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How to make smoked BBQ beef ribs
The crowning glory of any Texas BBQ platter is a beef rib big enough to make a Flintstone jealous. Here’s how to make smoked BBQ beef ribs, Texas style.
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Though a relatively modern item compared to brisket and smoked sausage, there’s no doubt the beef rib is one of the most sought after menu offerings when it comes to barbecue. Smoked BBQ beef ribs are indeed a thing of beauty. A crust of impossibly dark bark. The vivid scarlet smoked ring. Beefy strands of tender rib meat.
Of course, to make sure they are as good as described, you need to cook them right. More importantly, you need to start with the right raw ingredient.
Beef rib cuts for BBQ:
This is where a lot of folks make their first mistake. There are three main types of beef ribs you can smoke. Don’t get caught out – boneless short ribs are not the right cut, neither are bone in short ribs for that matter. They are simply too small to have any decent meat left after the cooking process. If you have accidentally bought short ribs, try this recipe instead.
Beef ribs are tricky, because there’s no universal specification for where or how they should be cut. Meaning, some processors will cut them longer than others. And other butchers will cut them shorter. And some will take the cap off. And others will leave it. It can be a little confusing. Here’s what you need to know:
- Back Ribs: actually, these are the least desirable for smoking. They are the beef equivalent of pork baby backs, and are cut from the curved part of the rib that comes right off the spine. Often when sold at grocery stores, most of the meat has already been cut away and all you are buying is bone and intercostal muscle. If you can find back ribs with the cap left on, like these, they make for a quicker cook.
- Chuck Ribs: these are taken from further along the rib bone, where they straighten out, but from the cranial end of the rib cage (ie, closer to the head). Chuck ribs are usually ribs 2,3,4 &5 and are commonly sold in plates of four ribs. They are not HUGE in size like plate ribs, but actually make better individual portions.
- Plate ribs: NOW you’re talking Texas BBQ. Plate ribs are the biggest of all. The ‘brontosaurus’ ribs of your BBQ dreams. The problem is, they’re nearly impossible for consumers to purchase, and nearly always exclusively available from food service suppliers. Plate ribs are from the same area as chuck ribs, just further along the animal. Usually, they are in plates of three, and comprise the 6,7 & 8th rib.
Trimming & seasoning beef ribs:
Trimming is another area where the answer is variable. It’s basically an “it depends” zone. Back and chuck ribs are usually ready to go out of the package, and don’t require any further trimming. Sometimes, though, chuck and plate ribs will come with a cap still attached. So when you look at the rack from the side, they will appear to have meat, then a fat layer, then another very thin meat layer, then more fat. The thin meat layer is the cap that needs removing, as it also contains silverskin that wont break down during cooking. Good news though – unlike pork ribs, beef ribs do not require you to remove the membrane off the back of the bone. In fact, you should leave it on! Otherwise, the meat may fall off the bone during cooking.
And so, to seasoning. To stay true to tradition, BBQ beef ribs are seasoned only with coarse pepper and kosher salt. Usually in a 3:1 ratio. But, who really cares for tradition anyhow!? A lot of folks add a little garlic powder into their salt mix. I personally always use Hardcore Carnivore Black seasoning as it gives me a head start on the bark, too. If you’re feeling really experimental, you can play around with a mustard slather to adhere your seasoning to the meat.
How to smoke beef ribs:
This is actually the least complicated part. I cook on an offset smoker and run it at about 300f for beef ribs. They can definitely take the higher heat. Then, I cook them until them temp somewhere between 206 and 210f. I use a Thermapen to check internal temperatures and a Smoke to monitor the pit temperature. For a 4.5lb rack of chuck ribs, that will be about 6 hours. When it comes to smoking, though, you are cooking to feel and temperature, not time. As with most barbecue, you’ll think it’s ready before it actually is. While 80% of the rib plate will probe tender, there will be those last few spots that have a little resistance when probed. Keep cooking, and wait until the whole thing has the same consistency as warm butter. It’ll be well worth the extra time.
How long to rest BBQ beef ribs:
After they come off the smoker, I wrap my beef ribs in peach paper (because it’s porous and wont ruin the bark you worked so hard to create). I then place them in a good quality cooler to rest for an hour before serving. Yes – the quality of the cooler matters because the better insulated they are, they will actually keep cooking the protein a little longer, which affects the final texture.
Those are the basic principles, and here’s the full recipe:
Smoked BBQ beef ribs recipe
- 4.5 lb of beef ribs in a single plate/rack
- 2 teaspoon kosher salt
- 2-4 tablespoons Hardcore Carnivore Black seasoning rub
- 1/4 cup vinegar
- 3/4 cup water
- Preheat a smoker to 300f.
- If your beef ribs have the cap still attached, use a sharp filet knife to remove. Leave the membrane on the bones intact. Pat dry with paper towel.
- Sprinkle salt on each side of the ribs, then apply the Hardcore Black. Make sure the application is liberal, and on all sides of the meat. Massage in to ensure it's well coated.
- Place the rack meat side up in the smoker. Combine the water and vinegar in a spray bottle. Once the rack has had at least 2 hours of smoke, spritz with the vinegar mixture every hour or so.
- Cook until an instant read thermometer reads 206-210f at the thickest part of the meat. Be careful not to touch bone when taking a reading as this will give you an inaccurate number.
- Once at temperature, remove rack and wrap in uncoated butchers paper, then set in a cooler to rest for an hour. If you cannot get paper you can use foil, but your bark will soften.
- Slice ribs between bone and serve.
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