How To Reheat Ribs (The Right Way) Without Drying Them Out

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Reheating ribs on a plate inside a microwave
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See the photo right above this? You know what has happened when I close the microwave door and hit the ‘Start’ button?…

You already know. A gooey and sticky mess all over the place.

Nah, I’m kidding! That actually didn’t happen. I’ve learned a trick that helps me avoid it, which I’ll tell you near the end of this article.

However, what I want to talk about today is how to reheat ribs without drying them out. There are many methods you can use to do so. Each comes with its pros and cons.

Reheating ribs doesn’t mean eating dry and tasteless meat. Follow all the advice and techniques I’m showing below, you won’t be disappointed anymore.

But before I get into all that, let’s first talk about the Danger Zone, shall we?

The Danger Zone

According to USDA, the Danger Zone is the range of temperatures between 40F to 140F. Here, bacteria (such as Salmonella or E. coli) can grow rapidly, often doubling in number in as quick as 20 minutes.

That’s why it’s important to keep cold food below 40F and hot food above 140F. Furthermore, you should never leave food in the Danger Zone for more than 2 hours. Even less (1 hour max) during the peak of summer when the outside temperature can be above 90F.

Please keep this in mind as we go through this article. Why? You might ask. Because it plays an important role in making sure that your reheated ribs are tasty yet still safe to eat.

A Few Things To Keep In Mind When Reheating Ribs

The Safe Temperature

As I mentioned above, the Danger Zone is where you don’t want your ribs to be in. And this applies to both cooked and reheated ribs. 

Oftentimes, ribs are done when the internal temperature hits 145F. It’s edible but might still be a bit tough. Therefore, you need to bring it up to about 190F to 200F. This is to make sure that all the fat and collagens have melted away, resulting in juicy and tender meat.

When reheating ribs, you don’t have to be that extreme since all the cooking has already been done. That being said, you still have to ensure that the inside of your ribs reaches the minimum temperature of 145F. A little less than that, you risk eating a contaminated slab of ribs.

Now, 145F is the minimum. But I’d recommend going above that, at around 160F. Just to be on the safe side.

But how do you know the internal temperature? By using a good instant-read thermometer. In fact, you want to check the meat between the rib bones.

Keep in mind that there is a small amount of meat there, especially in pork ribs. What usually ends up happening is the probe hitting the bone. That won’t give you an accurate reading since the temperature near the bone is always warmer. But as long as the temperature near the bone is above 145F (say 155F), the ribs should be good to go. In any case, always try your best to insert the probe in between the bones.

Different Types Of Ribs

And speaking of pork ribs, they have two main types with different fat content. The baby backs are the smaller of the two, containing less fat. As a result, you need less time to reheat them. Otherwise, you are more likely to dry them out, especially when they’re already cooked once.

Spares are the second type of pork ribs. These are larger with a higher amount of fat. So you need more time obviously. You can afford that thanks to the extra fat or natural moisture.

We also have beef ribs. They are way bigger than pork ribs, with more fat and meat in between and on top of the bones. Not to mention lamb and other wild game ribs.

Depending on the type of ribs you’re working with, adjust the length of time to reheat based on the size and the amount of fat that each has. The larger and fatter the ribs, the longer the reheating process. And as soon as the internal temperature hits 145F or above, you’re good.

Adding Moisture

The last concern is the moisture. Similar to cooking ribs, you lose moisture when reheating them. It’s the same for when you freeze or refrigerate the ribs.

That’s why it’s critical that you introduce some moisture into the reheating process. Doing so will prevent the ribs from drying out.

You can start by adding some liquid to whatever you use to hold the ribs (more on this later). It can be water or other liquids. For pork ribs, I’d recommend apple juice or apple cider vinegar. For beef short ribs, I’d recommend beer or beef broth.

You can even apply a new layer of BBQ sauce (or the original dripping if you saved it) to both sides of the ribs. Spritzing works well too.

Lastly, use indirect convection heat when reheating. Stay away from direct high heat. It will dry out the meat faster than anything else.

It’s All About Storage

Let me start by saying that proper storage is the key to ensure that your reheated ribs taste the same just like when they’re fresh off the smoker. As I mentioned earlier, ribs lose some moisture during storage. Because of that, you need to lock in as much moisture as possible, whether in the fridge or the freezer. To achieve that, follow some good practices here.

When

Remember the Danger Zone? Once the ribs are finished and off the grill, they quickly lose heat. If you let them sit out for too long, the internal temperature will drop down below 140F. This is when bacteria starts to grow. Along the way, moisture starts to evaporate as well, drying the meat out.

You have two options. Either eat them within 2 hours (1 hour in the summer). Or store them right away. 

But we run into a problem here. The ribs need to cool down below 40F before putting them into the fridge or freezer. Otherwise, you run the risk of raising the temperature inside your icebox, which in turn spoils all the food in there.

I’ll get into details on how to do it in the next section. For starters, you should cut the slab of ribs into smaller serving sizes. This, first of all, allows these individual portions to cool faster. Secondly, they’re easier to manage when it’s time to reheat them.

Two Ways To Store Ribs

Once you finish cutting the ribs, wrap them up tightly in aluminum foil. Then throw them into a watertight plastic bag. A fragrance-free garbage bag works. After that, place the bag in a cooler full of ice. Don’t forget to put some ice on top of the package as well.

Note: This method is known as the Wozniak way by Mike Wozniak. He’s the head pitmaster of QUAU, 2010 Kansas City Barbeque Society Team of the Year.

That will cool the ribs down real quick. Once they hit below 40F, you can then transfer them into a fridge or a freezer. Remember to remove the foil.

In the fridge. Make sure that the fridge is below 40F. You can place the ribs in a sealed plastic container, a zip lock bag, or plastic wrap with an extra layer of aluminum foil on the outside. Even better if you use a vacuum sealed bag. That will ensure that no air is coming in and no moisture is coming out.

Tip: If you want to add extra moisture and flavors, include some BBQ sauce with your stored ribs. After I unwrap the ribs from the Texas Crutch, I always save the sauce from the foil. I then add that to my leftover ribs.

In the freezer. The best option is to use the vacuum bag. This is to ensure an airtight seal all around. It also has the benefit that you can throw the bag right in a sous vide. Plastic containers work but they tend to lose their seal over time. If you don’t have a vacuum sealer, plastic wrapped in foil or zip lock bags will do.

How Long

For the fridge, I’d say from 3 to 5 days. Longer than that, I’d consider the ribs to be less tasty and potentially spoiled. If the ribs smell bad when you pull them out from the fridge, toss them away. If you see some slimy coatings on the outside, might as well chuck them.

For the freezer, you can keep the ribs from 6 to 12 months. Again, the longer you keep your ribs in there, the less flavorful they become. So I’d recommend eating them within 3 – 4 months.

And all of the above apply to all types of ribs, whether pork, beef, or others.

What Is The Best Way To Reheat Ribs?

Believe it or not, the best way to reheat ribs without drying them out is to use a sous vide. 

Sous vide (pronounce sue vee) means cooking food in a hot water bath. Before submerging, you need to put the food in a sealed plastic bag. So if you already use a vacuum bag to store your ribs, you just have to throw it in the bath and that’s it. No extra step needed.

The benefit of this technique is that you preserve the integrity of the ribs. You don’t have to worry about any moisture loss at all. Besides, it uses all-around indirect heat to reheat your ribs. That means there will be no exposing to a real fire, which can dry out the ribs if you’re not watching.

However, you will lose some of the bark crunchiness using this technique. The best way is to add some BBQ sauce to the ribs after the sous vide. Also, add some dry rubs as well. Then put the ribs in the oven or on a grill (indirectly from the fire) to firm up the bark and sauce. It will be much better after that.

Here is a quick summary of it.

Step 1 – Install the sous vide and bring the water temperature to about 155F. If you want to hit 160F for your ribs, the water should be 5F below that.

Step 2 – Throw the vacuum sealed ribs in the water.

Step 3 – Let them sit for about 2 hours.

Step 4 – After 2 hours, take them out and see how they look.

Step 5 – If they still need more time, put them back in the water. Otherwise, add the sauce and rub.

Step 6 – Get your oven or grill up to temperature, around 250F.

Step 7 – Place the sauced ribs in your cooker of choice. Meat side up. Let them go for about 30 minutes.

Step 8 – Serve and enjoy.

How To Reheat Ribs In An Oven Or On A Grill

I would start by placing a small foil pan inside a bigger one. After that, I would put my ribs on top of the smaller pan. Bone side down. The purpose is to raise the ribs a bit. I find it better since the heat and steam will go around the ribs. If you place the ribs without the extra pan, the heat and steam only works on the top and the sides of the ribs.

I’d then pour some liquid inside the pan. Apple juice for pork ribs and beer or beef broth for beef short ribs. Don’t forget to sprinkle some dry rubs on the ribs as well.

I’d bring the temperature of the oven (or the grill) to about 250F. I think that’s the best temperature to reheat ribs in the oven (or on the grill). Not too high yet not too low either. 

Depending on the type of ribs, I would reheat the baby backs for about an hour. A little more for spares and beef ribs. After the set time, take them out and apply some BBQ sauce. Then put them back onto the cooker for 20 minutes to firm everything up.

Serve and enjoy!

Ah, before I forget, place your ribs away from the fire on the grill. And keep a close eye on them to make sure the ribs don’t dry out or anything.

How To Reheat Ribs In Air Fryer

Air fryers are like cooking in a deep fat fryer, but without the oil. They use concentrated hot air instead. The good thing about these is that the hot air will maintain the bark of the ribs. However, they tend to dry the ribs out. That’s why you need to add some oil to avoid that.

This is a quick tutorial on how to use an air fryer to reheat ribs.

Step 1 – Heat the air fryer up to 400F.

Step 2 – Line some aluminum foil inside the fryer. This is for easy cleanup after.

Step 3 – Place your ribs. Don’t overload the fryer or the hot air won’t circulate well.

Step 4 – Drizzle some oil and add some dry rubs on top of the ribs.

Step 5 – Reheat for about 10 minutes.

Step 6 – Glaze some BBQ sauce over the ribs. Reheat again for another 5 minutes. Keep a close eye on it since the sauce can burn really fast.

Step 7 – Take the ribs out and enjoy.

How To Reheat Ribs In The Microwave

As I mentioned earlier, I’ll show you a trick to prevent all the sauce of the ribs from exploding inside the microwave. But allow me to quickly talk about the microwave itself.

This handy device works by shooting radio waves through the food to activate the molecules inside it. As a result, these molecules vibrate and generate heat. Then the heat quickly spreads throughout the food item, warming it eventually.

This whole process happens really fast. Therefore, you don’t have to wait around when reheating ribs with a microwave. However, it isn’t always the best when it comes to the final presentation. In fact, the sauce will melt and puddle inside the plate. Or worse, explode all over the place, making a mess for you to clean up later.

Besides that, the microwave tends to dry out your ribs. It also doesn’t bring back the flavors at all.

For these reasons, I’d only recommend using a microwave if you’re short on time. Use other methods if you have the time. The result is always better.

With that being said, here is the trick that I’ve promised. It’s called the wet paper towels technique.

Step 1 – Soak a couple of paper towels.

Step 2 – Place your ribs in a container. No lid.

Step 3 – Put some paper towels underneath the container. And some on top of the ribs.

Step 4 – Microwave for about 3 minutes.

Step 5 – Check the internal temperature. If the ribs are good, take them out and serve. Otherwise, microwave again in short bursts of 45 seconds until they’re ready.

Note: What the wet paper towels do is let the radio waves heat up the water inside. This will turn it into steam, keeping the ribs moist as a result. The paper towels also act as a barrier to keep all the sauce from flying around inside the microwave.

Can You Reheat Ribs Twice?

The answer really depends.

Say, you reheat all the ribs. Eat only a small portion. And decide to store the rest.

Well, remember when I said, the longer you store your ribs, the less desirable they are. The same principle applies here. In addition to that, the ribs might be spoiled after the second thaw.

What would I recommend in this scenario? Just chuck them. You or your family don’t need to spend a night in the hospital ER because you just ate some contaminated ribs. I bet they didn’t even taste that great either. So why risk it?

On the other hand, you only reheat a small portion of the ribs. And decide to put the rest back to the fridge or freezer right away. I don’t see anything wrong with reheating the other portion the second time.

Technically, the other portion of the ribs hasn’t been out for long. It hasn’t been in the Danger Zone. The bacteria haven’t had the chance to grow and accumulate. So, you’re good!

You see? That’s why knowing about the Danger Zone is important. I’m glad that I mentioned it earlier in this article.

Summary

A lot of efforts go into making great tasting ribs. From choosing the type and adding the rubs to tending the fire and applying the final sauce. Not to mention the time it takes, roughly 5 hours or more. 

You really don’t want all that to go down the drain, especially when reheating them the next day. Done right, reheated ribs can taste the same, just like when they’re fresh off the grill or smoker.

Keep in mind that storing the ribs is just as important. It’s the key to prevent them from drying out. You want to lock in as much moisture as possible. Also pay attention to the Danger Zone. Keep your ribs away from it and you should be good to go.

Well, this ‘how to reheat ribs’ article ends here. I hope you enjoy it. Similar to cooking ribs, a lot of time and efforts go into writing this article. If you don’t mind sharing it, I’d be really appreciative of that.

Until next time, happy grilling!

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