Should You Marinate Your Ribs Before Smoking/Grilling? Here’s What You Need To Know

Should you marinate ribs before cooking them over a grill? When ribs are cooked properly, they make delicious dinner meat with a hearty taste, and the meat often slides off the bone.

Should You Marinate Your Ribs Before SmokingGrilling Here’s What You Need To Know (1)

Ribs are often cooked at home or served as a barbecue dish. They are also a favorite food for parties and celebrations. The key to preparing delicious ribs is to cook them thoroughly. Marinating helps tenderize the meat and makes it easier to eat.

Marinating ribs is a great way to add flavor and enhance their taste. In addition, it helps prevent the meat from drying out during the cooking process.

If you want to try marinating ribs and are wondering if marinating before cooking is worth the extra time, keep reading our article below.

Should You Marinate Ribs?

Ribs should be cooked slowly over a long period. Don’t cook them too fast, or else they’ll become too soft. If you cook them long and slow, they will end up being very tender and very moist whether you use a marinade or not.

If you do decide to use a marinade, however, don’t leave the ribs in too long as they will become mushy when cooked. 

Using a marinade all comes down to personal preference and the type of ribs you’re cooking, and in this article, we are going to help you decide if you should start using one or not.

What Is A Marinade?

A marinade is an acidic liquid that flavors the meat. It’s usually made by mixing ingredients such as vinegar, wine, beer, ketchup, soy sauce, Worcestershire sauce, mustard, honey, maple syrup, molasses, olive oil, mayonnaise, salt, pepper, garlic, onion, ginger, cayenne pepper, lemon juice, lime juice, hot sauce, chili powder, curry powder, and other spices.

Should You Marinate Your Ribs Before SmokingGrilling Here’s What You Need To Know

The key thing to remember with a marinade is that they usually contain acidic ingredients, as they break down the protein in the meat and cause the meat to be extremely tender when cooked.

Some marinades also use enzymes like in buttermilk or yogurt, and this can make the meat even more tender. However, if you use this sort of marinade, the flavor will be milder when cooked.

Although you might first believe this, the marinade does not reach the middle of the meat, even if you leave the meat in it for several days. The most it will penetrate is around 1/8 inch or so underneath the surface.

Moreover, marinating for too long can leave you serving up meat with a mushy texture. This is often the case with meats such as chicken or seafood, which can also suffer ill effects from exposure to acidic ingredients over too much time. 

Marinades Vs Dry Rubs

You can think of a dry rub as a seasoning that doesn’t have any added liquids. These types of seasonings include things like salt, black pepper, paprika, oregano, thyme, rosemary, sage, garlic, onion, red pepper flakes, etc.

Dry rubs are often used on beef, pork, lamb, poultry, fish, shellfish, and vegetables. They’re typically applied directly onto the meat after it has been cut into pieces.

When using a dry rub, you need to apply it evenly all over the meat. Some people prefer applying it only on the outside while others apply it all over including inside.

Some also like to apply it the night before so it can adhere fully to the meat surface. When using on ribs, however, you need to only add the rub 2 hours before cooking if you are adding a sauce on top at the end.

If you choose to use a dry rub, you can either mix it yourself or buy one ready-made. The best thing about using a dry rub is that it allows you to control the amount of seasoning.

However, some people find that the effects of a dry rub aren’t as good as that of a marinade. Although a dry rub provides intense flavor, marinades can tenderize the meat much more effectively.

That being said, rubs can help with creating a crispy outside which is known as the bark.

It’s possible to combine both a dry rub and a marinade. For example, you could start by rubbing your meat with a dry rub and then finish it off with a marinade.

This works well because the dry rub helps to create a crust on the meat while the marinade adds moisture and tenderizes the meat.

Different Types Of Ribs

Ribs are a popular type of meat to cook. There are many different ways to prepare them depending on what kind of rib you want to eat, and you should keep this in mind when choosing whether to marinade.

There are two main types of ribs: spareribs and baby back ribs. Spareribs come from just behind the shoulder on the belly and contain about 11-13 ribs, whereas back ribs contain around 10-13 ribs and come from the spinal region.

They weigh around 1-2 pounds and are much leaner than spare ribs. Often, they are the tastiest and most popular ribs on the market.

You can also get St-Louis-style ribs from the same part as spare ribs, but they have been trimmed so the tips and cartilage are removed. This makes them cook more evenly and have a more uniform shape.

Finally, you can get real country-style ribs, but these are pork rib chops cut off the shoulder of the loin as opposed to ‘traditional’ ribs.

Should I Marinate My Ribs?

Baby backs are the leanest type of ribs, and they do not need to be marinated to get the most out of them, especially when prepared using the 3-2-1 or 2-2-1 method.

Spare ribs, St-Louis ribs, and country-style ribs should be soaked in a marinade, however, as this will help to tenderize the meat without overpowering the pork flavor.

Acidic ingredients are added to help break down connective tissue but you need to be careful not to go overboard with this as you will end up with mushy ribs.

Moreover, marinating doesn’t work well with fatty cuts because oil prevents oxygen from getting to the surface of the meat.

Marinades should be left on meat for less than 24 hours. You can still leave them marinating overnight, but do not go over this threshold. The prime time to leave them is about 2-8 hours in the marinade.

Should You Marinate Your Ribs Before SmokingGrilling Here’s What You Need To Know (3)

Dry rubs are used for cooking meat too, and if you do not have time to marinate, are a perfect alternative. Ribs are slow-cooked over indirect heat and then finished off by being smoked.

If you add a dry rub onto this, the flavor will intensify, and by adding a quick sauce on top, you can retain the moisture without a marinade.


Brining is an effective method of preserving meats. When cooked properly, the meat will be juicier and more flavorful than if it had been cooked without the brine.

Brined ribs should be soaked overnight in a solution of 1 gallon of water to one cup of salt, and this should help the meat keep its moisture and end up being nice and juicy.

Do not add any additional spices such as a marinade when brining, as the solution will be powerful enough on its own. Adding a marinade onto your ribs after brining might make them taste too salty.

You can however experiment with seasonings, but this depends on whether you are serving them up with a sauce. If you are, some popular ingredients include brown sugar, garlic, peppercorns, apple cider, or beer.

Brining and smoking ribs is an easy way to get great flavor without much effort. Ribs should be left in the brine for at least 4 hours, and up to 24 hours before cooking. Although 48 hours is recommended by some chefs, the prime time is usually around 24 hours on average.

You also do not need to marinade or brine ribs for a flavorsome and successful result. You can use salt and pepper, smoke them low and slow, and load them with your favorite sauce such as BBQ when you are done.

If you do decide to do this instead, don’t confuse barbecue sauce with marinades. They’re different things. Barbecue sauce contains high amounts of sugar, which makes it burn easily when applied directly to the meat before cooking. 

Wait until the meat is close to being cooked before applying barbecue sauce as opposed to marinating before cooking. Usually, waiting no more than around 30 minutes before taking your meat off the grill is the best time to add your BBQ sauce. 

This way, your ribs are probably a few minutes away from reaching the ideal temperature and you can be confident your meat will have finished cooking before the sauce starts burning.

Don’t overdo the sauce. That will make your dish too heavy. Instead, serve extra sauce on the side if needed. You’ve worked so hard to perfect those flavors and it would be such a shame to ruin it by covering it with too much sauce.

Bonus Recipes

Simple Rib Marinade

1/2 cup soy sauce

3 tablespoons honey

3 tablespoons Worcestershire sauce

1 tablespoon Dijon mustard

3 tablespoons apple cider vinegar

2 cloves of smashed garlic

2 teaspoons salt

1 teaspoon liquid smoke (optional)

Combine all ingredients in a bowl and whisk well. Add more soy sauce or other seasonings to taste.

Whiskey Marinade 

1/3 cup whiskey

1/4 cup soy sauce

1/4 cup honey

2 tablespoons grated ginger

1 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper

1 teaspoon sesame oil

1/2 teaspoon ground cumin and ground cinnamon

Again, combine all ingredients in a bowl and whisk well. Add more soy sauce or other seasonings to taste. This recipe makes enough for about 3 racks of baby back ribs.

Although you can add more or less of the ingredients to taste, we recommend sticking with the recommended amount of whiskey to avoid an overpowering taste.

Simple Rib Rub


1/4 cup kosher salt

1/4 cup granulated sugar

1/4 cup chili powder, paprika, and cayenne pepper

1/2 cup freshly ground black pepper

1/2 teaspoon onion powder

1/2 teaspoon garlic powder

1/2 cup olive oil

In a large mixing bowl, combine dry ingredients. Whisking constantly, slowly drizzle in olive oil until the mixture becomes thick and pasty. Store in an airtight container.

Final Thoughts

We hope after reading this article you have learned a little more about whether marinating your ribs is worth it and how it can add flavor and tenderize your meat to level up your rib game and impress all your guests at the next big BBQ. 

Although marinating is not necessary when dealing with baby back ribs and other tasty cuts, it cannot harm to add a little extra flavor, and we promise the extra step will be worth it!

John Rinder
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