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How To Thaw Ribs: 3 Best Ways To Defrost

How To Thaw Ribs: 3 Best Ways To Defrost

Learn how to thaw ribs in three different ways here, along with some tips and tricks to ensure safety, preserve flavor, and achieve the best texture for your favorite cut. 

The three featured thawing methods here are:

  • Refrigerator thawing
  • Cold water thawing 
  • Microwave thawing

Knowing how to thaw ribs is essential to ensure they’re safe to eat and cook evenly. Properly defrosted ribs not only ensure even cooking but also minimize the risk of foodborne illnesses.

As mentioned, we’ve currently included three main methods of thawing ribs in this guide. As to which is the best, it’s dependent on your time constraints and personal preference.

But before we discuss the methods and steps, let’s first get a general view of the topic and understand how the type of ribs might affect the thawing process.

Understanding Ribs

There are different types of ribs, like baby back, spare ribs, and St. Louis style. Although each type has its unique flavor and texture, they all offer the same enjoyable and savory experience. 

Aside from personal favorites, another thing worth noting is that the kind of ribs you will use can affect the thawing process in a few ways. 

First, the size of the ribs affects the time it takes to thaw them. The larger the ribs are, the more time it will take. For instance, baby back ribs, which are smaller and leaner, generally thaw faster than larger varieties like St. Louis or spare ribs.

Second, the amount of fat on the ribs can also affect the thawing time. Ribs with thicker fat, such as spare ribs, will take longer to thaw than those with a thinner fat layer like baby back ribs.
Finally, the type of thawing method can also affect the thawing time. For example, thawing ribs in the refrigerator is a slower process compared to using a cold water bath, while using a microwave offers the quickest thaw but may not be as even or safe for larger portions.

Now that you already understand the factors affecting the thawing process, here are the different thawing options, their step-by-step guide, and some extra tips that you should consider when opting for a specific method:

Refrigerator Thawing

Refrigerator thawing is the safest and most common method. All you need to do is place your ribs in the fridge and allow them to thaw for at least a day. 

Even though it may take a little patience, it’s safe and reliable. Here’s how to do it:

  1. Find a safe container. Ensure your ribs are in a leak-proof container or a sealed plastic bag to avoid any mess in your fridge.
  2. Place in the fridge. Put the container with your ribs on a plate or a tray to catch any drips.
  3. Wait it out. Depending on the size of your ribs, it can take a few hours to a couple of days to thaw completely.

The good thing about this method is that the quality of those ribs is maintained. The only catch is that you may need to plan it because it does take some time.

Extra tips:

  • Keep the ribs in their packaging or tightly wrapped in plastic.
  • Place the ribs on the fridge’s bottom shelf to avoid dripping on other foods; use a kitchen towel or paper towels under meat packaging.
  • Food thaws faster in a refrigerator set at 40°F than at 35°F.

Cold Water Thawing

Cold water thawing is the middle-ground method. Although this method is faster, you should change the water every 30 minutes to prevent the ribs from absorbing too much water.

Here’s how to thaw ribs using cold water:

  1. Seal it up. Like the fridge method, make sure your ribs are in a leak-proof bag.
  2. Submerge in cold water. Place the sealed bag in a large bowl or the sink and cover it with cold water.
  3. Change the water. Every 30 minutes, replace the cold water with fresh, cold water.
  4. Be patient. Depending on the size of your ribs, it could take a few hours.

Although it’s faster than the fridge method, it will require regular water-changing attention. So, that’s something worth considering.

Extra tips:

  • Don’t use warm water; it might encourage bacteria growth.
  • Keep the ribs in their original packaging or a sealed bag to stop water from seeping in.
  • The USDA recommends that foods, including ribs, thawed with cold water should be cooked before refreezing.

Microwave Thawing

This method is the fastest, but it’s not something that I normally go for. The microwave can heat the ribs unevenly, making the inside remain frozen even though the edges outside look thawed.

Another thing worth noting is that bacteria could grow and multiply once it reaches a specific heat degree, so I recommend cooking it immediately after thawing it using the microwave.

Here’s how to do it:

  1. Defrost setting. Place ribs in the microwave and use the defrost setting. Be sure to follow your microwave’s instructions for defrosting meat.
  2. Check regularly. Stop the microwave and check the ribs every few minutes to ensure they don’t start cooking.
  3. Cook immediately. Once thawed, cook the ribs right away to prevent any bacteria growth.

Extra tips:

  • Use the defrost setting, not the regular cooking setting.
  • Be extra cautious and check the ribs often.

Safety Tips for Thawing Ribs

Now, let’s talk about safety. Thawing ribs the wrong way can lead to some unpleasant food safety issues. Here are a few tips to keep in mind:

Avoid thawing on the counter

Thawing ribs at room temperature is a risky way to thaw ribs, as it allows bacteria to multiply quickly. I suggest avoiding leaving raw meat or ribs at room temperature for more than two hours.

The USDA warns against thawing food in places like garages, cars, or on counters because it can make the food unsafe to eat.

Don’t use hot water

Hot water can start cooking your ribs on the outside while the inside is still frozen. Aside from that, thawing ribs at 40 to 140°F will invite more bacteria as they thrive around those temperatures.

Cook promptly

Once your ribs thaw, avoid waiting too long to get them on the grill or to where you meant to cook them.

As delicious and lovely as your recipes may be, improper thawing could give you potential health risks. When bacteria grow on food, it can cause foodborne illness. 

The symptoms of foodborne illness can range from mild to severe, including nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, and fever. 

In some cases, you may even need to see a doctor. Some foodborne illnesses can be fatal, especially in infants, young children, and the elderly.

Now that you know some potential health-related risks, remember to follow the steps in this guide for proper and trouble-free thawing.

The bottom line

Learning to thaw ribs is crucial to enjoying a delicious and safe meal. Whether you choose the slow-and-steady refrigerator method, the middle-ground cold water method, or the speedy microwave method, the key is to keep food safety in mind. 

On that note, reduce the risk of foodborne illness by following this guide and remembering the tips and some advice to avoid health-related concerns. Now, you’re ready to start thawing–pick the choice that suits your timeline and kitchen setup!

More About Ribs

How To Thaw Ribs

How To Thaw Ribs

Learn how to thaw ribs in three different ways here, along with some tips and tricks to ensure safety, preserve flavor, and achieve the best texture for your favorite cut.


  • Refrigerator Thawing
  • Cold Water Thawing
  • Microwave Thawing


  1. Refrigerator thawing. Place your ribs in a sealed container or bag in the fridge on a plate, and allow several hours to days for complete thawing, depending on size. 
  2. Cold Water thawing. Seal the ribs in a leak-proof bag, submerge them in cold water, refresh the water every 30 minutes, and expect a few hours for thawing, depending on rib size.
  3. Microwave thawing. Use the microwave's defrost setting for the ribs, following its meat defrosting guidelines, and check every few minutes to prevent cooking.

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