Getting the temperature right is an essential part of any barbecue, but it’s of paramount importance when it comes to smoked ribs. If the meat isn’t cooked to the ideal temperature, the texture will be off. Once you know where to probe ribs for an accurate temperature readout, you’re heading in the right direction.
Where To Probe Ribs
The best spot to probe ribs is in between two of the bones, preferably toward the middle of the rib rack. Be careful not to touch the bones themselves, as this can affect the accuracy of the reading. In addition, be sure that the thermometer is calibrated to reflect the right temperature beforehand.
Why It’s Important
Pork ribs need to cook to a high internal temperature (see What’s The Ideal Temperature For Ribs?, below) before they reach the perfect consistency. However, that’s true of any naturally tough cut of pork, including the butt and the shoulder. Here’s why the positioning of the temperature probe is so important when ribs are on the menu.
A rack of pork ribs contains 8 to 13 bones, depending on whether any of them were damaged during processing. That means there’s a good chance you’ll brush up against one of those bones when you’re attempting to gauge the temperature. Since bone has different thermal properties than flesh, touching the bone will lead to an inaccurate reading.
You also want to avoid any fatty areas, since fat conducts heat differently as well. Fortunately, when you take the temperature toward the end of the cooking time, most of the fat should have rendered out, leaving you with moist, delectable meat.
What’s The Ideal Temperature For Ribs?
Smoked ribs should cook to an internal temperature of 195 degrees Fahrenheit. While they might be ready to go at the 185-degree mark, we prefer to wait until the meat comes right off the bone when you bite into it.
If you choose to leave the ribs on the heat a little longer, try to remove them before the temperature creeps past 205 degrees. When they’re cooked too long, ribs become dry and leathery.
Should Rib Meat Fall Off The Bone?
That’s the main reason why you should take the ribs off the smoker before they cook past the 205-degree mark. Rib meat that literally sloughs off the bone is overcooked. You can attempt to offset the dry texture by smothering the meat in barbecue sauce, but that only works up to a point.
Of course, some barbecue enthusiasts prefer this texture. If that applies to you, cook the ribs to whatever temperature you think is best. However, we would suggest trying the 195-degree technique at least once, just so you can make an informed comparison.
How Long To Cook Ribs
The total cooking time depends on the temperature of the smoker, the type of ribs you buy, and the size of the rack. The following estimates are based on a cooking temperature of 225 degrees.
An average-sized rack of spare ribs or St. Louis-style ribs weighs 3 to 4 pounds. If you use the 3-2-1 rib method, wrapping the meat in foil after 3 hours over direct heat, they should reach the optimum temperature in about 6 hours.
Loin back ribs, also called “baby back ribs,” weigh about 2 to 2.5 pounds per rack. Since they’re smaller and leaner, they’ll cook through faster. For this reason, we recommend the 2-2-1 cooking technique, or the 3-1-1 method if you don’t want the meat to stay in the foil wrapper too long. In both cases, the ribs should be fully cooked in 5 hours.
Calibrating The Thermometer
Before you begin, calibrate your thermometer to make sure it will display the correct temperature. If it’s off by even a few degrees, it could mean the difference between perfectly cooked ribs and dried-out meat.
Add a generous amount of crushed ice or ice cubes to a glass, then fill the glass with water. Place the meat thermometer in the glass, being careful not to touch the sides or bottom with the probe. For best results, hold the probe about 2 inches beneath the surface.
Wait for the numbers to hold steady. The display should read 32 degrees Fahrenheit, or 0 degrees Celsius. If it doesn’t, follow the manufacturer’s instructions for adjusting the thermometer until you get the correct readout. Repeat the process as needed to ensure that you’ve done the job properly.
Where To Probe Ribs for Accurate Reading
To get the most accurate readout, you should always aim for the meatiest section of the rib rack. That means inserting the probe between two of the bones, preferably toward the middle of the rack. The edges will cook faster than the center, so taking the temperature on either end may lead to a false reading.
You may need to wait for a few seconds for the thermometer to settle on the right number. The exact time depends on the thermometer itself, but we hold it still for at least 5 seconds after the numbers stop moving. When they settle on 195, you’re ready to take the ribs off the smoker and start the resting process.
How To Tell If Ribs Are Done Without A Thermometer
We recommend using a thermometer to test the rib temperature every time. That’s the only way to make sure the ribs are cooked to perfection. If you don’t have immediate access to your thermometer, however, there are a few quick tests you can perform.
One easy way to test ribs for doneness is to lift one short end of the rack from the cooking grate using heatproof tongs. Apply light pressure against the rack to see if it bends in the middle. If it does, the meat is cooked through.
Another option is to keep a box of toothpicks at your grill station. Insert one into the meaty section between two ribs, remembering to aim toward the center of the rack. When the toothpick slides in and out with little resistance, the ribs should be ready to come off the smoker.
The Bottom Line
Since meat shrinks down as it cooks, it’s easy to nick the bone when you’re attempting to gauge the rib temperature. Inserting the probe into the meaty segment between two bones is a good way to avoid this error.
Best of luck, and happy grilling!