Timothy Woods
Published by Timothy Woods
Last Updated On: April 14, 2022

Smoked or grilled ribs are always a guest favorite when you are hosting family or friends for a BBQ. We will now look at a few expert-recommended steps you can follow to serve the best-grilled ribs to your guests.

There are around six different ways to determine when your ribs are done, but chefs, cooks, and BBQ enthusiasts agree that you should never rely on any one method on its own.

Quick Summary

  • Cooking ribs just right is an art form.
  • Experts talk about the 3-2-1 rule and the 2-2-1 method for smoking ribs, but this just sounds like gibberish to most people. Not to worry, it will soon make sense, and you will be able to smoke or grill ribs to perfection with the best out there.

Ways to Know When Ribs Are Done

  • An internal temperature of 175-180°F
  • The meat should be a mahogany color
  • The bones should be exposed
  • A rack of ribs will bend downward when it’s picked up
  • A wood skewer will easily pass through the meat
  • The rack should be very flexible when you pick it up

What Temperature Are Ribs When Done?

Using a tong to flip a rib meat

According to the USDA, pork ribs are done when they reach an internal temperature of 145°F [1].

However, your ribs can still be undercooked at this temperature on the smoker. It’s safe to say that you can keep your ribs on the smoker until the temperature reaches 175-180°F.

At this point, the fat in the ribs will have rendered down, and this will give your ribs that added flavor and juiciness [2].

How To Tell If Ribs Are Done Without A Thermometer?

Top view of ribs being cooked on a grill

It’s not always easy to get an accurate reading on a thermometer when it comes to ribs; you need to know precisely where to probe the meat.

Even smoking enthusiasts and BBQ professionals use methods that involve looking at and touching the meat.

To tell if your ribs are done smoking without a thermometer, you can follow these easy steps:

  1. The color of your ribs: When your rack of ribs is finished, it will be a mahogany color on the outside. An important point to keep in mind is that you can’t rely on the color alone to tell if your ribs are done since marinades or spices can often affect the color as well.
  2. The bones: The meat on the rack of ribs will retract to expose about three-quarters of an inch of the bones when the ribs are done. Another related point is that, when done, the meat will be easy to separate from the bones.
  3. The bend test: To do the bend test, hold the rack of ribs on one end with a pair of tongs. Your ribs will bend downwards, and some cracks may form in the crust.
  4. Wooden Skewer test: Take a wooden kebab skewer, or even just a toothpick, and probe it into the meat between bones. You will know that your ribs are done if it penetrates the meat without resistance, almost like piercing butter.
  5. The flexibility of the ribs: You will be able to tell if the ribs are done by the flexibility of the meat. If you hold the rack of ribs in the middle, it will bend downwards at the ends and be slightly springy when you jiggle it up and down.

What Is the 3-2-1 Rule for Smoking Ribs?

A freshly smoked ribs on a cutting board

Many rib smoking experts recommend following the 3-2-1 rule for smoking ribs, which essentially involves breaking the smoking time up in hours.

First, leave the ribs uncovered in the smoker for three hours with a dry rub seasoning.

After the three hours, wrap your ribs in aluminum foil with a marinated liquid of your choice covering the ribs.

You will then smoke this for another two hours. At this point, you can also check to see how much bone is exposed. Finally, for the last hour, baste your ribs with your favorite barbeque sauce.

Using the 3-2-1 method will give you ribs that are fall-off-the-bone tender, but this is overcooked in the opinion of some experts. These enthusiasts insist that it’s better to use the 2-2-1 rule [3].

What is the 2-2-1 Rule for Smoking Ribs?

The 2-2-1 rule is best followed when you are smoking baby back ribs.

These cuts of ribs have a lower fat content, so they can dry out much faster, which means that a shorter cooking time is recommended.

This method is also ideal for those who prefer their ribs less overcooked than the 3-2-1 method does them [4].

To ensure that your ribs stay tender and juicy, you must cook them uncovered for two hours.

Then, wrap them in aluminum foil with your favorite sauce and cook them for two hours. After this, you can remove the foil from the ribs and cook it for the remaining one hour

How To Tell If My Ribs Are Undercooked

Smoked ribs on black wooden platform

Uncooked ribs are tough due to the fat within the meat’s connective tissue.

Cooking the ribs break down the fat, loosening the connective tissue and making the ribs juicy and flavorful.

By using the low and slow method of cooking while ensuring that your smoker is at the right temperature, you will be able to serve up some of the best, tender, and juicy ribs [5].

How Do I Avoid Overcooking My Ribs?

Firstly you must be sure to reach the optimal smoking temperature of 225°F.

Maintain this temperature to smoke the ribs low and slow (meaning, at a lower temperature for longer duration). This method will ensure that you serve ribs that are not overcooked.

When you’ve been smoking a rack of ribs at a higher temperature for too long or even too fast, you might just find that your ribs are tough, chewy, and dry.

Smoke them at 225°F for about five to six hours for the best smoked ribs.

Read More: Controlling the Temperature in the Smoker

Beef Ribs Vs. Pork Ribs

Pork ribs laying on a paper bag

In general, when people mention ribs, they probably refer to pork ribs rather than beef ribs. But what about beef ribs? How do I tell if my beef ribs are done?

Beef ribs will take longer to cook before they are done since beef ribs are a bigger cut of meat than pork ribs.

With your smoker’s temperature at 285oF, your beef ribs will have to spend about eight to nine hours on the smoker [6].

How Do I Tell if My Beef Ribs Are Done?

When your beef ribs are done, the reading on a thermometer should show about 203°F.

You can also determine if your ribs are done by inserting a toothpick or wooden skewer into the meat between two bones.

If it goes in effortlessly, you can confidently say that your beef ribs are done [7].


Beef ribs and pork ribs will have different cooking times. There are also different ways to tell if the ribs are done since beef can be eaten when rare.

The skewer rule works with both cuts of ribs to determine if they’re done.

If you poke it with a sharp piece of wood and the meat feels soft, and the skewer goes in effortlessly, you can safely assume that your ribs are done to perfection.

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