How to Clean Ribs: Should You Wash Before Smoking?

By Dylan Clay
Last Updated 
September 15, 2022

When smoking ribs, something that beginners often wonder is how to "clean" their ribs.

To make this abundantly clear - you SHOULD NOT wash your ribs or rinse them in the sink prior to smoking.

Doing so is completely unnecessary due to the modern methods of the food safety system. Both meat and poultry are cleaned during processing - meaning further washing is redundant and potentially dangerous.

Why Washing Ribs in Your Sink is a Bad Idea

Washing ribs in your sink can lead to cross-contamination as the bacteria that's present on the meat can contaminate your sink, work surfaces, kitchen utensils, clothing, etc.

how to clean ribs
Ribs taken out of vacuum packaging

Cooking to an adequate temperature also kills germs on meat and poultry; Meaning, washing is again, not necessary.

Some folks are also misinformed and believe that the liquid that's found inside the vacuum packaging is "blood." Their goal with washing is to rinse the blood from the ribs.

Truth be told, it isn't blood.

This liquid is known as the "purge" and it's a combination of water and meat proteins that drain from meat. One of those meat proteins is water-soluble called "myoglobin" and it's responsible for meats "reddish" hue.

pork rib meat purge

The protein that gives blood its color is "hemoglobin."

How to Clean Ribs

A better word to use instead of "cleaning" ribs is "prepping."

ribs wet from being covered in purge liquid
Ribs wet from purge liquid

A lot of how folks prep ribs is personal preference:

  • Some prefer to pat dry with a paper towel, others prefer to use the purge/wet surface as a binder.
  • Some like to remove the membrane, others leave it on.
  • Some like to trim fat and smaller bones, others leave them how they are.

Over time you'll develop your own preferences.

This is typically how I clean or prep my ribs:

1. Pat Dry Both the Meat Side and the Bone Side with Paper Towel

Personally, I've always pat dried the meat with paper towel before smoking.

However, I know some folks do like to leave this liquid on the meat to function as their binder.

pat dry ribs with paper towel

Binders like mustard, cooking oils, hot sauce, etc. are all popular with ribs. Truth be told, these binders are actually vaporized during the smoking process and aren't capable of being tasted.

If you're after more information on binders for ribs - check out my article here.

2. Removing the Rib Membrane

The membrane on ribs are removed because it improves the eating experience. The membrane is a protein layer of elastin that won't render when it's smoked.

Put simply, it creates an unpleasant chewy mouthfeel.

The side the bones are on is the membrane side.

rib membrane bone side

I have a way more detailed guide that goes over how to remove the membrane; Be sure to check it out here.

A condensed version:

1. Pat dry the membrane with a paper towel to make it easier to work with.

2. Initially, lift the membrane with a butter knife so that you can fit the back side of a spoon underneath. Use the spoon to continue lifting the membrane so that it separates from the bones of the ribs.

3. When slightly lifted, use a paper towel to grip and pull the membrane horizontally off the rack of ribs.

4. Throw the membrane away.

The result will look something like this:

membrane removed

Note: The above recommendation is for pork ribs (learn about the different types here).

For beef ribs, most people tend to keep the membrane on.

This is mainly because beef ribs shrink a lot when smoked. The membrane actually helps to keep the meat on the bone rather than completely falling off.

All of the edible meat is also on top of the bone. Meaning you nor your guests will end up eating the silverskin.

You can learn more about beef ribs in this article.

3. Trimming Ribs?

In my opinion, you don't really need to trim ribs for backyard barbecue. More often than not, it all tastes the same going down.

Your family and friends really only care if it tastes good - meaning things like smoking to tenderness, using a good combination of dry rub and sauce, and smoke.

This sort of comes back to the concept that everyone has their own preferences.

Typically, the only things I trim are the flap meat and any skinny bones towards the end of a rack that are apt to fall out.

trimming flappy meat

The above flap is apt to burn by the time the rest of the rack is at tenderness.

I also don't find it super necessary to trim any fat off the meat side of the ribs. The fat isn't hard fat like you'd find on the top of brisket and will render.

3. Apply Dry Rub and Put Ribs on the Smoker

The above is all there is to "cleaning" ribs.

From there, you can apply your preferred dry rub and then put your ribs on your smoker.

dry rub on ribs

The above rub is about as simple as it gets:

  • 1 tablespoon Kosher salt
  • 1 tablespoon black peppercorns
  • 1/2 tablespoon porcelain garlic
Dylan Clay
I've grilled and smoked meat for roughly half my life. While i'm not a professional Pitmaster, I've worked with nearly every cut of meat. Not everyone has a hands on guide to teach them BBQ. It's my hope that Barbecue FAQ can be that helping hand.

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