Can You Freeze Ribs? BBQ’s Best Kept Cold Secret

October 16, 2023
Written by Kristy J. Norton
Edited by John Smits 

Yes, you can freeze both raw and cooked ribs, but you have to do it the right way to ensure that the ribs maintain taste and texture once they are defrosted.

When I was a sous chef at a fine dining restaurant, I was taught the secrets of freezing ribs, and I am now passing on that wisdom to you. 

In this post, I am going to explain how to freeze ribs, how long they can be stored, what to package them in, and a whole lot more! Let’s get to it.

Can You Freeze Ribs

Can You Freeze Ribs Raw?

Yes, you can absolutely freeze raw ribs! This is true for baby back ribs, spare ribs, and even beef ribs.

Frozen ribs have a much longer lifespan than those stored in the refrigerator. That being said, for best taste, it is best to cook and eat the meat within 4 to 6 months after freezing. Frozen food stays good indefinitely, but freezer burn sets in after 4 to 6 months, making the meat taste almost inedible.

If you have a vacuum sealer, the ribs will keep in the freezer for longer than 4 to 6 months. Vacuum-sealed ribs should be good for at least a year.

Can You Freeze Cooked Ribs?

Yes, you can freeze cooked ribs!

It isn’t as common to freeze cooked pork ribs, but it is certainly possible. As with the uncooked ribs, you can freeze pork ribs as well as beef ribs.

Cooked ribs don’t last quite as long in the freezer as raw, uncooked pork ribs and uncooked beef ribs. Still, after you freeze cooked ribs, they should be good for 2 to 3 months.

That said, I do like to thaw and reheat the rack within a month because this is when I feel that they taste the best.

Do BBQ Ribs Freeze Well?

Yes, cooked ribs freeze surprisingly well. This, of course, is as long as the cooked ribs are frozen in the right manner and then reheated properly.

Tender Lean Pork Ribs with Spices on a Board

Is It Better to Freeze Ribs Before or After Cooking?

As I have mentioned above, both raw and cooked ribs hold up equally well to freezing.

That being said, I do personally prefer freezing raw ribs as opposed to cooked ribs. You can’t quite compare thawed cooked ribs to those that you take fresh off the grill.

In case you are hosting a cookout and wondering if you should grill the rack ahead of time, place ribs in the freezer, and then thaw before your guests arrive, I would suggest otherwise. In this scenario, it is better to prepare fresh racks.

How Long Can You Freeze Ribs?

While your ribs will stay good in the freezer indefinitely, you should only keep them frozen for 4 to 6 months at a time.

As for cooked ribs, you can freeze the rack for around 2 to 3 months. To ensure that they taste as good as possible, though, you should reheat the ribs closer to 1 month.

How to Freeze Uncooked Ribs?

Here are the steps that you should follow:

Step 1: Freeze the Ribs Immediately

It doesn’t matter if you have just come home from the store or taken the rack out of the refrigerator – freeze the ribs immediately.

The longer that the meat is kept out or at room temperature, the greater the risk for bacteria growth. Keep in mind that even if you freeze the meat that has been left out for a long time, the risk of food poisoning is still quite high.

Step 2: Use Proper Packaging

The good news is that there are lots of different kinds of packaging that you can use to freeze beef and pork ribs.

You can use aluminum foil, plastic wrap, freezer paper, or freezer bags. Personally, I like the freezer bags as they provide a good seal.

Step 3: Wrap the Pork Ribs

If your ribs are packed in Cryovac packaging, you’re all set. Stick them in the freezer. They should last 1 to 3 years in the freezer because all the air has been pushed out of the packaging. 

If the ribs are packed in a different packaging from the store, here’s what to do:

Keep the ribs in their original packaging. If using aluminum foil, paper, or plastic wrap, make sure to wrap the pork ribs thoroughly. You should create a tight seal to keep the meat as fresh as possible.

Place the ribs in the bag and squeeze as much air as possible out of the bag. This will help to prevent freezer burn.

Then, seal the bag shut.

Step 4: Freeze the Ribs

If you have a lot of frozen items in your freezer, make sure to label the wrapped rack. It is also a good idea to write down the date of freezing. This will ensure that you use up the meat within the right amount of time.

Then, leave the ribs in the freezer until needed.

Raw Pork Ribs along with Tomatoes, Lemon and Rosemary

How to Freeze Cooked Ribs?

These are the guidelines you should follow to freeze cooked ribs:

Step 1: Freeze Lukewarm Ribs

It is a good idea to freeze cooked ribs shortly after they have been cooked. However, don’t place hot ribs in the freezer.

This will bring down the overall temperature inside the freezer and risk spoilage for all the other foods in there as well.

Instead, let the ribs cool completely. Then put them in the freezer.

Step 2: Wrap the Ribs

You can choose from plastic wrapping, foil, freezer paper, and a freezer bag to freeze the cooked ribs in.

If you are using plastic, foil, or paper, make sure to wrap the ribs tightly. You need to create a tight seal so that the taste and texture of the ribs remain.

In case you are using a freezer bag, place the ribs inside and push all the air out of the bag. Then, seal it tightly.

Step 3: Freeze the Ribs

Make sure to label the packaging and also write down the date that you are freezing the ribs.

Then, place in the refrigerator and keep until needed.

How to Thaw Frozen Uncooked Ribs?

There are two main ways to thaw frozen pork ribs that haven’t been cooked yet.

The best method is to thaw frozen ribs in the refrigerator. Place the ribs in an appropriate container and let them defrost.

The only downside with this method is that it can be rather time-consuming. It can take up to 24 hours for a small rack to defrost and about 36 hours for a large rack.

Your other option is to use a cold water bath. This is faster than the refrigerator method. Here, you place the ribs – still in their packaging – in a container filled with cold water. I use my sink with a stopper in the drain. The water has to be very cold, but tap water will do.

Keep the ribs in the bath for 30 minutes. Add ice cubes every 30 minutes to keep the water cold.

Don’t try to defrost your ribs by sticking them on the counter. It’s not safe. Never keep meat out of the refrigerator for longer than 2 hours, as this can result in food poisoning.

You should also never microwave the ribs. The microwave is unreliable as it creates hot and cold spots. This means that only certain portions of the meat will defrost, while other sections may still be frozen while others are cooked all the way through.

Once defrosted, you can cook the meat on the grill, slow cooker, or however else you like.

Related Reading

How to Reheat Frozen Cooked Ribs?

Once the ribs have thawed, fire up your grill. Then, arrange each rack on a baking sheet. Cover the baking sheet with foil and then place the sheet on the grill.

Grill for about 15 to 25 minutes until the meat is heated all the way through. You may want to baste the meat with barbecue sauce halfway through.

Take the meat off the grill and then apply more barbecue sauce before serving.

Juicy Grilled Pork with Rosemary Leaves

Wrapping It Up

There you have it – all that you need to know about freezing a rack of ribs, regardless of whether it is cooked or not. Ribs freeze up great. Uncooked ribs can freeze for 4 to 6 months before use, while cooked ribs are best consumed within a month after freezing.

Go ahead and put this knowledge to good use!

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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