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Ribs can be a difficult food to master because they aren’t an everyday food. Normally, people grill or smoke ribs on special holidays such as Memorial Day, Independence Day, or Labor Day.

Most people look forward to this delicious meal and it can lead to disappointment if they don’t turn out ready to melt in your mouth.

Sometimes your ribs will be tough. They might be too chewy or dry. Fortunately, there are ways to solve this problem and you can even use this experience to learn how to prevent it from happening the next time.

While this article article has a lot of great suggestions on how to fix tough ribs, if you are looking to take your skill set to the next level check out The Grill Masters Club. Not only will you get delicious professional BBQ sauces, rubs, injections and wood chips but they also hook you up with recipes, videos and how to’s which will really bring you to the next grill master level! They even have free giveaways!

With that being said, I personally follow this recipe in which it has never failed me, Raging River Tender Smoked Ribs.

Why Your Ribs Turned Out Tough

Ideally, your ribs will turn out tender, juicy, and a little bit crispy on the outside. If your ribs turn out tough, you most likely didn’t cook them long enough. This happens when you cook ribs too quickly at too high a temperature.

The thing to remember is that before you cook ribs, they are naturally tough. Part of successfully making the perfect ribs involves preparing them, which means cooking them for a longer time at a lower temperature or even starting the process by steaming them.

However, if they have turned out tough, there are a few ways to remedy the situation.

What Can You Do to Fix Tough Ribs?

You can make a sauce out of apple cider vinegar and barbecue sauce. Use half of each and baste the sauce onto the ribs. After you wrap them in foil, put them back in the oven on low heat. Keep the heat around 300 degrees Fahrenheit.

The special sauce that you made will make them steam, which will add moisture back in. Leave them in for about an hour and they should be tender when you pull them out.

How Do You Prepare Ribs?

BGE Tender Smoked Ribs

The best way to fix tough ribs is to avoid making them tough in the first place. If you prepare them properly, exercise patience in cooking them, and learn how to know when they are done, you will have much better results.

The first thing to remember is that there isn’t a shortcut to cooking ribs. They are best when cooked for a long time over low heat. You can’t rush this process. If you increase the temperature to shorten the time, the ribs won’t turn out the way that you want them to.

Before you cook them, you need to prepare them. You can start by boiling your ribs before you cook them. After you boil water in a pot, add the ribs. Turn the heat down and let it simmer for about 45 minutes. The meat should be tender. You can remove the ribs from the water.

Next, you can cover the ribs in the sauce that you plan to use. If you are using the grill, it is important that you not place the ribs over direct high heat.

This will dry them out and make them tough. You need to have the heat on one side of the grill and the ribs on the other.

Once you put them in, make sure not to check on them for at least thirty minutes. Opening the grill frequently (or at all) during this time increases the odds that you will dry the ribs out.

After two hours of cooking over low heat (approximately 325 degrees Fahrenheit), check on them. The meat should be tender. If so, they are ready and you can slather them with your favorite sauce.

If it’s not a good day for grilling outside, here’s how you can cook ribs in the oven.

How to Know When Ribs Are Done

Beef Back Ribs

You have to learn when ribs are done through experience. There are so many different kinds of ribs and they all cook differently. There are guidelines about internal temperatures but it is very difficult to stick a meat thermometer into ribs.

The important thing is that you must heat them to 190 degrees Fahrenheit because this is the temperature where the collagen and fats in meat melt and make it more tender and juicy.

To keep ribs moist, it’s a good idea to hydrate the ribs while they cook.

The only ribs that fall off the bone are those boiled or steamed. When you grill ribs, they won’t fall off the bone. They will, however, come off the bone cleanly when you eat them. The longer you cook them, the more tender they will be.

For example, ribs cooked for four hours at 225 degrees Fahrenheit will be more tender and juicy than those cooked for two hours at 300 degrees Fahrenheit.

This is a matter of personal preference but if you want super-tender, juicy ribs, you might consider lowering the temperature and cooking them for a longer time.

That said, there are different tests that you can perform to determine whether or not the ribs are done.

  • Do they bend? Take your tongs and grab one of the ribs. When you hold it up and bounce it, the rib should bend until the meat begins to crack. If it cracks open, they are ready.
  • Does it twist? If you grab the bone on the end of a rib and twist it, the meat should start to break free.
  • Has the meat pulled back from the bones? When the ribs are ready, the meat should pull back and expose around a quarter-inch of bone.
  • Taste it. This tried-and-true method will tell you if it is ready.
  • Use a toothpick. If the toothpick slides into the meat between the bones without a struggle, the ribs are ready.

Final Thoughts

Your goal is always to make sure that the ribs are just right but if things go wrong, you can still fix the problem and make your ribs turn out juicy and tender. If you finish cooking and they are dried out or tough, make a paste out of apple cider vinegar and barbecue sauce.

This will have a steaming effect when you return the ribs to the grill. After you cook them longer, they should be fine.

The hardest thing about cooking ribs is having the patience to let them cook. Cook them longer over lower temperatures to make them juicy and tender.

To make sure you don’t spend all that time grilling and end up with not enough ribs, see my suggestions on how many ribs to cook per person before you begin.

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Author

I have a bachelor's degree in construction engineering. When I’m not constructing or remodeling X-Ray Rooms, Cardiovascular Labs, and Pharmacies...I’m at home with my wife, two daughters and a dog. Outside of family, I love grilling and barbequing on my Big Green Egg and working on projects around the house.

3 Comments

  1. Bonnie Parr Reply

    Hi Ben, I just stumbled onto your website. I cooked country ribs, and they turned out really tough. I am going to try your technique on how to fix them. I also bought an electric Masterbuilt smoker and have been experimenting. I’ll be sure to check out your tips and tricks.

    • Look up the 3-2-1 method for your Masterbuilt. 6 hours at 225. 3 hours uncovered. 2 hours wrapped in foil. 1 hour uncovered. Start with a nice dry rub. Spritz with a 50/50 apple cider vinegar water mix during the first 3 hours. When you foil them you can add some liquid (I do honey and melted butter) to steam them. The last hour baste them with your favorite bbq sauce. This is almost a fool proof way to make perfect ribs

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