Barbecue Beef Ribs Texas Style
"The time you enjoy wasting is not wasted time." Bertrand Russell, English Philosopher 1872-1970
People make pilgrimages from all over the world to the tiny dusty town of Taylor, TX, home to 15,000 people, the National Rattlesnake Sacking Championship, and a classic old American pit stop, Louis Mueller's Barbecue.
More than a few wayfarers come to Taylor just to worship the beef short ribs at Mueller's. The technical butcher name is "short ribs", but these bones are not short. The meat on these 6" long "Dino Ribs" is at least 1" thick with each bone weighing anywhere from 1/3 to 1.5 pounds! They are smoky, tender, juicy, cooked thoroughly, and sold by the pound.
There are plenty of fancy French influenced restaurants in this world who made their reputation on short ribs braised in flavorful liquid for hours, and every Korean restaurant serves Kalbi, marinated slivers of short ribs, but smoke roasted low and slow is pretty much a Texas exclusive. But with a decent cooker (even a Weber Kettle will do), and a good meat thermometer, you can serve tender, juicy, flavorful, shorties better than most pit stops in Texas.
The problem with beef ribs
Beef short ribs have more meat than beef back ribs, which I discuss further down the page. You can buy slabs of shorties with more than one bone connected, or individual bones, or even riblets, 2 to 3" long. Some grocers will have one or the other or even all of them.
Beef short ribs have little in common with pork ribs. They have much more flavor, meat, fat, connective tissue, and they can be much tougher. But if cooked properly, they don't have to be tougher.
What short ribs do have in common with pork ribs, is that they are best cooked at low temps so the connective tissue and fat can melt, and the protein doesn't knot up and get even tougher. And they must be cooked well past well-done, waaaaay past well-done in order to tenderize them, just like beef brisket and pork ribs.
But short ribs have a lot of fat and connective tissue. Undercooked fat is waxy. But when it starts to melt, much of it drips off and what remains lubricates the muscle fibers, and carries flavor to the taste buds. Connective tissue (collagen), when undercooked is tough and sinewy, but when it starts to melt at about 160 or 170°F, it forms a succulent gelatinousness that also, pardon the pun, beefs up the flavors and rounds out the texture.
Short ribs Texas style
Texas barbecue is all about smoke roasting. The goal is to get the meat to the temp where both fat and collagen have melted. They treat the meat just like pork ribs, pork shoulder, and beef brisket, by taking it as high as 205°F.
At that temp much of the fat renders off, the melted collagens replace the water as moisturizer, and the seductive flavors of smoke and spice rub carry the tune.
Texas barbecue restaurants have to balance quality with the realities of a production environment. Mueller's, Cooper's, and many of the best are still using old-fashioned brick pits burning post oak. They have to cook everything from pork ribs to sausage to brisket, even if there's a line waiting to be served. To handle commercial production demands Mueller's cooks at 275 to 300°F for 1.5 to 2.5 hours in racks of four ribs.
To make killer style Texas style short ribs at home, I recommend you cook a bit lower and slower to reduce shrinkage (why do I always think of George Costanza when the word shrinkage come up?). I do them at 225°F, and bring the meat up to about 203°F internal, a process that can take up to 8 hours depending on the thickness of the meat.
Texas-Style BBQ Beef Short Rib Recipe
Here's how to make big, rich, juicy succulent BBQ Beef Short Ribs Texas style.
1) Try to get USDA Choice, USDA Prime, Wagyu, or Certified Angus Beef. Start with quality meat.
2) Begin by removing the fat and the very tough silverskin from the top of the meat. All of it. It will not melt and penetrate. No need to remove the membrane from the exposed side of the bones as you do with pork ribs. If you do the meat can fall off. Then cut slabs into individual bones or double bones if they did not come cut up. You can cook them in a slab, but they take a lot longer, and for Texas style, I like to expose more surface to heat to tenderize and develop brown Maillard reaction flavors. I prefer to cut them into two bone sections. Inevitably some bones in a package have little meat and lotta fat. Trim them anyhow and cook them.
3) Salt the meat in advance, up to 24 hours if possible, 1/2 teaspoon of kosher salt per pound of meat, guestimate what percentage of the slab is bone and adjust. This is called dry brining and it is important for water retention and flavor enhancement. Just before cooking, wet the surface of the meat lightly with water and flavor the meat my Big Bad Beef Rub. Most commercial rubs are primarily salt, avoid them. I know you like my recipe for Meathead's Memphis Dust, but it is too sweet for beef. Sprinkle the rub on the tops and sides, and coat them generously.
3) If you wish, you can tenderize the meat with Jaccard. The narrow blades sever long tough strands and do a pretty good job. I normally do not recommend this tool because, if there is contamination on the surface of the meat, the blades can drive the bugs into the center and they will not be killed at 130°F, medium rare. But at 165°F the meat is pasteurized through and through and you will be cooking this to more than 200°F.
4) Setup your cooker for indirect cooking and preheat to 225°F, hot enough to kill bacteria but not too high to evaporate all the moisture.
5) Put the meat on, bone side down, and add the wood. Oak is traditional in Texas and it makes sense because it is mild, but other woods work fine. I like cherry. As always, go easy on the wood. Too much smoke will ruin the meal. Add no more than 2 to 4 ounces on a tight cooker, double that if it leaks a lot. Put the lid on.
You will not need to add more wood and you will not need to turn the meat over. Cook bone down all the way. The exact length of the cook depends on variables such as the composition of the meat (each steer is different).
- 1" thick meat should hit 203°F in about 5 hours.
- 1.5" thick meat should hit 203°F in about 7 hours.
- 2" thick meat should hit 203°F in about 10 hours.
Skip the Texas crutch. Wrapping it in foil or butcher paper can turn it to pot roast.
Skip the sauce. A lot of folks like barbecue sauce on everything they grill, but sweet tomato based sauce just clashes with smoky beef. Save it for pork. I serve my beef ribs nekked. If you must use a sauce, try what they use in Texas, a thin beef stock based sauce, like my Texas Barbecue Mop-Sauce.
BBQ beef back ribs
Back ribs are usually cut from the prime rib roast, a very desirable and expensive cut. This thick muscle is used for roasting whole, or cut into boneless ribeye steaks. For that reason the rib bones are removed so there is very little meat on the surface. As much as possible goes to the much more expensive rib roast.
But there is some tasty stuff between the bones, and often back ribs can be found in slabs of 8 or more 8" long bones. I prefer the meatier short ribs, but when I see a deal on back ribs, I grab them. They are quite spectacular when served in a slab and you should cook it in a full slab to retain moisture.
Otherwise, treat them much the same as short ribs, described above. Depending on how much meat is on them and the thickness of the bones, they cook faster and can be finished in as little as three hours.