Beef ribs are all the rage in the barbecue world these days.
I first saw beef ribs 20 years ago in Nassau, Bahamas. Looking for the best local food, I asked a taxi driver to take me to his favorite restaurant. He took me to a barbecue shack way off the tourist path and introduced me to the finest plate of beef ribs that — up to that time — I had ever eaten.
Not only were they the tastiest, but they were the biggest ribs that I had ever seen. He aptly called them “Brontosaurus Bones” because of their dinosaur size, and it stuck with me. The Bahamas' road-side barbecue shack served the meaty-style, sometimes called “Hollywood,” beef back ribs. The ribs come from the same place on a cow as the well-known pork baby back ribs.
Today, the meatier short rib is the “Texas” beef rib of choice. This rib was made popular by Wayne Mueller of Taylor, Texas, and perfected in New York by Billy Durney of Hometown Bar-B-Que in Red Hook, a Brooklyn neighborhood in New York, who learned from Mueller.
Durney took the ethnic foods of his Brooklyn upbringing and re-made them using southern barbecue techniques. Think pastrami-cured pork belly, jerk ribs, and a smoked lamb belly Vietnamese banh mi sandwich. The beef rib that he is famous for is his interpretation of what he ate during his first visit to Mueller's restaurant.
In a recent conversation, Durney told me that when Mueller started smoking short ribs, they weren't used in restaurants for any other preparation than braising, and they were relatively cheap. These days, they have become so popular that they are very expensive and barbecue restaurants often lose money serving them. Durney buys 123-A beef-plate short ribs in three-bone racks from his butcher. If you have a good butcher, you can request that cut. Each bone-in short rib can be cut into 6-8 pieces, which will serve 2-3 people, and will weigh around 1.3 pounds once it is cooked.
When I asked Durney why he thought that he was known for beef ribs, he modestly said that he figured out when to pull the ribs from the pit and how to rest them to maximize their tenderness and flavor. He very generously shared his secrets with me and you.
No. 1, you have to “feel” the ribs to know that they are done. They are ready to come off the heat once the bones have receded from the meat. “The center is soft and tender to the touch and the top of the meat should also be wet and glistening because the fat and collagen from the beef has rendered,” explained Durney. “If the beef ribs are dry and crusty, you have overcooked them.”
And, they have to rest a good long while — 40-60 minutes on a rack set into a sheet pan so the air can circulate around the meat. “If you set the ribs on the surface of the pan, they will steam and continue cooking,” he warned. After the initial rest, “wrap them tightly with a layer of plastic wrap and a layer of butcher paper,” continued Durney.
Since you will be making these at home, you can finish the resting process in a pre-heated 145 F oven for 30 more minutes before serving. When ready to serve, unwrap and slice the meat vertically off the bone in equal chunks and re-assemble on the bone for presentation.
Start to finish: 21⁄2 hours
This is a variation of the recipe that I created when I came home from the Bahamas, it is made with beef back ribs or “long bones,” but can be made with short ribs as well. Use indirect or medium-low heat
6-7 meaty-style beef baby back ribs, coming from the same place as pork baby backs (bones should be connected in a rack)
4 cloves garlic, peeled and cut in half
2 rosemary sprigs
2 tablespoons butcher-grind black pepper
1/2teaspoon cayenne pepper
5 tablespoons kosher salt
Mix rub ingredients in a small bowl, making sure it is well combined.
Meanwhile, build charcoal fire or preheat gas grill, setting it up for indirect heat. Take beef ribs out of refrigerator and rub all over with cut side of the garlic cloves and brush with a thin coating of oil. Set aside for 20 minutes to come to room temperature. Rub ribs liberally with spice rub.
Place ribs (bone side down) in the center of the cooking grate making sure they are not over a direct flame. Grill covered (at about 325 F, if your grill has a thermometer) for 1 to 11⁄2 hours or until the meat has pulled back from the ends of the rib bones and the ribs are well browned and slightly crusty on the ends. Individual beef ribs will be done before the full rack (connected rib bones) is done.
If grilling individual bones and the edges start to burn, stack them on top of one another in the very center of the grill and lower your fire slightly.
About 30 minutes before the ribs are done, brush lightly with the rosemary sprig dipped in olive oil. Remove ribs from grill and let rest 15 minutes before serving or cutting into individual rib portions (if starting with a full rack). I recommend serving these ribs sauce-less with a sprinkling of the beef rub, if desired. But, if you love barbecue sauce, feel free to serve some warm on the side.