The Ultimate Guide to BBQ Beef Short Ribs

Beef short ribs are a beloved cut for low and slow cooking. They’re a favorite on the BBQ circuit, renowned for their savory, meaty flavor. When cooked properly, they become tender and flavorful, earning them the nickname “Dino Bones.”

These BBQ recipes work well on various grills, such as ceramic grills (like the Big Green Egg or Kamado Joe), bullet smokers (like the Weber Smokey Mountain), or pellet grills (like Traeger or Broil King). No matter the grill, the recipe and technique remain the same. Personally, I prefer using a ceramic kamado or a Weber Smokey Mountain bullet smoker because they produce excellent smoke. However, I must admit that a proper offset smoker is in a league of its own.

Beef short ribs are not limited to BBQ. They can also be used in dishes like chili con carne or slow-cooked stews and casseroles. I often smoke the ribs on the kamado for a few hours before cubing the meat and adding it (along with the bones) to a chili base. I then let it braise slowly on the grill. The result is simply beautiful.

While it’s possible to cook short ribs hot and fast in Argentinian BBQ or live fire cooking, this guide will focus on the Texas style of low and slow smoked beef ribs.

How to Buy Beef Short Ribs

In the UK, short ribs are becoming increasingly common in supermarkets. They have gained popularity in recent years, with high street chains offering dishes like beef short rib mac ‘n’ cheese. Waitrose has been selling individually cut and packaged beef short ribs for quite some time, although finding decently sized ones may require some rummaging. Sainsburys also trialed stocking more BBQ-friendly beef, including a two-pack of short ribs and a full brisket point. While the Sainsburys ribs come as two individual cuts rather than a single rack, they are more impressive in size. If you come across them in your local Sainsburys and don’t have access to a good local butcher, I recommend grabbing some. You can always freeze them if you’re not ready to use them right away. Price-wise, Waitrose and Sainsburys are about the same per weight, so if you prefer smaller portions, Waitrose is probably your best bet.

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If possible, I highly recommend getting your ribs from a butcher. They will most likely provide meatier ribs and better value for your money. Plus, you’ll have the option to get full racks or as many bones as you need. A two or three bone rack makes for a more impressive cook than individual ribs, although the meat-to-bark ratio is not as favorable.

As for portion sizing, if you’re serving short ribs as the main dish with sides, plan on one bone per person. But if you’re putting together a larger platter, a two to three bone rack can feed a crowd. When I’m hosting a big gathering, I often share a three bone rack. It can be easily sliced or even shredded, and it goes a long way.

Preparing Beef Short Ribs for Cooking

Preparing the ribs involves two steps, which can be done in advance (usually the day before cooking).

Trimming the Fat

Contrary to some myths, leaving a fat cap on the meat does not make it juicier. In fact, we want to trim all the fat cap and silverskin/membrane off the ribs before applying the rub. There are a few reasons for this:

  1. The fat won’t melt away and will remain on top of the ribs when served. Most people prefer not to eat a big piece of fat.
  2. The fat prevents the formation of a good bark, which is a nice, dried-out crust packed with the flavor of the rub, smoke, and beefy goodness. Fat is too moist to develop a decent bark.
  3. As the fat renders, it releases liquid during the cooking process. This liquid doesn’t get absorbed into the meat but runs down the outside, potentially washing off some of our rub.

Luckily, beef short ribs are packed with connective tissue and intramuscular fat, which makes the meat moist and tender without the need for the fat cap. Therefore, we can be ruthless in removing it. And don’t waste that extra fat! You can smoke or roast it in a dish and use it for roast potatoes or add it back to cooked and wrapped meat for extra moisture.

Applying Dry Rub

Before applying the dry rub, I like to spread a thin layer of yellow mustard (such as French’s or Heinz) on the ribs. This helps the rub stick to the meat better, and the mustard flavor won’t be noticeable after cooking.

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After applying the mustard, generously coat the ribs with the dry rub. Don’t be shy here; the meat can handle a decent amount of rub. If you don’t have any BBQ rubs on hand, a 50-50 blend of salt and cracked black pepper works great. The meat is already flavorful enough to handle a strong smoke flavor, so the salt and pepper will complement it perfectly. Alternatively, you can find commercial rubs at supermarkets, with blends that include salt and pepper, offering a slightly cheaper alternative.

How to Smoke Beef Short Ribs

When it comes to BBQ recipes, instructions are often as simple as “cook on indirect heat for 8-10 hours until done.” However, the actual cooking results and timing can vary.

Thankfully, if you know how to low and slow smoke a tough cut of meat like short ribs, brisket, or pork butt, you know them all. The science behind these cuts is the same. The goal is to cook low and slow, gradually reaching the target internal temperature of around 96°C/205°F, which ensures the connective tissue breaks down, resulting in tender, juicy, and flavorful meat. The main difference between these cuts is the cooking times.

Unwrapped and cooked indirectly at a low and slow temperature (110-135°C/225-275°F), you can probably cook a three-bone rack or larger in about 8 hours, depending on their meatiness. For larger racks, the shortest distance to the thickest part of the meat is from the top, not the ends, so a longer rack with six bones won’t take longer. However, individual ribs will cook quicker due to the change in dimensions and the shortest path. I recommend allowing at least 8 hours, but 10 hours or more is a safe bet.

You may encounter a stall during cooking, where the internal temperature suddenly stops increasing. The stall can last varying times, adding further uncertainty to the cook’s duration.

The cooking process is the same whether you’re cooking individual bone-in beef ribs or boneless beef ribs (which are smaller due to the lack of a bone). Individual beef short ribs and boneless beef short ribs will both cook quicker than a three-bone rack because the shortest distance to the thickest part of the meat is smaller.

For the smoking flavors, beef can handle bold smoking woods, while lighter woods may not make as much of an impression. When I think of BBQ beef, I envision deep, savory beefy flavors with hints of black pepper, heat, and a robust smoke flavor. For BBQ beef (short ribs, brisket, cheek, anything really!), I recommend hickory or oak. However, you can use whatever wood you have available, keeping in mind that lighter, fruity woods, like apple or cherry, will have a milder effect.

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The Texas Crutch: To Wrap or Not?

If you’re short on time or getting impatient, you can speed up the cooking process by tightly wrapping the ribs in foil and returning them to the grill. This technique, known as “The Texas Crutch,” works for all meat cooks and helps expedite the cooking time. Wrapping the meat in foil creates a highly humid environment that prevents evaporative cooling (the reaction that causes the stall) and allows for more efficient energy transfer.

While the Texas Crutch can speed up the cook time, it does affect the bark. The bark forms when the outer layer of meat dries out, combining with the rub and smoky flavors. However, in the humid environment created by the wrap, the bark may turn out a bit soggy. Competition judges might raise an eyebrow at such a bark, but I assure you it won’t disappoint your guests or me. So, it’s safe to say you’ll be just fine!

Checking for Doneness of Smoked Beef Short Ribs

Beef short ribs should reach an internal temperature of around 96°C/205°F. At this point, the connective tissue and intramuscular fat will have broken down, resulting in beautifully tender and juicy meat. To check for doneness, probe the meat with a temperature probe or skewer. You should encounter no resistance as you push it into the meat. If you come across some resistance, it’s likely some remaining connective tissue that needs a bit more time.

If you find yourself in this situation, you have a couple of options. You can re-wrap the ribs and put them back on the grill, or you can wrap them tightly and place them in a cool box. The rack of ribs retains enough heat energy due to its significant thermal mass, allowing it to continue cooking and breaking down the remaining tissues. You can leave it in the cool box for over an hour without any issue, and the meat should be perfectly tender and ready to serve.

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