Beef ribs that are cooked to moist and tender perfection were something I just couldn't figure out for the longest (and I absolutely refused to par-boil them). But as I eventually discovered, the process is surprisingly simple.
Compared to pork spare ribs and loin back or baby back ribs, these beefy bones are often given a bad rep. Many people believe, as I once did, that they have very little meat. And we're not talking about short ribs, which are entirely different (see diagram and photos below).
Chuck short ribs or flanken short ribs
Plate short ribs a.k.a. short ribs
The thing with beef ribs is that they are next to the area from where the prime rib is cut. This is good because it means that the meat is going to be very flavorful. The down side is that butchers often remove much of the meat from these ribs, ensuring that the more expensive prime rib cut gets all the meat or at least most of it.
Thus, the quality and the cut of beef ribs can vary considerably. For example, a slab contains 7 ribs that are 6 to 8 inches long. However, they can be sold as partial slabs or as individual ribs (see photos #1 and #2 below). They can also be cut in half to make 3 to 4 inch ribs (see photo #3 below).
The ribs in photo #3 were previously frozen and defrosted. Much of the meat had been removed and what was left was beginning to brown. Quality: Poor
I purchased all of these ribs from the same supermarket at the same time and they were all labeled the same. For many consumers, this could be very confusing.
Here's another example: The ribs in the picture below were sold in the frozen meat section of the supermarket, which is not a bad thing in itself. However, as you can see in the before-and-after photo, much of the meat had been cut away, resulting in even less meat after cooking.
Where's the beef?
Unfortunately, beef ribs of this sort are common in my local supermarket, and are largely the reason why I thought they were inferior to pork ribs.
So this brings us to Step No. 1 in the 2-step process...
Be selective. I know that seems like a no-brainer. But people often buy meat based primarily on price. I've done it. Times are tough and we have to make our dollar stretch more than ever. However, as the saying goes: "You get what you pay for." It's just that simple.
Now if fresh ribs aren't available and you have to buy frozen or "previously frozen and defrosted" ribs, go right ahead. I buy them sometimes, too. Sometimes. Just be selective.
You also want to choose the cut appropriate to the intended method of cooking. For example, when braising or oven-cooking, I like the beef ribs that are individually cut and packaged. But for smoking, I always get them by the slab. The bones throughout the slab help regulate the temperature of the meat while cooking, resulting in considerable moisture and excellent texture. See for yourself...
Low and Slow. Cooking ribs take time. Period. I've seen blogs and websites where guys say they smoke their beef ribs for two hours in the upper range of 250-375°F. That just never worked for me. That's how I started and my ribs were always tough.
So now I cook them like I do my spare ribs. I smoke them for 4 to 5 hours at a steady 225-240°F. After smoking, I wrap the ribs in foil and cook them for another 2 hours at 225°F.
Once the ribs are done I remove them from the heat, loosen the foil and let them rest for 10 minutes. They're so good I almost always eat them sans BBQ sauce.
So for me, the results are clear and the 2-step formula undeniable: For delicious beef ribs that are moist and tender, you have to start with some good quality meat. Second, you have to cook them low and slow -- that means 225°F for 5-7 hours.
Now, of course, after buying and before smoking your ribs, there is a little bit of prep work involved. You also need to choose a good rub that complements the wonderful flavor of the meat while not overpowering it. And what about the type of wood to use for smoking? Should you sauce the ribs when they're done or eat 'em nekkid?
These questions will soon be answered in detail along with other tips and techniques in the forthcoming recipes below.
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