There is much controversy over whether you should boil ribs before grilling or cooking ribs in the oven. If you’re asking yourself “Should I Boil Ribs First?” this post is for you.
Many people have boiled them first, thinking this is how the ribs get their tenderness. However, the secret to great tender meat is not boiling it, but to cook it slowly and indirect heat. Naturally, if you place your meat straight over a hot flame in a grill it is going to dry it out and make it not as tender as you would like. In our article grilling baby back ribs you will learn the secret to grilling the perfect fall off the bone ribs without sacrificing flavor. It is all about setting up your grill properly – when cooking ribs on the grill you do not want them anywhere near the direct flame. Placing a shallow aluminum pan of water below them will help you to keep them nice and tender.
The main argument against boiling ribs is that this destroys and ruins all flavor. In many regards this is true. And when you think about boiling your pork ribs it seems very silly in comparison – would you boil hamburgers? Would you boil a steak before cooking it? Most likely not. (Well, at least we hope not!)
The reason boiling the pork beforehand is a bad idea is because the water absorbs all the flavor. If you’ve ever made soup, you know that the broth takes the flavor of whatever is in it, be it chicken, vegetables, or other foods you’ve added to the soup. The same thing happens when you boil your pork ribs. The flavor of the pork goes out and the water goes into the meat. Another disadvantage to boiling ribs is that you cannot flavor them with your favorite rib rub prior to cooking them. This greatly takes away much of the wonderful flavor!
Many people believe that if you boil ribs first before grilling that it will help reduce some of the fat. The truth of the matter is that you WANT that fat on the meat. The fat is what helps it stay nice and tender. If you’ve ever cooked a steak, you’ll know that a nicely marbled steak with little white stripes of fat will be nice and tender whereas a steak without the fat will likely be very tough to chew and not have the same flavor.
The next argument for boiling ribs is that it saves a lot of time. This can be true, especially since you only need to boil them for about 20 minutes and then can finish them up on the grill with some barbecue sauce in another 10 minutes. If you’re short on time, then yes, you could argue that it is acceptable to boil ribs before grilling. And, chances are, they will still be tasty.
But, you also have to consider that buying fresh baby back ribs or pork ribs is also fairly expensive – a single rack of ribs can cost $14 or more depending on where you live and if you have a large crowd to feed the costs really start to add up. This isn’t to say ribs have to be expensive – but if you’re going to spend good money on good meat, then you deserve to give it the time it takes to cook it the right way. The slow, patience demanding way might seem like a pain – but you’ll never want to eat them any other way again!
So, the answer to the question: Should You Boil Ribs First Before Grilling? NO! Not if you can help it at least! Only if you are in a huge hurry and do not mind sacrificing flavor should you boil them!
What are your thoughts on boiling pork before cooking it on the grill? Share your thoughts in the comments below!
39 thoughts on “Should You Boil Ribs Before Grilling?”
I have never boiled ribs first and wondered if I was doing it wrong!
I thought boiling would reduce some of the fat, but your article makes sense.
I ALWAYS boil ribs, then I reduce the stock down and use it as a base for my sauce, just like making beef gravy, then mix ribs back in and grill or bake with my favorite bottled BBQ sauce. Nothing but applause from my friends and family!
I always boil mine in water and vinager before grilling and have never had a complaint.
ONE WAY to get tender ribs is to cook them all day, yes. Another way to get tender ribs is to boil them 45 minutes to an hour, apply a light dry rub, then grill them 15 minutes on each side. I say try both ways and choose what you like best.
No, I wouldn’t boil a hamburger or steak, but I wouldn’t leave it on a low heat grill for six hours either! We’re talking about ribs, right?
I like to season the boiling water with onions, garlic, salt, pepper, vinegar, and even pineapple or apple juice if I’m feeling adventuresome. This adds plenty of flavor to the ribs.
In boiling out the fat, you certainly do lose flavor, but that fat is better poured down the drain than stuck to the insides of my arteries.
I’ve read many, many articles on the net that say “NEVER, EVER BOIL RIBS” from self proclaimed BBQ Kings and “experts”. I say try it both ways and make up your own mind.
Right on, R.Gibons!
There’s more than one way to skin a cat as they say.
A bonus in not boiling is more flavor but the con is more fat in your body and takes longer. A bonus in boiling is that it’s a time saver and you can use the stock you made from boiling the meat in another dish and the down side is that some of your meat flavor gets into the stock — I personally don’t miss the fat as plenty remains on the ribs and I don’t feel like I am missing anything of the meat flavor because usually the ribs are covered in a spice rub or sauce and it becomes a major flavor factor.
NEVER,I repeat, NEVER boil ribs prior to cooking. This is the “short-cut” method and you lose a great deal of flavor. I am from the South and we know how to cook ribs! I have watched many cooking shows on BBQ-ing and rib-cook-offs. Most older and experienced African-American chefs who work at some of the best places to order ribs agree– ribs should never touch water! And they know what they are talking about. I place mine on a rack with a large pan under it and let them slow cook @ about 225 degrees for 3-4 hours at least. It lets a lot of fat drip off which is an added bonus. I then place them on the grill, on low for at least 10 minutes per side, baste with whatever and them cook them until they start to turn sort of dark….delicious!
I agree with this article, but I do always boil my ribs. If you don’t boil them, you must keep some water for moisture anyhow? You must also cook them very slow, about two hours for a rack of ribs, so that means very slow. I always put my rub on the ribs and let them sit out covered at room temp. for about two hours, then I boil them for about an hour, then cook them with the bbq sauce for about ten minutes on 400 degrees in the oven. Everyone who ever eats them says they are the best that they have ever eaten… It is all in the preparation…
i boil my ribs befors only cuase i dont have a smoker to accomadate as many ribs as im cooking
i salt and sugar the watter like hell add celery apple juice pepeer and tons of garlic once i put them on the grill and smoke them and suace em they taste damn good i even have people telling me they can really taste the smoke too…i have many people asking me too cook these ribs for there gatherings also so i guess for the average joe who wants a good fall of the bone ribs they cant tell the diffrence with my recipie
Just boiled some ribs in coke water and garlic before I cooked them slow with indirect heat:) They were pretty darn good. We are trying every way(New grill)
I am laughing at the comment from R.Gibson. Too funny! He’s right. I have boiled my ribs before and baked them. They literally fell off the bone and were delicious! And it’s true, why eat all that fat when you can easily get rid of some of it. It doesn’t effect the flavor at all.
Wow, so many comments and debate on this post! I do think Joe has a good point – a lot of it depends who you are cooking for – some people will spot in an instant ribs that have been boiled, whereas many a people who eat ribs maybe only a few times a year it wouldn’t matter as much. I love reading the comments everyone 🙂
There certainly is a lot of debate about ribs. My brother in law bought a new grill and we were discussing different methods of cooking baby backs. I have never boiled but have used a pressure cooker in restaurants. That works well, and makes for juicy meat, but I prefer a smoked and slow cooked rib.
To me, it is all about the bones. If the bone is dry, smoky and has a burnt end that crumbles, THAT is a sign that the meat is going to be great. I like ribs that I can still smell on my fingers the next day.
Interesting article, good tips, but: Fat and collagen are two totally different things (collagen being a major protein in connective tissue). Collagen is tough- we’re talking tendons, ligaments, skin, cartilage, etc.
Also, it’s interesting that people still believe the fat on your body comes from the fat in food. Your body makes most of it’s own cholesterol, and you’re more likely to “get fat” from consuming too many calories, especially those found in simple carbs. Eliminating the fat from your food (e.g., only eating skinless chicken) actually may be detrimental to your nutrition, as many vitamins and minerals found in animal-based foods are fat-soluble. Low-fat diets are more about marketing and media hype than good nutrition.
Just some info for those who enjoy the science of cooking as much as the art!
@Blake, you are so right that fat is actually good for you! (Well, the good natural fats such as those found in meat, butter, and dairy for example – processed fats such as partially hydrogenated vegetable oil are not good for you at all!) In fact, your brain depends on fat – which when buying steaks I always get grass fed beef when available because it has a higher ratio of the healthy fats than those that are grain fed! Thanks for your comment – lots of interesting info to add to the discussion in this big debate about boiling ribs!
They’re ribs! They’re not lobsters! You boil lobsters, you slow smoke ribs. Have you ever seen “Rib Boil” in the spice aisle? I rest my case.
So you put the rub on your ribs THEN boil them?
I believe that those who do not own a bar-b-que pit and grill their food on gas fired grills, need a way to slow cook ribs before adding the sauce for the final cooking. It seems that boiling them is a widely accepted method for slow cooking ribs. You may lose some of the natural flavors, but you will get tender ribs. A trade off most are willing to accept. I agree with mld12’s method.
Wow lots of good info! i’ve been trying to have this question answered for quite sometime and it was THIS forum that FINALLY gave me some insight. all the websites are very opinionated one way or the other, but until you have a collection of personal opinions favoring both sides is when you get a better idea of how to go. after reading this i think i will try boiling, other sites have made me doubt trying it, but my bbq isnt a very expensive one, and while they always taste good, they are always a pain in the butt to eat as i can never quite cook them low or long enough.. without too much burning that is. plus ribs are expensive enough without draining 3 quarters of a propane tank.. thanks so much for all the info everyone. i will try boiling and post my results later! thx again!
tried it. (pre boiling then bbq) it was good. not as bad as the pros make it seem online, but they ARE pros I’m sure they are used to the best. if you DO boil make sure not to bbq too long they will become tough again.. and dry haha. i loaded up the water with lots of salt, fresh garlic, onion, chili pepper, mustard powder, white wine vinegar, and paprika. then let em boil for an hour. then threw em on the grill and basted the sh*t outta them with bbq sauce. 🙂 overall i was happy with the results, but will only boil often because it is MUCH MUCH quicker, easier, and less costly than doing them PROPERLY. i will most assuredly treat myself to ‘ribs done right’ when time permits and ambition is present haha. but otherwise i will gladly eat em boiled. thanks for all the info people!
Wow, ribs in 3 hours 🙂 That is the one perk about boiling I suppose – had I started some ribs the same time as you mine would still be cooking! It is true that propane is much, much more expensive now than it was when I first originally wrote this post also.
Thanks so much for sharing your experience, no doubt it will help everyone make a decision on whether or not to boil first 🙂 I never dreamed this would be such a great topic for discussion here!
boil 2 racks for 45-55 min .Add any seasoning wanted-dry or wet. Cover and keep in water for 2-3 hrs, looking for the 1/4″ shrinkage on the bone end. BBQ sauce and grill to to a glaze or your preference of burn. Have always finished with fall off the bone eating. Enjoy.
I have been trying many methods of cooking ribs. I just tried boiling them and them smoking them while I basted them. They came out tough. The best way I have learned to cook ribs, is of course, long, low, and slow. I prep them with my dry rub and let sit for a day or two. I also peal off the membrane on the back of the ribs (beef and pork). I wrap them in tinfoil then put a half a cup of water in there. I seal the tinfoil air-tight. I set on the grill at 225 degrees (as close as a charcoal grill will let you. Gas grills and ovens are easy to keep consistent temperatures. After about 4 or 5 hours..I open the top of the foil and put the sauce on. My grill has a side smoker so it is easy to cook indirectly, but you can still put wood chips on top of coals in an aluminum tray directly on coals and let the smoke do its work while your BBQ sauce caramelizes. Enjoy! The good thing about this method is you can do it with all cookers and still keep the flavor and drain the fat.
I put two racks of baby backs in a deep pan add 1 cup of water and seal tightly with aluminum foil for 2 hours @ 350 in the oven and they come out perfectly fall off the bone. Then grill for a great crisp on both sides for 15 mins.
I’m with you I always throw it in for a boil and in the water I put herbs, an onion, garlic and any other spices I think it might need. I bbq them low/medium and add a sauce…always good and always raved about!
I have made ribs both ways. I personally like smoking the ribs for about 8 to 9 hours. But I have also made them by boiling in a little bit of water and vinegar for 25 mins then put dry rub on then bake for 30 mins then BBQ them on the grill for 20 mins and people still love them with the boil.
Well I always boil my Baby Back ribs…and here is why and how.
There are 3 reasons to boil the ribs before you bbq them, first & second, it is to make them tender and to insure complete cooking. Third, why are you all taking about water for boiling?…I use my marinade, complete with a healthy portion of olive oil to infuse the flavor and keep them moist. Later, The dripping oil on the grill also creates smoke which will make your ribs taste like they were sent form heaven. Yeah, you need to boil them first…even if you do own a $1000 slow cooking grill. I will match mine with anyone’s…try it yourself.
I never thought about boiling in a marinade…sounds tasty! Thanks for sharing your method with us.
After you boil them how do you finish cooking them?
@Michael Lovin or BBQ Girl- I have been wanting to boil country style ribs in marinade I’m jsut not sure what kind of marinade to use. Any recipe suggestions??
Anyone who is boiling any ribs has absolutely no clue on how to cook at all!
Ladies and gentlemen,
Truly delicious ribs are no quick fix. For the most amazingly juicy tender, fall off the bone pork ribs your taste buds will ever have the honor of experiencing, try this:
Pat ribs dry and liberally rub with salt and pepper (I also use garlic powder).
Wrap the ribs tightly in plastic wrap and refrigerate for 1-2 hours.
You gotta let the salt do it’s work.
Unwrap the ribs and place in a large enough container (9×13) or larger if needed.
Pour apple juice over the ribs until they are submerged and cover tightly with plastic wrap.
Let this sit in the refrigerator overnight.
Grill your ribs and baste with your own desired BBQ sauce (I like to make my own from scratch using bourbon ;-))
OK , i get all the boil no boil opinions. I have had both ways that were excellent. Has anyone tried smoking [closed smoker] in a pan with the ribs on racks above your choice of liquids? It seems to me that 7 or 8 hours at 200/225 covered with foil should make them both moist and full of flavor. Any ideas? I use a traeger so i have good control of the temperature. Thanks, Ron
This is one of those debates that doesn’t really have a right or wrong answer. It really comes down to whether you plan to grill the ribs or BBQ them or bake them in an oven. Grilling is direct heat, such as grilling a steak, burgers, chicken breast, etc. BBQ is cooking low and slow with indirect heat. Ribs need a slow cook method so BBQ is best for that. Anyone with a Webber kettle can do it. You don’t need an expensive smoker. Just build your coals on one side and place the ribs on the other side. This is indirect and is rather like baking in an oven except that you can add soaked chunks of hardwood to the coals and smoke the ribs. Do not boil the ribs for this method. Just use your favorite rub and place them on the cool side. Keep the cover closed and turn them about every 45 mins or so. Takes about 3 hours. They are done when a two prong fork inserted between two ribs and twisted pulls the meat away from the bones. Add sauce at the end.
If you don’t have a Webber type grill and must use a gas grill, then it is a good idea to boil the ribs first to get the internal temperature up before going on the grill. Season the water with onion, vinegar, garlic and simmer in a shallow pan in the oven. No need for high heat here, about 200 degrees is plenty. You do not want a fast boil or for the meat to begin to shrink away from the bones. Let them simmer until they begin to get tender and then move them to the grill to finish off. Keep the grill on as low as you can to continue cooking. Again, wait until the end to sauce.
If you are going to bake them indoors in the oven, you can preboil if you want but it would be better to simply cover the pan with foil instead. A low oven, about 300 for the 90 mins, then finsh uncovered. Add sauce the last 15 mins.
I love this thread. My daughter and her husband are coming over in about 3 hours, so I’m going to bbq chicken, hamburgers, and ribs. I haven’t done ribs, except in a rotisserie 9cut up small), so Obviously the ribs will be boiled. Didn’t have any vinegar so I used some pepper juice. I like to bbq lots of extra and send some home with them. My main goal is to enjoy the kids more than the food, but hopefully both will be good. Thanks for the great tips.
Perfect! After boiling the ribs for about 90 minutes, I left the boiling water in a Corel dish, and put it on the gas grill. Cooked the steaks, hamburgers, brats, and hot dogs on the Big Green Egg. Set the gas grill at about 275 for the chicken and ribs. About every 15 minutes, I put the ribs and chicken in the water and then back on the top rack. Cooked for about 90 more minutes. Ribs fell off the bone. Put bbq sauce on them about 5 minutes before taking in. Everything was perfect.
My mom used to do the same thing and we had NO issues either, although in this case I’ll be cooking the ribs ‘inside’ the house.
Excellent reply, especially the one about ‘clogged arteries’, my mom boiled hers and I will do the same to mine, and even add a few of your ingredients too. Thanks.
Thanks for sharing Paul! Sounds great!
I have always preferred to boil my ribs before grilling them to get them tender. I like the meat falling off the bones. It doesn’t seem to do that when you do them in the oven or just on the bbq. I would never think to do them in the oven for hours since my whole point of barbecuing is so it is done outside. Boiling them on the stove top isn’t that hot but to put an oven on inside is.