Can Ribs Be Pink? Your Comprehensive Guide!

December 14, 2023
Written by Kristy J. Norton
Edited by John Smits 

A little bit of pink in your ribs is nothing to be afraid of – in fact, it is exactly what you should look for. I recommend cooking to temperature, not color. The minimum internal doneness temperature for pork is 145°F, but ribs should be cooked to around 200°F for maximum tenderness. If your ribs are completely pink throughout, they need to cook for longer.

I love ribs. Tender, rich, and meaty ribs (paired with an ice-cold beer) are my idea of a perfect meal. As someone who has BBQing for years and is professionally trained in food safety, I am here to say that you can eat ribs that have a bit of pink color!

I’ll cover why pink ribs are nothing to be afraid of and show you how to cook your ribs to perfection. Let’s go!

Can Ribs Be Pink

Is It OK If Pork Ribs Are a Little Pink?

A little bit of pink color on your spare or baby back ribs is fine! In most instances, cooked pork ribs will still contain some pink color throughout the white meat. These ribs are safe to eat, as long as the internal temp is above 145°F. (But again, ribs really shine at 200°F.)

Why Are My Ribs Still Pink?

Well, it turns out that there is a scientific explanation for ribs that have a trace of pink:

Myoglobin is a protein found inside rib meat, ground pork, red meat, and other meats as well, and it’s why your ribs are pink. The iron in myoglobin gives the meat a pink color. There is more myoglobin in red meats than in white meats, so red meats have more pink than white meats (like pork ribs).

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How Are Pink Ribs Safe to Eat?

When it comes to cooking ribs, the biggest concern is the risk of food poisoning. Being concerned about eating ribs that are a little pink is very natural!

But, as long as you cook ribs to an internal temperature of 145°F, they are safe to eat.

Just because the ribs are considered “done” doesn’t mean that you can stop the smoke just yet. The meat on the ribs needs more time to cook, so the tissues can break down. It is only then that you get really tender meat.

For ribs that slide off the bone, cook until they reach an internal temperature of around 200°F.

Spicy BBQ Pork Ribs with Ketchup

How Do You Tell If Ribs Are Undercooked?

The best way to tell if ribs are fully cooked is with a thermometer. I smoke my ribs to around 200°F. There are some in the BBQ community who say you can’t temp ribs because they aren’t meaty enough. I say nonsense. There’s plenty of meat on there to slide a probe into.

Undercooked pork will also have a more pink color and very little brown or white to them. Fully cooked ribs will only be slightly pink.

Another sign of perfectly cooked ribs is the “toothpick test.” Stick a toothpick or BBQ skewer into the rib meat. It should glide in with almost no resistance. If it does, your meat is fully cooked. Pull it off the grill!

If you are finding it difficult to get the skewer in, though, then you are dealing with undercooked meat. Let those ribs keep smoking! 

Are Undercooked Ribs OK to Eat?

No, it absolutely isn’t! There is no guarantee that undercooked meat will make you sick, but the risk is quite high.

The last thing that you want to do is to get yourself or your friends and family sick. Especially if you are hosting a cookout.

Older people and young children are at a higher risk of severe food poisoning and may even need to be hospitalized in certain cases. Cook pork to at least 145°F to make sure it’s safe to eat. 

How Should I Cook My Ribs?

For baby backs, I’m a big fan of the 2-2-1 method. Here’s how to use 2-2-1 method: first, the ribs are smoked for 2 hours over indirect low heat (around 250°F).

Then wrap them tightly in foil and smoke them for 2 hours. Wrapping the ribs locks in those juices, and helps make the ribs ultra tender. I like to add a half stick of butter to each rack when I wrap them, but any flavorful liquid works. Beer, cider, and vinegar are all popular options. The extra moisture works its way into the rack of ribs.

After smoking the wrapped ribs for 2 hours, unwrap them. Now, let them cook uncovered for around an hour, until the ribs read about 200°F and are toothpick tender.

If you’re applying a sauce, do so around 15 minutes before pulling the ribs from the heat.

If I’m making spare ribs, I use the 3-2-1 method. This is similar to the 2-2-1 method but here you cook the ribs for 3 hours before wrapping. Why the extra hour? Well, spares are larger than baby back ribs by weight. They take a bit longer to smoke.

So for spares, it’s 3 hours unwrapped, 2 hours wrapped, and a final hour unwrapped. 

So, your baby back ribs will be done cooking in around 5 hours. Spare ribs will take about 6 hours to cook.

Rack of Baby Back Pork Ribs on the Grill

Fall Off the Bone Ribs vs. Competition Ribs

Some people like their ribs to “fall off the bone.” That’s great. Cook the ribs how you like them. For “fall off the bone ribs,” let them cook a bit longer, to around 205°F internal temp. It also helps to add more liquid when wrapping the ribs. The liquid steams and braises the meat, making it more tender.

However, if you’re cooking for a BBQ competition and the meat is falling off the bone, you’re not going to win that competition. BBQ judges, as well as many in the BBQ community, like a little “tug” on their ribs.

Competition rib meat should pull cleanly from the bone, but it shouldn’t be falling off on its own. 

Tips for Great Smoked Ribs

Here are some tips that will result in delicious ribs every time you fire up your smoker:

Dry Brine the Ribs

Up to 24 hours before cooking, apply a dry brine. Don’t worry, dry brining is easy!

Sprinkle ½ teaspoon of Kosher salt per pound of meat on the ribs. Use ¼ teaspoon if you’re using table salt. Stick the uncovered ribs in the fridge, and you’re good to go! The salt adds flavor and makes the ribs juicier.

I like to dry brine overnight, but it will help even if you only apply the brine an hour before cooking.

Smoke on a Low Temperature

I know that some people like to crank it up to around 275°F when smoking ribs, but if it’s your first time, shoot for 225°F or 250°F. Lower smoker temperatures will keep the meat from drying out and make it taste juicier.

If you want to finish the last hour or so of the cook at a higher temperature (around 300°F) you can. This will speed things up. But if you’re new to BBQ, I’d stick to 225°F for your first cook.

Wrap the Ribs Tightly

As I mentioned, you need to wrap the ribs. I use aluminum foil for this. I’m not aware of anyone who uses butcher paper for ribs, but if you want to try a side-by-side, go nuts! Let me know how the ribs turn out.

Make sure to create a really tight seal around the ribs. This locks in moisture, which means your ribs will be incredibly moist and juicy.

Cook the Ribs Until They are at Least 200°F

I know I may sound like a broken record, but this is the number one mistake new pit bosses make. They get impatient and pull the ribs off the cooker too soon.

I get it, a 4 or 5-hour cook is a big commitment. But for truly spectacular smoked ribs, the internal temp needs to be at least 200°F (for me, the magic number is 203°F). Don’t pull your ribs until they hit at least 200°F, or they’ll be tough and stringy.

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Rest Your Ribs

You can get away without resting ribs, but if I’ve got time, I like to rest them for at least an hour. I wrap them in aluminum foil after I cook them, then stick them in an insulated cooler. It’s simple!

Grilled Pork Ribs with Leaves on the Wooden Board

Wrapping It Up

So, now you know – you can eat ribs that are a little pink or have a slight pink tinge. As long as you have followed the instructions for cooking the ribs, you should be fine!

Remember – whole cuts of pork need to be cooked to 145°F to be safe to eat. But ribs need to cook to 200°F internal temperature to make them tender, moist, and delicious. Now, get to cooking!

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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