Pork baby back ribs generally come ready to cook -- no trimming or cutting needed. You don't even need to rinse them, and doing so can actually cause more harm than good. All they require is generous seasoning and long, slow cooking to become tender and delicious.
On Safety's Side
The U.S. Department of Agriculture no longer recommends rinsing meat, such as poultry or ribs, before cooking them. Rinsing the meat does nothing to remove bacteria and may actually spread the bacteria around your kitchen and sink. From a safety standpoint, you can skip the step of rinsing ribs before cooking them because it generally does more harm than good. Ditto for rinsing or soaking them in water or vinegar, which does not kill bacteria. Assume any liquid you use to soak or rinse the ribs, including marinades, is probably contaminated with bacteria, and handle it carefully. Cooking ribs to a temperature of at least 145 degrees Fahrenheit is the best way to kill bacteria, and in most cases you'll cook ribs to a much higher temperature to make them fork tender. Once you've prepared the ribs, be sure to wash your hands with soap and water for at least 20 seconds.
For Aesthetics' Sake
Although rinsing ribs isn't necessary, you may be tempted to do so for your own peace of mind. Ribs packed in vacuum-sealed bags tend to come with a lot of sticky, unappetizing liquid that can leave a wet film on the ribs. If you opt to rinse the ribs, carefully pour the liquid down the drain and dispose of the bag. Rinse the ribs in the sink and avoid splashing water on the countertop. As you work, keep the ribs separate from other foods. Use separate cutting boards and wash knives and utensils immediately. Wash the sink and countertop thoroughly afterward with hot soapy water or an antibacterial cleaner.
You don't have to rinse ribs even if they're packed in vacuum-sealed bags. Another option is to simply pour the liquid from the bag down the drain. Remove the ribs from the bag or package and set them on a cutting board. Blot the ribs thoroughly with a paper towel, which is a good idea even if you rinse the ribs, so any seasoning adheres better. Massage the ribs with seasonings or a rub and you're ready to cook them.
Cooking Ribs Safely
How you cook and serve the ribs is as important as how you prepare them. To keep ribs safe, refrigerate them as soon as you buy them and use them within three or four days. Cook the ribs until they're falling-off-the-bone tender. It's hard to monitor the temperature of ribs because they're so bony, but if they're fork tender, you know the temperature is well above the 145 degrees Fahrenheit recommended by the U.S. Department of Agriculture. Refrigerate ribs within two hours of serving them.
- U.S. Department of Agriculture: Washing Food: Does It Promote Food Safety?
- U.S. Department of Agriculture: Safe Minimum Internal Temperature Chart
- U.S. Department of Agriculture: Leftovers and Food Safety
- The Kitchn: How to Cook Great Ribs in the Oven
- NPR: Don't Panic! Your Questions on (Not) Washing Raw Chickens
- Photo Credit Jupiterimages/Stockbyte/Getty Images