Timothy Woods
Published by Timothy Woods
Last Updated On: September 29, 2022

If I had to choose a barbeque cut to be my favorite, it would be pulled pork ribs, without a doubt. Tender, juicy, and smoky - everything you need from a good chunk of meat, with or without BBQ sauce.

That being said, ribs are notoriously hard to master. Even experienced grillers and smokers may struggle to find the right smoker temperature point.

There is a huge difference between ‘cooked’ and ‘done,’ and after numerous attempts to perfect the pork rib, I can finally give you a complete internal temperature guide to the best ribs around.

Quick Summary

  • The safe internal temp for pork is 145°F.
  • You can use a toothpick to check if your pork ribs are cooked.
  • The fat on your ribs will determine how long your ribs will take to cook.

The Difference Between “Done” and “Finished”

Pork Ribs sitting on wooden board

The line between “done” and “finished” may be fine, but it’s definitely significant.

Done refers to when the meat has reached an internal temperature safe enough to eat and finished is when the meat is at its tastiest.

If you ask USDA, they recommend you cook your pork ribs to 145°F in order to safely consume them.[1]

However, I have found that slow cooking your pork ribs at 190 - 203°F (even more so when smoking meats) is the key to making your meat as juicy and tender as it can be.

You can use a meat thermometer to measure the internal temperature of your ribs. However, it can be tricky since the meat is rather thin and usually hotter next to the bone.

“Pro tip: Instead of investing in a full smoker, you can turn your outdoor grill (charcoal or gas) into a smoker. It’s best to use hardwood chips -- look for fruitwoods or nut woods - for the ultimate smoky flavor.”
- Charlie McKenna, Founder, & Chef, Lillie’s Q Restaurant

Ribs Temperature Chart

Close up image of pork ribs on grill

Below you will find the recommended times and temperatures chart for smoking meats. It applies to both pork and beef ribs.

The times stated are from my experience using my meat smoking machine; therefore, they may take less or more time depending on which smoker you have.

Smoking Temp Cooking Temp Cooking Time
Baby Back Ribs 225 - 250°F 180°F 5 - 6 hours
Spare Ribs (Pork) 225 - 250°F 180°F 6 - 7 hours
Short Ribs  225 - 250°F 190 - 200°F 7 - 8 hours
Back Ribs 225 - 250°F 180 - 190°F 4 - 5 hours
Spare Ribs (Beef) 225 - 250°F 190 - 203°F 5 - 6 hours
Prime Rib 225 - 250°F 140°F (Medium) 15 mins per pound

6 Tests to Know When Your Pork Ribs are Finished

As I mentioned earlier, using a meat thermometer to check when your pork ribs are finished isn’t always the best way.

That’s why I always use the following hacks to know when my ribs are at their best.

Remember, the only ribs that should fall off the bone are ones that have been boiled or steamed.

Smoked or cooked ribs will pull cleanly off the bone as you bite the meat with your teeth; however, there should still be some resistance and chew [2].

#1 The Bounce Test

When you think your ribs are almost done, pick them up by the center of the ribs with a pair of tongs while meat smoking.

Carefully bounce the ribs. If the surface of the smoking meat cracks, you’ll know your pork ribs are ready.

If it only cracks slightly, you will need a little more time for cooking.

#2 The Cut Test

Just like all smoking meats, you can cut into the cut to see if it's ready.

For pork ribs, the center should be white with no pink or red juices.

If you have used a smoker, there is a chance the meat at the top will still be pink, but the center will be white.

#3 The Toothpick Test

If you’ve got some toothpicks lying around, you can use them for this test.

Poke the toothpick between the bones and into the smoking meat.

If it slides in without much resistance, this means your meat smoking ribs are ready. Ensure you also bend test other parts of your ribs since ribs tend to cook quite irregularly.

#4 The Taste Test

A great way to test how your meat is cooking is to taste it. Of course, you shouldn’t eat meat that is pink or looks raw.

However, you can happily eat white or tan meat.

The only problem is, if you take one rip apart to check if it is cooked, you will have to keep doing so until all the ribs are cooked.

#5 Timing Test

Most amateur grillers with indoor ovens will likely love this technique to check their beef ribs since it uses times and temperatures as reference.

Set the grill or smoker to 225 250 f and cook baby back ribs for three or four hours while maintaining this heat. If you’re making spare ribs, consider increasing the total cooking time to at least five or six hours.

Also, put a layer of your best barbecue sauce while allowing the meat to cook over high heat for at least 10 minutes more.

This test will require you to use a thermometer. It ensures the sticky ribs are cooked within a safe temperature range. However, using the smoking times we provided will make it unlikely for you to encounter any problems.

#6 Twist Test

This test needs a small, sharp knife to help separate one of the rib bones from the rack. Touch the rib in the middle while ensuring you don’t burn yourself. Give a quick sharp twist and check the amount of meat that falls off the bone.

Did the majority fall? Good news, your ribs are done.

Remember to avoid twisting too hard since you won’t get your desired results. By now, the pork’s connective tissue should have broken down. It means the meat must gently slough away from the bone.

Otherwise, put the meat back on the grill and wait for a while more.

We’re not too fond of this test since you need to take an entire rib away before serving. However, you can get away with it if you’re only cooking for yourself and another person. You still get to eat the results either way.

Things to Keep in Mind When Smoking Pork Ribs

Pork Ribs on wooden table

Remember the following things when smoking or cooking your ribs:

  • The thicker the baby back ribs, the longer they will take to cook. If your ribs have a lot of fat, it’ll also take longer for the fat to melt down.
  • If you decide to keep the smoked meat on the bone (which come on, who doesn’t), this will take longer for the ribs to cook vs. if they were deboned. So, if you’re cooking for a limited time, consider taking the meat off the bone.

“Barbecue may not be the road to world peace, but it’s a start.”
- Anthony Bourdain, American Chef, and Author

What is the Ideal Temperature for Pork Ribs?

The best temperature for cooking pork ribs is 190 - 203°F. Use the temperatures chart above for more specific situations.

While the safe meat temperature for pork is 145°F, your rib meat will be much juicier and tender if you leave them for a little bit longer at the same temperature.

The type of ribs you’re cooking also determines the correct smoking times and temperatures.

Ensure you test your ribs with one of the methods listed above, and always remember, the meat should never fall off the bone.


References:

  1. https://www.usda.gov/media/blog/2011/05/25/cooking-meat-check-new-recommended-temperatures
  2. https://eu.freep.com/story/life/2018/07/01/advice-cooking-grilling-ribs-fourth-july/742612002/

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