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I'm having a hard time letting go of using cooking time & internal temperature as metrics when it comes to cooking BBQ, especially when using the oven.

For example, I'm currently baking baby-back ribs wrapped in foil. This recipe calls 3 1/2-4 hours at 275 degrees. However, the ribs reached an internal temperature of 200+ degrees after only 2 hours.

I took the ribs out and tested for done-ness, but found the meat cooked well done but chewy. After letting them sit (wrapped) on the counter for about 15 minutes, the ribs went back in the oven at 225 for the remaining time.

If the issue was simply that I need to cook them lower and longer, I'd be fine with that- but it's not. People achieve great results using various times, temperatures, and recipes. This is definitely a problem with technique.

My question is this- is an internal temperature of 200+, after only 2 hours, not excessive?

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The temperature you are reading is heavily flawed. There is no way your probe's reading will not be heavily biased by proximity to bone, and the relative thinness of the meat.

Regardless of all that, barbecue is done when it is done. When cooking meats whose connective tissue needs to be broken down, the final temperature will be well beyond food safety levels. You need to examine other metrics to assess whether or not your ribs are ready for consumption. Is the meat pulled back from the ends of the bones? Usually a quarter to half-inch is a good sign. Does the rack bend easily when picking it up from the middle (with a pair of tongs)? Does a probe slide in and out of the meat with ease? If you tug on one of the bones, does it loosen from the meat ever so slightly? This is what you should be looking for.

TLDR: taking the temperature of ribs is wildly inaccurate, and you should not be doing it anyway. Use tactile and visual cues to determine if you are done cooking.

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Temperature is not a good indicator doneness with any meat that has a lot of connective tissue. Tough meat is tough because there is lots of connective tissue to transfer the force exerted by the muscle to the bones. Connective tissue breaks down in the presence of heat and moisture over time. When you cook ribs or beef shin or any other tough cut of meat the temperature of the interior of it will reach the oven temperature relatively quickly - this is good, you need the heat to penetrate in order to break down the connective tissue - so measuring the internal temperature is pointless.

Measuring internal temperature is the way to go when you are roasting meats and are looking for a particular doneness temperature or safety temperature.

There are various ways to tell if your ribs are done, you can stick a skewer or fork in them, you can use the wiggle test or bend test (the amount of flex you get is an indicator of how tender they are). Or you can just trust the time - 4 hours on 250F should be enough for any ribs. Just remember that they will get more tender after resting for a few minutes out of the oven. Do a few racks and you'll get an idea of when they are done just by touch.

Personally I like to cook my ribs in a dutch oven rather than foil as I can see the ribs and prod them how I like without worrying about foil.

  • This was the correct answer, and thank you for confirming. The meat had reached an internal temperature that was cooked, but it had done so faster than the connective tissue needed to break down sufficiently for consumption. From now on, I'll pay more attention to the texture than the internal read thermometer. I put the BBQ back in for the remaining cooking time per the recipe, resulting in some of the best ribs I've ever eaten. – HairyScary Jul 5 '16 at 20:08
  • I'm glad my post was helpful to you. Now I want ribs! – GdD Jul 6 '16 at 7:15

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