How to Defrost Ribs: A Lesson in Thawing

September 11, 2023
Written by Kristy J. Norton

There are two ways that you can defrost ribs – you can leave them in the refrigerator or you can use a cold water bath to speed things up.

I smoke ribs fairly often – despite this it actually took me a while to figure out the the best way to thaw ribs. I had to try out several different methods to determine which one got the job done. On the upside, I am now a pro at this and can share my knowledge with you!

In this post I will show you how to defrost ribs, identify the fastest method, and tell you which methods to steer clear of. Let’s get started!

How to defrost ribs

How to Defrost Ribs?

There are two main ways to defrost frozen ribs – here is a in-depth description for each option:

Thawing Ribs in the Refrigerator

The best method – and the safest method – involves defrosting ribs in the refrigerator.

The reason that it is the safest way is because the frozen ribs are kept at a cold temperature throughout.

This is important due to the danger zone – a temperature range between 40 F and 140 F. It is at this point that bacteria grow the fastest. When defrosting ribs in the refrigerator, the ribs are stored at a temperature well below the danger zone. Therefore, the risk of food poisoning is considerably lower.

This method also requires minimal effort. Simply place the pork ribs or beef ribs in a container or tray to catch any liquids. Then, place in the refrigerator overnight or until the thawing process is complete.

Now, you may be wondering how long it can take to defrost ribs in this way. Well, this does depend on the thickness of the ribs. Chunkier ribs can take up to 36 hours to thaw. Leaner ribs, on the other hand, may take around 24 hours to thaw.

I like to err on the side of caution here. So, I always start defrosting ribs about 2 days beforehand. This is fine as you can keep ribs in the fridge for 3 to 4 days before they need to be cooked.

The Cold Water Bath Method

While thawing meat in the fridge is a great option, it does take a long time. And, if you are like me, you don’t always have the opportunity to plan ahead all that much.

If so, it is the the cold water bath method to the rescue. You may have heard of this as it is quickly gaining popularity.


Can you defrost ribs in cold water?

Yes, you can! With the cold water method, you place the frozen ribs in a large bowl or container. Make sure that the ribs are in their original packaging. Also, since the meat shouldn’t come into contact with the water, I would suggest placing the ribs in freezer bags first.

Then, fill the container with cold tap water – never use hot water for this as the risk for bacterial growth is high.

If you feel like the water for your cold water bath isn’t cold enough, you can add a few ice cubes into the bowl.

While this method does speed things up for you, you may be wondering:

How do you quickly defrost ribs?

In this case, empty out the water in the bowl containing the frozen ribs every 30 minutes. Then, refill it with cold water. Continue to do this until you thaw the ribs. Depending on the size of the ribs, this may take up to four hours.

Frozen Beef Ribs

How to Thaw Cooked Ribs?

If your ribs are already cooked, then the refrigerator method is the only way to go here.

This is because there is just too much of a risk that if you place the ribs in water that some of it will get in the packaging, even if it is covered in plastic wrap. This can wipe away ingredients on the ribs and even alter the texture – and nobody wants that!

If you want to take the risk, I would suggest sealing the ribs in a freezer bag or plastic bag. Make sure to squeeze out all the air before sealing the bag. Otherwise, the bag will simply float in the water.

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Can You Leave Ribs Out to Defrost Overnight?

No! You should never leave frozen meat or raw meat out on the counter for more than 2 hours at room temperature. If it is a particularly warm season, then the pork ribs shouldn’t be kept out for longer than 1 hour.

If you do want to thaw meat overnight, make sure to do so in the refrigerator.

This is because when you keep frozen ribs out at room temperature, the meat will reach the danger zone more quickly. This means that bacteria begin to multiply rapidly and you end up with contaminated food.

If you were to eat this food, you may end up with issues like abdominal pain, vomiting, and other gastrointestinal discomfort and issues.

And, in case you were wondering, cooking the ribs will have no impact whatsoever. While bacteria is susceptible to heat, the toxins produced by the bacteria are heat resistant.

Therefore, you can still get food poisoning even after the cooking process.

Remember that spoilage is possible even if the ribs are kept covered throughout when stored at room temperature. This is because there is always some bacteria on meat, it is just that the quantity is very low. If you were to thaw ribs on the counter, though, the bacteria would multiply quickly.

Can You Thaw Ribs in the Microwave?

This is another question that I get fairly often and let me say with no hesitation that you should never defrost ribs in the microwave.

I know, I know defrosting ribs in the microwave is so easy! You just pop the ribs in a microwave safe container and it is done in a few minutes.

However, defrosting any kind of meat in the microwave is a bad idea.

The reason for this is that the microwave heats up food inconsistently. This leads to uneven thawing – so some parts are defrosted, some parts are frozen, and other parts are cooked all the way through!

As you can imagine, trying to cook ribs that are unevenly thawed can be a nightmare and there is a good chance that your ribs aren’t going to turn out all that nice.

The other issue with this method is that it puts the ribs in the danger zone. So, the ribs must be cooked immediately to avoid food poisoning.

I really would advise against thawing meat in this way. The results will be disastrous. Instead, just plan your meal ahead of time so that you can defrost ribs the right way.

Can You Cook Frozen Ribs?

Let’s face it, it can take a while to get fully thawed ribs, even when using the cold water bath method.

Due to this, it is only natural to wonder if cooking frozen ribs is possible.

Well, technically, you can cook frozen ribs. That being said, I wouldn’t advise it.

Raw Pork Ribs with Spices

This is because you end up with a similar problem as when you try to thaw the ribs via the microwave.

When you place frozen ribs on a hot grill, the ribs must then defrost on the ribs. However, this will not happen evenly or at the same rate. Instead, different parts of the ribs will defrost at different rates.

This also means that the ribs will also cook at different rates. So, while one portion of the ribs may be already done, another section may still be defrosting.

Due to this, you are likely to overcook some parts of the ribs while others are undercooked. This is why I say it is best to

If you have no option but cooking ribs before the ribs defrosted, make sure to use a meat thermometer to check the internal temperature of the meat along the rack.

This will help you to ensure that all the meat is a similar temperature before it comes off the grill. Be warned that the cooked ribs will still not be as good as if you waited for them to thaw properly first.

Top Tips to Thaw Ribs

Here are the guidelines that you should follow to ensure your ribs thaw to perfection:

Plan Ahead

A lot of people assume that once the ribs are defrosted that they have to be cooked. However, this isn’t the case. The ribs can actually be left in the refrigerator for up to four days.

This is why you can put the ribs in the refrigerator a day or two before they are needed. This will give the meat time to defrost fully and ensure that you have a little bit of leeway too.

Cut the Rack

If you are like most people, then it is likely that you don’t want to cut the rack of ribs before they are served. However, this is more about aesthetic appeal than anything else.

Cutting the ribs before cooking them isn’t going to impact the taste or the texture. So, if you can’t seem to fit the ribs in the refrigerator or a container as they are, then simply trim them ahead of time.

Use a Container

Never defrost ribs without first placing them in a container. Forget to do this and I guarantee that raw juices will be all over the inside of your refrigerator. Not only does this mean more clean up for you, but this can be pretty unhygienic if any of these juices get into the other perishable foods.

Fresh Raw Pork Ribs Seasoned with Spices

Wrapping It Up

There is now no more guesswork involved when defrosting your ribs. Simply follow the techniques and tips mentioned in here and it will all go according to plan!

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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