Can You Cook Frozen Ribs: To Thaw or Not to Thaw

December 13, 2022

Yes, you can cook frozen ribs but I wouldn’t recommend it as it is difficult to produce great tasting and juicy ribs this way.

As the resident go-to woman when it comes to BBQ I am no stranger to frantic calls from my friends. So, when my friend called me up the other day to ask “Can you cook frozen ribs”, my answer was “yes, but…”. Realizing that I have quite a lot to say on the matter, I realized that I should write a post about it.

Here, I will show you why you can cook frozen pork ribs, but it really isn’t a good idea. I will also unveil the best methods for defrosting your ribs. Let’s begin!

can you cook frozen ribs

Is It Possible to Cook Frozen Pork Ribs?

Technically, yes you can cook frozen ribs directly by placing them on the grill.

And, in case you are wondering:

Can you put frozen ribs in the oven to cook?

The answer is yes once again.

Here is the thing, though, I don’t recommend cooking frozen ribs. For one thing, if you try to cook frozen pork ribs, the process is going to take a lot longer. This is because the ribs will have to first defrost on the grill or in the oven before they begin to cook.

The other issue is that when you cook frozen ribs, they cook unevenly. Once again, this is because when on the grill or in the oven, the ribs have to thaw out first.

Unfortunately, the frozen ribs don’t defrost at the same rate. So, one section will be defrosting at a steady rate while the other will be slower to thaw. In turn, certain sections of your pork ribs will be done before the others. This means that some of your ribs will be overcooked, while other parts may be cooked just right, and others still undercooked.

In short, this is not a risk that you want to take when cooking ribs.

How Long Does It Take to Cook Frozen Ribs?

As there is so much inconsistency when cooking frozen ribs (or any frozen meat, really), it is difficult to estimate how long the cooking process will take.

On average, though, you should expect that it will take you up to 50 percent longer to cook the ribs.

Typically, baby back ribs take about 5 hours on the grill and about 3 hours with the ribs in the oven. When cooking frozen ribs, the process may take around 4.5 hours in the oven and 7.5 hours on the grill.

Spare ribs usually take about 3.5 hours in the oven and 6 hours on the grill. When cooked from frozen, the ribs will take about 5 to 9 hours.

How Do You Cook Ribs If They are Frozen?

You can cook frozen ribs in a similar manner to thawed ribs, but the process will not be as straightforward. Here is what you will need to do:

Fresh and Uncooked Pork Ribs with Herbs

Seasoning Frozen Ribs

The problem with seasoning ribs while they are still frozen is that the seasoning will not stick. As the frozen ribs begin to thaw, the spices will be washed away.

To combat this, you can season the frozen ribs in the beginning. Then, when you feel that they have thawed enough, you can apply some yellow mustard to both sides of the rack and then douse liberally with a rub.

The Smoker Temperature

Usually, I like to go with a lower temperature when smoking or grill ribs or even cooking ribs in the oven. However, since the spare or baby back ribs are frozen, I would advise you to set the temperature to 275 degrees F.

It can be tempting to go higher than this and speed up the process even further, but I wouldn’t recommend it. If you do this, the parts that defrost faster than the others will be at risk of drying out.

Tracking the Internal Temperature

Traditionally when I smoke or grill ribs, I don’t rely on internal temperature. This is because there is so little meat on the bones that you usually get an incorrect result with the meat thermometer.

When it comes to cooking frozen ribs, though, it is important to use a thermometer. For one thing, it ensures that each portion of the ribs is the same temperature. What’s more, it guarantees that the meat has reached a temperature that is safe for you to eat.

When the ribs have reached an internal temperature of 195 degrees throughout, then you can take them off the heat.

Make sure to let the ribs rest for a few minutes before serving them with barbecue sauce.

What is the Best Way to Thaw Ribs?

As I have already mentioned, cooking thawed ribs is the best option. This ensures that the cooking process will go much more smoothly.

Now, the best way to defrost ribs is using the refrigerator. Take the ribs out of the freezer and place them on a baking sheet or a large enough container. Then, keep it on the bottommost shelf of the refrigerator.

This way, even if there is runoff, you don’t have to worry about the meat juices contaminating any other food in the fridge.

The great thing about this method is that it is safe – the ribs are kept in a cold environment, keeping it fresh until the rack is placed on the ribs.

The downside is that this is also one of the slowest methods out there. Using the refrigerator method, it can take you anywhere from 24 hours to 36 hours to defrost the ribs fully.

Fresh Pork Spare Ribs

How Do You Defrost Ribs Quickly?

If you are looking for a faster technique, then you can use the cold water method. This can thaw ribs quickly.

Place the ribs in a large enough container. Make sure that the ribs are tightly wrapped in plastic – the water shouldn’t touch the meat.

Pour cold tap water into the container – the water must be cold. This is so that the meat doesn’t enter the danger zone at any point. In doing so, you keep the ribs fresh and safe to eat.

If you feel that the water isn’t cold enough, you can add ice cubes to the cold water bath. Wait for 30 minutes and drain the cold water. Then, pour in fresh cold water. Drain and refill the bath every 30 minutes until the ribs are defrosted completely.

You can thaw meat in a matter of 4 to 5 hours using the cold water method.

Once done, you can cook ribs as normal.

Should You Defrost Ribs in the Microwave?

I know what you are thinking, if you want to thaw ribs quickly shouldn’t you pop them in the microwave? Won’t they be done in a matter of minutes this way?

The microwave defrost method is my least favorite option. This is because the microwave does such a disastrous job of thawing meat.

A microwave results in uneven heating. So, sections of the ribs will be defrosted, others will still be frozen, and other portions may even be cooked.

So, if you try to cook ribs, you are going to end up with some pretty bad ribs.

The other issue with thawing ribs in the microwave is that it puts your food in what is known as the Danger Zone. This is a zone of temperatures where bacteria can breed on your food at a much faster rate, putting you at a higher risk of food poisoning.

So, if you do use the microwave to heat up your food, make sure that you let the ribs cook right away. Don’t let the ribs sit out for any period of time.

Cooking Fully Thawed Ribs

Once the ribs have been completely defrosted, you can go ahead and start cooking them.

To begin with, preheat the smoker to 180 F.

While the grill is preheating, apply a thin layer of yellow mustard to the ribs. Then sprinkle on the rub and press down into the ribs.

Place the ribs in the smoker and close the lid. If you are using baby back ribs, then cook them for 2 hours. or spare ribs, do this for 3 hours.

Take the ribs out of the smoker and wrap them tightly in aluminum foil. At this point, you can also add extra flavorings like honey, brown sugar, butter, etc.

Cook the ribs for another 2 hours. Then, take the ribs out of the smoker and apply a thin layer of BBQ sauce to both sides. Place the ribs back in the smoker and cook for another hour.

Take the ribs out of the smoker for the final time and rest for 10 minutes before serving with sauce on the side.

Grilled BBQ Pork Ribs

Wrapping It Out

So, you have learned that it is best not to cook frozen ribs without thawing them first. And, you know the best ways for doing so, even when you are running low on time. All that is left for you to do is to put this knowledge to good use!

By Kristy J. Norton
I'm Kristy – a chef and connoisseur of all things BBQ! You can find me either in my kitchen (or someone else's) or at a big outdoor barbecue surrounded by friends and family. In both my professional and personal life I’ve picked up more than a few tips and tricks for turning out delicious food. I consider it a privilege to share it with others!
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