HOME > Chowhound > General Topics >


How do commercial BBQ restaurants make ribs?

I just finished some ribs from a commercial bBQ place, and as I was eating them, it occurred to me that they (like most commercial ribs I've had) were remarkably tender (that is, very easy to bite off a chunk of meat) and moist (that is, still had a lot of fat + other liquid in the meat).

Does anyone here know for sure how this is accomplished? It seems to me that the first step in this recipe must be to cook the ribs at a low temp (e.g.. 200--250), either by baking, or steaming. I can't imagine accomplishing this result by long-cooking the ribs over a heat source.

  1. Click to Upload a photo (10 MB limit)
  1. Sounds like parboiled ribs, also pejoratively known as meat Jello. This technique also guarantees that smoke won't penetrate the meat even if real wood smoke ever gets near the meat.

    1. How do commercial BBQ restaurants make their ribs? For the most part, the answer can be summed up in one word: Badly. Many (most?) either boil or steam the ribs, then finish on a grill, but that ain't BBQ. Unfortunately, real BBQ requires time, and lots of it, which does not lend itself to a 'business plan'. The best BBQ tends to come from places that close when the food runs out.

      1. In a restaurant, typically by slow cooking with wood or charcoal as a heat source, in a specialized oven. See here:


        In a home oven, one method is by braising in foil. Here's a technique that has worked for me (add whatever flavorings you like):


        1. most chain restaurants bake them in a wet environment for 2 hours then finish them with sauce on a grill to set the glaze and put "grill" makes on them.

          I agree with Ricepad. True BBQ should be done low (220F) and slow ( 4-6 hours) if they wish to call them BBQ'd ribs. This method is quite rare outside of BBQ joints.

          1 Reply
          1. re: Kelli2006

            Rare or non-existent? I'd say latter. :) Anyway, they call it BBQ cause they glaze with BBQ sauce. It's no BBQ, I tell you.

          2. Most or good places? Whenever I go to a restaurant and order BBQ pork ribs, I always ask, is it parboiled or do you smoke the meat for a long time? The chances are, they parboil them. It's easier. In order to have a heavy duty smoker, not only is it expensive but it's a long long process. You can achieve similar result if you have a smoker or outdoor grill by using indirect heat over 6 hours. I've done it only a couple of times in my Webber when I used to live in VT. I've used either bit of brandy or bourbon with water in the drop-tray when using indirect heat and the aroma of the liquor really gets in there after a while with the smoke. Good stuff. Smoker is nice since the heat is further away from the cooking surface and you can control the heat since most smokers come with a thermometer attached. Once you have the real thing, you can't go back to parboiled crap.

            1. Here is a recipe from BB King's BBQ Ribs -- yummy! these are cooked 3-5 hours

              2 Pounds Pork Loin Ribs
              Dry Spice Rub (recipe follows)
              4 cups canned tomato sauce
              1/2 cup diced tomato
              1/4 cup firmly packed brown sugar
              1/4 tablespoon Worcestershire sauce
              2 tablespoons dried onion
              1/4 cup soy sauce
              1/4 cup water

              Coleslaw and grilled corn on the cob as

              Rub ribs well with some of the Dry Spice Rub and refrigerate,
              covered, for 4 to 6 hours.

              In a saucepan combine tomato sauce, tomato, sugar,
              Worcestershire sauce, onion, soy sauce, water, and 1/2 cup
              Dry Spice Rub and cook over very low heat for 3 hours.

              Preheat a grill or smoker over low heat until hot. Add ribs and
              cook, covered, for 3 to 5 hours. Brush with sauce during last
              minutes of cooking. Serve with remaining sauce, coleslaw, and

              (Dry Spice Rub)

              1 cup chili powder
              1 tablespoon garlic granules
              1 teaspoon onion powder
              1/2 teaspoon cumin
              1 1/2 teaspoons salt
              2 tablespoons seasoned salt

              In a jar combine all ingredients well and store in a dry place,
              covered, until ready to use.

              source: http://www.familiesonlinemagazine.com/ Secret Rest. Recipes

              1. Not trying to be nasty, but I don't think most of you have any idea what you're talking about. What BBQ restaurant have you gone to that parboils ribs? That's absurd. Maybe a non-Q place that serves ribs does this, but otherwise, it's ridiculous.

                There are a number of commercial BBQ ovens out there. Major brands include Southern Pride, Ole Hickory, J&R Manufacturing's Oyler models, and others. Some use wood only, but those are difficult to run in cities due to codes -- and the requirement for lots of wood. But most restaurants use a combo of wood with either gas or electric. The wood, in small amounts (a couple of logs per load of several hundred pounds), adds smoke flavor, but the gas or electric supply the heat. Low and slow, for 6 hrs on ribs, 10-12 on briskets, 12-14 on pork butts... whatever. Then they either chill and reheat for service, or some will hold in a steam pan or foiled up in an Alto Sham. There are different techniques. If you smoke em properly, and hold em properly, they will be good. Maybe not as good as pure wood-smoked ribs cooked just in time to eat fresh off the smoker, but many are quite good.

                2 Replies
                1. re: woodburner

                  Ridiculous but common to serve so-called BBQ ribs in Chicago including restaurants that are known for their ribs. The pathetic thing is that many people, including more than a few on Chowhound, think that parboiled ribs that may or not may not have spent a little time on a grill and are then slathered with barbecue sauce, probably with some liquid smoke in the formula, are better than the real thing served at a place like Honey One.

                  1. re: woodburner

                    He didn't say BBQ restaurants. Sure, there are BBQ joints, but how many of them are huge chains? Most of them are just some BBQ nuts who love BBQ. Does TGI Friday have BBQ ribs? Does Applebee's Chille's have BBQ ribs? Yes. Do they smoke their ribs or grill them on indirect heat? No.

                  2. It depends on where you are, probably. In Central Texas, ribs are smoked with indirect heat, temperatures in the pit reaching 600 degrees (so much for the low part of low and slow and ribs don't take very long, anyway). This produces smoke rings approaching 1/4". Those joints trace back to immigrant German and Czech butchers. In the eastern part of the state, bbq traditions owe more to the customs of the Old South and meats are often finished off by being held in an oven, wrapped in foil, until they become so tender the phrase 'falling off the bone' can be an understatement. I've had ribs at such places where some of the bones were removed since they were no longer attached to any meat. Such places put more emphasis on tenderness than smokiness and some are accused of parboiling ribs first.

                    As noted above there are commercial ovens that are rather recent inventions that allow a restaurant to prepare 'bbq' that is acceptable to many people without having a pit or a knowledgeable pitmaster. These devices can automatically produce competent bbq without any more labor than loading them and turning them on. They don't produce great Q though, imo, but they are probably, hopefully, what most chain bbq restaurants use. Because of smoke pollution restrictions as noted above they are absolutely essential in big cities, those restrictions being part of the reason most great bbq places in Texas, anyway, are located in small towns.

                    In their book The Best Recipe, America's Test Kitchen tested preparation methods and decided cooking over indirect heat is by far the best. They claim several restaurantuers confided in them that the secret to those really tender ribs is to wrap them in foil and put them in a brown paper bag for up to an hour before serving. I think that's too long - I don't really like 'falling off the bone,' I like a little more toothsomeness.

                    One place in Houston, Williams Smokehouse, produces the city's finest ribs. They use a real pit (they were, at least, in an unincorporated area so not subject to smoke pollution restrictions) but I think they use the wrapping and holding technique too. The kitchen and pit are out of sight but what you can see of the prep area reveals lots of crinkled up foil. No matter if you are the only person in the restaurant, it will take 20 minutes to get your order - I suspect they're wrapping the ribs and putting them back on the pit for some final heating.

                    1 Reply
                    1. re: brucesw

                      Around here after the ribs are cooked in the pit, they usually wrap them in Saran wrap and keep them under a heat lamp. I'm always amazed that the stuff doesn't melt- I've actually seen the juices boiling under the plastic! For some reason, the ribs that I've had that have had this done to them have usually been really good...