How to Reheat Ribs

ribs on smoker in foil

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I’m sure your ribs are so good you never have leftovers (if they aren’t we have a recipe that can help you out).

But on the off chance you over catered and find yourself with some leftover ribs you’re going to want to know the best way to reheat them.

To help you avoid reheating your ribs only to have them turn into a dried out mess, we’ll show you how to properly store your ribs to lock in as much moisture as possible, plus a few different techniques for reheating them to keep them tender and tasty.

How to reheat ribs without drying them out

Reheating ribs and not having them turn into a dried-out stringy mess is all about proper storage.

If you are freezing or refrigerating ribs, you need to take steps to lock in as much moisture as possible.

We’ll go over some specific reheating methods in more detail later in the article, but first, here are some essential tips for storing and reheating your ribs that will help you get the best from your leftover rack.

  • Refrigerate your ribs as soon as possible. The longer your meat spends in the “Danger Zone” between 40 °F and 140 °F, the quicker colonies of bacteria like Staphylococcus, Salmonella and E. coli will start to grow.
  • The best way to chill your ribs quickly is to cut them into single-serving sized portions. This normally means cutting a rack in half or thirds, depending on how much you like your ribs.
  • Once you’ve cut the rack down, wrap the portions in a double layer of foil, seal them in a watertight plastic bag, and get them into a cooler filled with ice. Don’t leave meat out unrefrigerated for more than two hours.
  • Keep your ribs in a sealed container, zip lock bag or, even better, a vacuum-sealed bag to minimize moisture loss when storing.
  • As per USDA guidelines, make sure you are bringing your ribs back up to an internal temperature of at least 145 °F to kill off any lingering bacteria.
  • Cooking, reheating, refrigeration, and freezing will all steal moisture away from your ribs. So, when you are reheating them, you’ll need to add moisture back in. You can do this with a splash of broth or coke for beef ribs while apple juice or cider vinegar works well for pork ribs.
  • When you get round to reheating your ribs, try and avoid high direct heat. You cooked your ribs low and slow to keep them moist, and that is the best way to reheat them.

Reheating ribs in the oven 

Reheating ribs in the oven is the preferred technique of Matthew Register, owner of Southern Smoke BBQ in Garland.

He suggests following these steps to keep the meat from drying out:

  • Preheat your oven to 250˚F.
  • If you cooked your ribs in a sauce, add another layer of sauce to keep the meat moist or add a little liquid, like coke, broth or beer.
  • Place the ribs in a pan and cover with foil.
  • Cook your leftover ribs until their internal temperature comes up to a safe 145˚F.
  • Remove the foil and cook for another 10 to 15 minutes to let the sauce caramelize and to add a little crispness back to the bark.
  • If you used a spice rub on your ribs, wait until they are reheated and re-cover them with rub before serving.

Use the Sous Vide method to reheat ribs

Sous vide, French for ‘under vacuum’ uses a hot water bath to cook food that is sealed in a plastic bag. If you are already using a vacuum sealer to store your food, this is ideal as you can take your ribs from the fridge or freezer and just put them straight into the Sous vide.

You can get specialist sous vide cookers, but it can also be done with a large pot on the stove-top.

  • Bring either your sous vide machine or a sizeable stove-top pot of water up to 165° F.
  • Place the vacuum bags filled with your leftover ribs into the machine/pot.
  • Let the bags sit in the hot water bath for 45 minutes per inch of the thickness of the contents.
  • If you are cooking your stored ribs from frozen, leave it in there for an additional 30 minutes.
  • You don’t need to worry about adding additional moisture because the bag is sealed and sous vide uses indirect heat to cook your meat.

A vacuum sealer like this is quite a handy machine to have in the kitchen for storing and reheating bbq leftovers.

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Reheat ribs in the air fryer

An air fryer uses concentrated hot air to replicate cooking in a deep fat fryer. This makes it great for reheating your ribs and keeping a good crust on the outside. 

Unfortunately, the air fryer doesn’t work well with wet food, so it’s better suited to ribs with a dry rub than those soaked in BBQ sauce.

  • Set your air fryer to preheat to 350° F.
  • Slice your ribs up so they will fit comfortably into your air fryer without you needing to jam them in. Overloading the air fryer means the hot air won’t be able to circulate and some of your ribs won’t come up to that all-important 140˚F.
  • Add in a tablespoon of oil to stop your ribs from getting dry and add some extra crispiness to the bark.
  • Cook your ribs for around  3-4 minutes and then check their internal temperature. Air fryers can burn food quite quickly, so cook in short bursts to make sure your ribs aren’t drying out.

Reheat ribs in a steamer

Reheating your ribs in the steamer is a great way to keep the meat moist and to create a little basting liquid as part of the process.

  • Put a quarter cup of apple juice in a large pot on the stove and heat it until boiling. If you’re reheating beef ribs, you can switch the apple juice out for beer or a thin beef broth.
  • Put your ribs in the steamer basket, cover with the lid and place over the pot.
  • Steam your ribs for around 30 minutes. While they are steaming, try not to remove the lid. This lets the steam escape and lowers the temperature in the pan. You more you remove the lid, the longer those ribs are going to take to cook.
  • After 30 minutes, check the temperature of your ribs. If they are up to 140˚F, turn them out onto a plate. If not, keep steaming until they come up to temp, adding a little more liquid to the pot if necessary. 
  • Season the liquid that’s left in the bottom of the pot, give it a good stir, and then thoroughly baste your freshly reheated ribs with it.

Should you reheat ribs in the Microwave?

Reheating ribs in the microwave is the usual day-after go-to because it is quick and easy, but it won’t give you the best results. Microwaves have a reputation for drying food out as well as not heating it consistently. 

However, if you are in a rush and nuking your ribs is the only thing you have time for, there are a few steps you can take to get the best results from your microwave.

Two wet paper towels

Moisture is key to reheating ribs and having them not drying into stringy inedibility. One easy way to do this is to soak two paper towels in water, ring them out and then place one under the container your ribs are in and one over it.

The microwave will quickly turn the water in the paper towels into steam, keeping your ribs nice and moist, and the paper towels will stop fat and BBQ sauce spitting all over the inside of your oven.

  • Separate your ribs and put them in an unlidded container. 
  • Add the two wet paper towels, one above and one below.
  • Microwave on medium power for two to three minutes and then check the ribs’ internal temperature.
  • If your ribs are up to 140˚F, serve them. If not continue to cook them in 30-second bursts until they reach temperature.

How to store cooked ribs

The most important thing to do when storing your leftover ribs is chilling them below 40°F as quickly as possible. If you are preparing them in advance, then the best way to do this is via the Wozniak Method

Mike Wozniak is the pitmaster of Quau, 2010 Kansas City Barbeque Society Team of the Year, so he knows a thing or two about meat.

The Wozniak Method

Once your ribs have finished cooking, cut them in single-serving portions, wrap them as tightly as possible in foil and pinch off the ends. You are trying to make as tight a seal as possible here.

  1. Cover your foil-wrapped ribs in a watertight plastic bag.
  2. Place the who package in a cooler filled with ice and cover it in ice.
  3. Once you get the temperature down to below 40° F, it is safe to move it to the fridge without the risk of it bringing the fridge temperature up high enough to spoil the rest of your food.

How to store ribs in the refrigerator 

You can save your leftover ribs in the fridge, as long as it’s below 40° F, for 3 to 5 days. To keep your ribs in the best condition, keep them in an airtight container or vacuum bag to minimize moisture loss.

If you have it to hand, it’s always a good idea to add the sauce you cooked the ribs in, or the drippings leftover from the cooking to the container before refrigeration to really lock in the moisture.

How to store ribs in the freezer

Your ribs can be stored in the freezer for 6 to 12 months, but it is essential to seal them tightly. Vacuum bags are the most effective and have the added advantage of being able to straight in the sous vide, but a tight seal with plastic wrap, foil, or a zip lock bag will also work nicely.

Reheated ribs done right!

Reheating your ribs doesn’t mean eating dry and tasteless food. If you do it right, they can be just as tasty and tender as the day they were cooked.

Just remember to chill them quickly, keep them moist, and use one of the cooking methods we’ve detailed above, and you can be in hog heaven all over again.

Do you have the perfect recipe for ribs that taste just as good the next day? Is there a reheating method we missed off our list that you think works best?

We’d love it if you’d let us know in the comments below and maybe share with other meat lovers using the sharing buttons.

John McCloy

John McCloy

Formerly a brand manager for the UK high street, John gave up that life for the far less stressful job of running his own business.He now likes to spend as much of his free time as possible hunched over a grill, reading about grills, or staring forlornly out of a window as the British weather makes it impossible to use his grill."
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