You may love baby back ribs straight off the grill, but if you don’t know how to cook them correctly, they can come out tough and unpalatable. Ribs have a membranous substance attached to them called peritoneum or silverskin.
Unlike cartilage and other types of connective materials, silverskin doesn’t soften as it cooks but gets tougher. When you bite into a cooked rib that still has the membrane, it can be hard to pull the meat off the bone and chew.
Luckily, there are some simple steps to remove the membrane from your ribs before cooking them to make sure you have the most tender and tasty ribs on the planet.
1. What is Membrane on Ribs?
You’ve probably seen the membrane on a rack of ribs before—it’s the silvery skin on the underside of a large cut of meat, like tenderloins or rib racks. This silvery translucent covering lines the abdominal cavity of an animal, protecting the abominable organs.
If you don’t remove the peritoneum before you cook it, you could get chewy ribs without a lot of flavor. This is because the silverskin acts as a protective layer that keeps any rub or sauce or spice you season your ribs at bay. However, it isn’t as easy to detect when the meat is already cooked.
The membrane is commonly thicker near the backbone, so you see thicker silverskin on baby back ribs, cut from high on the back area, but you don’t see the membrane on spare ribs, which are cut from the abdominal site.
2. Why Remove Membrane from Ribs?
Not only does the elastin in the membrane refuse to break down under high heat as collagen does, but it also impedes seasoning from absorbing into the meat, acting as a barrier. If you’re smoking your ribs, the silverskin will prevent the ribs from soaking up all the wonderful smoky flavor from your grill.
Learning how to take the silverskin off your ribs before your grill or smoke them will yield tastier, more tender, and more flavorful results than if you don’t. The silverskin, along with getting tougher and being resistant to seasoning, also tends to curl up when cooked, warping the shape of your meal.
This aspect is more applicable to cuts of meat like tenderloins, but the primary loss is tenderness and seasoning for ribs. If you’re pressed for time, peeled ribs are available from butcher shops and specialty markets.
Read more: Guide to smoking meat.
3. How to Remove Membrane from Ribs?
It’s relatively easy to get the silverskin off your ribs as long as you follow the steps. The most crucial step is to remove the membrane in one piece, so you don’t have to spend time picking off each shred, which is a pain.
Here’s how to remove the membrane from ribs in three simple steps:
Step 1 – Find the Edge
Place the racks of ribs on a cutting board, with the ribs curving towards you. Locate a loose edge on the narrower end of ribs, and work either a clean fingertip or the tip of a blunt knife, like a butter knife, under the rim.
Working your tool parallel to one of the ribs, loosen the membrane from the meat until it flaps free of any connective tissue. If you find that the spot you initially chose is resistant, move over a rib and see if loosening the silverskin there is better.
Step 2 – Work the Line
Once you find a possible entry point to the rack of ribs, work the knife’s edge or your fingertips under it and expand the entry site along the narrow outer end. You want to try to loosen the skin so that, in your next step, getting the membrane off in one piece is a cinch.
Using a butter knife is helpful as the blade is about the length of one rib, and the edge isn’t sharp enough to slice through the silverskin as you’re working it back and forth.
In figuring out how to remove the membrane from ribs, you’ll find a tool that suits you. Some may use their fingers or a chopstick to do the job; others prefer a butter knife.
Step 3 – Peel Off Slowly
This step is the trickiest because you want to pull off the membrane in one fell swoop, or else you’ll be stuck picking shreds of silverskin off your ribs if you don’t want leathery bits on your finished result.
It’s helpful to use paper towels to grip the silverskin’s edge as trying to hold on to the slippery substance with only your hands is a Herculean task. This is the most challenging part as the peritoneum is slick and tears easily.
Using a dish towel or a paper towel, grip the end of the membrane firmly, and using constant and slow motion, peel it away from the rack of ribs. It should come off in one smooth motion, and you can discard the elastic peritoneum.
If, however, some of it breaks away, you’ll have to pull them off one by one. You don’t want shreds of silverskin clinging to your rack of ribs as, after cooking, they’ll turn into hard leathery scraps.
If you want to see a instructional video, this is a good video.
Above Images Courtesy of Daryn Nakhuda
4. Differing Opinions
Some chefs differ in the membrane-debate. Naysayers testify that leaving the silverskin on ribs makes them more tender as if they’ve had more time to slow cook in your grill or smoker.
There’s a seasoning aspect to this debate, the argument that leaving the silverskin on detracts from the finished outcome’s flavor is debunked by naysayers as well. If using the low-and-slow cooking method, they attest that leaving the silverskin on creates a tasty crust.
Regardless of whether you prefer to leave the silverskin or membrane on your ribs before you smoke or grill them, you should know the basics of how to remove the membrane from ribs like any seasoned pitmaster.
It’s a slightly slimy but mostly painless process that can add taste and tenderness to your rib dishes.
The knowledge you can take away from this guide is the flexibility of preparing your rib recipe for events like holidays.