Should you Boil Ribs Before Grilling?

While everyone agrees that barbecued pork ribs are great and awesome, it seems that there is some conflict on how to actually make them. Some people say that you should boil them first before putting them on the grill, while others say the that boiling the ribs will destroy the flavor. So, what’s the answer?

Boiling ribs before putting them on the grill will remove some of the excess fat on the ribs. It will also prevent the meat from being tough and hard to chew. If you boil them a little, not too much, it will help tenderize the final product. The downside is that the ribs will lose a little bit of flavor, but this will really only be noticeable if you over-boil them. The best ribs to boil are those that have a lot of meat and fat on them.

This is short answer that I would give. The longer you boil ribs the more flavor will be lost, but boiling them will make them more tender. It’s really about not boiling them for too long, if you decide to boil them at all.

What’s the Purpose of Boiling Ribs?

Why would someone want to boil ribs before grilling them in the first place? Can’t they just be thrown on the grill without any prep beforehand?

First off, yes you can cook ribs and meat on the grill without pre-cooking them in any way. But boiling ribs has it’s advantages. Ribs, if improperly cooked or grilled, can very easily get tough, gristly, and hard to chew. Boiling is a great and easy way to tenderize meat. So boiling (or rather, simmering, which is boiling in low to medium heat) tenderizes the meat to prevent it from getting tough.

Boiling ribs will remove some of the surface fat on the ribs. The best ribs to boil are those with a lot of fat and meat on them. I wouldn’t really boil things such as spareribs or ribs with less meat, at least not for that long, as too much flavor will be lost. Some still do it, and it’s definitely still possible to get good results.

Boiling the meat beforehand means that it also goes on the grill already half-cooked. This can be helpful if you’re cooking for a lot of people as the boiling drastically reduces grill time.

How Long Should you Boil the Ribs Before Grilling

The ribs should be boiled until the meat is slightly soft, which usually this takes around 25-30 minutes.

If you can easily separate the meat of the rib from the bone it means that the ribs are boiled nicely, but if the meat is falling of the bone without you touching them they have probably been boiled for too long.

Also, you don’t really have to get the water to boil completely, you can definitely get away with merely “simmering” the ribs.

How to Boil Ribs

When people say that they boil their ribs, what they actually mean is that they parboil or simmer it. This means that the heat should be at a low to medium level, and that the cooking time shouldn’t be too long. Boiling ribs at high temperatures and you’ll destroy the collagen in the meat and make it dry and tough; and then boiling it for too long makes you lose all flavor and render your ribs tasteless.

Here are some of the ways with which you can boil your ribs in preparation for grilling:

Boiling the Ribs in Water

Place the ribs inside a large pot and cover with water, ensuring that the ribs are fully submerged. There’s no need to add anything to the water at this point. Let it boil until the meat is slightly soft to the touch. This should take around 25 to 30 minutes, and no longer than 40 minutes. Once done, remove the ribs from the pot, pat it dry with a paper towel, add a rub of your choice, and then grill it until it is cooked according to your preferences.

Simmering the Ribs in Water

Okay, technically the next to steps doesn’t count as boiling, but they’re close enough.

This method consists of simmering the ribs in hot water instead of hard-boiling them.

First, get the water to boiling temperature, turn the heat down and then let the water cool down a bit. When the water has cooled down, put the ribs in and let them simmer for around one to one and a half hours.

The length of time is dependent on the size of the ribs. Since this method of boiling allows for longer boiling times, you can add whatever flavorings or spices you want to the water. Peppercorns, onions, bay leaves, garlic- all of these can add another dimension of flavor the meat.

Simmering Ribs in Barbecue Sauce

If you really want your ribs to be flavor-packed, you can simmer them in the barbecue sauce itself. Place your ribs in a pot and pour in the barbecue sauce, as well as other flavorings like salt, pepper, onions, etcetera. Cover with enough water for the ribs to be submerged. Bring to a low boil and let it cook for approximately 40 minutes. Once done, it is now ready to be grilled until it is nicely browned.

What Are The Disadvantages of Boiling Ribs?

On the other side of the coin are cooks who are vehemently against boiling ribs before they are grilled. The act of boiling itself causes some of the fat to be rendered out. You also lose of the meat’s natural juices.

This can cause a decrease in flavor especially if you’ve boiled the ribs for too long. In the end, it all comes down to a cook’s own confidence in cooking.

If you feel confident enough in your cooking skills that you can think you can boil ribs without it losing too much of its natural flavor, then feel free to boil.

If you don’t think that you could keep a close watch on the ribs while it is boiling, then it is much safer to just throw them directly on the grill to be on the safe side when it comes to flavor retention.

Alternatives to Boiling the Ribs

Boiling is done as an easy way to tenderize meat. However, if you want to minimize the risk of losing out on all that flavor then there are other alternatives to boiling for tenderizing the meat that you can try out.

  1. Steaming Place your ribs in a roasting pan with apple juice or apple cider and pour in a small amount of water. Cover with aluminum foil, heat in the oven until it is steaming, and then transfer it to a grill when the meat has gotten slightly soft.
  2. Brining Submerge the meat in a brine solution of water and salt. You can add onion, garlic, and other spices to enhance the flavor. Make sure to brine for at least 6 hours or overnight so that you’ll get flavorful and tender ribs.
  3. Marinating with Acid Acid breaks down muscle and tenderizes meat. You can use white vinegar or pineapple juice in your marinade so that the meat will get tender. Commercial barbecue sauce often has tenderizers already added to them.

What Type of Ribs are Best for Boiling and Grilling

When you say that you’re barbecuing ribs, most people would think that you’re referring to pork spareribs. However, spareribs aren’t the only cut that you can use. You could also use baby back ribs and St. Louis ribs (i.e. ribs that have been trimmed to give them a more uniform shape) for your grilled ribs recipe. But do take note that baby back ribs are usually of higher quality and are made out of a more expensive cut than your normal spareribs. It might be best for them to be cooked on a smoker or a small grill.

As a rule of thumb, larger cuts like spare ribs and baby back ribs are a prime candidate for boiling, while smaller cuts like St. Louis ribs should be cooked on the grill without boiling beforehand.

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