Once the ribs have been on the smoker for a while, is it permissible to let them finish cooking in the oven? Or will that have a negative effect on the texture and flavor? Whatever reasons you might have for asking these questions, we’ve got you covered.
Finish Ribs in Oven
Since the ribs should take on plenty of smoke flavor during the first few hours of cooking, it doesn’t do any real harm to finish them in the oven. This technique makes it easier to estimate the total cooking time, since smoker temperatures can be erratic. It will also free up room in the smoker when space is at a premium.
How Long To Cook Ribs
The total cooking time for a rack of ribs depends on two factors: the rib type and the smoker temperature.
You’ll want to cook the ribs until they achieve an internal temperature of 195 degrees Fahrenheit. During the resting process, this temp should rise to 200-203 degrees, which is ideal for perfectly cooked rib meat.
For slow-cooked meat products like ribs, pork butt, and beef brisket, our preferred smoker temperature is 225 degrees. This provides just enough heat to cook the meat in a relatively timely fashion without drying it out.
For baby back ribs, we would recommend a cooking time of 5 hours at this temp. Spare ribs, which are bigger and meatier than baby backs, should cook for about 6 hours.
If you wrap the ribs in foil or butcher paper partway through the cooking process, try to follow the 2-2-1 or 3-1-1 method for baby back ribs, and the 3-2-1 method for spare ribs. The number in the middle refers to the amount of time that the ribs are in the wrapper.
Be aware that if you opt to leave the ribs unwrapped for the entire length of the smoke, they might take a bit longer to cook. Plan on adding at least an hour to the cooking time, depending on the total weight of the racks in question.
Why Should You Finish Ribs in Oven?
There are a few reasons to consider this method. The first and most obvious is that the smoker isn’t retaining its heat well enough to smoke the ribs properly. In this case, your best bet for salvaging the barbecue is to move the product indoors.
Similarly, an unexpected rainstorm or other inclement weather might put a damper on your plans. When the weather changes, it can affect the environment inside the smoker. If you need to get dinner on the table at a certain time, it’s useful to have a backup plan.
Even the pros have been known to resort to this technique. In these cases, it’s often because they’re smoking a lot of batches at once, which means space is at a premium. Rotating some of the rib racks into the oven allows for a higher yield.
You might also want to hold the ribs in a low oven if there are a few hours to go until your planned serving time. Since indoor ovens tend to be less erratic than smokers and grills, there’s less risk of overcooking when you use this method.
You might be worried that finishing ribs in the oven might ruin the flavor. In fact, the meat should have taken on plenty of smoke flavor in the initial stages of the smoke. Adding them to the oven for an hour or two won’t erase that smoky goodness.
As far as texture is concerned, the oven shouldn’t do any harm either. The only thing you need to worry about is overcooking or undercooking the meat. Most of the time, that’s what makes ribs turn out mushy, stringy, or tough.
Of course, if you want the ribs to have a nice char on the outside, you can always put them back on the smoker once they’ve reached the optimum temperature. This is especially effective after you’ve sauced the ribs.
If you opt to use this technique, set the smoker to a higher temperature—about 350 to 375 degrees. Also, remember not to leave them on too long, particularly if you’ve already applied a sauce. A few minutes per side should do it.
Can You Start Ribs in the Oven and Finish on the Grill?
Some budding pitmasters will get a head start on the process by starting the ribs in the oven, then transferring them to the grill or smoker to finish cooking. While this practice may ensure that the meat reaches the target temp, we don’t recommend it.
As we pointed out, the ribs will take on a nice hit of savory smoke flavor during the first part of the cooking process. While the meat technically never stops absorbing smoke, this early exposure is critical to success.
On an aesthetic level, baking the ribs means that you’ll forego those impressive grill marks. You can offset this somewhat by searing them quickly over high heat just before serving time, but the effect won’t be quite the same.
Since we think of barbecue as a way of life and not just a cooking method, we would always advocate for the smoker first. You can always fall back on the oven later if you need to speed things along.
How To Finish Ribs in Oven
This recipe will give you the lowdown on how to start ribs on the grill and finish them in the oven. Feel free to use whatever spice rub you prefer, and experiment with different wood types to get the flavor you’re looking for.
1. Start with 2 racks of baby back ribs (about 3 to 4 pounds total). Remove the membranes, if desired, and pat the racks dry with paper towels.
2. Slather the ribs with prepared yellow or Dijon mustard. Apply the seasoning rub of your choice, pressing lightly to ensure that the spices adhere to the ribs.
3. Set the smoker to 225 degrees.
4. When the smoker has achieved the correct temperature, place the rib racks on the cooking grates with the bone side facing down.
5. Cover and smoke the ribs for about 3 hours, checking the unit’s temperature every so often to make sure that it’s not swinging too low or too high. During the last 30 minutes, preheat the oven to 250 degrees.
6. Remove the ribs from the smoker. Wrap each rack in a layer of heavy-duty aluminum foil.
7. Place a baking sheet on the lower rack of the oven, positioning the second rack just above it.
8. Add the wrapped ribs to the top rack of the oven. The baking sheet below it should catch any drips that might escape the foil wrappers.
9. Continue to cook the ribs until an instant-read thermometer registers 195 degrees Fahrenheit when inserted into the center of the rack. At this point, the racks should bend in the center without cracking. This should take about 2 hours more.
10. Unwrap the ribs and turn the smoker up to 375 degrees. Brush the rib racks with sauce, if desired.
11. Set the rib racks on the cooking grate. Cook for 2-3 minutes per side, until the sauce has thickened slightly and is beginning to crisp up.
Tip: If you would prefer not to fire up the smoker again, you can use the oven for this step. Increase the temperature to 375 degrees, unwrap and sauce the ribs, and return them to the oven for about 10 minutes.
12. Remove the ribs from the heat and let them rest for 10 to 15 minutes before serving.
The Bottom Line
Finishing ribs in the oven is an effective way to maintain control over the temperature—and therefore the total cooking time. Even if you don’t plan on taking this step, it’s a useful trick to have in your arsenal.
Best of luck, and happy grilling!