This guide on how to thaw ribs is a simple and easy way to decide the best way to prep for enjoying one of my favorite anytime foods. Frozen ribs are very convenient and more readily available than fresh pork ribs which has led to them being a very popular meat in American culture. Once you know how to thaw ribs, it can open up all kinds of possibilities!!
What are the most common types of ribs?
- Beef Ribs - Cut from the back
- Beef Short Ribs - Small 3"-4" cuts of the back ribs
- St. Louis Ribs - Cut from the back, larger and more meat to bone than baby backs
- Baby Backs - Cut from the back below the loin, most tender
- Spare Ribs - Cut from the belly side of the pig closer to the chest area.
Why do you need to defrost ribs?
Frozen ribs have a lot of moisture in them, when they defrost that moisture is taken out leaving the ribs with their natural moisture content. In the oven even at a low temperature it will take too long to cook. If you are cooking over a grill it will absolutely drench the inside of it and mess with the temperature.
Also, if you cook them frozen the cooking time that it would normally take to evenly cook will be considerably longer because they are coming to temperature near freezing as oppose to defrosting and getting them closer to room temperature. It will cause the meat to overcook and become much less enjoyable.
How much of the ribs is bone vs meat?
Beef ribs have a much larger bone and fat content than meat. They may look big in the store but they get much smaller once fully cooked.
Pork and baby back ribs are closer to the same ratio, with slightly less meat than bone. Pork ribs are the most commonly consumed in the U.S. by far.
What are 2 ways how to thaw ribs for a full rib rack?
The two ways that I will be going over are thawing in the refrigerator and thawing in water. The thawing process is pretty much the same, the only difference is that one is being placed in a dish of water. It is important to thaw in the refrigerator rather than on the counter because the low temperature will help avoid any bacteria growth.
Thawing frozen ribs in the refrigerator:
There really is no secret to this one, I just wanted to put a timer on it to see how much time it actually takes to defrost. I know that this method will take longer. I checked them at 18 hours and they felt defrosted and for a 3 pound rack of Back Ribs or St Louis ribs, it was right at 5 hours per pound.
Keep the plastic wrap packaging on the frozen ribs and place ribs in the bottom or middle. The way my refrigerator is and a lot of other common brands is that the cold air comes out at the top level of the refrigerator so the coldest air is on the top. In general I don't like to defrost on the top shelf because it takes a lot longer to because it's getting hit non stop from the coolant fan.
Check on the ribs after a full day to see how they are feeling. They should be tender to the touch and easily bendable. Some ribs will be defrosted at this point, the amount of time depends on the thickness of the ribs and overall weight. You will also be able to see a reddish liquid (not blood) but essentially meat water, start forming and the plastic packaging will separate from the ribs and form air pockets.
How to thaw ribs in water:
Fill a large roasting pan about halfway full with cold tap water, not hot water. Enough water to cover the majority of the ribs. I used about 6 quarts of water.
Keep the plastic wrap packaging on the frozen ribs and place ribs in the roasting pan with water with the meat side facing down.
As you can see, I had to make some space in the refrigerator to fit all of the baking pan in. It was also a good opportunity to go through some of the leftovers and get rid of what I don't need anymore.
It took me 3 hours to defrost these so it ended up being 1 hour per pound of rib rack. That is one-third less time than it takes to defrost in the refrigerator without being in water.
How do you tell if frozen ribs are defrosted all the way?
This is an important tip because it is harder to tell if ribs are frozen, not like a container of soup where you can clearly tell when there is still chunks of ice inside of it. Fully defrosted ribs should have some give in them when you press firmly against the meat with your hand. The rack of ribs should also be able to bend a little and not be so rigid.
How much do ribs cost?
If you are a fan of pork ribs, than you should know that they are a lot more affordable compared to beef ribs. A full rack of ribs will be between 2 ½ - 3 ½ pounds for pork back ribs. Pricing varies by region so I picked a few cities and priced them based on online pricing at the time of this post.
- HEB in Houston TX - $3.09/lb
- Vons in San Bernardino, CA - $6.99/lb
- HyVee in Madison, WI - $3.99/lb
- Harris Teeter in Charleston, SC - $4.99/lb
Around $10-15 at your local grocery store is about what you can expect.
Beef ribs are more expensive, and you get less meat and you can usually get in the meat or butcher section of the grocery store for $15-20.
What to do with the bones?
The bones can actually be saved and used to make stock or broth. A lot of people like to mix pork bones with beef and chicken bones to make an excellent flavored broth for soups or sauces.
How many ribs per rack?
There are on average 11-13 actual ribs on a pig up to 15 or 16 on some breeds but depending on how it is butchered you are going to see around 10-15 ribs for a full rack of baby backs.
Differences between beef and pork ribs:
- Baby back ribs have smaller bones, more meat, less fat
- Saint Louis style have slightly larger bones, more meat, and slightly more fat than baby backs
- Spare ribs are meaty and fatty coming from closer to the brisket so it is a little tougher than the back ribs.
- Beef back ribs have larger bones, higher fat, and less meat.
What type of container is best to fit ribs in the refrigerator for thawing?
I find that a large roasting pan, or disposable aluminum pan is the best because they are deeper and you can fit more water. A 13 x 9 baking pan will also work. I would avoid a shallow dish like a baking sheet. If you do not have the space in your refrigerator for a large pan you could use a large plastic bag, like 2 gallon or a basting bag that seals so that they can fit easier into a crammed fridge, believe me I get it.
What is the best and fastest way how to thaw ribs?
The best method and quickest way to thaw ribs is to defrost them in a large baking dish with water in the refrigerator. The refrigerator's constant internal temperature helps thaw it slowly out of its frozen state and the water allows the process to happen faster. The ribs come pre packaged and it makes it really nice to not have to directly put the meat in the water because it will affect the cooking process and doesn't have to be less bacteria exposed if you drop some of the water on the floor by accident.
Thawing the ribs in the refrigerator would be a good option if you are a planner and can remember to put them in the refrigerator the day before you need them. If you forget though you can always just get them in some water and it will cut down on the defrost time by approximately 30%.
I am a little hesitant to try the defrost function on a microwave oven or any meat for that matter. I just don't think that it would work as well and then you'd have all this raw meat in your microwave, the idea just sounds messy and not the best option to reducing foodborne illnesses. Maybe I will try this method down the road but for now I'd love to hear from anybody who uses the microwave method.
How do you cook ribs in the oven?
Now that you have some nice ribs defrosted, I just wanted to give you an easy recipe that turns out absolutely phenomenal, juicy, fall off the bone ribs.
- Frozen rack of back pork ribs (St Louis style)
- Bbq sauce
Defrost the frozen ribs using one of the two methods above, make sure you factor in how much time you have before choosing.
Pre heat the oven to 225 degrees f.
Remove the ribs from the packaging.
Dry off the ribs with a paper towel and place them into the pan.
With the meat side down, remove the thin filmed membrane.
Season both sides and rub it into the ribs with your hands.
Cover the pan with foil, I used 3 sheets of foil to get a good seal.
Bake for 4 hours or 1 hour and 15 minutes per pound.
Remove from the oven and carefully lift off the aluminum foil.
Let the ribs cool for 15 minutes.
Set the oven on Hi Broil and position the rack to the 2nd or third position from the top of the oven.
Brush on the barbecue sauce and place back into the oven.
Broil for 7-8 minutes.
Apply the rest of the bbq sauce.
Broil for an additional 3-5 minutes.
Remove them from the oven and serve!
- Full Rack - Back pork ribs
- ¼ to ½ Cup - Barbecue seasoning
- ½ Cup - Bbq sauce
- Defrost the frozen ribs using one of the two methods above, make sure you factor in how much time you have before choosing.
- Pre heat the oven to 225 degrees f.
- Remove the ribs from the packaging.
- With the meat side down, remove the thin filmed membrane.
- Dry off the ribs with a paper towel and place them into the pan.
- Season both sides and rub it into the ribs with your hands.
- Cover the pan with foil, I used 3 sheets of foil to get a good seal.
- Bake for 4 hours or 1 hour and 15 minutes per pound.
- Remove from the oven and carefully lift off the aluminum foil.
- Let the ribs cool for 15 minutes.
- Set the oven on Hi Broil and position the rack to the 2nd or third position from the top of the oven.
- Brush on the barbecue sauce and place back into the oven.
- Broil for 7-8 minutes, remove from the oven and apply the rest of the bbq sauce.
- Broil for an additional 3-5 minutes.
- Remove them from the oven and serve!
Amount Per Serving: Calories: 53Total Fat: 2gSaturated Fat: 0gTrans Fat: 0gUnsaturated Fat: 1gCholesterol: 6mgSodium: 259mgCarbohydrates: 8gFiber: 0gSugar: 6gProtein: 2g
What to do with leftover ribs?
A good idea is to de-bone the leftover rib meat, and make rib sandwiches with coleslaw and bbq sauce on a sub roll! This rib sandwich is crazy good.
Ingredients for Leftover Ribs Sandwich:
- Leftover ribs
- Sub Roll
- Pimiento Cheese
Using a half rack of leftover ribs, de-bone and set the meat aside.
Roughly chop the rib meat up.
Cut the sub roll completely in half and toast.
Spread pimiento cheese on each side of the roll.
Place the rib meat on the bottom half of the roll.
Put on the coleslaw on top of the rib meat.
Assemble the sandwich and enjoy!
Serve it with fries or chips and pickles. The pimiento cheese puts this over the top, mixed with the tangy sweet coleslaw and savory sweet rib meat, OMG!!!
- ½ rack - barbecue ribs
- 1 large - Sub roll
- ½ cup - Pimiento Cheese Spread
- ½ Cup - Coleslaw
- Using a half rack of leftover ribs, de-bone and set the meat aside.
- Roughly chop the rib meat up.
- Cut the sub roll completely in half and toast.
- Spread pimiento cheeseon each side of the roll.
- Place the rib meat on the bottom half of the roll.
- Put on the coleslaw on top of the rib meat.
- Assemble the sandwich and enjoy!
Amount Per Serving: Calories: 401Total Fat: 27gSaturated Fat: 8gTrans Fat: 0gUnsaturated Fat: 16gCholesterol: 57mgSodium: 548mgCarbohydrates: 25gFiber: 1gSugar: 8gProtein: 14g
Ribs can be stored in a ziploc bag or wrapped in aluminum foil
- Keeps in the refrigerator for up to 1 week in an airtight container.
- Freeze in a freezer safe container or freezer bags or tightly wrapped plastic wrap, to avoid freezer burn for up to 1 month.
Food safety rules
- Do not use the same utensils on cooked food, that previously touched raw meat
- Wash hands after touching raw meat
- Don't leave food sitting out at room temperature for extended periods
- Never leave cooking food unattended
So now that we know how to thaw ribs let's go ahead and make some ribs, folks! I like to use a dry rub to marinate the ribs and either broil or cook on the grill. When you take the time to defrost the ribs properly it will make such a huge difference for the end result of juicy ribs with minimal loss of quality compared to fresh.