Pre-seasoning ribs before cooking is a common technique used by many backyard grillers and professional barbecue pitmasters. The idea behind pre-seasoning is to add flavor and start tenderizing the meat before it even hits the grill. There are some debates around whether pre-seasoning is really necessary or if it makes much of a difference. In this article, we’ll go over the pros and cons of pre-seasoning ribs to help you decide if it’s worth the extra time and effort.
What is pre-seasoning ribs?
Pre-seasoning ribs refers to rubbing a blend of spices and herbs directly onto the raw meat before cooking. Typical pre-seasoning ingredients include:
- Brown sugar
- Chili powder
- Garlic powder
- Onion powder
The goal is to get the seasoning flavors distributed evenly over the meat. The salt and sugar will also start to penetrate and tenderize the rib meat while it sits. This process can happen immediately before cooking or you can let the seasoned ribs sit and “marinate” for several hours or up to overnight in the fridge.
Does pre-seasoning make ribs more flavorful?
Pre-seasoning can definitely boost the flavor of ribs when done properly. The layer of seasoning gets a head start on penetrating into the meat and forming a flavorful, caramelized bark or crust. Ribs have a lot of connective tissue that needs to be broken down during cooking. Salt from the seasoning blend helps dissolve some of this tissue through osmosis and diffusion. The meat also relaxes as the salt works into the muscle fibers, allowing them to absorb more seasoning. So pre-seasoned ribs often end up with more complex, developed flavor in the end.
Does pre-seasoning ribs help them get more tender?
In addition to flavor, pre-seasoning can help ribs become more tender and less chewy. The main tenderizing effect comes from the salt in the spice rub. Sprinkling both sides of the ribs with salt and letting them rest for at least an hour allows the salt time to start breaking down muscle proteins. The meat will relax and reabsorb some of its own natural juices. This helps ribs cook up juicier and more tender, versus adding salt right before or during cooking when it doesn’t have as much time to penetrate.
Should you let ribs sit after seasoning?
For best results, it’s recommended to let ribs rest in the fridge for several hours or up to overnight once they are seasoned. This pause in the process gives the salt, sugar and other spices time to evenly distribute over and into the meat. The cold temperature also helps firm up the outer surface of the meat so more of the rub adheres. Overnight seasoning could make ribs up to 10% more tender compared to seasoning right before grilling.
How far in advance can you season ribs?
Most experts recommend seasoning ribs no more than 1-2 days before cooking them. The salt will quickly start to break down muscle fibers and proteins, but you don’t want the meat to become overly salty or dry. Leaving ribs for more than 2 days may draw out too much moisture or start to actually degrade the meat. For food safety, seasoned raw ribs should always be refrigerated until ready to cook.
Should you rinse off the seasoning before cooking?
No, rinsing off the seasoning once ribs are rubbed down is not recommended. Washing away the spice rub would remove a lot of the salt and flavor you are trying to infuse into the meat. It also provides less for forming a flavorful, caramelized bark while grilling. Pat away any excess rub that hasn’t adhered, but allow the layer of seasoning to remain on the meat.
Do you put sauce on before or after cooking?
With pre-seasoned ribs, it’s best to hold off on any barbecue sauce until after cooking. Brushing sauce on before cooking would result in it charring black and tasting burnt. Sauce can also interfere with the rub forming a nice bark during grilling or smoking. Wait until ribs are fully cooked through before glazing them with sauce during the final 5-10 minutes.
Should you pre-season baby back or spare ribs?
Pre-seasoning works well for most any type of rib. Baby back ribs come from the upper rib cage near the pork loin. They have less fat and connective tissue so don’t necessarily need as much tenderizing time. Spare ribs are lower on the belly and contain more fat, collagen and cartilage. The extra time for a spice rub to penetrate makes an even bigger difference in tenderness.
Do dry rubs work better than wet marinades?
Most barbecue experts recommend using a dry spice rub rather than a wet marinade for pre-seasoning ribs. The main advantages of a dry rub include:
- More surface area for caramelization and bark formation.
- Less chance of meat drying out since liquid isn’t drawn out.
- Spices don’t need to migrate through a liquid barrier.
- Easier to evenly coat all sides of ribs.
Wet marinades can still infuse flavor. But for tenderizing and getting the best bark, a dry rub is preferred.
Should you sear ribs after seasoning?
Some cooks like to quickly sear seasoned ribs before the long, low cooking process. This uses high heat to create a browned, caramelized crust on the exterior. Searing may lock in seasoning flavor and juices better than going straight into gentler smoking or braising. But it’s an optional step since the rub will still form a nice bark during regular cooking.
How do you properly season ribs?
Follow these steps for properly pre-seasoning ribs before cooking:
- Select your favorite dry rub recipe or spice blend.
- Trim any excess fat or membrane from the ribs.
- Generously coat all sides of the racks with the seasoning.
- Wrap ribs and refrigerate for 1-2 days.
- Remove ribs from fridge and let come up in temperature before cooking.
- Cook using your preferred barbecuing method without adding more seasoning.
Taking the time to pre-season helps ribs absorb more flavor and cook up extra tender.
Sample dry rub recipes
Here are a couple recommended dry rub recipes to use when pre-seasoning ribs:
Basic barbecue rub
- 1/4 cup brown sugar
- 2 tablespoons smoked paprika
- 1 tablespoon kosher salt
- 2 teaspoons black pepper
- 1 teaspoon chili powder
- 1 teaspoon garlic powder
Mix ingredients together and rub liberally over ribs. Let sit 1-2 days before cooking.
Spicy rib rub
- 1/4 cup brown sugar
- 1 tablespoon cayenne pepper
- 2 teaspoons salt
- 2 teaspoons garlic powder
- 1 teaspoon ground cumin
- 1 teaspoon paprika
Combine all ingredients and coat ribs evenly on all sides. Refrigerate overnight before grilling or smoking.
Should you wrap ribs while cooking?
Wrapping or braising ribs partway through cooking is another technique used by some pitmasters. The benefit is trapping steam and accelerating the tenderizing process. But wrapping may also soften the bark and dull some seasoning flavor. Whether or not to wrap is personal preference based on your priorities. Leaving ribs unwrapped will take longer but likely gives better caramelization.
Does pre-seasoning work for other meats?
While especially popular for ribs, pre-seasoning can also be used when cooking other longer-cooking meats including:
- Pulled pork
- Whole chickens
- Tri-tip roasts
Anywhere from a few hours up to 24 hours of seasoning time can allow the flavors to penetrate deeper before cooking.
Pre-seasoning ribs with a dry rub is recommended by most barbecue pros. Allowing time for the salt, sugar and spices to penetrate into the meat results in more tender ribs with better developed flavor. While an extra step, letting ribs sit overnight after seasoning makes a noticeable difference in the end product. Apply your favorite robust, complementary spices and take advantage of this easy process to boost the results of your next backyard barbecue.