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

September 22, 2023
Written by Kristy J. Norton
Edited by John Smits 

Yes, you can cook frozen ribs, but I wouldn’t recommend it. You can also cook steak in a microwave. Just because you can do something doesn’t mean you should. Some ribs will be burned, others undercooked, and they’ll all taste lousy.

As the go-to gal when it comes to BBQ, I am no stranger to frantic calls from my friends. My friend called me up the other day to ask, “Can you cook frozen ribs?” My answer was, “Yes, but…”. Now, I’m sharing my knowledge with you!

I will show you why you can cook frozen pork ribs, and why it’s not a good idea. I will also cover the best methods for defrosting your ribs so you can cook them right. Let’s begin!

Can You Cook Frozen Ribs

Is It Possible to Cook Frozen Pork Ribs?

Technically, yes, you can cook frozen ribs.

And, in case you are wondering:

Can you put frozen ribs in the oven to cook?

The answer is yes once again.

Here’s 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 won’t defrost at the same rate. So, one section will be defrosting at a steady rate while the other will be slower to thaw. Eventually, 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 to temp, and others still undercooked.

Congratulations! You’ve cooked some terrible ribs. Save your money. Do it right. More on how in a bit.

How Long Does It Take to Cook Frozen Ribs?

On average, you should expect that it will take you up to 50 percent longer to cook the ribs. It takes longer because you’re cooking the ribs from frozen (0°F) instead of refrigerator temps (40°F). Let me do the math for you – that’s an extra 40°F you’ll need to cook them.

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

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.

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.

Raw Spare Ribs with Herbs

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. You’re better off defrosting the ribs or buying a new, fresh rack. If you’re determined to smoke frozen ribs, here is what you need to do:

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, 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.

Your best bet is to thaw the ribs first, then cook them. Or run to the grocery store and grab a fresh rack. I do not recommend cooking frozen ribs.

The Smoker Temperature

Usually, I like to go with a lower temperature when smoking, grilling, or 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. Again, your best bet is to get fresh ribs or thaw your frozen ribs before cooking.

Tracking the Internal Temperature

When it comes to cooking frozen ribs, it’s important to use a thermometer. For one thing, it ensures that each portion of the ribs is done. 

When the ribs have reached an internal temperature of 203°F throughout, then you can take them off the heat.

Again, cooking thawed ribs is the best option. If you want to serve your guests food that, you know, tastes good, thaw your ribs first. Up next, I’ll show you how to thaw ribs safely.

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What is the Best Way to Thaw Ribs?

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 in a large container. This will help contain any juice that may leak out.

The great thing about this method is that it is safe – the ribs are kept in a cold environment. No risk from the “Danger Zone,” which is between 40°F and 140°F. Bacteria multiply rapidly at Danger Zone temperatures. The Danger Zone might be a great song by Kenny Loggins, but it’s not so great for your meat.

The downside is that the refrigerator is the slowest defrosting method out there. Using the refrigerator method, it can take you anywhere from 24 hours to 36 hours to defrost the ribs fully. Figure 24 hours for every 5 pounds of meat.

Whole Pork Ribs with Herbs and Spices

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How Do You Defrost Ribs Quickly?

If you are looking for a faster technique, you can use the cold water method. It thaws ribs quickly.

Place the ribs in a large enough container. I use my sink with a stopper. 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. 

If you feel that the water isn’t cold enough, you can add ice cubes to the cold water bath. You’re looking for water that’s under 40°F. Add more ice cubes if the water climbs above 40°F.

You can thaw ribs in 1 to 3 hours using the cold water method. Flip the ribs occasionally.

Once done, cook the ribs as normal. Food defrosted this way should be cooked immediately, according to the USDA.

Should You Defrost Ribs in the Microwave?

No, you should not defrost ribs in the microwave. The microwave defrosting method is my least favorite option. A microwave does a disastrous job of thawing large cuts of meat.

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?

Here’s the deal. A microwave defrosts unevenly. So, sections of the ribs will be defrosted, others will still be frozen, and other portions may even be cooked.

So, when you go to cook ribs, you’ll end up with some terrible ribs.

The other issue with thawing ribs in the microwave is that it puts your food in the Danger Zone. 

So, if you do use the microwave to defrost ribs (again, please don’t), make sure that you cook the ribs right away. Don’t let the ribs sit out for any period of time.

Microwaves are great for popcorn. Defrosting large cuts of meat? Not so much.

Cooking Fully Thawed Ribs

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

To begin with, preheat your smoker to 225°F.

While the grill is preheating, apply a thin layer of yellow mustard to the ribs. Then sprinkle on your favorite 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. For 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, butter, beer, etc. Go nuts with whatever tasty liquid you like.

Cook the ribs for another 2 hours. Then, take the ribs out of the smoker and unwrap them. Place the ribs back in the smoker and cook for another hour. Brush on sauce, if using, during the last 15 minutes or so of cooking.

Take the ribs out of the smoker for the final time. Serve immediately with sauce on the side.

Grilled BBQ Ribs with Rosemary and Sauce

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Wrapping It Up

So, you have learned that it is best not to cook frozen ribs without thawing them first. And now you know the best ways to thaw ribs, even if you are pressed for time. 

Don’t try cooking frozen ribs. It’s a recipe for a terrible meal. You’ll spend hours smoking them, only to be disappointed with the results. Grab a fresh rack from the grocery store if you’re really pressed for time. Happy grilling!

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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