Sous Vide Baby Back Ribs Showdown – 48 Hour vs 6 Hour

Sous Vide Baby Back Ribs Showdown

Sous Vide Baby Back Ribs Showdown: 48 hour on the right, 6 hour on the left

I wanted to sous vide a rack of baby back ribs – they were on special at my local grocery store, and I’ve been meaning to try pork ribs sous vide. When I went looking for recipes, I found out there were two schools of thought on how to sous vide ribs:

  1. 6 hours at 167°F/75°C. Use sous vide as a precise version of low and slow barbecue. Set the sous vide machine to 167°F, wait six hours, and pull out tender, shreddable ribs.
  2. 48 hours at 141°F /60.5°C. Cook the baby back ribs like pork chops…for a very long time. In this method, you let the ribs cook for at least 24 hours – I go with 48 hours

That got my curiosity going – what’s the difference? Which should I use? So, I ran back to the store, picked up a second slab of ribs, and plugged in my sous vide cookers. One batch went for two days, and the second went for four hours. Which contender came out on top?

Sous Vide Baby Back Ribs-0805

In the right corner… 6 hour, 167°F Ribs

Cooking at traditional “low and slow” temperatures results in a traditional rib, with tender meat that comes off the bone in shreds. The results are like oven baked ribs, but they’re not as good as what you’d get from a true barbecue smoker. 1 Still, they’re good ribs, especially slathered with a layer of barbecue sauce and run under the broiler to crisp up. If you’re cooking for people who – ugh – boil their ribs to “tenderize” them before finishing on the grill, make these instead.

Sous Vide Baby Back Ribs-0725

In the left corner…48 hour, 141°F Ribs

This is modernist cooking, using food science and precise temperatures. The long cooking time breaks down the collagen in the ribs, even at this low of a temperature, resulting in tender ribs, but the meat doesn’t dry out because of the low cooking temperature. These ribs are a revelation, with meat that slips right off the bone when you take a bite. It is perfectly tender, but still has a hint of pink and medium doneness. It is like biting into the most tender pork roast you’ve ever had.

The winner is…

Which do I prefer? The 48 hour ribs. I’m definitely going to make those again. The 6 hour ribs are a good, not great version of traditional ribs. I’d rather fire up my grill and get a good dose of smoke and some bite to the outside of the ribs. The 48 hour ribs are something completely different, and worth their own cooking technique.

I do think 6 hour ribs have their place. Sometimes life gets in the way, and dinner is about getting good food on the table instead of searching for the perfect meal. A bag of ribs in the freezer means I’m ready to go – I can drop them in the sous vide at lunchtime and get back to work. Then I have tender ribs ready any time I need them, between 6PM and 9PM; cut open the bag, brush with sauce, run the ribs under the broiler for a couple of minutes, and I have a minimal effort dinner. 2

Recipes

Notes

  • Owning multiple sous vide units comes in handy when I’m doing tests like this. And, I have to say, I really like the SousVide Supreme unit for multi-day cooking. The insulated, one piece body with a lid holds on to heat better than my other units, and I don’t have to worry about evaporation.

What do you think?

Questions? Other ideas? Leave them in the comments section below.

Related Posts

48 Hour Sous Vide Grilled Beef Short Ribs
Sous Vide Carnitas
Sous Vide Rack of Lamb With Dijon Bread Crumb Crust

 

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  1. You lose the smoke and the crusty “bark” on the outside.

  2. Sure, if I’m on the ball, I can do this a couple of days ahead of time and make the 48 hour ribs. But I can’t seem to make that work in real life – dinner two days from now? I’m dealing with a baseball/softball double header tonight – I don’t have time for that!

15 Comments

  1. Brad /

    “A bag of ribs in the freezer means I’m ready to go – I can drop them in the sous vide at lunchtime and get back to work.”. I have a brand new sous vide circulator at home that I haven’t broken out yet. Am I right in reading into this that you would drop them in still frozen? Can I do that with other protein? Obviously that would drop the water temp, so I suppose I would just extend the time?

    • Brad,
      Yes, you can go straight from the freezer to the sous vide. I add a half hour for thin cuts – say, anything an inch or less – and an hour for thicker cuts.

      • Brad /

        Thanks Mike. Love your site and cookbooks. I used to live in Akron and saw recently that West Side Market had closed. I was last there in the early 1990s. That’s a loss.

        • Yes, it is. They say they’re going to reopen as a smaller shop, focused on the things they do best (wine, cheese, Killer Brownies). I hope they do; I’m missing them already.

  2. I’ve seen other recipes that call for an ice bath between the end of the cook and the finishing broiling/grilling phase. Any idea why?

    • I’m not sure, exactly…I think it’s to cool off the surface of the meat before they sear, but I’m just guessing.

    • You risk overcooking the interior of the meat if you go from hot bath to grill/pan immediately. The ice bath cools the interior so that the sear can create bark/crust on the exterior without drying out the middle.

    • Also you can cook something in the bath rapid chill in a ice bath to stop it cooking then put it in the fridge to store for a few days then you can say for ribs put them in the oven for 5 min to refresh them before serving

  3. I have 22 hours or so to cook the ribs, what temp should i use?

  4. Thanks for the comparison…now I don’t have to do it.

  5. Were the ribs seasoned before the 48 hour cooking process?

  6. Clint Campbell /

    Could I sous vide cook beef short ribs for 10-12 hours,shut off overnight, then cook another 12 hours, or would it mess up the meat?

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