You may have seen the giant, dinosaur-like beef ribs skyrocketing in popularity in Central Texas barbecue, and a at a hefty price (often more than $20/lb), you may have tasted the beefiest, butteriest, most succulent bite of smoked beef money can buy. Unlike pork ribs, beef rib meat doesn’t have a safety layer of moist fat to baste the meat as it cooks, so the cook is tasked with maintaining or augmenting whatever moisture is present to keep the ribs from drying out. Read: bring our the slow cookers.
Plate Ribs vs. Back Ribs
We’ll address back ribs in our ribeye piece, bur for reference, back ribs would be those attached to the spinal column. You can find your own back ribs by putting your hands on your hips and sliding them up to the ribcage; your thumbs are now on your back ribs, while you fingers are wrapping around to the short ribs, or plate ribs. The equivalent “short rib plate” is the area on the steer where we’ll find the meaty beef ribs we’re talking about here.
After the butcher separates the back ribs from the plate (see our article on the rib primal for more information), he or she is left with a flat slab, 7 ribs wide by about a foot long. The barbecue-style ribs are smoked in short “racks,” usually about 3 or 4 ribs across, forming a square plate, about as wide as the ribs themselves are long. These are cut “Texas-style,” and are smoked for upwards of 8 hours in the prime Texas pits to ensure the connective tissue renders, thereby basting the meat as it cooks.
Texas-style ribs come in a flat plate, 3 ribs wide.
Now, imagine the butcher separates the plate of 3 or 4 ribs into individual ribs, then slices each one into 2 or 3 pieces using a saw. Now we have about 9 rectangular chunks of rib — “English-cut.” These are ideal for hearty winter braising recipes. In a piping hot Dutch oven, the sear the English-cut ribs on all sides, then add red wine, vegetables, and strong aromatics. Leave the ribs to braise, and in no time you’ll have fall-off-the-bone roast rib, so tender it falls somewhere between an intact rib and a stew.
English-cut short ribs are cut both with and against the bone, into rectangular chunks.
Finally, imagine taking the original plate of 3 or 4 ribs, and sawing against the direction of the rib bones into slices about a half-inch thick. Now you have meaty ribbons with chunks of rib bone dispersed throughout — “flanken ribs.” Sound familiar? Lather with sweet savory sauce and find a hot fire, and you’ve got Korean barbecue.
Beef ribs are broken down for different feels in different places, but the versatility of recipes according the cut style makes them a favorite across the world. Whether it’s a summer grill-out (flanken ribs), a Texas smokeout (Texas-style), or a stormy winter day (English-cut), the beef short rib plate offers delicious, buttery bites.