"Barbecue sauce is like a beautiful woman. If it’s too sweet, it’s bound to be hiding something." Lyle Lovett
Every Saturday morning throughout the 1960s, Fred Flintstone would order a massive rack of ribs only to have his car tip over from their weight. It was with that scene in mind that I first sank my teeth into a smoked beef rib, a.k.a. dino bone, roughly two decades later.
While the girth of this rib dropped my jaw in awe, the tender, smoke-kissed meat was the true star of the show that day. Since then, I have tried time and time again to cook perfect beef ribs but, as Meathead explains in the article “Barbecue Beef Ribs Texas Style”, they can be much tougher than pork ribs if they are not cooked past the well-done stage.
Sous-Vide-Que changes all that. With this cooking method, the beef rib’s fat and connective tissue slowly break down in a controlled temperature water bath (the sous vide) before the rack soaks up some flavorful smoke on a smoker or grill (the que). Remove the ribs from the cooker and you’ve got a tender rack of dino bones that would make Fred Flintstone (and Wilma) proud!
To take the recipe one step further, I have also included instructions for turning the leftover liquid or drippings in the sous vide bag into a savory sauce for the ribs.
Finally, when selecting your beef ribs you can either opt for the ultra meaty plate ribs (i.e ribs taken from the short plate next to the flank steak) or the more flavorful, yet less meaty, back ribs (i.e. the ribs found in a prime rib roast). For this recipe, I use back ribs but you can easily substitute plate ribs by allowing a little extra time for them to reach an internal temperature of 205°F on the smoker.
Recipe: Smoked Sous-Vide-Que Ribs with Rosemary Red Wine Sauce
Makes. 2 to 4 servings
Takes. 36 hours to cook sous vide, 30 minutes to chill (optional if finishing the ribs later), 45 minutes to grill.
Special tools. Sous vide immersion circulator. One gallon sealable freezer bags.
Serve with. A Lone Star beer.
1 rack beef back ribs, about 3 to 4 pounds
1/4 teaspoon Kosher salt per pound of meat
1 teaspoons coarsely ground black pepper
1/2 teaspoon onion powder
1/2 teaspoon garlic powder
1/4 cup red wine
1 tablespoon unsalted butter
1 sprig fresh rosemary
2 sprigs fresh thyme
Kosher salt and ground black pepper to taste
About the salt: Remember, kosher salt is half the concentration of table salt so if you use table salt, use half as much. Click here to read more about salt and how it works.
1) Prep. Season the ribs with Kosher salt. If you can, give the salt 1 to 2 hours to be absorbed. The process of salting in advance is called dry brining. The rule of thumb is 1/2 teaspoon of kosher salt per pound of meat, but ribs are about 50% meat, so use about 1/4 teaspoon per pound. You can simply eyeball it by sprinkling on the same amount of salt you would sprinkle on the ribs if they were served to you unsalted.
2) Prepare a sous vide immersion circulator such as Joule by ChefSteps according to instructions and set water temperature for 150°F.
2) Combine pepper, onion powder, and garlic powder in a small bowl and blend well. Season both sides of the rack of beef ribs with the dry rub mixture.
3) Cut the rack of ribs into two sections and place each section into a separate sealable freezer bag. Carefully submerge the freezer bags in the water bath until most of the air has been removed and then seal. Once the bags are submerged, cook for 36 hours.
4) Optional: finish the ribs later, remove the bags from the sous vide bath after 36 hours, and submerge them in a large container filled with a 50/50 mix of ice and water for at least 30 minutes to chill the meat’s core temperature. Place the ribs in the refrigerator until ready to grill (up to 2 days ahead of time).
5) Fire up. Prepare a grill for 2-zone cooking. On a charcoal grill, place a chimney full of pre-heated charcoal briquets on one side of the grill's charcoal grate in order to create direct and indirect cooking zones. Adjust the grill vents to bring the temperature to about 225°F. Add 2 to 3 chunks of your favorite smoking wood to the charcoal for flavor. On a gas grill, adjust the temperature knobs so that one half of the grill is off and the other half is heated enough to maintain a temperature of approximately 225°F on the indirect side.
6) Cook. Once the grill is ready, remove the ribs from the bags, reserving the remaining liquid in the bag to make a sauce. Place the ribs in the indirect zone on the main cooking grate as far from the heat source as possible. Set the lid on the grill with the fully opened top vent positioned directly above the ribs in order to force the smoke over and around the meat. Allow the ribs to smoke until they reach an internal temperature of 205°F, about 30 minutes.
7) During the last 15 minutes of the smoking process, strain the liquid from the sous vide bags through a fine mesh strainer into a small saucepan or skillet to remove solids. Bring to a simmer over medium-low heat, add the red wine and fresh herbs, and let the sauce continue to simmer until reduced in volume by about half, approximately 10 minutes. Whisk in the butter until it butter completely melts and the sauce thickens, about a minute. Season the sauce with salt and pepper and reduce the heat to low to keep the sauce warm as you prepare the ribs.
8) Serve. Remove the ribs from the grill, slice, and serve immediately with the sauce.