How-to BBQ: Low-and-slow smoked beef short ribs

How-to BBQ: Low-and-slow smoked beef short ribs

Beef short ribs are one of my all time favourite cuts to cook low and slow. They are always popular on the BBQ circuit, and have an incredible savoury, meaty flavour. They cook down to a beautifully tender, flavourful cook and also provide really impressive servings as Dino Bones. All these BBQ recipes will work equally well on a ceramic grill such as a Big Green Egg or Kamado Joe, a bullet smoker such as the Weber Smokey Mountain or a pellet grill such as Traeger or Broil King - no adaptation of the recipe or technique needs to change.

I often use short ribs for lots of other cooks too - in chilli-con-carne or generally any slow cooked stew or casserole.

I have a short set of video clips of me trimming, cooking and checking a three bone rack of beef short ribs on Instagram - 3 1/2 minutes in all, so give it a watch!



1. How to buy beef short ribs

Here in the UK, short ribs are not quite readily available in all supermarkets yet. They have grown in popularity the last few years (high street chains such as Pret offering a beef short rib mac’n’cheese dish), but still not to the point of supermarkets. Waitrose will offer individually cut and packaged beef short ribs, but outside of that you will need to pay a visit to your butcher.

If you go to the butcher, you will probably be rewarded with far meatier ribs, and most likely better value for money. Not to mention the option to get the more impressive looking 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 not as favourable meat to bark ratio). If you are serving short ribs with nothing else, but some sides, then you probably want to allow a bone per person, but if you are putting on a bigger platter, a two to three bone rack can go pretty far.

If you do end up buying from a supermarket (Waitrose), then as usual, look for the heavier packs, as these will be meatier.



2. Preparing beef short ribs for cooking

There are two steps to preparing ribs, and can be done in advance (normally a good idea to do this the day before cooking).

2.1 Trimming the fat

Despite some myths that any fat cap left on the top of meat will melt into the meat making it juicier, this is not the case. We want to trim all fat cap and silverskin/membrane off the top of the ribs before applying the rubs. There are a couple of reasons for this:

  1. The fat won’t actually melt away, and that fat is going to remain on the top of the ribs at serving time - most people won’t want to eat a big old piece of fat
  2. The fat will prevent bark formation - on good BBQ beef you are aiming for a nice, dried out crust - packed with the flavour of the rub (or salt and pepper), smoke and beefy goodness. Fat won’t form a decent bark as its too moist.
  3. As the fat does render (it will release a reasonable amount of liquid through the cooking process), not only does it not get absorbed into the meat, it actually runs down the outside potentially washing some of our rub off with it.

The good thing about beef short ribs is they are packed with connective tissue and intramuscular fat that is going to make the meat beautifully moist and tender, without the need for the fat cap, so we can be ruthless in removing that (see more details about the science of meat, connective tissue and fat here).

2.2 Apply dry rub

Normally, before I apply my dry rub, I will apply a layer of yellow mustard (French’s or Heinz) - this will just help the rub stick to the ribs a bit better, the mustard flavour won’t be noticeable after cooking so you don’t need to worry about people not liking that taste.

Once the mustard is lightly smothered on to the ribs, I apply a liberal dusting of the dry rub. This really should be quite a decent covering, so don’t be shy here. If you don’t have any BBQ rubs, a nice 50-50 blend of decent salt and cracked black pepper works great. The meat is really flavourful and robust enough to take on a strong smoke flavour too, so salt and pepper will compliment this perfect. If you are after some commercial rubs, Angus & Oink Moo-mami is an excellent pairing with beef, and Good Rub Texas AF rub (basically a perfectly balanced salt and pepper mix) also recommended!



3. How to smoke beef short ribs

I am always wary when writing up BBQ recipes - I have several BBQ cook books, and inevitably they get to recipes for cooks such as beef short ribs, or beef brisket and the instruction is basically: cook on indirect heat for 8-10 hours until done). In terms of describing the steps there really isn’t much to it, but when it comes to actually cooking the results and timing can vary quite a bit.

Thankfully, if you know how to low-and-slow smoke a large, tough cut of meat (short ribs, brisket, pork butt) then you know them all - the science behind these cuts are all the same. We are cooking low and slow, so we can gradually reach our target internal temperature (96C/205F) that is enough to have melted all the connective tissue to make it beautifully soft, tender and tasty. The variation between them is just the times it takes.

Unwrapped, just cooking indirect low-and-slow (grill temp at 110-135C/225-275F) you can probably cook a three bone rack (or bigger) in about 8 hours or so, but it depends entirely on how meaty they are. For a three bone rack, and bigger, the shortest distance to the thickest part of the meat is always from the top of the meat (not the ends), so a longer rack, of say 6 bones, won’t take longer (but individual ribs will be quicker as that changes the dimensions and the shortest path). I’d allow for 8 hours at least, allowing 10 hours or more is probably a safe bet.

We may find that we inevitably hit a stall in cooking (that is when the internal temperature suddenly stops increasing through the cook) - this can last varying times, which adds more uncertainty to the length of the cook!

The cook remains the same, timing aside, if you are cooking individual bone beef ribs or if you are smoking boneless beef ribs (which are smaller, due to not having a bone). Individual beef short ribs and boneless beef short ribs will both cook quicker than a rack of three bone-in ribs because the shortest distance to the thickest part of the meat is smaller.



4. The Texas Crutch: To wrap or not?

You can speed up the cook, if you are getting impatient or generally short of time, by wrapping the ribs tightly in foil and returning to the grill to continue cooking. This technique, called The Texas Crutch, works on all meat cooks in speeding up the cook time. It will work on pork, beef, ribs or brisket. As we discussed when we looked at the science of humidity in cooking, wrapping in foil creates an incredibly humid environment, which both prevents evaporative cooling (which is the reaction that causes the stall) and creates an environment which allows for more efficient transfer of energy.

So the Texas crutch, wrapping your beef ribs, will help speed up your cook time, and is something I often do just because my kids won’t wait until 22:00 for their dinner! But there is a downside, and that is the impact it has on the bark. The bark is formed by the drying of the outer layer of the meat, with the rub and smokey flavour - but in the humid environment of the wrap, its far too moist for it to really form nicely. Their will still be a great flavour - it will have taken on lots of smoke, as well as the rub and the overall power of the beef flavour - but it might be a bit soggy!

Competition judges might look down their noses at such a bark, but I certainly don’t and have yet to have any complaints from my guests either, so its pretty safe to say you should be fine!



5. Checking for doneness of smoked beef short ribs

Beef short ribs should get to an internal temperature of around 96C/205F - at this point the connective tissue and intramuscular fat should have broken down to create beautifully tender and soft meat, packed with juice and flavour. Once you hit this temperature, you should probe the meat with a temperature probe or skewer, and you should find no resistance as you push it into the meat. If you hit a bit of resistance it is probably some remaining connective tissue that hasn’t broken down, and needs a bit longer.

If you do find yourself in this position, you can of course re-wrap and put back on the grill, but another option is to wrap tightly and place into a cool box. The rack of ribs has a fairly significant thermal mass so retains quite a bit of heat energy and will gently continue to cook itself and break down those tissues. You can leave it for over an hour without any issue and should be just fine to serve.



  • 1 rack, three bone-in beef ribs (4-6 people)
  • 10 minutes
  • 8 - 10 hours

Ingredients

  • 1 rack of short beef ribs (a.k.a Jacobs Ladder)
  • Yellow mustard (Frenchs/Heinz)
  • BBQ Rub (see notes for recommendations - quality salt and cracked black pepper work well here)

Directions

  1. The timings of each phase can be adjusted, as per notes above. And you should test for doneness when you are unwrapping, it maybe that they are already very tender and cooked at that point.
  2. First step is to trim the excess fat and silverskin/membrane from the top of the rack of ribs. The top of the ribs should be visibly all meat. You do not need to trim the underside (bone side) of the ribs, or remove any membrane here.
  3. Apply a light coating of yellow mustard to the ribs, top and bottom
  4. Liberally apply the BBQ rub on all sides of the ribs. If you don't have any BBQ rubs, a generous application of good quality salt and cracked black pepper will work great.
  5. Set up the BBQ for indirect cooking at 110C/225F, add a few large pieces of wood and smoke the ribs for 3 - 4 hours. This will let the bark start to form and the meat take on a decent amount of smoke flavour.
  6. If you have time, you can keep cooking the ribs uncovered, monitoring the internal temperature. If you are short of time, and hit the stall, then you can wrap the ribs.
  7. Optional - If you are wrapping the ribs, remove from the grill and tightly wrap in two layers of tin foil and return to keep cooking for a further 3-4 hours
  8. Anytime from 6hours cooking time onwards, you may be reaching completion - you are aiming to take the short ribs off at an internal temperature of around 96C/205F - it may take longer than 8 hours though, so keep monitoring until they are ready.
  9. Once they reach temperature, take the ribs off the grill and probe the meat with a temperature probe, there should be very little resistance to the probe as you push it through the meat.
  10. If they are not done, you can wrap them back in foil, then wrap the foil in a tea-towel and store in a cool box. The ribs will be storing a lot of heat energy, so they can continue to cook themselves for a long time (this is also a good option if you are ready early for dinner)

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