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Soaking Ribs in Vinegar: Why and How? The Ultimate Guide

Have you ever tried soaking ribs in vinegar? If you haven’t—or if you tried it once and were underwhelmed by the results—maybe it’s time you learned more about this marinating method. When the job is done properly, it can give your pork ribs an indulgent texture that will keep you coming back for more.

Soaking Ribs in Vinegar

If you’ve ever used vinegar—or another acidic ingredient—in a marinade, you’re already familiar with the tenderizing qualities it offers. The tangy flavor also serves as a complement to the smoky-sweet taste of the pork. However, it’s important not to soak ribs in vinegar for too long, or the texture will be off.

What Does Marinating Ribs in Vinegar Do?

Marinating ribs in vinegar helps to tenderize the meat, which is the primary reason why some chefs swear by the technique. It may also improve the flavor, although you wouldn’t want to soak the ribs in straight vinegar for too long (see How Long To Soak Ribs in Vinegar, below).

Another benefit of the vinegar soak is that it can improve the quality of lesser cuts. If you’re worried that the ribs you’ve purchased aren’t as fresh as they could be, the vinegar will work to eliminate any gamey flavor.

When I first heard about this marinating method, my first thought was, “Won’t that make the meat taste sour?” Although that could be an issue if you overdo it, there’s no need to worry otherwise. The acid in the vinegar may stimulate your taste buds, but as long as you’ve followed the instructions, you shouldn’t detect any sour notes in the meat itself.

How Long To Soak Ribs in Vinegar

Is it possible to soak ribs in vinegar for too long? Yes. In fact, you shouldn’t marinate pork in anything for too long.

When the meat is exposed to an acidic ingredient like vinegar, the proteins break down, which promotes tenderness. That works only up to a certain point, however. After a while, the acid will make the proteins seize up and force out the natural moisture. As a result, you could wind up with tough, dry ribs.

For best results, leave the ribs in the vinegar marinade for 20-30 minutes. If you’ve mixed the vinegar with water or other ingredients (see Soaking Ribs in Vinegar and Water, below), you can get away with a longer soaking time. In general, though, less is more when it comes to soaking ribs in vinegar.

Can You Soak Ribs in White Vinegar?

This type of vinegar has a clean, direct flavor, but it can be overwhelming in large doses. For this reason, most marinade recipes that call for white vinegar will combine it with several other ingredients, such as beer and Worcestershire sauce.

Soaking Ribs in Apple Cider Vinegar

Apple cider vinegar is tart and slightly sweet, making it an excellent partner for smoked ribs. In fact, we’ve included this ingredient in our Tangy Apple Cider Ribs recipe, which can be found below.

To soak the ribs in straight apple cider vinegar, set the racks in a roasting pan, then pour 3-4 cups of vinegar directly over them. Let them sit for 20 minutes before removing the ribs from the pan and patting them dry with paper towels.

Soaking Ribs in Vinegar and Water

If you’re intimidated by the prospect of marinating your ribs in straight vinegar, try mixing it with water. We would suggest using a formula of 1/4 cup of vinegar per cup of cold water. For example, mix 1 cup of apple cider vinegar with 4 cups of water.

Can You Soak Your Ribs in Apple Cider Vinegar Overnight?

We don’t recommend soaking the ribs in any type of vinegar overnight. While the apple cider vinegar may impart a nice sweetness to the meat, it’s still an acidic ingredient that will ruin the texture of the meat if you’re not careful.

For optimum flavor and texture, don’t leave the ribs in the vinegar solution for longer than 2 hours. If you can take them out sooner, that’s even better.

Should You Rinse Ribs After Soaking Them in Vinegar?

After taking the ribs out of the vinegar, you might be tempted to rinse away any excess. However, rinsing raw meat increases the risk of cross-contamination. You could be spreading hazardous bacteria all around your kitchen without realizing it.

Instead of rinsing, pat the rib racks dry using paper towels. This will prevent the meat from steaming due to the excess moisture, while still allowing the vinegar solution to do its work.

About Boiling Ribs in Vinegar

Par-boiling ribs in vinegar is an old-fashioned method designed to tenderize the meat and cut back on the cooking time in the process. Proponents of this technique also claim that it brings the natural pork flavor to the fore.

We’re not huge advocates of parboiling, mostly because we prefer to expose the ribs to the smoke as much as possible. If you do choose to go this route, you’ll probably need to cut the ribs into smaller slabs to ensure that they fit inside your stock pot or Dutch oven.

To parboil ribs in a vinegar solution, set the slabs in the pot and fill the pot with just enough cold water to cover the ribs. Add 2-3 tablespoons of apple cider vinegar or distilled white vinegar. Red wine vinegar is also acceptable, but bear in mind that this may impart a noticeable grape flavor.

Bring the mixture to a boil, then reduce the heat and simmer for 45-60 minutes. The ribs are ready for the next step when the meat is tender enough to separate from the bone under gentle pressure.

Once you’ve taken the ribs out of the vinegar mixture, allow them to cool slightly before seasoning and finishing them as desired. At this point, you can add barbecue sauce and put them on the grill to finish cooking.

Tangy Apple Cider Ribs

This recipe uses Carolina barbecue sauce as a finisher. Because the sauce contains a hefty dose of vinegar on its own, it goes nicely with the marinade.

Ingredients

  • 1 full rack of baby back ribs (about 10-14 ribs)
  • 3/4 cup apple cider vinegar
  • 3 cups water

For the Sauce:

  • 1 cup apple cider vinegar
  • 3/4 cup ketchup
  • 1/2 cup brown sugar
  • 1/2 cup prepared yellow mustard
  • 1 tablespoon onion powder
  • 1 teaspoon garlic powder
  • 1 teaspoon Worcestershire sauce
  • 1/4 teaspoon chili powder
  • 1/4 teaspoon garlic salt
  • Dash cayenne pepper, or to taste

For the Rub:

  • 1/4 cup smoked paprika
  • 3 tablespoons ground mustard
  • 2 tablespoons onion powder
  • 2 tablespoons garlic powder
  • 1 tablespoon ground cumin
  • 1 tablespoon ground oregano
  • 2 teaspoons cayenne pepper
  • 2 teaspoons brown sugar
  • 2 teaspoons kosher salt
  • 1 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper

Directions

1. Make the sauce. Add all ingredients to a medium saucepan and whisk to combine. Cook, stirring, over medium-low heat until the mixture is smooth. Increase heat to high and boil, continuing to whisk, until the sauce has reduced to about 2/3 its original volume. Remove from the heat and set aside.

2. Mix together the cider vinegar and water. Add the ribs to a disposable aluminum pan, or any pan large enough to accommodate the rack. Pour the vinegar and water solution over the ribs and let them soak for 20 to 30 minutes.

3. While the ribs are soaking, prepare the rub. Mix all the ingredients together in a small bowl until well combined. Set aside.

4. Remove the ribs from the vinegar solution and pat dry with paper towels. Coat them evenly with the rub, pressing so that the mixture adheres to both sides of the rack.

5. Set the grill or smoker to 225 degrees Fahrenheit. When it reaches the set temperature, add the ribs to the grill with the bone side facing down.

6. Close the lid and let the meat cook undisturbed for 2 hours.

7. Remove the ribs from the heat and wrap them tightly in a double layer of aluminum foil or butcher paper. Return to the heat and cook for 2 hours longer.

8. Take the ribs off the heat and remove the wrapper, then return the meat to the grill to cook for 1 hour longer. During the last 15-20 minutes, brush ribs with the prepared barbecue sauce.

9. When the ribs have reached an internal temp of 195 degrees, take them off the heat and set them aside to rest, loosely tented with another layer of foil.

10. After 15-30 minutes, serve the ribs with additional sauce on the side.

Tip: If you have any sauce left over, it should keep in a sealed jar in the fridge for up to 2 weeks. Just be sure not to store any sauce that’s come into contact with the pork.

The Bottom Line

A vinegar soak can provide a welcome boost to your barbecue. Still, in our opinion, it’s best to dilute the vinegar with water or other marinade ingredients. This will allow you to experiment with different flavors, in addition to mellowing out the tangy kick of the vinegar.

The best thing about a vinegar marinade is that it doesn’t take a lot of time. After just 30 minutes in the vinegar solution, the ribs will be ready to hit the grill.

Best of luck, and happy grilling!