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Baby Back Ribs: To Boil or Not to Boil

Updated on August 1, 2011
The BEST baby back ribs I've ever eaten: my Candy Apple baby back ribs recipe!
The BEST baby back ribs I've ever eaten: my Candy Apple baby back ribs recipe!

baby back ribs

Just about everyone who likes barbecued pork has a special fondness for baby back ribs. I ran across a baby back ribs recipe the other day that called for parboiling the ribs before grilling them. I’m not so sure that’s a good idea. In fact, I’m pretty sure it’s a bad idea. I’ve done it before in very specific circumstances, however, and the results were okay.

Years ago, when I was just a beginning baby back ribs cook, we were going camping with some friends. I was supposed to bring some type of meat to cook over the campfire, and I chose baby back ribs. I boiled the ribs until they were almost done, then I put them in a huge glass pickle jar and covered them with BBQ sauce. All we had to do was to cook the ribs quickly over the fire to brown the outside and to heat them. As I said, the baby back ribs were okay, and they worked pretty well for that specific situation, but now I know better.

Baby back ribs are full of fat and collagen. When you slow cook them, all that breaks down, giving the ribs their indescribable flavor. Boiling is a fast way to cook meat, and when you parboil ribs, much of the fat and flavor end up in the water. You don’t get the full advantages of eating and enjoying ribs to the fullest.

If you want to pre-cook your ribs before placing them on the grill, do it in the oven. Apply a wet or dry rub to the ribs first, and wrap them tightly in foil. Bake them on a cookie sheet at a low heat setting for a couple of hours, then transfer them to the grill. All the seasonings from the rub will be contained in the foil packets, and the “low and slow” cooking technique will help the flavors penetrate the flesh. Of course, even with this cooking method, you won’t get any additional smoke flavor.

A better way to slow cook baby back ribs is to use a smoker, or to use an indirect cooking method on your barbecue grill. Our smoker cooks at a low temperature – around 200-225 degrees, which is a perfect temperature for cooking ribs. Most of the time, I finish the ribs on a hot charcoal grill once they’ve been on the smoker for a while. You can do practically the same thing with a charcoal grill, too. Just create two cooking zones on your grill – a hot side and a cooler side – and slow-cook the ribs on the opposite side of the heat. When the baby back ribs are almost done, move them over the direct heat for browning and to caramelize the barbecue sauce you’ve applied.


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    • DeBorrah K. Ogans profile image

      DeBorrah K Ogans 6 years ago

      Habee, Thank You For the great tips! Ribs cooked in the smoker are quite tasty! Peace & Blessings!

    • jean2011 profile image

      jean2011 6 years ago from Canada

      I bet you are a good chef! Great advice.

    • Mary Stuart profile image

      Mary 6 years ago from Washington

      You have inspired me to cook up some ribs! I, too, love cooking. i am truly a foodie! I will read your blogs with great zeal. :)

    • Dolores Monet profile image

      Dolores Monet 6 years ago from East Coast, United States

      Love your cooking tips. Slow cooking on the grill sounds best, then a quick browning. I've parboiled them real slow in winter to brown in the oven, but never again!

    • saif113sb profile image

      saif113sb 6 years ago

      Very nice and great information hub. thanks

    • Hello, hello, profile image

      Hello, hello, 6 years ago from London, UK

      Holle, it is not what is says - baby back ribs,is it? lol You should get a medal for your great recipes. I will write to Mr Obama.

    • drbj profile image

      drbj and sherry 6 years ago from south Florida

      It is sacrilege to pre-boil ribs - it removes their great taste. Down with pre-boilers. Slow cooking is the way.

    • akirchner profile image

      Audrey Kirchner 6 years ago from Washington

      Very interesting - and a topic that was just at our dinner table recently~!

    • RNMSN profile image

      Barbara Bethard 6 years ago from Tucson, Az

      southerners always know the Best way to cook ribs don't we??? uumm yummy

    • profile image

      DoorMattnomore 6 years ago


      Ive never tried boiling before, I just plan ahead to make sure I can slow cook them. My gut instinct was that boiling would be bad. I've never heard the whole soda tip before so who knows, maybe in a pinch I woudld try it out. I am wondering if you have an opinion on pressure cooking them? I recently got a pressure cooker as a gift, and the book came with rib recipies in it. I sort of want to try it out but am afraid, here ribs are mighty expensive and I would be super upset to wreck them.

    • habee profile image

      Holle Abee 6 years ago from Georgia

      Clover, I've never tried that, but I think I'll stick to "low and slow." lol. Thanks for visiting!

    • habee profile image

      Holle Abee 6 years ago from Georgia

      Paul, exactly! As I said in a previous response, boiling changes the texture of the meat as well as removing some of the natural flavor. You can always add Sprite to your sauce, or marinate the ribs in Sprite before cooking.

    • habee profile image

      Holle Abee 6 years ago from Georgia

      Random - girlfriend, you need to try cooking some baby back ribs at home! lol

    • habee profile image

      Holle Abee 6 years ago from Georgia

      Yum, Dusty! Wish we lived closer. Apple juice is good for putting in the water pan, too. It gives baby back ribs, spare ribs, Boston butts, turkey, and ham a wonderful flavor!

      BTW, how are you doing, healthwise? Been thinkin' about you!

    • habee profile image

      Holle Abee 6 years ago from Georgia

      Mike, have you ever tried pecan wood? We do a lot of smoking, and it's our favorite!

    • habee profile image

      Holle Abee 6 years ago from Georgia

      Cardisa, if you want an awesome baby back ribs recipe, click the link in the hub for my FAVORITE!!

    • habee profile image

      Holle Abee 6 years ago from Georgia

      Good, Susan! I think boiling changes the texture too much.

    • habee profile image

      Holle Abee 6 years ago from Georgia

      Hi, Suzie! You'll get lots more smoky flavor in your baby ribs from the grill. Good to see you!

    • Cloverleaf profile image

      Cloverleaf 6 years ago from Calgary, AB, Canada

      Habee: I love baby back ribs! I've tried the method of boiling them first, and I find that the best thing to boil them in is Ginger Ale.

    • Paul Edmondson profile image

      Paul Edmondson 6 years ago from Burlingame, CA

      I heard recently about boiling baby back ribs in 7up or Sprite mixture that I want to try. My concern is that the boiling will cook them, but that it will also wash out the flavor.

    • randomcreative profile image

      Rose Clearfield 6 years ago from Milwaukee, Wisconsin

      I have never made my own baby back ribs, but I would love to sometime. Thanks for the tips!

    • 50 Caliber profile image

      50 Caliber 6 years ago from Arizona

      Holle, I scream NOOOOOOO at par boiling any meat and I don't have to say why as you covered the topic well and your low and slow methods of indirect heat match mine to a T. I will cook two Boston butts, or shoulders on my big smoker for around 6 hours at 200 or so, when they have got a good smoke ring and the meat is pulling away from the bone I then wrap them in foil and move them to my oven set as low as it goes (200) and go to bed taking them out when I get up and total cooking time for them is 14 hours, I pull the moist meat by hand after it's cool enough not to burn my fingers.

      When it comes to ribs I use the same rub and I have 3 smokers all have places for metal bread loaf pans I fill with water the one right next to the fire hole boils out and the far end evaporates at a pan every two hours and I have holes for a funnel to add water with out opening the lid. I just move the ribs to a smaller smoker for me and if folks are coming I fill the big smoker 5 foot across, to the 4 ft mark away from the heat and rotate them at a 200 to 225, I have mounted thermometers at rack level one at each end and one in the center. Many mount their thermometers up high and get a much hotter reading than the actual temperature at the level the meat sits. nuff said? dusty

    • Teddletonmr profile image

      Mike Teddleton 6 years ago from Midwest USA

      Boil eggs not baby back rids. I agree with the low and slow bbq method. A bit of hard wood charcoal for flavor, and you will have bbq baby back rids that will taste so gooood. They will make your toung beat your brains out licking your lips.

      Great stuf habee, happy barbecueing. Mike

    • Cardisa profile image

      Carolee Samuda 6 years ago from Jamaica

      I can't believe a no recipe hub about ribs is making me this hungry! Very good tips, I usually do the foil wrap for meats that are bit harder to cook, it steams the meat and retain the flavor and the juices. Boiling is not a good idea unless you are making soup or broth.

    • Just Ask Susan profile image

      Susan Zutautas 6 years ago from Ontario, Canada

      I have cooked these both ways and I really prefer not boiling them at all before throwing them on the grill.

    • suziecat7 profile image

      suziecat7 6 years ago from Asheville, NC

      I've tried boiling them first too. I agree slow cooking in the oven is preferable. I'll try it on the grill next time. Thanks.