Should I Boil My Ribs?

Dear Home Ec 101,

I have been told to boil ribs before grilling them. Is this a good way to cook ribs?

Signed,

Grilling in Greenville

Heather says:

Lots of cookbooks recommend parboiling pork ribs before grilling and it does speed up the process. However, there is a cost and that’s flavor. Additionally, the advice is sort of misleading.

Typically when people say they boil or parboil their ribs before grilling, what they really mean is that they simmer. Do you know the difference between boiling and simmering? It sounds like I’m being picky, but those few degrees can make a major difference.  Boiling would rapidly denature —or change—the proteins in the connective tissue which could make them tough and chewy. Remember, ribs have a lot of connective tissue, so the cooking method makes a big difference in how tender they turn out. 

Should I boil ribs first?

Low and slow is the slang term many cooks use to describe the kinds of cooking most suitable to tough cuts like ribs. Like many other tough cuts of meat, ribs are full of connective tissue that needs to cook slowly at low temperatures for tender results. The actual method isn’t important, they all take advantage of the same principle. You can braise, smoke, grilled indirectly, or oven roast—at low temperatures, of course— your ribs. Simmering or par-boiling also takes advantage of low heat to let those tough proteins dissolve as the meat cooks.

Keep in mind this thought, if you parboil your ribs in plain water, some of the flavor will be lost to the cooking liquid. It may be a faster cooking method, but is it worth the flavor loss?

You can finish ribs cooked by any method on the grill. This is especially effective if they are slathered in a bbq sauce and heated so the sugars caramelize, just a bit. Be careful as sugary sauces can go from caramelized deliciousness to overdone very quickly. At my last job, in a steakhouse, this is how we made our ribs. First, they were smoked overnight and then refrigerated. Just before serving we would heat them thoroughly on the grill slathering them in bbq sauce. Always tender, always delicious, they were one of our best sellers.

I don’t have a smoker, so I slow roast my ribs in the oven. Sometimes I do cook them Memphis style with a dry rub, beef short ribs I braise in beer, and sometimes I just use my favorite bbq sauce.

It all depends on my mood and energy level when rib day rolls around.

Good luck cooking your ribs!





15 Comments

  1. Juanito Milanes on June 21, 2015 at 3:51 pm

    What I like to do with “pork” ribs is cut them into 2 bone pieces. Then soak them in a vinegar and oil, with all your favorite seasonings. For example, garlic, onion, pepper, salt, etc. Then I will put them othemn the grill or smoker “bone side down” on low heat for at least 2 hours. Occasionally drizzling the left over juice from the vinegar oil seasoning. Cook “bone side down” for about an hour, them flip occasionally for the last hour and continue to drizzle the juice over them. Works out great, and the tase is Amazing!!!! I’ve got tons of recipe ideas, email me for more ideas…

  2. amy fitzgerald on May 25, 2015 at 9:01 am

    I do not have a crock pot I would like to know how long or how to go about simmering before grilling I know you don’t have to but want to thank you in advance

    • Heather Solos on May 25, 2015 at 10:46 am

      30 – 60 minutes, just be sure after you add the ribs to the boiling water that the bubbles no longer break the surface of the water.

  3. Chuck on April 28, 2015 at 7:48 pm

    I never boil ribs. I cook them outside on my gas grill. I set the grill on a low flame. Set the ribs on the upper most rack. Low and slow is the way to go. Cook the ribs half way. Then start with Sweet Baby Ray’s. Finish cooking and enjoy.

    • Ray on April 21, 2016 at 6:42 pm

      How long on the upper grill

  4. HeatherSolos on September 13, 2011 at 12:08 pm

    @hislovendures when cooking in the crockpot you are doing a slow, wet cook. The oven, unless covered tightly is a slow, dry cook. If in the oven, it is extra important to be sure the heat is low and that oven door stays closed so it isn’t too dry.

    I hope that helps.

  5. hislovendures on September 13, 2011 at 11:54 am

    A couple people have mentioned cooking the ribs in a crock pot and then putting them in the oven. Our most recent method is to cook it in the crock pot, covered in BBQ sauce, on low, over night. What am I missing by not then putting them in the oven?

  6. Bobbie Laughman on February 15, 2011 at 11:17 am

    My opinion: Crockpot, yes. Water? No way. The loss of flavor when boiling meat is unacceptable to me — I don't use much sauce at all on ribs, because I want the MEAT flavor, so why toss that down the drain?

    My method, more or less — just dump the ribs into the crockpot, sprinkling with pepper and a touch of Real Salt, and cook them on high or low, depending on the time frame I'll be gone. Remove to a shallow roasting dish and roast in the oven while making the sauce: Take whatever juices came off the meat in the crockpot, remove however much fat you want and use them in the barbecue sauce (I make my own) — if you want to concentrate the meat flavor, simmer the juices until they're reduced however much you want, then make the sauce. Baste the tops of the ribs w/ sauce, turn over and baste other sides, return to oven for maybe 10 minutes. Repeat if desired, but I usually don't. I serve the remaining sauce on the side for whoever wants more sauce.
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  7. @JayMonster on February 15, 2011 at 9:45 am

    I can't add much to this conversaion because only late last year did I discover (much to my dismay) that I (and apparently anybody north of the Mason-Dixon line) apparently have no clue when it comes to ribs. While in Dallas, we went to a number of ribs joints, and even ones that people rated low had ribs that were far and away better than anything I have ever had.

  8. Thaydra on February 14, 2011 at 7:56 pm

    I have heard this same thing for any bone-in cut of meat… beef, pork or chicken. I often boil my chicken drumsticks for a few minutes before cooking them. Since doing that, I've never had a problem with the chicken still being red and/or bloody at the bone. I have also done that with pork chops. I've never tried it with ribs, though!
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  10. Ron on February 14, 2011 at 2:09 pm

    Here's what I do for my ribs. First you stick them in a crock pot with some water. You season the ribs/water with spices (salt, pepper, chili powder, barbecue sauce, or whatever, just so long as it's not plain h20). Then you go to work. Come back 8 hours later, turn off the crock pot, drain all the water off, then put the ribs in an oven-safe baking pan or Pyrex dish. Coat the ribs liberally with your barbecue sauce. Cook them on 250-300 for a good 10 minutes, which is enough to caramelize the sauce and firm the ribs up a bit. Voila, ribs.

    • HeatherSolos on February 14, 2011 at 3:42 pm

      Exactly, braising and using a slow cooker are essentially the same thing. Of course all this talk about ribs has me starving.

      • Dawn on February 15, 2011 at 8:13 am

        Hi! I have a spice mix I use when I make ribs, but I usually make country style pork ribs (Yum!). I have a crock pot (only has warm, low & high settings), and a westbend slow cooker which i prefer to the crock pot with number settings from 1 to 5. Which one would you use for the ribs and what setting would you use? Thanks!!

  11. @MusicCityFoodie on February 14, 2011 at 12:38 pm

    My mom always parcooked her ribs in salted water before putting them on the grill. They would be very tender but there wouldn't be much "meat" taste left. We smoke our ribs low and slow. If we're short on time we grill them over indirect heat to get the smoke taste and finish them in the oven to get them tender.

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