This article was updated on 10th September 2023 for freshness and to incorporate new insights.
Ribs. Messy, delicious, saucy, and meaty – but can they be reheated? If you’ve grappled with this question, I’ve got good news. There are plenty of ways to reheat ribs, and I’m about to take you through eight methods that I’ve tested.
The best way to reheat ribs is in the oven. Cover your room-temperature ribs with any leftover sauce. Wrap them in two layers of foil, adding ¼ cup of water or stock before sealing. Place the ribs in a cold oven and set it to heat to 250°F (120°C). Allow the ribs to reheat for 30-40 minutes.
How I tested reheating ribs
Who doesn’t love ribs? They’re a firm favorite in my home, that’s for sure. This means I’ve had plenty of opportunities to experiment with different reheating techniques.
Over time, I’ve tested these eight reheating methods:
- In the oven: Consistently tasty results.
- In the microwave: Good in a hurry.
- Under the broiler: Delicious for sticky sauce.
- In an air fryer: Crispy outsides.
- In a steamer: Soft, tender meat.
- On the grill: Lovely, just-charred taste.
- In a skillet with shredded meat: Great for sandwiches and subs.
- In a water bath (vacuum packed): Risk-free, but slow and best if you have a sous vide machine.
Reheating ribs in the oven
Time: 30-40 minutes
- Bring your leftover ribs to room temperature before wrapping them in foil (I do 2 layers to make sure no holes appear).
- Add ¼ cup of liquid (water/stock/wine/apple juice) to the foil before sealing.
- Place the ribs in a cold oven and set it to warm to 250°F (120°C).
- Warm for 30-40 minutes or until piping hot, start checking a single portion of ribs after 25 minutes.
- Uncover and broil for a further 3-4 minutes before serving to caramelize the sauce.
Bringing your ribs to room temperature before warming will mean they heat more evenly and faster. And the steam, along with the low temperatures, keeps the ribs juicy and prevents them from drying out too much.
Keep an eye on your ribs when they’re under the broiler. Sticky, sugary sauces can burn very quickly.
Psst… if you’re short on time, you can also use a 350°F (180°C) for 15 minutes but I found the meat wasn’t as juicy this way.
Results: This method is probably the most popular and delivers consistently good results. It’s a bit slower than the others, but it’s really low-effort. Your ribs won’t dry out, and you get a nicely caramelized sauce at the end if you use your broiler.
Reheating ribs in the microwave
Time: 2-3 minutes
- Place your leftover ribs in a microwave-safe dish. Stick to 3-4 ribs at a time.
- Sprinkle lightly with a few tablespoons of extra moisture like apple juice, water, or stock.
- Cover the ribs with any leftover sauce (if you have any).
- Cover the dish with a damp paper towel or plastic wrap poked with a few small holes.
- Heat the ribs in 30-second intervals until hot. It should take around 2-3 minutes.
30-second time intervals may sound short, but the breaks give the heat time to equalize within the ribs to ensure there are no super-tough, overcooked spots.
For a stickier texture, broil your ribs for a few minutes before serving them.
Results: The microwave was super fast and convenient, and the meat was pretty juicy. However, the ribs lost that “fresh off the grill” taste and the sauce was a little runny. Okay for a quick lunch, but guests wouldn’t be impressed.
Reheating ribs in an air fryer
Time: 5-7 minutes
- Set your air fryer to 350°F (180°C).
- Slice your rib racks into individual pieces and coat them with extra sauce or spray them lightly with oil for crispiness.
- Heat for 5-7 minutes, checking halfway.
- Once hot all the way through, serve immediately.
Cutting the rack into individual ribs means they’ll heat faster and lowers the risk of them drying out.
Adding some extra sauce or a little bit of oil protects the meat of your ribs from the harsh direct heat of the air fryer. If you use sauce it will get nice and sticky, while oil will give you crispy edges.
Tip: Line your fryer basket with foil if you don’t feel like a big clean-up and poke a few holes in it so you don’t impede airflow.
Results: This method is fast and works well, but my ribs were definitely on the dryer side. On the other hand, they had a nice crisp I didn’t get from the other techniques I tried. The air fryer is great for fattier ribs, but I wouldn’t recommend it for meat that’s already a little tough.
Reheating ribs under the broiler
Time: 4-6 minutes
- Bring your ribs to room temperature before reheating them for more even heating.
- Place your leftover ribs on a wire rack with a drip tray underneath, bone-side up.
- Adjust your top oven rack to 4-5 inches below the grilling element.
- Heat your ribs for 2-3 minutes or until you notice light bubbling in the sauce.
- Turn your ribs over and broil them for another 2 minutes.
- Remove from the oven and cover loosely with foil.
- Allow your ribs to rest (covered) for a few minutes before serving them.
Adjusting the top rack of your oven is crucial, or you’ll end up with half-warm ribs and a burnt sauce. And make sure to place something under the wire rack like a baking tray or foil to catch any drips.
The rib sauce will get very hot, so be careful not to burn your mouth when biting into them. Instead, rest your ribs covered in foil for a few minutes to let them cool down slightly.
Results: This method works okay, but I found my meat became a little dry compared to other methods. It’s fast, though, so it’s a good option if you want hot ribs in a hurry. Also, the sauce was caramelized and sticky and not runny and wet like with some methods.
Reheating ribs in a steamer
Time: 5-6 minutes
- Set up your steamer (or a pot with a colander/sieve) and fill the bottom section with liquid like water, stock, or apple juice.
- Slice your rib rack into individual pieces so they heat faster and place the ribs into the steamer basket.
- Steam for 5-6 minutes.
If you don’t have a steamer, you can make one using a regular pan, a colander or sieve, and a lid.
Water works fine to heat the ribs but won’t add much flavor.
I try to use a mixture of apple juice and stock, and then you can use some of the liquid to baste the ribs before you serve them. If you’re reheating beef ribs and you’re keen on an alternative flavor, try using beer as your base liquid.
Results: If you have sauce on your ribs, this isn’t the best method because the sauce will melt off. But if they’re unsauced, the steamer leaves you with moist, juicy meat. Although the meat was quite wet with no crispiness.
Reheating ribs on the grill
Time: 8-10 minutes
- Bring your ribs to room temperature and set your grill to medium or 250°F (120°C).
- Baste your ribs with extra sauce or additional liquid like water, stock, or apple juice.
- Wrap them in foil.
- Heat on the grill for 8-10 minutes, turning halfway.
- Uncover your ribs and grill them (directly) for a few minutes until the sauce is set or they’re slightly charred.
If you can, set up a two-zone grill (i.e only directly heat one half) and warm your ribs on the unheated part. This mimics a convection oven and is gentler than using direct heat.
Timings will vary depending on the grill you’re using, so check the meat reasonably often.
Results: This method is good if your grill is already going but can be a pain if you have to set it up just for the ribs. The final result was similar to the oven, but the grill did give the ribs a nice charred taste, which you didn’t really get from the broiler.
Reheating ribs in the skillet (with shredded meat)
Time: 10-12 minutes (including shredding time)
- Remove the rib meat from the bones using a fork to shred it. Shred it quite finely for more even heating.
- Warm a skillet over medium heat on your stove.
- Place the shredded meat in the pan with some leftover juices, stock, apple juice, or sauce. I use enough to cover the bottom of the pan.
- Stir while the meat heats – this may take 5-10 minutes, depending on portion size.
I use a fair amount of extra liquid to keep my meat tender and juicy, but you can use less if you prefer a crispier texture. And if you’re heating a large portion, be prepared to add more liquid because moisture will evaporate over time.
Any liquid will work, but I advise trying to avoid water because it will dilute the flavors of the ribs.
Results: I loved this method because my rib meat came out super tasty (I put some of my favorite barbecue sauce in the pan). The meat would taste FAB in a sandwich. However, it’s a different experience from eating ribs off the bone.
Reheating ribs in a water bath (vacuum-packed)
Time: 40-60 minutes
- Vacuum-seal your leftover ribs in a heatproof bag (not all sandwich bags are heatproof).
- Set up a sous vide machine or a large pot of water.
- Bring your water to a temperature of 155°F (70°C).
- Warm the ribs in the water for 40-60 minutes, keeping it at a consistent temperature of 155°F (70°C).
- Optional: Broil your ribs for a few minutes in the oven to caramelize the sauce.
A sous vide machine or hot water bath eliminates any chance of drying out or overcooking your ribs.
If you don’t have a vacuum sealer, you can use a regular zip-lock bag with as much air removed as possible. Zip-lock bags can withstand temperatures of up to 195°F (90°C) before starting to soften.
Results: If you have a sous vide machine and vacuum bags, use this method. It’s slow, but well worth it, especially if your ribs are already overdone or dry. The meat was really tender and tasted great. However, it’s a lot of effort and hard without a sous vide machine.
How to store ribs
The best way to store ribs is in a heatproof vacuum bag, but you can also use a zip-lock bag with the air removed or tightly wrapped plastic wrap. Airtight containers work too, but the extra air exposure can dry the ribs out. Ribs will last in the fridge for 4-5 days. You can also freeze them.
Your goal with storing ribs is to minimize moisture loss. If you don’t have access to a vacuum sealer, remove excess air from your freezer bag by sucking it out with a straw or submerging the bag partially in water. The pressure from the water will force out the air while you zip it shut.
Editor’s tip: I recommend this FoodSaver vacuum sealer. I’ve had one for years, and it’s never failed me.
Can you freeze ribs?
Ribs freeze really well for 4-6 months. And you can freeze any extra rib sauce too, I like to freeze it in ice cube trays for easy portioning.
How to freeze ribs:
- Cool your leftover ribs to room temperature.
- Place them in a vacuum or zip-lock bag and remove excess air. Alternatively, wrap them tightly in plastic wrap and then in foil.
- Mark and use within 4-6 months.
- Thaw in the fridge before reheating.
For convenience, portion your ribs out before placing them in bags.
Some sources suggest flash-freezing individual ribs before storing them to make sure they don’t stick together. This method works well, but the ribs won’t keep for as long (especially if you’re not vacuum-packing).
How to thaw and reheat frozen ribs
The best way to thaw ribs is overnight in the fridge. Larger portions may take 1-2 days to defrost fully. If you’re in a hurry, you can thaw your ribs (sealed) in a bowl of cold water, making sure to change the water every 30 minutes.
You can also use the defrost setting on your microwave, but I find this always starts cooking the meat, and you end up with dry ribs.
Once defrosted, wrap your ribs in foil and reheat them in a 250°F (120°C) oven.
How To Reheat Ribs [Tested Methods]
- 1 portion ribs baby back ribs, spare ribs, any type of pork or beef ribs will work.
- Bring your leftover ribs to room temperature.
- Wrap them in two layers of foil.
- Add ¼ cup of liquid (water/stock/wine/apple juice) before sealing.
- Place the ribs in a cold oven and set them to warm to 250°F (130°C).
- Warm for 30-40 minutes (or until piping hot).
- Uncover and broil for a further 3-4 minutes before serving.