To Peel or Not to Peel

Jackson Ortega-Scheiner Smoking Leave a Comment

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Hey Dr. BBQ,

A few postings ago, someone sent a link to a website that interviewed a BBQ legend from Michigan who claimed that leaving the membrane ON the ribs was better than taking them off. He then said that he sorta just burned the membrane off at the end of the cook, a la “Cleveland Sytle.” What is “Cleveland sytle?” And, is there any truth to his statement that leaving the membrane on makes the ribs more tender and more succulent? He claims that by leaving the membrane on, it allows the fat to stay against the lean and baste the meat. He says that people who take the membrane off have to get their ribs succulent by foiling them. Anyway, i was just curious as to what you think about all this. I’d hate to waste 5 hours cooking ribs (not to mention the $$$) just to find out he was wrong. Then again, if he’s right, it certainly would save me (and a bunch of other Eggers out there) some time by avoiding the foiling.


Hi George,

There are two main types of BBQ contests in the U.S. One is a big-selling event often called a Ribfest and known by insiders as a Rib Burnoff. The contestants have cookers and equipment to meet any health department code and they come to sell in a big way. People love these events because they can buy the food from these great showmen. The signage and bravado is spectatcular and it’s quite a show. There is also a judging session for bragging rights and substantial cash. The big winner will be the big seller after the awards and again the following year. In my experience these guys cook up a few special slabs for the turn-in and many of them peel the membrane on these. They don’t peel the membrane on the mass selling ribs because it would just be too labor intensive. Most of the Rib Burners finish their ribs with sauce on a big direct grill and that’s where they developed the technique of burning the membrane off. It works pretty well but you better be ready to serve the ribs soon and a little crispy. This all began at the big cookoffs in Cleveland so I’d imagine that’s where the name came from. Their customers vote with their cash so I have no doubt that some of these guys now prefer the skin on ribs with the crunchy mambrane over soft peeled ribs. The other type of BBQ contest is strictly a cookoff where the contestants will not be serving the public in any way. There are often a couple teams that will come equipped to sell for the event but it has nothing to do with the contest. The primary focus is the food that will be presented to a small number of handpicked judges. At these events the cooks are inclined to babysit small quantities of food and trim, peel, wash and fuss with every piece that will be turned in. At these events EVERY good cook will peel the membrane off of every slab. As for the foil, well it’s not very practical to wrap a couple hundred slabs that is cooking for the public so it better not be part of your plan. At the cookoffs I attend most of the contestants do wrap their ribs, but not all of them. That”s the facts. You decide which is best for you. As for me, It”s been many years since I cooked a slab of ribs that still had the membrane on. I always peel them.



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