When I was a kid watching cartoons I was always impressed by the rack of ribs that was served to a certain stone-age family at that prehistoric drive-in restaurant. Were those mammoth ribs? And how do you go about eating them? Well, butchers a long time ago came up with a solution to that problem: cut the ribs shorter. And though we don’t eat mammoth ribs anymore, we can still get a cave-man style rib experience by cooking what some call “Dino Ribs.”
Dino ribs get their name from the fact that they are big, meaty, fat ribs with loads of meat on them. Compared to baby back ribs, they are huge! So what are they? Smoked beef short ribs from a cow. The classic braising meat has found a place on the BBQ cookers of the world under the guise of a prehistoric treat. And they are delicious. Full of beefy, smoky flavor and tender to the bone. These ribs can slake even a hearty appetite with their richness. In this article, we’ll cover what short ribs are, and how to properly smoke them for optimal results.
What are short ribs?
The first question to address is the question of short ribs themselves. “Short ribs” is butcher parlance for a partial cut of ribs from anywhere on the steer’s ribcage. They can come from the areas under the brisket, chuck, rib loin, or plate. Whereas baby back ribs and spare ribs both indicate a specific position on the hog, short ribs have more to do with how they are cut than where they are cut from the steer: they are short sections of rather long bones. Some butchers will give you the option of which kind of short ribs you prefer, but generally, it’s anyone’s guess whether your short ribs are plate, chuck, loin, or brisket. Each section will have a slightly different flavor of meat and fat, as do the different parts of the steer. But regardless of which part they come from, they are all cooked the same.
How to cook beef short ribs
The cooking of short ribs is a story you have heard before, if you are familiar with BBQ cookery. Ribs, being well-used, important protective parts of the body, are filled with collagen. That king of connective tissues must be broken down by long, slow cooking to unwind into gelatin, with the unraveling beginning at 170°F (78°C), and accelerating as the temperature increases. (This is why short ribs are often cooked by braising, it’s an easy way to break down the tough connective tissues.)
Of course, as that collagen melts we’ll get the stall that occurs when locked-up water is freed and starts to evaporate. As with other ribs, this presents you with a choice: speed through, or develop more smoke flavor and bark? You can go either way by wrapping your short ribs in foil to get through the stall or exercising patience and letting them smoke naked through the stall. Whichever method you choose, the point is to get those ribs to 203°F (95C°). If you get there quickly by wrapping, you’ll want to let them spend an hour or so at that temp (dissolution is a function of time and temperature), but if you take the slow road and cook them bare, they should be ready once you get to that critical temperature.
Aaron Franklin, of the renowned Franklin BBQ, recommends smoking short ribs at 285°F (141°C). This slightly-higher temperature will help cook the ribs more quickly, while not drying them out. A spritz or two of water or something more flavorful like apple juice during the cooking will also help keep the edges tender.
In the graph below you can see the stall. In this cook we allowed the stall to go for a few hours to demonstrate the thermal principles at play. That temperature line is quite flat for a long time, but as soon as we wrap the ribs, the temperature climbs steeply, covering the last 15 degrees quite quickly. If you decide to wrap your short ribs, we recommend you actually do it closer to the beginning of the stall.
This graph was made using the new BlueDOTTM leave-in probe thermometer! It has all the simplicity and accuracy of DOT®, but with the added advantage of wireless Blutooth® connectivity and the new free ThermoWorks BBQ app. You can track your cook like a pro, watching the stall come and go right from your phone or smart device.
Smoked beef short rib recipe
Based on beef ribs recipes from:
And BBQ Bros.
- 1 rack short ribs
- 3 Tbsp mustard
- 2-3 Tbsp your favorite beef BBQ rub (we’ve used a black rub for this cook because, well, it looks and tastes great!)
- Meat spritz of your choosing (ours is apple juice, vinegar, hot sauce and a touch of bourbon)
- Preheat your smoker to 285°F (141°C).
- Trim excess fast and silver skin from the tops of the ribs. Try not to lose much meat in this process.
- Flip the rack over and score the membrane in a wide crosshatch pattern with a sharp knife.
- Rub the rack all over with the mustard.
- Sprinkle the ribs all over with the rub.
- Place the short ribs in the smoker and insert the probe from the BlueDOT.
- Set the high alarm for 160°F (71°C) if you plan to wrap the ribs, or directly for 203°F (95°C) if you plan to leave them naked during the whole cook.
- Smoke those ribs!
- After an hour of cooking, spritz the ribs so that they are damp but not super wet.
- If you’ve opted to wrap, do so when the high alarm sounds.
- Place the short ribs back in the smoker with the probe placed back in the thickest part of the meat (while avoiding touching bone).
- Re-set the high-alarm for 203°F (95°C) and continue to smoke.
- When the alarm sounds on your device or the thermometer unit, take the ribs and verify temp and tenderness with a Thermapen® Mk4.
- Let the ribs rest for an hour. If you have an ice chest/cooler, placing them inside for the rest will help them get even more tender, as they’ll stay at a higher temp without further “cooking.”
- Once the ribs have rested, cut them between the bones and get to eating. Mmm…just like Wilma used to make.
Though they take longer to cook, due to their greater thickness, smoked short ribs are no harder to make than baby back or spare ribs. The key is to get them to a temperature that will melt the collagen binding the proteins together—203°F (95°C).
And now, with the BlueDOT, you can watch the cook happening in the palm of your hand. Yes, the ribs were great at that stone-age drive-in, but the technology for cooking them is far better now!