How To Remove The Membrane From Ribs – Is It Necessary?

Using a table knife to remove the membrane from a rack of ribs

This article will show you how to remove the membrane from ribs. 

We’ll first go through what the membrane is and whether or not it’s necessary to remove it, followed by what to do when buying the ribs. After that, we’ll get to the details on how to remove the membrane with a demo video included. 

And with that, let’s get started.

What Is The Ribs Membrane?

If you look at a slab of ribs, you will see a shiny layer of skin on the bone side of it. Nothing on the meat side however. The layer is usually thin, about 1 to 2 millimeters in thickness. That’s the ribs membrane or some people would call it the silver skin.

This silver skin contains mostly elastin. Unlike the connective tissues or collagen surrounded by it, this elastin doesn’t turn into soft gelatin when cooked. In fact, it toughens up the more you cook it.

Its main purpose is to support and separate different muscle groups in the animal body. Besides being very tough and stretchy, the silver skin is also porous. 

You will find this membrane in all cuts of meat such as pork butts, ribs, etc. For this article, we’ll be focusing on ribs. Keep in mind that there are different types of ribs. If you’re into pork, there are baby back and St. Louis style ribs. For beef, it’s the chuck and plate short ribs.

Do You Have To Remove The Membrane From Ribs?

Now, if you ask around or do a quick Google search on the Internet, you will see that many people recommend taking the membrane off the ribs before cooking. While that is the majority, there are people who advocate the opposite. So which one should you follow?

There are three reasons why you should or have to remove the membrane.

Firstly, it’s all about creating a pleasant dining experience if you have friends or family over for dinner. You see, the membrane gets rubbery when you cook it long enough. Not to mention that it contracts which in turn bends the ribs. 

Although the silver skin is still edible, your guests wouldn’t appreciate the presentation and the fact that they have to chew like crazy. You’re more likely to get an “ew” or a “yuck” from someone at the table.

Secondly, the membrane prevents the meat from soaking up the rubs as well as smoke. Well, this might not be true. As I mentioned earlier, the membrane is porous so it does let the seasonings and smoke pass through. Mind you, the penetration isn’t as deep as when you remove the membrane altogether.

Dr. Greg Blonder from actually did an experiment on this where he only removed the membrane on one half of a slab of ribs. He then proceeded to smoke it with some surprising results. You can check it out on his personal website.

Lastly, if you have a BBQ competition team, you must remove the membrane. If you don’t, you’re disqualified. 

My Take On This

But maybe you don’t compete or want to impress anybody. If that’s the case, I’d say do whatever you want to do. 

I actually know a friend who doesn’t remove the membrane because he believes there is little to no meat on the bone side of the ribs. Therefore, he won’t put rubs on it because there is nothing there to begin with. The meat side is more important in his opinions. 

I also read up another blog’s comment where this lady has her own catering company. She’s the only cook so she never takes the membrane off. It’s a waste of time since she has to do so many ribs. At the end, she said that her clients were always happy and the membrane seemed to keep the meat from falling off the bone. 

So membrane on or off? It’s really a personal choice. And to be honest, it’s very easy to do and only takes a few minutes. 

Buying The Ribs

Before I show you how to remove the membrane from ribs, let’s briefly touch on buying the ribs.

Most grocery stores sell their ribs in a styrofoam packaging with the bone side down. So it’s hard to tell if the membrane is still there. Some stores like Costco (depending on your area) actually remove it before packing. 

You can always ask the butcher there if you’re not sure.

How To Remove The Membrane From Ribs

These are the tools you need for this job.

  • A table knife – you want something dull, not sharp, so you don’t risk cutting yourself. Some other good alternatives are clean needle-nose or catfish skinning pliers. Your fingers work too. 
  • Few sheets of paper towel – the membrane is slippery so you need something grippy to pull with. 

Once you have all your stuff.

  • Step 1 – There’ll be some blood so pat the ribs dry as much as you can with the paper towel. This helps with the grip later on.
  • Step 2 – Use your table knife and try to get underneath the silver skin on one edge of the ribs. Then gently lift the skin up.
  • Step 3 – Get your fingers under that opening to make it bigger. Going slow is the key here.
  • Step 4 – Once it’s big enough, grab that skin flap with the paper towel and slowly start to pull. Hopefully, it will come off in one piece.
  • Step 5 – After the membrane is completely gone, you can shave off the excess fat and/or meat if any. Just to make the ribs look nicer and more presentable.

Here is a demo video for the whole process.

YouTube video

And voila! Simple and easy to do. With enough practice, you’ll be able to remove the membrane without much difficulty.

It’s Time To Try

Removing the silver skin from ribs is totally up to you. I always remove it because I don’t like the rubbery texture. But there were times when I didn’t do it. 

That being said, if you’ve never done it before, it’s time for you to try. Follow my step-by-step process above and let me know how it goes for you. 

Also don’t forget to share this article to your friends and family. I would really appreciate it.

Until next time,

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Thinh Phan

Thinh Phan

Thinh Phan is a barbecue enthusiast who fires up his grill regularly, at least 3 times a week. Combining the experience and his passion for outdoor cooking, he put together where he shares recipe ideas along with his knowledge of grilling and barbecuing techniques.

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