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How To Make Air Fryer Ribs That Fall Off the Bone

No grill? No problem! Chef Chris Nirschel explains how to make delicious ribs in your air fryer this summer.
FACT CHECKED BY Justine Goodman

Growing up, the only ribs I ever ate were my Uncle Jim's grilled barbecue ribs. I would try ordering ribs at restaurants, but nothing ever came close to his recipe. Now, when summer rolls around, I crave the smell of his freshly grilled ribs. But with my fairly lackluster cooking skills and access only to a single unreliable grill shared by my entire apartment complex, I have been unsuccessful in trying to cook ribs at home. When I learned there were much easier methods of making ribs with an air fryer, I knew I needed to investigate.

It's true: you can make delicious air fryer ribs that still fall off the bone. And for people like me who don't have a ton of confidence in cooking ribs or meat in general, the air fryer can be a perfect solution. In fact, not only can you make ribs, but you can also make things like bacon, fried chicken, pork chops, and even turkey in the air fryer. This appliance is much easier to use than trying to grill something outside, and it's perfect for people who want to grill or fry something but don't have the space or tools to do so.

The air fryer also has the unique benefit of creating a crispy, "fried-like" texture on the food it cooks while still maintaining moisture on the inside. This makes it the perfect appliance for many types of meat and can help people stick to their health goals since it doesn't require the heavy use of oils that a regular fryer would.

To learn more about how to cook the perfect, fall-off-the-bone ribs in the air fryer, we talked with Chef Chris Nirschel, who gave us an easy step-by-step recipe to follow. Read on, then check out The 10 Best Trader Joe's Foods for Your Air Fryer.

1. Gather your ingredients

air fryer basket with ribs on the counter
Shutterstock/Ingrid Balabanova

You don't need many ingredients! If you have an air fryer, ribs, and your preferred sauce and seasoning, you can have fall-off-the-bone air-fried ribs.

Before you get started, Nirschel says to set aside the following:

  • One rack of pork ribs
  • A barbecue seasoning or dry rub
  • Barbecue sauce
  • Olive oil (optional for brushing)

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2. Prepare the ribs for seasoning

Ribs naturally have what is called a membrane—a piece of tissue you can find on the bottom of the rack of ribs. You might assume you should leave this on when you cook ribs (in the same way you might leave the skin on when you cook meat), but the membrane cooks differently than the skin. Instead of getting soft or crispy, the membrane becomes chewy when you cook it.

Nirschel says to remove the membrane before you cook or season your ribs, "which will help the seasoning penetrate the meat better and make the ribs more tender." You can remove the membrane by sliding your finger underneath a few inches and slowly pulling up the rest.

Once you've removed it, Nirshcel recommends patting the ribs dry with paper towels before applying your seasoning.

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3. Apply the seasoning

Now it's time to season your ribs before cooking them. You can use one of your favorite dry rubs or premade seasonings or make your own blend using some of the spices you have on hand in your kitchen.

Nirschel says once you've picked out your seasoning, "you can rub the ribs generously with your favorite barbecue seasoning or dry rub, and make sure to coat both sides evenly."

For maximum flavor, Nirschel suggests you "let the seasoned ribs sit in the refrigerator for a few hours or overnight, which allows the seasoning to penetrate the meat."

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4. Preheat the air fryer and cook your ribs

ribs in an air fryer
Shutterstock/Ingrid Balabanova

Chef Nirschel says one key to cooking ribs in the air fryer is keeping the temperature fairly low. "Preheat your air fryer to 300 degrees. This lower temperature will help cook the ribs low and slow, resulting in tender meat."

Once your air fryer is preheated, place the ribs in the basket with the meatier side facing up.

You'll want to cook the ribs at 300 degrees for about 30 minutes. "This initial cooking period helps render some of the fat and start the tenderizing process," Nirschel explains.

"After 30 minutes, increase the temperature to 350 degrees and continue cooking for another 20-25 minutes. Keep an eye on the ribs to prevent burning."

Though it's not necessary, Nirschel suggests brushing your ribs with olive oil halfway through the cooking process, which can help crisp them up while they cook.

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5. Apply barbecue sauce

ribs with bbq sauce on a white table
iStock/Angelika Heine

The last step in cooking your air fryer ribs is to add some barbecue sauce for extra flavor.

"Once the ribs are cooked through and starting to crisp up on the outside, brush them with your favorite barbecue sauce," says Nirschel. "Return the ribs to the air fryer and cook for an additional 5-10 minutes or until the sauce is caramelized and the ribs are beautifully glazed."

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6. Rest and serve

When your ribs are fully cooked and ready, you can remove them from the air fryer and let them rest for a few minutes before slicing into them. "Then serve the ribs hot with extra barbecue sauce on the side for dipping," Nirschel advises. Ribs go well with all the classic barbecue sides: corn, cole slaw, mashed potatoes, green beans, and baked beans all make the perfect complement to your air fryer ribs.

Samantha Boesch
Samantha was born and raised in Orlando, Florida and now works as a writer in Brooklyn, NY. Read more about Samantha