So, you were too enthusiastic and smoked more ribs than you could finish. Or, perhaps, you were planning a party that got canceled, but you already precooked the ribs. And now you have some delicious leftover smoked ribs you are not sure how to store.
Whatever the case, the answer is yes – you definitely can freeze smoked ribs for up to 12 months. With just a few steps, you can enjoy your leftover ribs for a long time.
How to Prepare Ribs for Freezing
Before we get to the how, it’s important to point out two things: first, fully cooking the ribs before freezing them is better than partial cooking.
Although partially cooking ribs protects them from overcooking and drying up, they are also a health hazard. The USDA recommends bringing the internal temperature of the meat to at least 145°F (63°C).
Secondly, once you finish cooking, you should freeze your ribs as soon as possible. Don’t leave them on the counter for too long to cool, as this may result in food safety issues. Keeping meat in the 40°F to 140°F (4°C to 60°C) zone provides a medium for harmful bacteria to grow.
How to Freeze Smoked Ribs
Here are a few pointers to make the process smoother and faster.
- Divide the ribs into small portions. Single-serving portions are better and more convenient. You could opt to sauce all of them at this point or wait until it’s time to cook the individual portions.
- Wrap them tightly in foil and place them in watertight plastic bags. Slip your portions into a zip lock freezer bag. Make sure you have pressed out all the air, and then put the bag in the freezer.
- If you have a vacuum system, this process should be faster. Vacuum seal the freezer bag with the ribs to reduce the loss of moisture during storage.
- Place your ribs in an ice-filled cooler and cover them in ice. Keep checking the temperature until it’s around 40°F (4°C) and then transfer them to the freezer. As long as you seal them well, your ribs can last up to 12 months without going bad.
How to Reheat Frozen Ribs
There are several options you can choose from to reheat your frozen ribs. You probably chose the slow smoking preparation method because it allows them to remain moist.
You should choose a similarly slow method when reheating to ensure you don’t end up with a dry and tough mess. As a general rule, avoid using direct and high heat when reheating your ribs.
We have outlined different reheating methods below.
This requires defrosting the ribs first. Transfer the ribs to the fridge to thaw out a day before you want to cook them. Once they are ready, preheat your oven to 225–250°F (107–121°C). Add a little sauce or broth to moisten the ribs. Cover the ribs in foil and place them on a pan. Keep your meat thermometer close by to ensure you note when the internal temperature gets up to the recommended 145˚F (60°C). This should take around 4.5 hours at a constant temperature of 225˚F (107°C) for baby back ribs. Remove the ribs from the oven and let them soak in the sauce before serving.
2. Use a hot water bath
This is a faster and easier method of reheating ribs. Unlike other methods, this one does not require pre-thawing. You just need to boil a pot of water and place the vacuum bag containing your ribs inside the water. Cover the pot, switch off the heat and leave the bag in the water bath to finish cooking. This can take 1 to 1.5 hours.
3. Using a microwave
Although microwaves are faster and easier to use to reheat almost all kinds of food, they are not a great option in this case. One, they don’t heat evenly. Two, they are notorious for drying out food, and moisture is your friend when reheating ribs. Don’t wait until you are in a hurry and hungry, and microwaving is the only remaining option to enjoy your ribs. If you patiently waited through the lengthier smoking process, you could probably wait a bit longer.
Freezing your leftover smoked ribs is a great way to preserve them for a long time. Here are a few takeaways to keep in mind:
- Freeze your ribs immediately after cooking to avoid health issues that could come from keeping meat in the 40°F to 140°F (4°C to 60°C) zone.
- Storing the ribs in vacuum-sealed bags is the best way to ensure minimal moisture loss, but other methods work too if you do them well.
- Avoid high and direct heat when reheating your ribs to keep them tender and moist. Go for the low and slow approach.
- Properly stored frozen ribs can stay fresh for up to 12 months.