Regardless if you love baby backs or spare ribs, the last thing you want to happen is for a rack or two to go bad sitting in your fridge. So how long are ribs good in the fridge? If you’re talking about raw pork ribs in the packaging, the United States Department of Agriculture recommends cooking or freezing it within five days of purchase.
What if you’ve got extra smoked ribs? The USDA answers the question of how long are cooked ribs good for by recommending you eat or properly store cooked ribs within four days as long as your fridge is kept under 40°F.
We here at Angry BBQ love to smoke ribs and we’ve done it a lot. You’ve probably read Michael Haas’s take on how to properly cook ribs, but if you haven’t, do yourself a favor and check it out. Suffice to say, we’ve spent a lot of time around both raw pork ribs and cooked ribs. Between our experience and the guidelines set forth by the USDA, you can rest assured that you’ll know how long your ribs will be safe and how to tell if they’ve gone bad.
We’ll answer the question of how long ribs are good in the fridge, how to tell if ribs are bad, how to store your ribs properly for extending their shelf life, and even shed a little light on the differences between the pork ribs you can find at the grocery store. Let’s crack open that fridge together!
How Long Are Ribs Good In The Fridge?
The USDA’s answer to the question of how long can ribs stay in the fridge is up to five days. Why is that? If your ribs are properly sealed and your fridge is set for below 40°F for the best storage conditions, that should keep your ribs out of the danger zone (40-140°F) to prevent bacteria problems, right?
Despite your fridge keeping your food out of the danger zone, it’s still not cold enough to completely halt the growth of spoilage bacteria. As the USDA says in the above link, the fridge can keep food safe during those short time periods, but only properly storing meat like ribs in the freezer will keep it safe indefinitely.
How To Tell If Ribs Are Bad
Now the USDA emphasizes the range of time when answering the question of how long are ribs good in the fridge. They do not guarantee your ribs will be good come day five. So you need to know how to identify if your ribs have gone bad before spending the time to smoke them.
When you grab that rack of raw pork ribs from inside the refrigerator, the first thing you want to do is take a look at the color of the ribs. Meat on the ribs should typically be a shade of pink to red, while the fat should be white or light cream. If the meat is graying, turned brown, or a dull color, it’s starting to go bad.
When you open the package, pay attention to what your nose tells you. If you encounter a sour smell, the smell of ammonia, or really any bad odor, bacteria are taking over and your ribs aren’t good anymore. The only place for them is in the garbage, not on your smoker or grill.
Another way to tell if your ribs have gone bad is by touching them when you pull them out of the package. The ribs should have some moisture and be firm. If your ribs have a slimy texture or your fingers stick slightly, that’s a sign of bacteria reproducing and growing.
If your ribs pass the test, then it’s time to prep them and have them hit the smoker. This brings us to the next topic of cooked ribs in the fridge.
How Long Are Cooked Ribs Good For?
You may not encounter this very often, but sometimes there are leftover ribs after a good afternoon of smoking. Raw ribs going bad in the fridge is terrible, and cooked ribs going bad is not any better. The USDA’s recommendation for ribs (along with most other leftovers) is that you should eat or freeze them within four days.
That recommendation is based on you keeping your ribs stored properly. That means your fridge needs to be under 40°F and your ribs should be stored in an airtight container or bag to prevent oxygen exposure as much as possible. So how can you tell if your cooked ribs have gone bad?
How To Tell If Cooked Ribs Are Bad
The answers are similar to how to tell if your raw ribs are bad, but you need to remember how your cooked ribs were when they went into the fridge. Smoking ribs changes the colors of the meat as well as the rub you use, so you need to remember how the ribs looked going into the fridge. If there’s a major change in the look of your ribs during their time in the fridge, that’s a sign they’ve gone bad.
Typically your cooked ribs will smell of wood smoke and the rub you’ve used. If you take a whiff of your ribs after they’ve been in the fridge for a few days and you get funky or sour smells, that’s another sign they’ve gone bad.
The other major sign your cooked ribs have gone bad is when you touch them. If the texture has changed, primarily becoming mushy, they’ve gone bad.
So how do you keep your raw or cooked ribs around for a longer period of time? Time in the freezer.
How Long Do Ribs Stay In The Freezer?
If you’ve found a good deal on ribs at the store or want to smoke some extra ribs and have them on hand for a meal down the road, the best way to extend your ribs’ shelf life is by freezing them. As noted earlier, the USDA says that food can be kept frozen indefinitely. Bacteria cannot grow in the freezer, so your ribs won’t spoil.
However, that doesn’t mean your ribs will have the same great flavor in a year as they would after a month or two in the freezer. The USDA recommends that you should thaw your frozen raw ribs within six months for the highest quality while your cooked ribs should only stay in the freezer for up to three months for best results.
For proper storage, you want to ensure that your ribs whether raw or cooked are kept in airtight storage. Anytime there’s a gap between the surface of the meat and the storage container, there’s a real potential for freezer burn. It won’t cause your ribs to spoil, but it can affect the texture and overall quality of the meat.
If your raw ribs are still in a vacuum-sealed bag, you can put them directly into the freezer and you should be good to go. With cooked ribs, you’ll want to put them in a heavy-duty freezer bag and squeeze the air completely out. Then putting them in a second freezer bag for extra protection is a good idea as well. You can also use a vacuum sealer to put the ribs in a vacuum bag and then place that package in a freezer bag as well.
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Another option is tightly wrapping your ribs in plastic wrap, heavy-duty aluminum foil, or freezer paper before placing them in a freezer bag and squeezing out all the air.
When it comes time to bring those ribs out of the freezer, you want to make sure you have a plan to thaw them properly.
How To Properly Thaw Frozen Ribs
The best method for thawing any frozen food, including ribs, is to pull the package out of the freezer at least the day before you plan on cooking or reheating the ribs and placing them in the fridge in a container to collect any melting ice.
If you use the fridge method, you can even let the ribs sit in the fridge for around three days or so before cooking, reheating, or even refreezing them according to the USDA. It also requires the least amount of work because the fridge does it all.
The USDA also has thoughts on different thawing options as well. If you’re a little more pressed for time, you can thaw your ribs (still in their packaging) in a bowl of cold water. You’ll need to change the water out every half an hour or so to ensure the temperature stays under 40°F so as not to promote bacterial growth. If you use this method, you need to start cooking when the meat has thawed because of the temperature changes. Do not put your ribs back in the fridge once they’re thawed.
If you are really pressed for time, you can stick your ribs in the microwave. However, you might not be able to fit an entire rack of ribs at once. Also, thawing in the microwave can start the cooking process early, leading to some texture issues. Just like thawing in cold water, you need to cook the ribs as soon as they are thawed.
For already-cooked ribs, these options are all viable. You’ll just need to substitute reheating the ribs rather than cooking them.
Also, you should never put your ribs on the counter to thaw at room temperature or use hot water to thaw frozen ribs or any other meat. These methods will lead to the ribs spending time above the danger zone threshold of 40°F, leading to rapid bacteria growth that can cause problems for you and anyone who would consume the ribs.
Wrapping It Up
The USDA tackles our questions of how long are ribs good in the fridge and how long are cooked ribs good for with time ranges. For raw ribs, you want to cook or freeze them within five days. For cooked ribs, you’ve got up to four days to reheat or freeze your leftovers.
We know that fridges help slow bacteria growth but aren’t going to completely halt the process and only freezing your ribs can keep them safe indefinitely. We also know that there will be quality drops after about six months for raw ribs and three months for your cooked ribs.
What’s your favorite way to prepare ribs? Are you a fan of dry ribs or are you wanting barbecue sauce? Let us know in the comments!
Q: What’s the difference between baby back ribs, spare ribs, St Louis-cut ribs, and country-style ribs?
A: Baby back ribs come from close to the backbone of the pig near the loin. Spare ribs are lower down the ribcage around the belly area. St Louis-cut ribs are spare ribs that have been trimmed down and the rib tips removed. Country-style ribs aren’t technically ribs as they are cut from where the baby back ribs meet the shoulder. There might be rib bones in the package, but you’re more likely to have parts of the shoulder blade in your bone-in country-style ribs.