The One Thing to Do to Make the Best Ribs of Summer

updated Jun 3, 2020
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Credit: Olive and Mango/Kitchn

Let’s be honest: We all love the idea of ribs at home (tender and juicy with sticky, napkin-needing sauce), but we all struggle a bit to have our at-home results match our expectations. Instead of biting into fall-off-the-bone meat, many of us are getting chewy ribs despite our best efforts.

Take comfort, though — the rib prep mistake we’re all making is super common and also incredibly easy to fix too. It all starts before you dry rub or cook your ribs, and you just need a spoon to pull off this prep step (literally). Do this one thing for better ribs this summer and you’ll never skip it again.

Why Aren’t My Ribs Tender?

All ribs come with a thin membrane on the bone side of the racks. It is so thin you can barely see it; but with the ribs turned over and the meat pressed against the cutting board, you’ll find a layer of connective tissue running the length of the rack. Not removing this membrane mesh is the culprit of tough ribs. The ribs’ membrane is made of the same as the silver skin found on pork or beef tenderloins. Some connective tissue like collagen transforms into gelatin, but even with the hours of low-and-slow cooking that make the rib meat tender, that connective tissue won’t ever soften. You have to pull it off before you cook the ribs.

Credit: Olive and Mango/Kitchn

What Is the Best Way to Remove the Membrane?

Read five rib recipes and you’ll find five different methods to deal with this tough layer of connective tissue. Some recipes leave the membrane intact but puncture or cut the membrane with a sharp knife to allow the smoke and spices to penetrate the meat and fat render. This still leaves a bit of chewy membrane that makes the cooked ribs less than ideal.

The best way to make tender ribs is to remove the membrane entirely, and the best tools to remove the tough membrane are actually a spoon (or a blunt butter knife) and a dry paper towel. The rounded tip of the spoon slides cleanly under the connective tissue without tearing it — especially when inserted between two rib bones. Lift the membrane and grip with a dry paper towel for the best grip. Pull the membrane slowly but firmly, and the entire piece of membrane should come cleanly off. Trim away any large pieces of fat, then season and cook according to the recipe.

Now Go Forth and Cook Ribs!