Ribs: from frozen solid to falling off the bone tender in 4 1/2 hours

So I did an impromptu little BBQ experiment yesterday. It was a beautiful, unseasonably warm day, and I’ve been slow with work lately, so I took a ‘me day’ off.

I was outside all day, first doing a few outdoor chores, then just sitting and soaking up a little Vitamin D. Then it occurred to me hey, ribs would be good! I had two racks of baby back ribs I had bought on sale a few weeks back, but they were frozen solid in the freezer and it was already after noon.

So normally, if I was to make ribs, I’d make sure they were thoroughly defrosted first; I’d make an elaborate spice rub from scratch using approximately 27 ingredients, the exact detail of which change depending on my mood and inspiration that day; apply the rub the night before; and the day of, fire up my bullet-style smoker to cook the ribs.

But I had frozen ribs, not nearly enough time to defrost, and I didn’t feel like messing with the bullet smoker. So I got coals and wood chunks (mix of apple and hickory) going on one side of my Weber kettle grill and put the frozen ribs on the other side to cook indirectly. Once the outside of the ribs started to soften up I just sprinkled some Tony Chachere’s Creole rub, ancho chili powder and garlic powder on them.

I smoked them at a temp between 275-300 for about 2 hours, wrapped them in foil for 2 hours, and for the final 1/2 hour I opened the foil, brushed on some Stubb’s Spicy BBQ sauce, and opened the vents to heat up the grill more to finish.

The ribs turned out awesome! Nicely smoky, falling-off-the-bone tender (I know there are different schools of thought on whether rib meat should fall off the bone, but I like them that way), with a nice bark on them.

So I guess the moral of the story is, sometimes half-assing the job pays off!

ETA: just made a ‘McRib wrap’ for lunch-- leftover rib meat, BBQ sauce, thin-sliced onion, and pickle slices in a tortilla wrap. Yummy.

I’ve learned to half-ass my ribs by using a slow cooker. I use thawed racks of ribs that are dry rubbed and then arranged around the walls and floor of the slow cooker pot. A splash (1/4 cup) of apple cider vinegar is all the moisture that I add before letting it all go for 8 hours +/-. I prefer a dry rub style to a drippy sticky bbq sauce mess. Turns out fall-off-the-bone perfect every time without the grill.

My wife has cooked ribs that way many times, and they do turn out good, but I miss the smoky flavor. I guess you could use a little ‘liquid smoke’ if you so desired.

I use smoked paprika and chili powder in the rub so that gives it some smoke. Far cry from the classic methods but it has the benefit of less fuss and bother.

Ooh, good call with the smoked paprika. I’ve been meaning to pick some up.

Some alder-smoked salt is another option.

One of the facts that isn’t always acknowledged by true smoke enthusiasts is that offset barbecuing is faster than slow smoking and can yield results very close to smoking. Some of the meat may wind up with some crusting from direct radiant heating, though.

I like both, but I rarely have time to devote to a 12-18 hour smoke session, and my gear is so primitive and ad-hoc that it needs near-continuous attention during that duration so the commitment is real. So I do a lot of offset barbecuing.

True fact: “offset barbecuing” is redundant. If it’s not offset, it’s not truly barbecue; it’s “grilling”.

This is true. I have a Weber Smoky Mountain bullet-style smoker, and it produces fantastic results, but it is a lot of time and effort. Whereas on my kettle grill it’s tricky to keep the temp low enough without killing the coals, but I can probably get 75% of the quality of true smoking with a fraction of the time and effort.

But then where’s the fun of getting up at 3 or 4 am to get the minion method set up in the smoker?

I haven’t yet fired up anything this season and ribs do sound good.

To me, offset in a smoker context is the kind of cooker with a separate firebox. Indirect is what I’d call coals on one side, food on the other in a kettle.

That also has the advantage of being indoors for the folks who live where grilling / smoking / BBQing outdoors is inconvenient or impossible much of the year due to cold & snow. Not my issue anymore, but a definite consideration for many.

I had the same problem last night. I forgot to take the ribs out of the freezer.

So I turned the oven to “warm” and threw the ribs in still in the vacuum packed package. At the time, I thought they would would have to be in there for a couple of hours. I checked it at 45min and I’ll be damned if they weren’t already room temp.

Glad I didn’t wait two hours before checking.

For meat that’s in the fairly thick shrink-wrap as rib racks so often are, an easy safe thaw is to fill the kitchen sink with room temperature water and soak the package. But a pan full of water on top to hold them submerged. In 1 or 2 hours tops they’ll be fully pliable and ready to cook.

With no risk of melting the plastic or getting the meat up into the bacteria danger zone temps.

Meat cooked from frozen will develop a deeper smoke ring and greater smoke flavor than meat cooked from room temp. If you already have frozen meat, it’s better to put it on the smoker still frozen than to defrost first.

Is this actually true? I’m a bit skeptical that meat smoked from frozen is actually better; Clearly it would not work so well on a frozen-solid 8 lb. pork shoulder, but it certainly works well enough on ribs if you have no time to defrost them.

There might be an argument that smoking from frozen allows a longer low and slow period but, you can’t salt frozen meat 6 hours ahead of time and expect to have any penetration.


Wow. That website is like a doctoral thesis on how to smoke meat. Thanks for the link.

Years ago a relative invited me over for ‘ribs’ cooked in the oven, and it turned out they were BEEF ribs. She just stuck them in the oven to bake in a covered pan and it came out with a pan half full of melted fat, bones, and a tough bit of actual meat on each bone. Awful!

I got a PitBoss vertical pellet smoker just before Christmas, and it is so good.

Just yesterday, after having a Sunday lunch with friends, my wife and I picked up a pork leg roast.
Covered it with BBQ sauce with a dash of my home-made habanero hot sauce, then sprinkled with a rub I had in the cupboard.

I used the forks from my rotisserie to hold the leg vertical in the baking tray, and in to the smoker at 121C (Maple pellets, I think). Four hours later I took the leg out and wrapped it to rest. I carved it, added some water to the juices, soaked the sliced meat in that, and served when the polenta chips cooked.

It was so awesome, and I have two more meals of BBQ pork in the freezer for wraps or something similar.