Debate in the BBQ community about removing the silverskin is common. Should you remove that silvery membrane that you sometimes find covering your ribs?
Our BBQ experts explain why it's essential to remove silverskin for the best-tasting ribs and how to tackle removing this membrane.
Summary of the Key Findings
- Silverskin or the peritoneum is a thin membrane of connective tissue covering and holding ribs together.
- Removing the silverskin before grilling or smoking ribs is vital because this membrane prevents rubs or brines from penetrating the meat. It also shrinks and gets leathery during cooking.
- To remove the silverskin, slip a knife under the edge of the membrane and carefully peel it off.
How To Remove Silverskin From Ribs
You'll notice that most pro pitmasters remove the silverskin from their ribs as a first step in preparing the meat.
It's not hard to do, and we'll guide you through the process.
First, let's look at what the silverskin is and why you need to remove it.
What is Silverskin?
You've probably bought ribs before with a silvery-white layer on the underside.
This layer is silverskin, a membrane or connective tissue found on larger cuts of meat (pork, beef, and lamb).
Also called the peritoneum, this tissue holds the ribs together and is thin but stretchy.
Why Remove Silverskin From Ribs?
Guy Fieri, the renowned food personality, explains that it's best to remove this membrane "so that you can kinda get the flavor of the marinade in there and also when they cook that silverskin doesn't tighten up and make the ribs curl up on the barbeque.
We've all seen that, right ?
There are three main reasons for removing the silverskin:
- Silverskin does not break down during cooking. Instead, it can get tough and chewy, shrinking and pulling your meat out of shape and making for an unpleasant eating experience .
- The silvery-white membrane acts as a barrier, stopping marinades, rubs, brines, and even smoke from penetrating the ribs and allowing the meat to absorb flavor. You're left with bland ribs and wasted effort .
- The silverskin looks unappealing when you present your dish to your family and friends.
How To Identify Silverskin
Some butchers will remove the silverskin as part of their meat preparation so that you can buy ribs without it. You can ask your butcher to remove it for you.
If you're wondering whether the ribs you've bought have silverskin on them, lay the rack bone-side up.
You'll notice a pale white skin, like plastic stretched over the ribs. That's the silverskin.
The silverskin is the thickest near the animal's backbone, so this membrane will be particularly thick and prominent on the back ribs.
Can't see it clearly? Run a flat table knife along the rib bones.
If you scrape off some fat, you'll know that the silverskin is gone because the fat layer is under the silverskin.
Three Steps To Remove Silverskin From Ribs
Removing membrane from ribs isn't difficult and only takes a few seconds once you know how.
You may struggle the first time, but it's worth practicing so that it becomes part of your rib routine.
The membrane comes loose quite easily, without any unusual kitchen equipment.
Some foodies suggest using a sharp knife (Kelli Foster of the Kitchn argues for a sharp paring knife), while rough and ready guys might reach for their needle-nose pliers .
But, trust us, there's no need to get out anything sharp and endanger the ribs or your fingers.
You'll need a blunt table knife (or butter knife), a paper towel, and hands that don't mind getting messy.
If you're concerned about hacking up your perfect rack, don't worry.
As Danilo Alfaro, culinary expert, explains, "The membrane is the only part of the ribs you should be able to separate from the ribs easily, so don't worry about pulling off the wrong thing." 
Step 1: Loosen The Edge Of The Silverskin
- Lay the slab of ribs bone-side up so that they curve towards you.
- Slide a blunt knife under one end of the silverskin, lift the blade and pull the membrane loose. If one edge is too tight, try loosening it anywhere along with the rack.
- Using the knife or your fingers underneath, gently pull the edge of the membrane loose. If you can't get a grip on the slimy silverskin, wrap your fingers in a paper towel.
Step 2: Peel The Silverskin Off The Ribs
- Grab the loose end of the silverskin and gently start to peel the membrane from ribs.
- Pull slowly but surely, with consistent pressure, to loosen the membrane.
- The silverskin should come way in a single piece if you're lucky.
- Sometimes, the silverskin will break or tear. Start using your blunt knife to pull up an edge and work from there – it can be frustrating if the membrane keeps tearing, but it'll get easier with practice.
Step 3: Prepare Your Ribs
- Once you have pulled off the silverskin, check that no bits remain and remove them. (You should do this even if you have bought ribs with no silver skin – the butcher may have missed some.)
- Discard all bits of silverskin.
- Prepare your beef ribs as usual, in the happy knowledge that the meat will absorb your rub or marinade, and your BBQ ribs will turn out tender and succulent.
The Silverskin Debate
Some BBQ enthusiasts disagree with removing silverskin and argue that it's an unnecessary and annoying chore.
Food writers like Andrew Zimmern and Michael Ruhlman are adamant that cooked membrane makes no difference.
At the same time, Tim Carman offers the results of his experiment, concluding that the silverskin did not get tough and that the rib meat got even more tender .
You'll find that most BBQ chefs and champion pitmasters recommend removing membrane from ribs – experiment at your peril.
Whichever ribs you're making, whether baby backs or spareribs, you need to remove the silverskin or rib membrane that held the ribs together in the hog, even when it's a tough process.
The silverskin prevents flavors from rubs and smoke penetrating the meat, becomes leathery and chewy, and looks unappealing.
Removing it before cooking ribs takes a matter of seconds and is easily accomplished with a good quality knife for meat and your fingers.