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Frozen Ribs in the Smoker

als frozen ribs 11 cropped

My buddy and a long-time moderator, Al, over at the Smoking Meat Forums, posted a while back on how he placed some frozen ribs in the smoker to see how they would turn out. He was in a hurry for some baby back ribs and did not have time to thaw them out like usual.

They turned out really good in spite of being frozen and, of course, this got my attention and I just had to try it.

Like Al, I had great success with this and figured I’d share it with you.

I want to show you exactly how Al did his but I’ll also show you some options that you have with this where relevant.

Al has been so kind to give me permission to use some of his original images for this write-up.

Let’s get into this!

Helpful Information
  • Prep Time: 5 minutes
  • Cook Time: 5 hours
  • Smoker Temp: 250°F (121°C)
  • Meat Finish Temp: 195°F (91°C)
  • Recommend Wood: Hickory and Mesquite
What You’ll Need

Foil Wrap Concoction

*This recipe was written for baby backs. Spare ribs and/or St. Louis style spare ribs work equally well but may take an extra hour to reach 160°F (71°C) in the first stage of the cooking process.

Why Smoke Frozen Ribs?

It’s around 10 AM and your better half wants some pork ribs real bad. Here’s the problem.. they are in the deepest part of the freezer and frozen rock solid.

als frozen ribs 1

Normally you’d have to set them in the fridge and let them thaw overnight or best case scenario, place them in the sink with some cold water and spend the next couple of hours letting them thaw while you change the water out every 30 minutes.

Cooking them frozen allows you to get them started cooking right away and cooks them while they thaw so they still end up getting done in around 5-6 hours depending on whether they are baby backs or spares.

Removing the Membrane

Typically I recommend removing the membrane before cooking ribs however, because they are frozen ribs, this becomes something that must be done before they are frozen or after they are cooked.

The last batch I did was purchased fresh so I removed the membranes, then repackaged them and placed them in the freezer. When the mood struck, they were ready to season and cook. This worked very well for me.

There are also many rib smokers who feel the membrane helps to maintain moisture while the ribs cook and should be left on until after they are done cooking.

Al tends to burn the membrane off on the grill or just simply peels the membrane from the frozen ribs after they are done cooking as explained below.

Step 1: Mustard

In following Al’s instructions, I did some with mustard and some without and the seasoning sticks okay without the mustard binder. I prefer to use mustard but it’s your call on that.

Apply just enough to help the rub to stick and you’re good to go.

als frozen ribs 2

Be sure to get both sides and the edges.

Step 2: Seasoning Options

Al cooks his ribs with just salt and pepper and you can do the same if you prefer. I like to use my original rub (Purchase formula here | Purchase bottled rub) on the ribs for a well balanced sweet and spicy flavor with not too much salt.

Add the seasoning to both sides and get the edges of the ribs wherever you can for good measure.

als frozen ribs 3
Step 3: Smoke ’em Up

Set up your smoker for cooking at about 250°F (121°C) if possible. Al used his Lang for cooking these.

When the smoker is hot and ready, place the rack of ribs directly on the grate.

als frozen ribs 4

Let them be for about 2 hours or until they reach an internal temperature of 160°F (71°C).

Note: if you are cooking spares/St. Louis Style pork ribs, it may be closer to 3 hours.

als frozen ribs 5
Step 4: Wrap ’em Up (optional)

Wrapping the ribs in foil when they reach 160°F (71°C) is definitely optional but if you like ribs to be really tender, it’s highly recommended.

To wrap these, Al lays out a large piece of foil on the table or cutting board.

He then pours about ¼ cup ACV (apple cider vinegar), ¼ cup brown sugar, ¼ cup honey, and about ¼ cup of barbecue sauce along with ½ stick of butter cut into equally sized pats.

I recommend my original barbecue sauce (Purchase formula here | Purchase bottled rub) if you have it.

als frozen ribs 6

Lay the ribs meaty side down on top of that concoction and wrap the foil tightly around the ribs. I like to use a double layer of HD foil to make sure the steam does not get out.

als frozen ribs 7
Step 5: Braise Tender

Place the wrapped baby back ribs back into the smoker for about 2 hours or until they reach 195°F (91°C) in the meat between the bones.

You can also use the oven if that is more convenient since this step is all about the heat and because they are all wrapped up, the smoke is not having an effect.

Step 6: Burn Off Membrane

At this point, he removes the ribs from the foil..

als frozen ribs 8

..after resisting the urge to eat one right away, Al places them on the gas grill on high heat (600°F) to burn off the membrane and/or add some sauce if he is going for sticky ribs.

Place the rack of ribs membrane side down on the grate of the grill.

If your grill is nice and hot, this will only take about 3 minutes. Be sure to watch them carefully so it doesn’t burn.

als frozen ribs 10

After about 3 minutes over 600°F (316°C) direct heat , they are ready to slice and eat.

Step 7: Slice and Serve

Slice up them ribs and be amazed at how frozen ribs can be placed into the smoker and turn out this amazing.

als frozen ribs 11
Comments

I’ve tried this multiple times since Al posted about this and they turn out great every time. I’ve cooked them on the grate with no wrap and I’ve cooked them using the 2-2-1 method wrapped in foil and, every time, they are just plain good.

The frozen aspect does not harm them in any way and, if anything, it seems to increase the moisture and creates a better smoke ring.

I’ve had a lot of folks ask if you could season these before freezing them. I haven’t tried this yet but I think it would work just fine.

Give these a try and I’d LOVE to hear what you think.

By the way, if you wanna see Al’s original post, you can see that over at the forum.


Print

Frozen Ribs in the Smoker

How to cook frozen ribs in the smoker without thawing them out first and have them turn out amazing!

  • Prep Time: 5 minutes
  • Cook Time: 5 hours
  • Total Time: 5 hours 5 minutes
  • Category: Entree, Main

Ingredients

Units Scale

Foil Wrap Concoction

  • 1/4 cup Apple cider vinegar
  • 1/4 cup Brown sugar
  • 1/4 cup Honey
  • 1/4 cup Jeff's Original BBQ Sauce
  • 1/2 stick Butter

Instructions

  1. Remove ribs from packaging.
  2. Apply mustard to top and bottom of frozen ribs.
  3. Apply rub and/or salt and pepper to top and bottom of ribs.
  4. Set up smoker for cooking at about 250°F (121°C) using hickory and mesquite wood for smoke.
  5. Place the rack(s) of ribs directly on the smoker grate and let them cook for approximately 2 hours or until they reach an internal temperature of 160°F (71°C).
  6. Lay out a large piece of heavy duty foil and fold up the edges just a little.
  7. Into the center of the foil, pour the apple cider vinegar, brown sugar, honey and barbecue sauce and lay the pats of butter right on top.
  8. Lay the rack of ribs meaty side down onto the concoction that you just added to the center of the foil. Pull up the sides of the foil and wrap it tightly around the ribs.
  9. Place the wrapped rack of ribs back onto the smoker grate for 2 hours or until they reach 195°F (91°C) when tested between the bones. Note: You can also use the kitchen oven if you prefer.
  10. When the ribs are finished, remove them from the foil.
  11. Apply barbecue sauce all over the top and place them over a very hot grill to burn off the membrane and set the sauce.
  12. When the sauce is set they are finished.
  13. Slice and serve immediately.

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17 Comments

  1. Can’t wait to try this. But won’t be wrapping and won’t be worrying with the membrane. I still don’t know why people are concerned so much about it. After smoking a thousand racks over the last 20 years, (and I know my BBQ), the membrane isn’t a game changer. Also 3-2-1 method and foiling with piles of sugar and all that…I wasted years doing all that. Just season them right and smoke them. Don’t move them. When they’re done take them out. Let them rest 8-10 minutes then eat them. Over the last 20 years I’ve found the less we complicate things the better. I hate sweet competition ribs. All that ruined the “sport”. Cook your ribs at a minimum of 250-275 and about half the time most recipes (like the 3-2-1) call for, and they’ll be great. Ribs shouldn’t fall apart. Or break in half. Or fall off the bone. You cook out all the pork flavor and that’s why people use juice, butter, sugar, honey and everything else trying to pump artificial flavor back in. Maybe we’d have less diabetics cutting out all the sugar too. I also drink my coffee black, my steaks rare, and I feel like nothing beats salt/pepper for most cuts of meat if you know what your doing. Cook over real fires. All these electric and pellet contraptions also can’t replicate the same product as a charcoal/wood fire. They just can’t. Blows my mind people worry about membranes, and ribs and mustard baths and all these things that really don’t make hardly any noticeable difference, then go throw them in an electric box with pellets (compressed sawdust) that produce mostly white puffy smoke. Put your time and effort into your adequate fire and smoker. Let them meat, smoke and salt/pepper do it’s magic.

  2. This process, from frozen, intrigues me. Thanks for sharing it. How do you feel about the idea of replacing the brown sugar with peeled figs? We have loads of them this time of the year and they are juicy and sweet. I have cooked with them but never in the realm of Barbecue.
    Thanks, Jeff
    Michael

    1. Michael, I have not tried the peeled figs in place of brown sugar but I think it would probably be pretty good. I love figs and I think they would add a lot of good flavor to the ribs. Maybe try half of what you’re cooking that way so you can compare the flavor?

  3. Wouldn’t it be difficult removing the membrane frozen? I know at times I have trouble with them thawed. I get 90 % of it removed most times.

    1. Yes.. and that is why Al omits that step in the beginning. He usually burns it off on the grill but the membrane also peels off really easy after they are cooked if you’d rather just do that.

  4. This will be an answer to my rib dilemma. I’m single, live alone and my eating buddy doesn’t like ribs. Since they are typically packed 2 or 3 racks together and I don’t want to cook that many I pass on one of my favorites meats. With this I can buy that multi pack, cook one rack and freeze the other 2 individually wrapped for my future use.

  5. I don’t like the idea of leaving the membrane on and then ‘burning it off’ and then eating that. Yuk.
    Instead, I would put the frozen ribs, membrane down, on a grill (lid open) just long enough to soften the membrane, then remove the membrane and then finish the process. That way, you can still put rub on both sides before smoking.

  6. Have tried this and can confirm this works. The only catch is — how often to you find single racks frozen in the freezer? Most grocers and butchers put two racks in a pack before they cryo/vac seal it and that’s typically how it goes into the freezer. I’m positive if you tried this method that way, at best you’d have poorly seasoned ribs, at worst they would fuse together as they cook…. Pretty sure this method only works with single racks, which are fairly uncommon for pork ribs, at least where I live.

    1. Do you have a Food Lion around? They often have single racks of Babybacks on sale (recently $1.99/lb ). Today the sale price is $2.49/lb. Harris Teeter is competitive and if you’re old like me, extra 5% off on Thursdays. But be careful, their regular prices are up there.

    2. Don’t think I’ve ever bought two racks in a pack. You would probably have to at least thaw long enough to separate them.

      1. I typically purchase mine unfrozen 3 to a pack. When I get home, I separate them into their own package and place them into the freezer. If you purchase them frozen, You’d probably have to run just enough cold water over them to separate them out and then refreeze them in their own bag or package.

  7. As what has become the “Industry Standard”, clear and comprehensive instructions that all but guarantees success. Gotta try it.
    It seemed like there was a lack of “crawl”, which I always thought was an indication of doneness (Mrs Lucky does not like “tug”) Are these considered done, without the crawl? And if this works great on ribs, what’s to stop us from starting with a frozen butt? (Asking for a friend)

    1. I would remove the membrane before freezing—-can’t wait to try this approach—-wondering what other cuts this approach would work with—-
      Thank you 👍😊