Every weekend backyards from here to Timbuktu play host to gatherings of friends, family and food. A bbq pit, an ice chest and good conversation will likely be the center of the celebration, and we’re betting dollars to donuts that ribs are going to be on more than a few menus. And for good reason, they can be eaten with your hands, they’re delicious and there’s just something about gnawing on a bone that makes a man feel more like – well, a man.
The experts seem to be split down the middle when it comes to ribs and temperature. Not only does the perfect internal temperature come into question, but the very idea of using a thermometer (at all) may put your grilling techniques under review.
Ribs are a tricky cut to temp due, in large part, to the shear number of bones. Even if you’re lucky enough to get a slab with enough meat, the chances of landing your probe near a bone is a real threat. A reading next to a bone can be different from a reading in the center and because meat thickness varies, some say a thermometer isn’t much help at all.
That being said, they still suggest a wide array of “perfect” internal temperatures; from 165° to 190°F and every degree in between. Some say the meat needs to fall off the bone, others suggest it remains firm. No doubt it’s a matter of personal preference, but one wonders how you’re supposed to measure the internal temperature without a thermometer. If 190°F is the perfect temp then how do you go about knowing when your ribs are there?
That’s easy! The experts have several tried and true tests for determining the doneness of their ribs. There’s the time test, the bend test, the tong test, the twist test, the popup test, the peek-a-boo test, the toothpick test and our personal favorite, the taste test.
The problem is that each one requires an experienced eye and a steady hand. If this is your first attempt at ribs, you might be at a disadvantage. Unless you know how much resistance is too much, the toothpick test won’t work for you. If you don’t know what kind of a crack to look for then the bend test is no good. You could taste them. Problem is, when they’re not ready you’ve got pull off another bone. Then you have to pull off another bone. Then another. Until there’s nothing left for your guests.
When it comes to the testing whether or not a rib is great, perhaps no one does it better than a KCBS Certified Competition BBQ judge. They use what’s called the bite test. What’s great about this bench mark for a great rib is that anyone can do it. There’s no bend, break or toothpick involved. You simply take a bite out of the rib. If you can see where you took a bite – they’re perfect. If the meat falls off the bone – you’ve over cooked them. We’ve found that a rib will pass the bite test between 180°-185°F.
Pitmaster, Craig “Meathead” Goldwyn, of AmazingRibs, uses a quality digital thermometer when he cooks ribs. His thermometer of choice is a dual channel meter/probe combination that allows him to monitor the internal temp of his cooker with one channel and the temp of the meat with the other. For ribs however, the meat is often too thin to insert a probe so instead he keeps the probe as close to the meat as possible without sticking it in the slab. Then he watches the clock. When the time is right and the temp is close enough, he uses the bend test to determine if they’re ready.
We recommend that you spot check your rack with a Super-Fast Thermapen. The reduced probe will allow you to navigate the bones and a Super-Fast reading will help you temp the entire length of the ribs without missing a beat. Ultra-accurate temps will ensure that you’ve reached your perfect temperature.
What’s clear is that there are a number of different ways to tell if your ribs are ready. The bottom line, it’s all a matter of personal preference and experience. Check out how Darren Bartley of Oklahoma Joe’s uses his Thermapen for ribs.