How to Know When Ribs are Done

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Memphis, Tennessee is world-famous for BBQ. According to renowned BBQ expert, Steven Raichlen, the dry ribs set the city’s BBQ apart from the rest of the country (Barbecue Bible 468).

So, why do they call them “dry ribs?” Simple: because the meat is dry; they’re cooked and served without sauce. Once they’re meticulously smoked, the ribs are basted with a vinegar mop and seasoned with a bold dry rub.

The trick to expertly smoked pork ribs is knowing when they’re done. Unlike other meats, you can’t rely on an instant-read thermometer because the thin meat and bones make it difficult to get an accurate read. Instead, BBQ pros and enthusiasts alike use a combination of look and feel to determine when ribs are done.

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1. Color: Color can be useful, but it can be misleading, which is why it’s important to use take other methods into consideration. When finished, ribs look like the color of mahogany.
2. Bones: When the ribs are finished cooking, the meat will draw back and expose about three-quarters of an inch of the rib bone. Quick tip: When the “knuckle” of the third rib bone begins to poke through the back of the rib, the ribs are finished.
3. Bend Test: When ribs are done cooking, they’re flexible but don’t fall apart. To check, hold the rack from the end with a pair of tongs. The other end should bend towards the ground and cracks may form in the crust.
4. Toothpick Test: Stick a toothpick or small BBQ skewer down between 2 bones. If the rubs are done, the skewer will go through with little resistance.
5. Flexibility: As you gain experience, you’ll be able to tell if the rib rack is done cooking by feeling them your hands. They will drape over your hands if held in the middle and wiggle if you hold them from the ends.
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