Making smoked ribs is a time-consuming process. The results are delicious, of course, but what if you just don’t have time to make them the day of the gathering? Is it okay to cook them off the day before and reheat them at serving time?
In this guide, we’ll clue you in on how to cook ribs the day before without sacrificing too much texture or flavor.
How To Cook Ribs The Day Before
To cook ribs in advance, prepare them as you normally would. We would suggest skipping the barbecue sauce until it’s time to reheat the ribs. When you’re ready to serve them, reheat at 350 degrees Fahrenheit for 15-20 minutes, then slather with sauce, if desired.
How Far In Advance Can I Smoke The Ribs?
It can actually work in your favor to smoke the ribs a day or two in advance. As is the case with most braised meat dishes, the flavors will have a chance to develop during the storage period.
Cooked ribs should keep for 3 to 4 days in the fridge. If you’re making smoked ribs in advance, try to serve them within 3 days. They should still be safe to eat if you save them for one more day, but the texture might start to deteriorate.
Try to store any leftover cooking juices separately. That way, you can use the liquid to baste the ribs as you reheat them. This step will help them retain plenty of moisture while providing an extra boost of flavor.
Can I Add The Seasoning Rub The Day Before?
Even if you aren’t planning to cook the ribs a day in advance, you can leave the seasoning rub on overnight. While it’s not necessary to apply it so far in advance, it can save you time on the day of the cook.
Apply the rub, using a thin layer of prepared mustard to help the mixture stick to the meat. Set the ribs on a rimmed baking sheet and place them on the bottom shelf of the fridge, toward the back.
If you’d like, wrap the ribs in plastic wrap before adding them to the fridge. Just be careful when removing the wrapper, or you might take a layer of seasoning rub with it.
Try not to leave the dry rub on the ribs for longer than 12 hours prior to smoking. Although the salt in the rub will allow the ribs to retain moisture as they cook, it can dry out the meat if you leave it on too long.
How To Cook Ribs The Day Before Serving
Here’s our step-by-step guide on smoking ribs in advance. Note that while we recommend cooking the ribs to 195 degrees, we’ve skipped the optional step of adding barbecue sauce at the end. We’ll cover that step in How To Reheat Pre-Cooked Ribs, below.
1. Prepare your favorite seasoning rub and apply it to the ribs as outlined above. If you’d like to keep things simple, just season the ribs with a mixture of kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper.
2. Set the ribs aside in the fridge overnight, or until you’re ready to cook them. It’s fine to apply the rub just 15 minutes in advance if you’re short on time. We’ve tried it both ways and haven’t noticed a marked difference in terms of flavor.
4. Close the lid and let the ribs smoke undisturbed for 3 hours.
5. Prepare a double layer of aluminum foil, drizzling the inside with honey, olive oil, melted butter, or a combination.
6. Remove the ribs from the smoker and wrap them in the prepared foil. You can also use butcher paper instead of aluminum foil. The paper will allow some of the steam to escape, keeping the ribs from getting soggy. It also permits smoke flavor to enter the package.
7. Set the wrapped ribs back on the grilling grate. If you’re making spare ribs or St. Louis-style ribs, let them cook for another 2 hours. Baby back ribs should cook for just 1 hour more before you move on to the next step.
8. Take the ribs off the heat and remove the wrapper. Place them back in the smoker to finish cooking. The ribs are done when they’ve achieved an internal temperature of 195 degrees. This should take about 1 hour longer.
9. Remove the ribs from the smoker and let them cool completely on a plate before wrapping them in another double layer of foil. Reserve any cooking juices that have collected on the plate and store separately in a lidded container.
Alternatively, you can seal the ribs tightly in sturdy zip-top bags. Force as much air as you can out of the bags before sealing them. This is a good option if you want to divide the racks into smaller portions beforehand.
10. Refrigerate the ribs and cooking juices until you’re ready to reheat them for serving.
How To Reheat Pre-Cooked Ribs
You should fire up the smoker about 1 hour before you plan to serve the ribs. That will give the unit plenty of time to heat up.
Set the smoker to 350 degrees. When it’s ready, place the ribs on the grilling grate without removing the foil wrapper. If you haven’t already wrapped them in foil, do so now.
Close the lid and heat the ribs for 15-20 minutes. Probe the rack with an instant-read thermometer to see if it’s reached an internal temp of 145 degrees. If it hasn’t, continue to heat the ribs until they’ve hit that temp, testing every 5 minutes.
Use the reserved cooking juices to baste the ribs if they seem too dry at any point while reheating. When they’re hot enough, remove the wrapper.
Now is the time to add a layer of your favorite barbecue sauce, if you’d like. Heat the unwrapped ribs for another 5-10 minutes. You can also serve the sauce on the side.
Let the ribs rest for 5-10 minutes before serving.
Will The Ribs Still Taste Good The Next Day?
The pork should retain its flavor for at least 3 days. That means you and your guests won’t notice any difference in quality when you’ve precooked and reheated the ribs.
Be sure to wrap and refrigerate the ribs within 2 hours. Whether it’s raw or cooked, meat can’t be left out at room temperature for longer than that, or it won’t be safe to eat. When it’s hotter than 90 degrees, that window shortens to just 1 hour.
The refrigerator temperature should be set below 40 degrees Fahrenheit. If you want to freeze your leftover ribs, make sure your freezer temperature is set to 0 degrees or below.
Always wrap leftovers well. An airtight container will work, but you should pack the ribs as close together as possible. Sturdy zip-top bags are also acceptable.
The Bottom Line
Cooking the ribs in advance can be a great time-saver, especially if you’re traveling. Note that you can also reheat the ribs in an ordinary oven—they’ll already have plenty of smoke flavor. We prefer to use the grill whenever we can, but if that’s not an option, your ribs should still taste fantastic.