Should You Boil Ribs Before Grilling?


If you love some BBQ ribs on a brunch or a beautiful weekend with family, then you understand that there is a thin line between grilling the ribs perfect and completely messing up the meal. Some chefs argue that it is best to boil the ribs before grilling, whereas others prefer to put them on fire as fresh as they are.

Nevertheless, one thing is for sure; different techniques work for different people when grilling ribs.

The Best Types of Ribs for Grilling

Choosing the best ribs for grilling is not the easiest thing to do. Most people admit that it takes more than just a good eye. Whether you are going for pork, goat meat, or beef, there are several factors you can keep in mind the next time you are out shopping for ribs.

First, quality should be at the top of your list.

When it comes to ribs or any other type of food for that matter, you should never compromise quality.

For ribs, it is best to avoid those previously frozen. Additionally, look out for any discolorations – an indication that the ribs have been in the freezer for too long.

Second, note that it is usual for ribs – generally meat – to have a slight odor. However, anything too strong or intolerable is a red flag. When meat is stored for too long or not stored properly, it starts. Once the ribs pass these two quality tests, then you can proceed to select the best fit for your serving.

It is worth noting that there are different types of ribs, and each of them has unique textures and flavors. It also means that the cooking techniques may vary for the different types of ribs.

Here is a list of some of the ribs you should consider for your next cookout:

Baby Back Ribs

Baby back ribs are so-called since they are shorter than other types of ribs. However, they are a favorite among rib lovers since they are leaner and fleshier. Otherwise referred to as loin ribs, baby back ribs are cut from the ribs connected to the backbone and located beneath the loin muscle.

Due to their high demand, it does not come as a surprise that baby ribs tend to be more expensive than other types of ribs.

Spare Ribs

Spare ribs are also cut from pigs. These cuts are from the lower portion at the belly area and breastbone or behind the shoulder. They tend to have more fat than other ribs, more flesh, and more flavor.

However, they are less tender compared to baby back ribs. Spareribs can be sold whole with untrimmed slabs or in a St. Louis Style.

St. Louis Spareribs

St. Louis Style Ribs that have a uniform rectangular shape and rib tips removed. St. Louis style spare ribs cut from the pig’s belly and trimmed down to get rid of the chewy cartilage. Removing these parts makes the ribs easy to cook or grill and eat as well.

4 Ways to Tenderize Ribs

There are many ways you could tenderize your ribs. It also depends on the type of ribs you are going for.

The following are a few examples you should try:

1. Remove the Membrane From the Bony Side

The membrane more or less acts like a cover for the bones and, at times, can be the culprit for tough, chewy meat. That said, removing it makes the ribs tenderer and allows it to soak in the seasoning better. The process is easier done when the ribs are well chilled. All you need is a knife and some sheets of kitchen towel.

The first step is to slip the knife under a bone, preferably the first, and pull the translucent layer up. Proceed by grabbing the layer and pulling it off to the last bone-more like ripping off a band-aid.

2. Use Lime Juice 

Lime juice is a natural tenderizer, and with the right choice of seasoning, it can give your ribs a total burst of flavors. Some cooks suggest soaking the ribs in lime, but I say rubbing the lime juice generously on both sides of the ribs should do the trick.

It is especially so If you removed the membrane first. Alternatively, you can use any other citrus marinade instead of lime juice, following the same steps.

3. Slow Cooking

We didn’t say boiling, but slow cooking! Short cuts are not always the best; hence, it’s a good idea to give the ribs time to steam and consequently tenderize in a good large slow cooker. Usually, it is advisable to keep the ribs off the bottom using a rack.

Add some marinade or, optionally, some beer to aid in the steaming process. Slow cooking the ribs at 225 degrees Fahrenheit for about 3 to 4 hours should be enough to give you the desired tender finish. The longer you cook them, the tenderer they get.

4. Use Salt or Meat Tenderizer

Meat tenderizers should be your last option if all the other methods do not work to your convenience or are unavailable. Although not recommended, you can include a meat tenderizer or some salt in your rub.

How to Grill Tender Ribs

The process towards great tender and well-cooked ribs entail several vital steps, and each serves a fundamental purpose. You may wing It a couple of times and take the chance to have your guests chewing on tough flesh off the bones like troglodytes, or take the time to follow a well-thought-out procedure that results in almost, If not perfect, tender and flavorful ribs.

Here is a step-by-step guide on how to grill tender ribs like a pro:

1. Prepare a Rub

Adding the right ingredients to the rub should certainly excite your taste buds. A mix of salt, pepper, and cayenne pepper should be enough, but you can go ahead and play around with other ingredients such as brown sugar and honey for sweeter ribs. Let them marinate in the rub for as long as you can before proceeding to the next step.

2. Precook the Ribs

Here is where you will get all sorts of suggestions. Some people may suggest baking the ribs, others smoking them, whereas others will go right into grilling straight from marinating. Precooking your ribs is essential as it intensifies the flavors and leaves the ribs tenderer.

We recommend letting the ribs sit in the oven while wrapped in foil at about 300 degrees Fahrenheit for up to 45 minutes. The ribs will cook with their juices, ensuring that they do not dry. Grilling the ribs directly could result in even tougher meat.

3. Time to Grill

Grilling entails more than placing the ribs on the grill plate and flipping them every once in a while. It is easy to cook them too quickly but end up with chewy meat. The secret is to start slow by cooking the ribs over indirect flames for a while using a charcoal grill.

Proceed by covering the grill for about 30 minutes. During this time, you can ensure that the ribs won’t cook too fast, so there is no need to uncover the grill.

If you are using a gas grill, your first step should be preheating it to about 200 degrees Fahrenheit before oiling the plate and placing the ribs over it. Similarly, it would help to let each side sit on the grill for at least 30 minutes, undisturbed.

Once both sides are done, you can switch up into direct medium heat and allow each side to cook again for about 20 to 40 minutes. At these points, you can begin occasionally flip the ribs as you baste with your preferred marinade or barbeque sauce. Basting at this stage helps the meat cook while savoring the flavors and also help you know how much heat is too much.

For example, if the sugars begin to caramelize fast, you need to keep a watchful eye. Some may argue that basting accelerates the cooking time; thus, you should do it towards the end. However, the tricky part is ensuring that you always keep a watchful eye to avoid burning the ribs.

Alternative to Boiling Ribs

Whether to boil or not to boil ribs is a matter of preference. Regardless, boiling meat generally has its own set of advantages and disadvantages. One major benefit implied is that it significantly reduces their cook time on the grill as boiling softens the connective tissues, thus more tender ribs. On the downside, boiling leads to losing a large chunk of the natural flavors as the ribs release their natural juices into the water.

You could use several other alternative methods to achieve tenderness and maintain the natural flavors. They include:

  • Marinating 

It is a great way to tenderize your ribs and play around with flavors. For example, you can soak the ribs in apple cider vinegar or other citrus marinades for up to 20 minutes or create a rub with salt and other desired ingredients. Alternatively, you can let the ribs sit in the marinade overnight in preparation for grilling.

  • Brine the ribs

Brining entails soaking the ribs in a mixture of salt and water for 24 hours in the refrigerator. Like marinating, you can add your favorite ingredients such as mustard powder, cloves, chilies, and any other spice you can think of to the brine solution.

  • Steaming 

Steaming is a lighter version of boiling; it maintains the flavors while retaining the much-needed moisture. Steaming can be done in a shallow roasting pan by placing the pan of ribs into a preheated oven for about an hour at 350 degrees Fahrenheit.

  • Smoking

Smoking is not only an alternative to boiling but also grilling. Most fans of smokers agree that this is the surest way to end up with tender ribs. The process is also pretty straightforward. All you have to do is cook the ribs consistently under slow and low heat.

The catch is, it may take anywhere between 6 to 8 hours until your meal is ready.


How Long Should You Boil Ribs Before Grilling?

If you choose to boil your ribs, be careful not to overdo it. About 20-30 minutes should be enough for them to be soft enough. Some ribs are tougher than others. Therefore your ribs may require a longer or a shorter duration depending on the level of tenderness you desire.

Can You Boil Ribs Too Long?

Absolutely! Boiling ribs for too long results in overcooked meat that easily falls apart or detaches from the bones. Note that there is a huge difference between overcooked and well-cooked ribs. The latter easily separates from its bone when light pressure is applied.

How Do You Know When Ribs Are Done Boiling?

The quickest way to know whether your boiling ribs are done is by their appearance. If you notice a pull back on the ribs, leaving the bone exposed by about 1cm, then it might be time to take them off the heat. However, if you are going for a ‘fall-off-the-bone’ finish, then you can leave them on a little longer.

Is It Better to Cook Ribs In The Oven or Grill?

Oven or grill, it’s another issue of preference. For sure, though, grilling retains most of the flavor compared to baking. On the other hand, baking is easier to obtain a perfect meal as you can control the temperature to avoid overcooking or undercooking.

Can You Boil Ribs from Frozen?

Yes, it is possible and safe to cook frozen ribs. However, it may take up to 50% longer than it would have if you had thawed it first. The most recommended method is to thaw the ribs the night before or transfer them to the freezer the day before.

How Long Should I Cook Frozen Ribs?

It depends on whether you choose to boil or bake the ribs. Ideally, boiling meat for about 30 minutes should be enough to tenderize it. However, frozen ribs need to thaw first as they boil before the tenderization process can begin, meaning It may even take double the usual time.

Baking takes even longer. Under 300 degrees Fahrenheit, the entire process can last up to 4 hours.


To boil or not to boil solely depends on your personal preference. The only way to find out which one works for you is by sampling different techniques to discover which appeals to your taste buds.

Bobby Johnson

When he's not writing about barbecue, you can find Bobby smoking meat for friends and family. He's been a backyard pitmaster for roughly half his life, and has worked with nearly every cut of meat. Not everyone has a hands-on guide to teach them BBQ, but that's what Bobby hopes to do with Electric Smoker HQ. He wants to help people create amazing food that they can be proud of.