What Temperature Is Pork Ribs Done? Perfectly Done Pork Ribs

When it comes to grilling pork ribs, knowing the right internal temperature is crucial to achieving tender, juicy meat every time. Falling short of the proper temperature can lead to tough, chewy ribs that no one wants to eat. Conversely, cooking ribs past their prime temperature risks drying them out or making the meat mushy. So what temperature is pork ribs done? The guaranteed way is to check the internal temperature using a meat thermometer. This guide will help demystify pork rib temperatures and ensure your next rib meal comes out perfectly cooked from end to end.

Types Of Pork Ribs

Before knowing what temperature is pork ribs done, you should know different types of pork ribs. There are three main types to know: spare ribs, baby back ribs, and St. Louis ribs.

  • Spare ribs are rich and meaty, coming from the pig’s belly. They have more fat and bone, making them perfect for slow cooking.
  • Baby back ribs, on the other hand, are leaner and more tender, hailing from the pig’s back. They’re great for grilling.
  • St. Louis ribs are trimmed spare ribs, with the cartilage and breastbone removed. This makes them easier to eat and ideal for slow cooking.
  • Country-style ribs come from the shoulder of the pig. They can be grilled or slow-cooked, boneless or bone-in.
  • Rib tips – those little triangular pieces attached to St. Louis ribs. They can be cooked on their own, whether you choose to grill or slow-cook them.

Keeping Pork Ribs Safe

The USDA’s recommended minimum internal temperature for pork is 145°F to kill off any potentially harmful bacteria and pathogens. Hitting this temp is crucial for food safety, but won’t necessarily mean tender, fall-off-the-bone ribs. For best results, you’ll need to go beyond this baseline. But keeping the 145°F rule in mind, let’s dig into all the elements that affect rib doneness.

Beyond Temperature: Key Factors in Rib Doneness

  • Cooking Method: The way you cook makes a difference. Oven roasting, smoking, grilling directly or indirectly, and braising all impact texture and total cook time.
  • Cut of Rib: Spare ribs, St. Louis-style, baby back, and country-style all vary in shape, bone structure, fat content and thickness. These differences affect cooking.
  • Personal Preference: Some folks want fall-off-the-bone ribs that slide cleanly off, while others prefer more bite and chew. It’s a matter of taste.
  • Temperature: The internal temperature does matter for tenderizing collagen. But desired temps range based on method and preference.
  • Appearance: Visual indicators like meat pullback from bones give clues that ribs are nearing doneness without thermometers.

Mastering the interplay between these elements is the true art of rib cookery. Let’s break them down one by one.

All About That Internal Temperature

All About That Internal Temperature

While not the sole factor, internal temperature does play a crucial role in rib texture. As ribs cook, the collagen in the meat begins to melt, breakdown, and transform into gelatin. This tenderizes the ribs to juicy perfection. Different temperature ranges target varying levels of doneness:

  • 145°F: USDA minimum for food safety. Ribs will still be tough.
  • 160-165°F: Collagen breakdown begins; ribs begin to tenderize.
  • 175-185°F: Ideal for tender, fall-off-the-bone ribs depending on method.
  • 203°F: Collagen fully melts; ribs are incredibly tender but can dry out.

With the wide range in rib thickness, it’s important to check temperature in multiple spots – usually the thickest portion of the rack – for accuracy. Use an instant-read thermometer and avoid bones or heavy fat areas when probing. For even cooking, many pitmasters advocate removing the membrane before grilling or smoking. But others argue scoring the membrane allows moisture to permeate while still delivering tender results. It’s a personal choice that won’t make or break your cook.

Reading the Signs: Visual Doneness Indicators

With experience, you can assess doneness progression through some simple visual tests:

The Bend Test

Grab a rib with tongs and gently bend it. If it cracks or tears easily, it’s likely close to done. Be careful though – spare ribs and baby backs fare differently here. Spares have more connective tissue and take longer to get tender.

Bone Pull-Back

As ribs cook, the meat will begin to visibly shrink and pull away from the ends of the bones. About 1/4 inch of pullback signals ribs are nearly ready. But again, this varies by cut.

Juices and Color

A glistening sheen, pools of rendered fat, and caramelized edges are all enticing indicators ribs are getting happy. Meat color change from pink to browned or reddish also suggests doneness is nigh. While useful, these visuals aren’t foolproof. Rely on them to supplement (not replace) good thermometer readings.

Checking Doneness: A Multi-Sensory Approach

While thermometers provide valuable data, doneness requires input from all your senses: sight, smell, touch, and taste. Here are techniques for checking rib doneness:

Meat Thermometer

An instant-read thermometer is essential for accurate readings. Follow these best practices:

  • Insert into the thickest meatiest section, avoiding bones, fat, and gristle.
  • For bone-in ribs, aim for the center of the meat between bones.
  • For boneless ribs (country-style), insert into the thickest part.
  • For increased accuracy, take 2-3 readings across different areas, avoiding inconsistencies.
  • Reference the temperature ranges above for different textures. Adjust up or down based on personal preference.

Bend Test

The bend test is a hands-on way to check for tenderness:

  • Hold a rib at one end with tongs or heat-proof gloves.
  • Gently bend the rib, testing the flexibility and resistance of the meat.
  • Tender ribs should bend easily without cracking or breaking.
  • Meat that falls off the bone is fully tenderized.
  • Overdone ribs may snap in half when bent.

While subjective, the bend test lets you physically assess tenderness. Combine it with temperature readings for a complete doneness check.

Visual Indicators

Appearance provides clues about doneness:

  • Bone pull-back – Bones starting to protrude as meat shrinks signals near-doneness. Not reliable on its own since it varies.
  • Browning – Caramelized exterior and thick, rich mahogany color indicates well-rendered fat and developed flavors.
  • Juices – Clear juices means done. Pink juices means still undercooked.

Smell and Taste

Your nose and palate provide the ultimate test:

  • Aromatic smoke ring indicates thorough smoking.
  • Rich, caramelized meaty essence signifies well-rendered fat.
  • Meat should tear easily when bitten, not seem tough.
  • Juicy, tender texture that melts in your mouth.
  • Bone should pull clean when meat is very tender (if desired).

Doneness preferences vary, so taste-test ribs at various stages to learn your ideal textures.

Common Methods For Checking Ribs

Here are some popular methods you can try:

  • Visual Inspection: Look for the bones to start peeking out about a quarter inch from the slab. This is a good indication that the ribs are almost ready.
  • Bend Test: Simply pick up the slab and give it a slight bend towards a U shape. If there is no separation or cracking between the ribs, they’re not ready. A ready slab of ribs will crack easily between the bones.
  • Toothpick Test: Probe the meat in between the bones using the point of a temp probe needle. Look for minimal resistance and a clean pull-out to know the ribs are done.
  • Other Methods: You can also try twisting a bone or cutting into the ribs, but these may not be the most accurate. Some grillers prefer cooking for a specific amount of time and pulling the ribs out when the time is up.

Remember, none of these methods are 100% foolproof, but they can give you a good idea if your pork ribs are ready to be enjoyed.

Additional Tips and Troubleshooting

Remove Membrane

The rib membrane is a thin covering on the bone side of the rack. Leaving it on braises the ribs in their natural juices. Removing it increases smoke absorption and browning. For competition-style fall-off-the-bone ribs, remove it. For more traditional ribs, score it and leave it on.


Letting ribs rest 5-10 minutes after cooking allows juices to redistribute evenly throughout the meat. This makes the ribs juicier and more tender when you bite into them. Resist cutting into hot ribs right off the grill. Patience pays off.


If your ribs turn out dry or tough, consider these solutions:

  • Dry ribs – Cook at lower temperature and spritz or mop with apple juice or broth to keep moist. Wrap ribs in foil if desired.
  • Tough ribs – Raise temperature and cook longer to further break down connective tissues.
  • Burning – Add liquid to braising ribs. Lower heat and monitor temperature closely on grill or smoker.

Experimentation Leads to Rib Perfection

Determining rib doneness requires personal experimentation. Consider keeping a cooking log to track temperatures, times, and results as you learn your preferences. And relax – while overcooking dries out ribs, undercooked ribs can always go back on the heat. Let your senses guide you to the perfect tender and juicy ribs tailored to your taste.

Tips For Making The Best Ribs By Taking Rib Temperatures

Tips For Making The Best Ribs By Taking Rib Temperatures

Follow these tips for accurate temperature readings:

  • Stick the probe in the thickest part of the meat, avoiding fat pockets and bones for an accurate read.
  • Use an instant-read thermometer to quickly take temperatures and prevent heat loss in your grill or smoker.
  • Check the temperature in different spots on the ribs for a better idea of where they’re at. Adjust for hot spots and thicker ribs taking longer to cook.

With these tips, you’ll be on your way to perfectly cooked ribs in no time.

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