Spare Ribs Sous-vide

I’ve been experimenting a lot with mixing and matching smoking and sous-vide. My most recent experiment has been with ribs. I was already doing short ribs per Thomas Keller using several days in the cooker but for some reason started with comparatively short times (24 hours ) for my spare ribs and finishing them in the oven (seem my 2006 post for my results). Then I happened to hear Nathan Myhrvold mention 48 hours on The Daily Show and gave it a try (of course given the 48-72 hour time for short ribs this makes a lot of sense!). I also smoked them a little first and finished them on the grill at the end. The results have been stunning.

My preparation is basically as follows:

* Pull the membrane off the back (same as for any smoker recipe)

* Rub the night before & wrap in plastic (I use some mustard to help hold the rub and have the vinegar break down the tissue a little)

* Smoke for 1-2 hours with whatever wood you like

* Seal & cook for 48 hours (148 seems to work pretty well for pork spare ribs, I’ve used some lower temps for beef ribs)

* Mop with BBQ sauce or Grilling Sauce

* Grill just enough to get some “bite” on the outside

* Serve “dry” or “wet” as you desire.

Enjoy and as always I’d love to hear your ideas, comments & recipes.–David

September 19, 2011. Recipes, Technique.


  1. Chris replied:

    I’m by no means an expert, but I’ll hazard a pretty strong guess that it wasn’t fall off the bone tender because you never got it hot enough to melt the collagen which is the key to this type of cut. With any meat there are two forces at work to tenderize. The first as I understand it is enzymes breaking down the meat, which if held below (IIRC 120 deg F) will tenderize. Once the temp gets beyond that, the enzymes die, and your next stop is around 165F where the collagen melts. TTBOMK, there is no tenderizing going on in between these two temps. Above 165 the collagen is melting but as it gets hotter, the moisture is being pushed out as the muscle fibre contracts, so the melted collagen adds moisture and the heat squeezes it out. Hope this helps

  2. Chris replied:

    oops the above comment was in regards to the pork shoulder.

  3. sousvide replied:

    Chris–That is certainly the conventional wisdom (and what I’ve read for years in various books, etc.), but with really long “soaks” in a cooker (like a sous-vide bath) a lot of what would otherwise not fall apart, does–kind of. It’s hard to explain, as it isn’t identical to a long cook at typical BBQ temps, but it gets a whole lot more tender than you’d think given the temp — really soft, but not as ready to fall apart as with a long “smoke.”

    Short ribs done for 3 days at 133 are a really good example of this.

    I’ll have to see if I can dig up a good explanation for what is happening and why temps > 165 aren’t needed for some of these cuts (except for an optional browning step). I suspect Nathan M. has one in Modernist Cuisine, but I’m waiting for the Kindle version (which he claims he isn’t going to do).

  4. Don S replied:

    That was my concern when doing pork shoulder. Rick Bayless has showed in one of his shows where the did a pork shoulder for 50hrs @143f. I have done this 2 times and have found that it works perfect. After pulling the meat, place it in a pan with a little of the juice which has cooked off and let it sit in the frige with weights on top. After it has set you cut it into cubes and serve it carnita style. Having done this, it has replaced my cooking my carnitas in lard :). I have also noticed that the only thing left other than meat is the sinous fat that never breaks down

    • sousvide replied:

      Don–I’ll definitely try that. When you take the pork off and put it in the fridge, how do you go from there to ‘carnitas style’? I assume it gets reheated or re-fried, but it wasn’t clear to me from your post.

      • Don S replied:

        very carefully brown it on all sides in a little pork fat 🙂

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