Smoked Ribs Dry and Tough? Here’s Why!

ribs on smoker

Smoked ribs are incredibly tasty, but they can take some time to master. My first few attempts at smoked ribs were subpar to say the least. I struggled to get the tenderness and juiciness that I desired.

If you’re making ribs and they come out dry and tough, it can be a frustrating experience. But don’t worry, dry and tough ribs are an easy fix! Learn from my mistakes and you will be on your way to creating perfectly tender and juicy ribs.

Smoked ribs that turn out dry and tough, are almost always a result of being undercooked. Ribs need to be cooked to an internal temperature of 200-205° Fahrenheit to be tender and juicy. Smoking ribs over too high of heat and not wrapping your ribs can also cause them to dry out while cooking.  

Read on to learn why your ribs are turning out tough and dry as well as how to prevent it for future smokes.

Why Did My Ribs Turn Out Tough And Dry?

You spend all that time and money smoking ribs just for them to turn out tough and dry. I have been there, and it can be an extremely frustrating and humbling experience. Lucky for you, tough and dry ribs are an easy fix. Here are a few reasons why your ribs might be turning out dry and tough.

Smoked cherry ribs

They Are Undercooked

Yes, you heard me right! Contrary to popular belief, undercooked ribs are almost always the culprit when it comes to dry and tough ribs. Ribs contain a lot of fat and connective tissue making it a very tough meat. You can’t just cook it to 145° like you would a pork chop and call it good.

To properly break down this fat and connective tissue making it tender enough to eat, you need to cook your ribs over low heat for and extended period of time. Perfect ribs are tender and juicy when their internal temperature reaches 200°- 205° Fahrenheit.

Smoke your ribs to anything less than that, and you run into the risk of dry and tough ribs. I go over how to tell when your ribs are done below, so keep reading!

Ribs on charcoal smoker

Smoked Over Too High Of Heat

This ties in with the point above but cooking over too high of heat can cause your ribs to turn out tough and dry. As I mentioned above, low, and consistent heat is needed to properly break down the fat and connective tissues.

Smoking over too high of heat will prevent this process from happening which could cause your ribs to turn out tough and dry. When smoking ribs, you should have your smoker set between 225° Fahrenheit and 300° Fahrenheit.

Not Enough Moisture

Not as likely, but not having enough moisture in the cooking chamber can cause your ribs to turn out dry. Much like your skin in the desert, a dry environment can suck the moisture out of the meat. You can ensure a moist cooking environment by adding a water pan and spritzing your ribs as necessary.

How To Prevent Dry And Tough Smoked Ribs?

Now that we know what is causing our ribs to turn out dry and tough, here is what you can do to fix it for your next smoke!

smoked ribs

Cook To Doneness:

For a majority of you reading this article, cooking to the proper doneness will solve the problem. Again, if you are not cooking to an internal temperature between 200° and 205° Fahrenheit, you are not giving the ribs enough time to properly render the fat and connective tissues.

Learning how to tell when ribs are done is key to making perfectly tender and juicy ribs! Read on below to learn how to tell when ribs are done.

Wrap Your Ribs:

When you wrap your ribs in aluminum foil or butcher paper (amazon link) you are trapping the heat and moisture. Not only does this help retain moisture, but the trapped heat will help promote the rendering of the fat and connective tissue.

Wrapping your ribs will help give you that fall off the bone tenderness that you are looking for! Read my recent article to see if you should wrap your ribs.

Ribs meat down in foil

Add A Water Pan

Adding a water pan to your smoker not only helps stabilize temperatures, but it increases the humidity in the cooking chamber. This added humidity help prevent your ribs from drying out. If you have ever been to the desert, you know how a dry environment can suck the moisture out of your skin. The same principal applies to your meat.  

Spritz When Necessary

Spritzing your ribs involves spraying a liquid of your choice, commonly used is apple cider vinegar, on your ribs during the cooking process. This is done to keep the surface from drying out. If you start to see your ribs looking a little dry on top, you can give them a quick spritz.

Just be careful not to spritz too often. Remember, “if you’re looking your aint cooking”.

How To Tell When Ribs Are Done

Cooking ribs to the proper doneness is the key to perfect tender and juicy ribs. Here are 3 easy ways you can tell when your ribs are done.

Use A Thermometer:

The easiest way to tell when ribs are done is to simply use a thermometer. Stick the probe in between the bones (make sure it doesn’t touch the bone as the bone will be much hotter than the meat) and read the temperature. Once your ribs reach 200° – 205° F, they are done.

I have been using this Chugod meat thermometer (amazon link) for years now and love it. I leave the probe in, set and alarm on the app downloaded on my phone, and once it hits my desired temperature it will automatically beep me!

chugod bluetooth thermometer

The thermometer is an easy way to tell when they are done, but you should always confirm the doneness by feel as well. The next three tests are all great ways to do just that!  

Toothpick Test:

When using thermometer, I would also recommend using the toothpick test to verify doneness. Simply stick a toothpick (the end of your probe works too) in between the bones. If the toothpick goes in like butter, your ribs are done.

If there is any resistance, your ribs need some more time! Make sure you test multiple spots throughout your ribs. Typically, once the thickest part of your meat is ready, the rest of the meat will be ready too.

Toothpick test for ribs

Bend Test:

You can also verify doneness by the bend test. Grab a pair of tongs and grab the ribs about halfway in from the side like the picture below, and gently lift them up. If the meat on top of the ribs starts to crack, then they are done.

bend test for ribs

The key to any of these tests is to check for resistance. The less resistance the meat has, the more tender it is!

How To Fix Dry And Tough Ribs:

If your smoked ribs came out tough, don’t worry, you are not at total loss. Here is a few ways you can fix your tough a dry ribs.

Throw Them In The Oven:

This method is going to take a bit longer, but hey, you can’t rush perfection. Wrap your ribs in aluminum foil with a splash of juice or apple cider vinegar. Next throw them in the oven at 300° F and continue cooking until your ribs reach an internal temperature of 200° – 205° F.

Mix It In with other food:

Another option is the take the meat off the bone and chop it up to add to other food. Rib meat goes well with other foods such as mac and cheese, inside a stew, or even tacos. Mixing it in with other foods can mask the dryness and toughness of the meat.

Here is an cool idea for you to repurpose overcooked ribs!

Can You Overcook Ribs?

Yes, it is possible to overcook ribs; however, overcooked ribs tend turn out mushy, not tough and dry. You can ensure that you do not overcook your ribs by smoking them to an internal temperature of 200° – 205° F. Going over that mark will put you at risk of overcooking your ribs.

Why Are My Ribs Not Falling Off The Bone?

While it is not the competition way to smoke ribs, many people, myself included, prefer ribs that are fall off the bone. There are two reasons why your ribs are not falling off the bone like you had hoped.

They Are Undercooked:

Not to sound like a broken record, but undercooked ribs are so common. Ribs really need to be brought up to an internal temperature of 200° – 205° to properly break down the fat and connective tissue in the meat rendering tender. Without that high of an internal temperature, you have no hope for tender and juicy ribs.

smoked ribs side view

You Didn’t Wrap:

Bringing ribs up to that 200° -205° range, while it will give you incredibly tender ribs, is not enough alone to make them fall off the bone. Ribs left unwrapped are your more traditional competition style ribs. Still very tender, but they have a little bit of hold to them. That’s what the judges like to see.

But I prefer my ribs to fall right of the bone, and to do that you need to wrap your ribs. This help retain the moisture and heat, essentially steaming the meat. If you want your ribs to fall off the bone, you need to wrap. Lucky for you I have a whole article dedicated to wrapping your ribs!

At What Temp Do Ribs Fall Of The Bone?

Ribs need to reach 200° to 205° Fahrenheit to reach that fall of the bone tenderness. Reaching that temperature alone though is not enough. To reach that fall of the bone tenderness, you should also be wrapping your ribs in butcher paper or aluminum foil.

Michael W.

Half of my family lives in Texas and we would visit them often. As a food lover, naturally I fell in love with smoked meat. Smoked brisket and peach cobbler is a staple around where my family grew up and quickly became a favorite of mine. Unfortunately we didn't have good BBQ where I grew up. After enough years, I finally decided to get a smoker so I didn't have to wait for good BBQ until I went to Texas. Getting into a new hobby can be overwhelming. When I first started smoking meat, there was so much conflicting information and so many different styles and techniques that I didn't know where to start. I started this website to help people BBQ better and learn the ropes by sharing my knowledge and experiences.

Recent Posts