The Immediate Steps To Take If Your Ribs Don't Come Out Tender

The ideal ribs are tender and flavorful; the kind of meat that falls off the bone. They're the ribs you can't eat without making a mess ... but that's all part of the fun, right? Perfect ribs aren't a guarantee, though, and there's nothing worse than spending money, time, and effort on cooking and serving what you think might be the best ribs ever ... only to have them come out dry and tough instead of tender.

That's happened to anyone and everyone who's made ribs before, but don't worry. Ribs that come out less than stellar aren't unsalvageable, and with just a little know-how, it's often possible to save the situation — and dinner — with just a couple of extra steps in the cooking process. The downside is that it involves cooking them a little longer, and we know that ribs are already a long and involved process. But with just an extra hour or so and a change in cooking method, you can bring those ribs back.

Steam your ribs in the oven to reintroduce moisture and tenderness

So, you're pulling your ribs off the grill or out of the smoker, and they seem to have dried out and have become tough instead of succulent and tender. The first thing you'll want to do is turn on your oven. Keep it at a low temperature — around 300 degrees Fahrenheit — while you prep your ribs.

The idea is to reintroduce moisture while breaking down some of the structure that's making the meat tough. You can do that with the help of some sauce and apple cider vinegar, and it's the vinegar that's key here. Vinegar contains acetic acid, which is produced during fermentation, and it's responsible for that distinctive vinegar smell. When applied to meat, it changes the structure of the meat fibers and acts as a tenderizing agent. (Vinegar is pretty amazing: Handy hacks for vinegar include using it for everything from tenderizing and marinating meat to reviving soggy produce.)

Mix the sauce and vinegar at a ratio of about half and half, then slather it on. The sauce will help keep the vinegar on the meat when you wrap your ribs in foil and let them steam in the warm oven for around an hour. The temperature will be low enough that they won't overcook, but the vinegar will work some serious magic to restore tenderness to those ribs.

Here's why ribs come out tough and chewy in the first place

There are a few reasons ribs can dry out, starting with forgetting to remove the tough, thin membrane on the back of the ribs. (If you forget, don't worry — it's edible, just not conducive to deliciously tender ribs.) Ribs can also dry out when cooked too long and subjected to high heat. If you're grilling, it's a delicate balancing act that can easily go wrong, so you might want to pre-cook your ribs before throwing them on the grill. That way, they won't spend as much time over direct heat and are less likely to dry out. If you're using the grill and adding sauce while they're still cooking, that could also be a part of the problem. The sauce can burn easily, which won't do your ribs any favors.

Even the most perfect ribs can turn surprisingly tough when they're reheated, but fortunately, you can easily avoid that. The best way to reheat leftover ribs is similar to the tenderizing method. Add a protective layer of sauce, wrap them in foil, and put them in a low oven to slowly heat through. And yes, your leftover ribs can be just as good as they were on the first day when they were fresh off the grill or out of the smoker.