If you’re new to smoking pork ribs, no matter what style, the first thing you need to do is remove the membrane.
It’s something most pitmasters and rib lovers everywhere prefer not to eat as it’s tough, stringy, and just not appetizing to chow down on.
In this article, we discuss exactly what the membrane is, and how to remove the membrane from ribs.
Some stores sell ribs with the membrane, or silverskin, already removed. You may not know this until you open the package. If the silver skin is still intact, removing it is no big deal, and is certainly a good idea.
So first, let’s discuss what this membrane actually is.
Contents (Jump to Topic)
What is The Membrane?
You’ve seen it on pork ribs. It’s that silvery white opaque skin on the underside, on the bone side.
You’ll see it on all meats, but we don’t bother removing it unless it’s on beef ribs, pork ribs, or lamb tenderloin ribs. Some people refer to the membrane as silverskin.
The scientific name is the peritoneum, and it lines the abdominal cavity (the ribs) and covering the abdominal organs.
When it comes to smoking ribs with the silver skin still on, it’s tough, chewy, and tasteless. Although experimentation shows that rubs and smoke will pass through it between the bones, it’s just tough, so why serve it?
Why Remove The Membrane And What If You Don’t?
Silverskin is elastin. Unlike collagen, it won’t break down no matter how long you cook it.
During ancient times, hunters used the elastin fibers to make their bowstrings and a string to attach arrowheads to the shafts. Can you imagine trying to eat meat with it?
Also, your food presentation is a big part of the joy of serving people. Without that membrane your smoked ribs will look more presentable, would you agree?
The question is, “What if we leave it on?”
A Washington Post reporter, Tim Carman, did just that. He cited TV cook show host, Andrew Zimmern as saying that he never takes it off. (Remember him? Andrew is the guy who travels around the world eating weird foods and live bugs for one of the food channels.)
Tim did a side by side comparison. One rack of ribs had the membrane on and the other off. He concluded,
“The ribs with the silverskin still attached were more fall-off-the-bone tender; the meat barely clung to the ribs, as though they had been smoked an hour or two longer than the other rack.”
He theorized that the membrane reduced evaporation and helped break down the collagen faster. He didn’t mention whether he ate it or not.
In another side-by-side comparison, Lyle from No Hippie BBQ concluded,
“I wouldn’t say there is a markedly different taste to ‘em.” I don’t think one is much better or worse either way.”
And, then there is this anonymous post from a forum:
“I kinda like the texture of cooked membrane, adds a nice texture to meat and fat.”
It just proves that you can’t please 100% of the people 100% of the time. There isn’t a unanimous consensus for removing the membrane, but you’re in the clear majority if you do.
And, if you want to win competitions, it’s mandatory.
How to Remove the Membrane from Ribs in 3 Easy Steps
The following video shows how to peel the membrane away from a rack of ribs. You also get to see how easy it can tear and how you’ll need the persistence to get it all off.
Whether you’re cooking pork ribs 321, or following a smoked beef ribs recipe, we always recommend you add this step into your prep:
It’s an easy three-step process to peel the membrane off pork ribs. You’ll want to use something dull to get under it such as a butter knife or spoon. You don’t want to use a sharp knife because it could slip and slice the rib meat or your hand.
Step 1 — At one end of the rack, slide the butter knife or small spoon under the silverskin to separate it from the bone.
Tooltip: You can use an oyster shucker (not a pointed clam knife) instead of a spoon.
Step 2 — Once you have it loosened, slide two fingers under and start to peel it away from the ribs gently.
Step 3 — Use a paper towel to grab the membrane because it will be too slippery to hold with your bare hands. Pull slowly trying to keep it intact. If it tears, you’ll just need to keep pulling the pieces until it’s all off.
Tooltip: For those that have catfish skinning pliers, try those. They are supposed to work well.
What If You Don’t Have Time for Membrane Removal?
If you’re pressed for time, buy peeled ribs with it already removed. However, it’s not a tragedy if you can’t find them and must smoke with it.
As we’ve seen, some people prefer the texture and the meat will be just as succulent. Season the rib as you usually do. The membrane is permeable, and the seasonings will pass through to the meat.
I hope this helps you in your quest for the perfect ribs. Let me know in the comments below how your ribs come out and whether you cook with the silver skin on or off — and why? It’s good to learn from each other!
Happy rib smoking!
I use fish cleaning pliers Like the ones you use on catfish to get the skin off works like a charm .
Interesting way to overcome to the lack of grip I (and I’m sure many others) suffer with! Thanks, for the tip.
I use needle nose pliers to remove membrane. I slip the nose under the membrane at the small end, then rotate the pliers until I have 3 or 4 wraps, and then slowly start pulling. This is the best way I have found.
Sounds a great way to do it actually, thanks for the tip, Pete.
Occasionally, I score the membrane down the middle, then pull it off in two pieces. It seems to be a little easier to pull off, since there half as much resistance.
Occasionally with me, it breaks, and I end up doing the same, haha.
I use a fork to loosen up membrane then a paper towel to pull it ………
The silver skin is similar in structure to the peritoneum in the abdomen, but it is not the same thing. In the thoracic cavity on the inside the ribs the shiny layer that adheres to the intercostal muscles of he ribs is the parietal pleura.
Good knowledge, Bruce. Thanks, for sharing.
What if I can’t tell if the membrane is intact or not, and If I have already marinated the ribs with the membrane on will they be tasty if l have to remove the membrane after marinating?
They will still be tasty, yes. The marinade will have penetrated on every other surface and well flavored the meat.
Honestly, I would just leave it on if I’d already marinated them. It will just mean there’s a very thin, very chewy piece on the bone side that most people won’t eat. It will take nothing away from the flavor or texture of the main, meaty part of the rib after cooking, which is the vast majority of it.
Whenever I — or we (family and friends) — have had ribs with the membrane on, nobody cares. You already set aside a bone, with the membrane still on you just set aside a bone with a little extra left on it. Not the end of the world, and nobody is going to care too much.
I tried this method for the first time, and it was really easy and fast! It also made it much easier to cut the ribs apart, to fit in a crockpot.