How to Tell When Ribs Are Done: 8 Easy Tests That Don’t Lie

Jeremy Bivens
Jeremy Bivens
Research Writer
Jeremy Bivens is a passionate writer and grilling enthusiast. He's been working as a freelance journalist for over 15 years now and has a particular interest in food writing read more
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Bruce Williams
Bruce Williams
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Claims that grilling is the art that he has been learning all his life long and is not planning to stop. Has been grilling for as long as he can remember. Author of numerous read more
Last updated: August 11, 2023
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When it comes to backyard barbecues, nothing quite gets people’s mouths watering like a rack of delicious ribs Trusted Source Ribs (food) - Wikipedia Ribs of pork, beef, lamb, and venison are a cut of meat. The term ribs usually refers to the less meaty part of the chops, often cooked as a slab (not cut into separate ribs). , no matter if they are grilled or smoked. The trouble for a grillmaster is knowing how to tell when ribs are done. This can be quite tricky since these cuts of meat have bones in between the meat, which makes it much more difficult to use a thermometer reliably.

Thankfully, there are lots of other methods that can be used to see when your ribs are done. Some are quick and easy to learn, while others are a bit more difficult to master. In this article, we will guide you through all of the various methods so that you have a better chance of finding the one that works best for your grilling style. Once you find the method that works best for you, you will be sure to start making mouthwatering racks of ribs each and every time.

1.   The bend test

As the name implies, this test involves a bit of bending to be completed. Don’t worry, though. This has nothing to do with your own flexibility and all with the flexibility of your ribs. When the ribs are cooking, the connective tissue will turn to gelatin, which will allow the ribs to bend down a bit when they are fully cooked.

To conduct this test, you should first figure out a baseline for how much the ribs sag down before you cook them. Using your grill tongs, hold the rack of ribs on one end. Since they are raw and the connective tissue is quite strong, they should stay relatively horizontal. After a good bit of cooking time, you can conduct this test again. If the ribs hang almost straight down, they are done. If they still stick out horizontally, they will need some more time.

How to Tell When Ribs Are Done: 8 Easy Tests That Don't Lie2.   The time test

This test is a bit trickier to use unless you are an experienced barbecue boss who understands the proper way to keep the correct temperature going on your grill for extended periods of time. When cooking ribs, your grill needs to go low and slow. You should keep it at a constant temperature of 225 degrees Fahrenheit.

Once you are able to produce this temperature consistently, you can use the time test for cooking your ribs. If you are cooking baby back ribs, then you will probably need 4-5 hours at this temperature for a finished product. On the other hand, if you want to know how to tell when St. Louis ribs are done, you are going to need a bit longer. Since these are larger cuts of meat, they will take between 6 or 7 hours of low-temperature cooking.

3.   The twist test

Another method for checking to see when ribs are done is known as the twist test. This method is a favorite of experienced barbecuers, thanks to its overall simplicity. This test can be administered once you think your ribs are done but needs to be completed when they are still hot, so be sure to wear a good pair of gloves when you do it.

All you need to do for this method is to lift up your rack of ribs and grab a bone. You should try to use one of the ones in the middle since this part of the meat takes the longest to cook. From there, simply attempt to twist the bone in place. If it doesn’t spin at all, then the ribs aren’t done. If it spins in place with little effort, then your ribs are ready to enjoy.

4.   The toothpick test

This is another very simple and quick test that can be done to check in on the status of your ribs and see if they are done and ready to be enjoyed. For this test, all you need to do is take a toothpick and stick it into the meaty sections of the ribs between the bones. If the toothpick goes in with little to no resistance, the ribs are ready to eat.

Of course, you need to make sure that you check multiple locations on the rack of ribs since different parts are going to cook at different speeds. By checking lots of places, you can assure that the entire rack is ready to enjoy.

5.   The popup test

This method is a good way to double-check on one of the other methods on our list but probably shouldn’t be utilized on its own. This method involves looking to see if the bones on the ribs are sticking out of the meat after they have been cooked. The reasoning is that once the bones are sticking out a ¼ of an inch, the ribs are finished.

The reason that this doesn’t work alone, however, is that the amount of bone has to do with the temperature more than the doneness. If you grill at a high temperature for a short amount of time, then the ribs will be sticking out but undercooked.

6.   The peekaboo test

If you are having trouble telling whether your ribs are done by looking at the outside, then it might be a good idea to get a peek at the interior. To do this, simply remove the ribs from the grill and slice them into them. If they are done, there shouldn’t be any pink-colored juices, and the meat should be completely white in the center. Of course, if you cooked with a smoker, then the meat near the surface should have a pink color while the center should be nice and white.

How to Tell When Ribs Are Done: 8 Easy Tests That Don't Lie7.   The color test

Another method that you can use in conjunction with another is the color test. Obviously, when you are ribs are first placed on the grill, they are not going to look the same as they will when they are done. When finished properly, a rack of ribs should have a dark, rich, mahogany color. The reason that this method cannot be used alone, however, is because different rubs and sauces are going to affect the color. This could make the ribs appear finished when they actually need quite a bit longer on the grill.

8.   The taste test

The taste test is another favorite method for checking to see if ribs are done. This is especially true for the chef who gets to partake in the test. This method involves cutting off a rib and, as the name suggests, taking a sample taste. While this works out well when the ribs are done, it can be problematic if you do it too early.

First of all, that means that the rib being tasted isn’t very good to eat. It also means that another will need to be tested, which means that there are fewer ribs to go around during dinner.

What else to keep in mind

Even after you have mastered your preferred method of how to tell when ribs are done, that doesn’t mean you’ve got everything covered. There are several other factors to keep in mind so that you can always enjoy mouthwatering ribs.

Meat shouldn’t fall off the bones

Even though you have probably heard the phrase “meat falling off the bone” in a positive light, this is actually not something that you want for your ribs. If the meat is sliding right off of the bone, it means that the ribs have been overcooked. You want there to be a bit of wiggle to your ribs and for the bones to come out relatively easily, but not just falling right out. Meat in this condition is going to be soggier and have less flavor than properly cooked ribs.

Use a meat thermometer and watch the lid thermometer as well

How to Tell When Ribs Are Done: 8 Easy Tests That Don't LieMany people might think that using a meat thermometer alone is a great method for cooking ribs. For other cuts of meat, this is definitely a great way to check to see if they are all the way done. Ribs, however, are usually extremely large cuts of meat that have different levels of fat throughout, not to mention the bones as well. This causes temperature fluctuations, which make readings inaccurate unless you check everywhere on the rack of ribs. A good meat thermometer, like this one from ThermoPro, should be used in conjunction with your lid thermometer so you can keep better track of the overall temperature of your ribs.

Don’t let the color of the rub fool you

Something else to keep in mind is that the color of the rub you choose might alter the appearance of your ribs. In fact, some rubs can make the ribs look as though they are already done, when in fact, they need a lot more time on the grill. Make sure you take this into account, especially if you are using a darker-colored rub on your ribs.

Mind the altitude

Another key factor in how long to cook your ribs before you know that they are done and ready to devour is the altitude Trusted Source High-altitude cooking - Wikipedia High-altitude cooking is cooking done at altitudes that are considerably higher than sea level. that you are trying to cook the ribs. If you are lower down and closer to sea level, then you will probably only need the standard cooking time of 4-5 hours for baby back ribs and 6-7 hours for St. Louis style ribs. If you are higher up in altitude above sea level, then you will probably need to add 1-2 hours to these cooking times to make sure that the ribs are thoroughly cooked.

Cooking in a rib holder takes longer

How to Tell When Ribs Are Done: 8 Easy Tests That Don't LieRib holders, like these from Weber, are great accessories if you are trying to fit multiple racks of ribs on one grill. They allow you to stack them next to each other without having them touch. Something to keep in mind with this setup, however, is that since there is more meat on the grill, you are going to need more time to cook it all. You can still get delicious ribs with this method of cooking, but you will need to add 1-2 hours of grilling time for all of the ribs to be completely cooked.

Final thoughts

As you can see, there are lots of different methods for checking to see when your ribs are done. No one method is going to be completely foolproof, so it is best to use multiple ways so that you can know how to tell when the ribs are done. For instance, the bend test and the twist test work really well together since they both involve picking up the rack of ribs and holding it still. You just need to make sure you find the ones that you like best and will give you good results consistently.

No matter what methods you choose to use to check your ribs, make sure you give yourself enough time and don’t try to rush the process. Otherwise, you can be setting yourself up for undercooked or overcooked ribs, which is something that nobody wants to experience.


Ribs (food) - Wikipedia
Ribs of pork, beef, lamb, and venison are a cut of meat. The term ribs usually refers to the less meaty part of the chops, often cooked as a slab (not cut into separate ribs).
High-altitude cooking - Wikipedia
High-altitude cooking is cooking done at altitudes that are considerably higher than sea level.

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