before serving. Try this if you’re confident that everyone in your party enjoys extra-saucy ribs.

How To Tell When Ribs Are Done

To check the ribs for doneness, insert an instant-read thermometer between two of the ribs that are closest to the center of the rack. When it reads 195 degrees Fahrenheit, the ribs are ready to come off the smoker.

The internal temp of the meat will continue to rise during the resting period. This should give you a final temp of 200-205 degrees, at which point the meat should have reached the perfect consistency.

Although the thermometer is the preferred method for testing ribs, there are a few shortcuts you can employ instead. One way to check is to insert a toothpick between two of the ribs, in the same place you would stick the thermometer. It should slide in and out easily. If you meet with any resistance, the meat needs to cook longer.

As an alternative, try lifting one end of the rib rack with a pair of heatproof tongs. Lightly bounce the rack up and down on the cooking grate. When the ribs are done, a fissure will appear in the rack, indicating that it would break in half under pressure.

Is It Possible To Overcook Ribs?

While you want to cook ribs until the meat is fork-tender, there are limits. If the meat cooks past the 210-degree mark, it will start to dry out. You may be able to offset this effect by smothering the ribs in sauce, but that only works up to a point.

You’ve probably heard the term “falling off the bone” used to describe ribs that are perfectly done. In truth, this isn’t the result you’re going for. The meat should come off the bone easily when you bite into it or tug on it with your fingers, but it shouldn’t fall right off every time you touch the rack. If it does, it’s overcooked.

What To Serve With Pork Ribs

While the ribs are resting, put the finishing touches on your side dishes. Barbecue pairs well with a number of sides, ranging from sweet to savory. Here are a few ideas.

Baked Beans

Authentic baked beans have a smoky-sweet flavor of their own. If they’re made with a tomato base, they’ll complement the barbecue sauce nicely.

Cole Slaw

A creamy, tangy slaw will help tame the burn of spicier sauces and seasoning rubs. Those of you who prefer to avoid mayo at outdoor gatherings can whip up an easy Thai-inspired alternative with just three ingredients. All you need is shredded red cabbage, carrots, and store-bought Thai chili sauce.

Corn Bread

There’s nothing like homemade corn bread fresh out of the oven. If you whip up the batter while the ribs cook, you can add it to the oven during the resting period. It should be ready just in time. For a kick, try adding grated cheddar cheese, jalapenos, and scallions to the batter.

Macaroni and Cheese

Speaking of cheese, its richness will hold up well against the smoked meat, especially when combined with chewy pasta. Use a combination of white and orange cheddar—the vibrant color will stand out on the serving plate.

Corn on the Cob

Double up on the corn by serving this summer staple with plenty of butter and salt. While the ribs are resting, crank up the heat on the smoker and add the shucked corn to the grilling racks, turning until they’re nicely blistered.

Green Salad

A salad mix that includes bitter greens like arugula and endive will provide a refreshing counterpoint to all that savory pork. Serve it with a simple dressing of fresh lemon juice, olive oil, crushed garlic, and black pepper.

The Bottom Line

Resting the ribs will put the crowning touch on all your hard work. It won’t be long before the meat is ready to enjoy, and you can put the rest of the meal together in the meantime. When you look at it this way, the resting period is a gift.

Best of luck, and happy grilling!

Darren Wayland Avatar


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