The Great Rib Debate

There has been this Great Rib Debate about the membrane on the backside of ribs and if you should remove it or not, so you can make the best ribs possible. Well, I decided to conduct my own blind test on my family and friends to see which they would like best and why. Before getting into the results of my test, I would like to visit some of the things I have seen, read, and heard about this Great Rib Debate.

I’ve heard reasons for leaving the membrane on as well as leaving it off, but here is what I’ve found from other cooks and pitmasters.

  • CNN, in their online column titled Eatocracy says “Don’t remove the membrane that runs along the bone side of the ribs; it prevents some of the fat from rendering out, leading to more tender results.” When giving instructions on making Memphis Style Spareribs.
  • John Willingham of Memphis, TN says “Do not remove the membrane from the back before you cook them… leaving the membrane on, keeps the meat juices in.”
  • Meathead Goldwyn from the great site AmazingRibs.com says “I think removing the skin is like…; An extra step of respect for guests…..” and “The membrane can also get very tough and chewy, especially if you cook hot, and if you cook low and slow, it can get rubbery. In addition there is a layer of fat under the membrane, and removing it lets it melt and drain.”
  • The winningest man in barbeque, Myron Mixon says “peel off the thick membrane that covers the ribs. This prevents rubs and other seasonings from adhering to the rib rack and doesn’t allow a marinade or smoke to penetrate the meat….” in his top-selling book Smokin’ with Myron Mixon. 

So, now that you have heard from the pros, let’s get into our test results and later I’ll give you my preference and why. I cooked spareribs and babyback ribs, removing the membrane from half of each cut of meat. I applied the same rub, see recipe below, and smoked them at 250 degrees using charcoal as my fuel choice and cherry wood chunks for smoke. Naturally the babyback ribs finished before the spareribs.

I made sure I cut all the ribs and had them separated based on them either having or not having the membrane. I told my family and friend that I was trying out 2 new rubs I had come up with and this was the reason for me separating the ribs. I asked each person, 6 total, to take 1 rib bone from each tray, eat it, and tell me what they liked or didn’t like about each one they ate. I did this before allowing anyone to make a plate for dinner.

The results were 5-1 for the ribs that had the membrane removed. The common theme I kept hearing was, they seem to be more tender, didn’t have piece in between their teeth and they seemed more flavorful. As for the 1 person who liked the membrane on, they said it reminded them of the ribs their father use to make when they were a kid growing up. No other reason was provided. Funny thing, nobody noticed the rub was the same. LOL!

So, in conclusion, it can come down to personal preference but when cooking for others I would suggest removing the membrane. I personally remove the membrane because I feel it allows the flavors of the rub you are using to better penetrate the meat, makes for a more tender rib and you avoid having to pick that tough membrane out of your teeth or mouth while enjoying great ribs!

I would love to hear if you remove the membrane or leave it on and why, so tell me!

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About Pigskin Barbeque 80 Articles
Just a regular guy who loves to barbeque. Married father of two. I developed a love for grilling as a child watching my dad grill. My love for BBQ, using wood and the "low & slow" method came after I purchased my first horizontal smoker in my 20's.

8 Comments

  1. I always remove the skin. Basically for 2 reason: It only takes a couple seconds to remove once you understand how and I don’t like the way it becomes tough and chewy after smoking.

    • Can you explain what you mean when you say “if you cook them right”?

      I’ve cooked them both ways and I personally like the membrane off, this way I don’t have to worry about picking pieces out of my teeth.

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