How to (Safely) Defrost Ribs

how to defrost ribs

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Ready to thaw the ribs that have been sitting in your freezer for a while but unsure of the correct way to do it?

We’re going to share exactly how to defrost ribs following USDA guidelines. But spoiler alert: You can actually safely cook frozen ribs. Keep reading to find out how.

How to defrost ribs

The USDA recommends 3 safe ways to thaw all types of meat: In the fridge, cold water, and microwave.

The USDA stresses that the meat must be kept at a safe temperature while thawing (below 40°F). It enters the Danger Zone (between 40 and 140°F) if it creeps over this temperature. In this range, harmful bacteria multiply rapidly, increasing the risk of foodborne illness.

rack of frozen pork ribs

1. The safest option: defrosting in the fridge

With fridges set at 40°F or below, refrigerator thawing is the safest option for defrosting ribs. It’s also the best option to ensure the thawed ribs maintain their natural flavor, tenderness, and texture.

The only downside? It takes time. The USDA states that every 5 pounds of meat takes about 24 hours to defrost. Your rack of frozen ribs will typically be between 2 and 5 pounds, so they’ll take up to a day to thaw.

There are a few factors to consider when thawing ribs in the fridge:

  • You’ll find the back of your fridge is cooler than the front. We recommend thawing ribs on the bottom shelf at the rear to prevent cross-contamination from any unexpected leaks.
  • Ribs will take longer to thaw in a 35°F fridge than in a 40°F fridge, so check the temp before determining your thawing time.
  • Place the wrapped ribs on a plate, shallow tray, or container to catch the melted ice and prevent leaks.

After you thaw frozen ribs in the fridge, they’ll last up to 5 days.

2. The faster option: defrosting in cold water

If you have the time to keep an eye on your defrosting ribs, thawing them in cold water is definitely the faster option.

Here are some tips from the USDA:

  • Ensure the meat is sealed tightly in a leakproof bag or packaging. Otherwise, you’ll introduce bacteria and water, affecting the end result. No one wants watery ribs!
  • Submerge the sealed ribs in a large bowl or the kitchen sink filled with cold tap water, changing it every 30 minutes. Changing the water is essential for keeping the ribs at a safe temperature. Adjust as needed, and don’t be scared to add ice or change the water more often if it gets warm quickly.
  • Thaw times vary depending on the meat type and size, but estimate 30 minutes per pound.

If you defrost ribs using cold water, you must cook them immediately. You also must cook them before refreezing.

3. The worst option: defrosting in the microwave (don’t do this)

We like to think of defrosting in the microwave as the absolute last resort. There are a few reasons for this:

  • Thawing in the microwave is very uneven. You’ll find some areas might reach that Danger Zone before others. So, if you do thaw in the microwave, prepare to cook the ribs immediately.
  • The USDA doesn’t recommend holding partially cooked food because it increases the risk of harmful bacteria growth. This makes applying a rub to your ribs and adding them to the smoker much more difficult.
  • Microwave thawing typically dries out the meat. Just like we don’t want watery ribs, we don’t want rubbery ones either!

But if you choose this method, take these steps to make it as safe as possible:

  1. Remove the ribs from their plastic packaging, placing them in a microwave-safe container and covering them loosely.
  2. According to MSU Extension, select your microwave’s defrost feature and enter the weight. Alternatively, set it at 30 percent power. Defrosting will take between 7 to 8 minutes per pound. This depends on things like the microwave’s wattage, the thickness, and the size of the ribs. You must closely monitor them to ensure they don’t overcook.
  3. If your microwave doesn’t automatically rotate, manually rotate the ribs halfway through thawing.

Ribs thawed in the microwave must also be cooked immediately. We’ll let you use your judgment regarding microwave thawing. But cooking frozen ribs would be preferable.

How not to defrost ribs

According to the USDA, you shouldn’t thaw ribs (or any meat for that matter) in hot water or leave them on the counter at room temperature for more than 2 hours.

Can you re-freeze thawed ribs?

The USDA states meat stored in the fridge can be refrozen without cooking. The only catch is there may be some loss in quality.

How long does it take to thaw ribs in the fridge?

The USDA estimates that every 5 pounds of meat takes about 24 hours to defrost. Based on this, you’re looking at roughly 5 hours per pound. But this is just a guideline. Factors like your fridge and freezer’s temperatures can impact the thawing time.

Can you cook ribs from frozen?

raw frozen seasoned pork rib in smoker

Yes, you can safely cook meat from frozen without thawing. We tried smoking pork ribs from frozen and found no difference in taste and tenderness.

The big difference is that it takes longer to cook frozen ribs than thawed (sometimes up to 50% longer). For this particular recipe, the cooking time was 3.5 hours. The bark also took longer to set because of the extended cooking time and looked a little uneven. 

But overall, if you don’t care about appearance, cooking frozen ribs is an excellent alternative when on a time crunch. For best results, ensure they reach an internal temperature of 195°F. Then, let them rest for 10 to 15 minutes before serving.

How to store ribs in the freezer

You can store fresh ribs in the freezer for up to 12 months. For best results, seal them tightly to prevent freezer burn.

How to reheat ribs

We have a comprehensive guide detailing several ways to reheat ribs without drying them out.

Rib recipes

Now you know how to defrost ribs safely, put these methods into practice by making one of these delicious recipes with your thawed ribs:

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