Championship Barbecue Ribs

How to tell when ribs are done properly

and a video on the Tryon, NC BBQ Contest

Dear BBQ Friend:tryon bbq contest

Well, another big BBQ weekend has come and gone - the 4th of July! And one of the most popular barbecue items at any cookout is barbecue ribs. There are many ways to cook ribs but they all have one thing in common - you must know when your ribs are done to perfection.

In KCBS and FBA competitions, the judges do not like the meat to fall off the bone. The meat must have some consistency and not be too dry or mushy. What this means is the meat must stick to the bone good enough so you can pick a bone up and eat it without the meat falling off the bone by itself. But when you bite it, the meat should easily pull clean from the bone.1st place ribs

If you have to gnaw on the meat to get it off the bone or some meat sticks to the bone after a bite, your barbecue ribs are probably not done enough. If ALL the meat comes off the bone when bitten, your barbecue ribs are probably overdone. If you can bite into the rib and get that "half moon" bite and then the rest of the meat comes off easily with subsequent bites, then you have probably hit the nail on the head. As you can see from the picture, that is the way our ribs were in Tryon, NC resulting in a 1st place entry.proper bbq ribs

This is from the KCBS judges instructions...

Judging pork ribs can be very subjective. However, when judging competition ribs you must consider a few factors. When sampling a properly cooked contest rib the area of the meat where the bite is taken should be pulled cleanly from the bone with very little effort. The exposed bone of a well cooked rib will often dry immediately. Ribs should be moist, flavorful and possess good texture. They can be presented with or without sauce. Ribs may be presented in single or multi bone presentation. Any questions should be directed to the KCBS Contest Representative. When a rib is overcooked most or all of the meat comes off the bone when sampled. Additionally the meat of an overcooked rib has a tendency to be mushy and have a poor texture.

So... how do you accomplish this? The answer is in the following barbecue rib cooking tips:

  • If you need 6-8 good ribs to turn in, make sure you cook about 6 or more slabs of barbecue ribs. They will not turn out all the same. Because of hot and cold spots on your smoker and different rib sizes to start with, some will be underdone, some will be overdone, and some will be just right. Make sure you taste a sample from each rack to check for doneness.
  • While you are doing your testing, also select the best tasting barbecue ribs. Each rack will have a different taste. When I was tasting the ribs in Tryon, some racks had a "meaty" taste and I quickly threw those racks back on the grill so they would not be turned in.
  • Know the signs of a done rib - meat pulls away from the bone about 1/4 to 1/2 an inch. If you pick up one end of a rack of barbecue ribs and it bends down 90 degrees and starts to crack at the bend, you know they are done. You can also try twisting a bone to check how loose it is. A skewer or toothpick inserted between the ribs should slide in easily.
  • Follow all the directions in "Competition BBQ Secrets" to cook your barbecue ribs. Remember that in the 3-1-1 method, the foiling step can be extended to 2 hours if your ribs are bigger. Just open up the foil and check for doneness after one hour and make your decision based on what you see. Of course, if you are cooking smaller baby back ribs, you may need reduce the foiling time.

So... that's the real secret to cooking championship barbecue ribs - knowing when your ribs are done. taylor bbq thermometerNote - we do not use a temperature probe on our chicken or ribs - just butts and brisket. Speaking of knowing when your meat is done, here's a nice little thermometer I have started to use recently and which helped us win in Tryon, NC. This internal meat thermometer has only one purpose - to measure your internal meat temperature and alert you when it is reached. It's very simple to use. Just insert the probe and set the desired temperature using the two up/down buttons on the front panel. If you need something fancier with dual probes and wireless remote operation, then the Maverick ET-732 is for you. But at a hectic competition, you may opt for simplicity - just insert it, set it, and it will let you know when your meat is done. I highly recommend you get one for brisket and one for butts. They are available in our BBQ Store at

Also... I put together a little 6 minute YouTube video of the Tryon, NC contest. It does include pictures of our turn in boxes and some nice fireworks, so be sure to take a look - it is sure to put you in a nice barbecue mood for the 4th of July!...


Bill Anderson