Cooking a delicious rack of ribs generally requires minimal effort.
But what if you can’t remove the membrane from the ribs?
Will they have a different taste?
And do you even have to remove the membrane from ribs in the first place?
In this article, I’ll take a look at the most common reasons why rib membrane won’t come off and offer you a few tips on how to remove it before and after cooking.
3 Reasons why you can’t remove the membrane from ribs
Over the years I’ve grilled, smoked and roasted more than a handful of ribs.
And in the beginning, I often couldn’t figure out why the membrane on my ribs wouldn’t come off.
However, as I gained more experience I began to notice the mistakes I was making when trying to remove the membrane from my ribs.
With that said, here are the most common reasons why you can’t take off the membrane from ribs:
You haven’t loosened the membrane
Whether you’re working with beef or pork ribs, you have to loosen the membrane before you attempt to remove it.
If you try to take it off without loosening it first, the membrane can tear apart and make things difficult.
You can loosen the membrane by sliding a butter knife or the handle of a teaspoon beneath it and gently prying it open.
Once you create enough space to put your index finger underneath, push through to the other side and pull straight up.
It’s also a good idea to grab the membrane with a paper towel since it’s slippery and it can tear off.
Another thing that’s worth pointing out is that there’s an additional membrane around each rib that doesn’t come off.
If you buy trimmed ribs you will occasionally notice a piece of membrane that’s flapping over the exposed bone.
Trying to remove it won’t work because it will be attached to the inner membrane sheath.
The membrane is too thin
Another reason why it’s sometimes hard to peel off the rib membrane is because it’s too thin.
Similarly to sausage casings, when the membrane is too thin it tears apart more easily.
Fortunately, when the membrane is thin it doesn’t impact the flavor or texture of the ribs significantly.
So you can simply leave it on or score it with a knife if it’s causing you too much trouble.
If you don’t want to face similar troubles in the future, it’s best to choose your ribs wisely.
I personally prefer buying baby back ribs since they have a thick membrane that’s easier to remove.
The rib membrane is already off
If you’ve bought your ribs from the grocery store, there’s a high chance the membrane was already removed.
Supermarket chains such as Costco, usually take off the membrane from ribs before displaying them.
And since the membrane can be hard to spot if you’re not experienced, you may not notice it has been removed.
To tell if the membrane is off ribs, you should look for a translucent silvery layer of tissue on the underside of ribs. No wonder the other name for a rib membrane is silverskin, which is exactly what it looks like.
I will help you identify the rib membrane with a photo.
Here’s what a rack of ribs with a membrane on looks like versus what one looks with the silverskin removed:
In any case, if you buy your ribs from the butcher’s, you can simply ask if they removed the membrane.
How to remove the membrane from ribs?
You can either watch our video or continue reading to find out.
Even though removing the membrane from ribs is a pretty straightforward job, you can easily get it wrong if you’re not careful.
Here’s how to remove the membrane from ribs in three simple steps:
Pry up the membrane.
Start by flipping the ribs over with their curved side facing you.
The membrane is the thin layer of connective tissue covering the ribs.
Get a butter knife or use the handle of a teaspoon to gently pry up the membrane.
It’s best to start from the middle of the ribs and work your way towards one end.
Insert the knife under a very slight angle, pushing its sharp side down.
Keep loosening the membrane until you can slide your index finger underneath.
Note that to be able to put your fingers under the membrane as easily as shown on the photo above will be a rare occasion (and that’s normal).
Pull off the membrane with your fingers or a paper towel.
After you separate the membrane from one end, grab it with your fingers and pull it off.
It’s a good idea to use a paper towel for better grip since the membrane can be slippery.
Keep pulling until the membrane comes off.
If you do this correctly, you should be able to remove the entire membrane in one piece.
Take the membrane off and season the ribs.
After you take the membrane off, you should discard it and start seasoning your ribs with your favorite dry rub or marinade.
As you’ll see, the membrane will be elastic and rubbery which can hamper the effect of your seasoning.
Can you remove the rib membrane after cooking?
There’s no need to worry if you’ve forgotten to take off the membrane from your ribs.
Although not recommended to aim for that, you can still remove the silverskin after cooking even though it will be slightly more difficult to do.
This is because the membrane shrinks and becomes more tough when it’s cooked. As a result, some of the meat adheres to it and makes the membrane harder to peel off cleanly.
To remove the rib membrane after cooking, you should loosen it with a blunt kitchen knife until you can grab one end with a paper towel.
Once you get a good grip on the membrane, you simply pull it up and across until it’s completely removed.
Do you have to remove the membrane from ribs?
The rib membrane, also known as peritoneum or silverskin, is a sheet of connective tissue that covers the inside of ribs.
However, unlike other connective tissue like collagen, it doesn’t dissolve when it’s exposed to heat.
As a result, it acts as a barrier that prevents dry rubs and marinades from infusing the meat with flavor.
In addition, the membrane gets tough during cooking which can give ribs a somewhat chewy texture.
This is why most pit masters and cooks like to remove it.
However, you don’t necessarily need to remove the membrane from ribs before cooking them.
In fact, there are plenty of pit masters who prefer to leave it on since it helps to retain the fats and makes the ribs more juicy.
And if you’re worried about the texture, you can simply score each rib with a knife.
This way, the membrane will shrink during cooking and stick to the bone so no one will have to chew through it.
Also, keep in mind that Country style pork ribs, for example, are not exactly a rib cut and don’t have a membrane that needs removing.
It’s why I prefer using them in my oven baked pork and sauerkraut recipe.
Removing the membrane from ribs can sometimes be extremely annoying.
If you’re having trouble, it’s best to start by loosening it first and using some paper towel to pull it off.
And if you still can’t remove it, you can simply score it with your knife and apply your seasonings.