Texans take their barbecue seriously, and they take their beef deadly seriously. At the top of that deadly serious pile of beef sits the king of it all, beef plate ribs, with brisket coming in a close second.
In this beef ribs recipe, we combine the bold flavor of finely ground coffee with the rich and slightly fruity profile of ancho chiles to highlight the succulent, beefy flavor of short ribs.
This recipe may seem overly complicated, but it’s pretty easy once you have the basics down.
WARNING: There are as many barbecue beef rib recipes and techniques as there are Texans, and everybody does it wrong, including me. Viewer discretion is advised.
There are a few different cuts of beef ribs that are available at most grocery stores. You want to be sure that you get the right one.
You will be looking for short ribs, which are from the part of the cow called the “short plate.” This cut is found below the back ribs and between the brisket and flank.
The primary difference between back ribs, which are higher up on the cow, and short ribs, is that the meat on the back ribs is primarily between the bones. The meat on short ribs sits on top of the bone.
Short ribs make for great barbecue because the meat has a lot of marbling and connective tissue, which, when it breaks down while you’re cooking, means lots of flavor. Remember, the flavor comes from the fat, not the meat.
Many meat markets sell individually cut short ribs, but finding a four bone slab on the shelf is more difficult. Just ask your butcher to get you one. He usually has to cut them himself, so he likely will have some in the back. If not, he can order it for you.
If you don’t want to wait, you can cook the individual ribs you find on the shelf. If you do, they might end up being less tender and juicy due to more surface area being exposed to the smoke and heat in your barbecue pit.
Trimming and Dry Brining Your Short Ribs
An essential step in ensuring that your beef ribs are juicy and full of flavor is to dry-brine them.
You dry brine by rubbing the meat with salt, then covering it and letting it sit in your refrigerator overnight. By letting it sit overnight, you give the salt the time to fully absorb into the meat. This will season both the inside and outside of the meat and help it retain moisture during the cooking process.
If you want to learn more about the science of salt and how it transforms meat, I recommend reading Salt, Fat, Acid, Heat by Samin Nosrat.
To prepare your short ribs for salting, trim the fat and silverskin from the top of the meat. Don’t remove the membrane from the back of the ribs, though; it can cause the meat to fall off while it’s cooking.
Using a razor-sharp knife will help a great deal with this step.
After you’ve got your short ribs trimmed, take your knife and cut a crosshatch pattern in the membrane on the back of the bones. This will help some of the salt penetrate.
Below is a video that shows you how to trim your short ribs. Only follow how he trims the top. Don’t remove the membrane on the bones like he does. Just do the crosshatch like I discuss above.
To salt the ribs, measure out 1/2 teaspoon of Morton’s Kosher Salt per pound and sprinkle evenly across the surface of the meat. Massage it in so none falls off, then place the meat in a covered container in the refrigerator overnight.
Preparing Your Short Ribs for the Barbecue Pit
When you’re ready to start cooking the following day, it’s time to get your short ribs out of the refrigerator and apply the rub.
There are many different ideas on what to slather meat with before rubbing it, if anything at all. Their method is the only correct method if you ask the person that swears by it.
I prefer using yellow mustard. It doesn’t add much flavor after it’s cooked and is much better than plain water at helping the rub stick and creating a nice bark. If I want a heavier rub, I sometimes use vegetable oil. For this recipe, mustard works great.
After you’ve slathered with mustard, sprinkle the rub evenly all over the meat. Don’t cake it on. Just make sure all the surfaces are well covered.
Once the rub is applied, you’re ready to fire up the smoker. Just let your beef ribs sit in a pan on the counter and come to room temperature while you fire things up outside.
Smoking Your Beef Ribs
Setting up Your Grill
Smoking your beef ribs is the easiest part of the process. All you need to be able to do is set up your grill or barbecue pit to cook at 275 degrees and maintain that temperature throughout the cook.
Depending on what equipment you have, there are various ways to do this.
If you have an offset smoker or a pellet grill, you likely already know how to manage the temperature. If you have a gas grill, kettle grill, or another small grill, you can learn how to do that here.
Next, you’re going to want to have some wood ready to add a good smoke flavor. For Texas-style beef ribs, oak is the traditional wood that’s used.
Being a West Texan, I cook with mesquite or pecan more often than oak.
I used pecan on this batch of ribs. I think mesquite can be a bit much on cuts of meat that are slow cooked (mesquite is great on arrachera for carne asada tacos). Pecan is milder and won’t overpower the ribs.
You want to be careful to not overdo the smoke flavor. In a small pit, about 4 ounces of wood early on in the cooking process is sufficient. Use twice as much or more on a larger barbecue pit.
If you are using a small grill, like a Weber Kettle Grill, you can learn how to make a foil pack for smoking here.
Time to Cook
To make the best, most tender, and succulent ribs, you need to cook them low and slow, just like you would a brisket.
Brisket is typically cooked at 225 degrees, but beef ribs have more marbling, so they’re more forgiving. You can cook the beef ribs at 275 to shorten the amount of time in the pit. If you cook at a higher temperature, the outside might get a little dry.
Where most people go wrong and end up having tough and chewy ribs or brisket, is they don’t cook it long enough. You’re cooking to temperature and feel, not time. It’ll look done way before it actually is.
Time is just a general idea when barbecuing, not a strict rule. You can assume that it will take five to ten hours to cook, depending on its thickness. Figure five hours for 1-inch thick meat and ten for 2-inches of meat. That can vary greatly, too, depending on the cow the ribs came out of.
It’s just a general rule of thumb. It’s better to plan on starting your cook early then holding your meat in an insulated ice-chest for longer after it’s done, than to try to have everything ready at precisely the right time.
Cook your ribs until they hit around 197 degrees internal temperature (be sure your temperature probe isn’t right up against the bone, but rather in the center of the meat, or it’ll end up reading higher than it actually is). Once you’ve hit 197, you’ll start doing a probe check every ten minutes or so to check if they’re done.
Once the probe hits very little resistance, like hitting room temperature butter, your ribs are ready. That’ll be anywhere from 197 degrees to 210 degrees.
In the video below, Aaron Franklin, one of the most popular Texas barbecue masters, gives a good explanation of how to do a probe check.
What you are doing with the probe check is testing to see whether the collagens and connective tissues have hit that magic temperature where they liquefy. The magic temperature just depends on the cow. More often than not, for me, that’s right around 203 degrees.
Spritzing is a topic that’s somewhat controversial for some people.
Do you do it at all? If you do, what do you spritz with? Beer, cider, just water?
If I don’t plan on wrapping at any point during the cooking process, I like to spritz the meat to keep the outside from getting too dry. Sometimes I even add a little flavor to the spritz, like with my pulled pork.
With this recipe, I just use plain water or beef broth to keep the outside of the meat from getting too dry.
I don’t want the spritz flavor to get in the way of the rub.
Just spritz after the first couple of hours of cooking, then once an hour after that. Spritz just enough to moisten the meat, but not so much that it’s dripping.
Now that your ribs are cooked, it’s still not time to eat.
They need to rest for about an hour.
I know it ain’t easy to wait when you can smell that incredible barbecue flavor, but this is one of the keys to tender, succulent beef ribs.
There are a couple of different approaches to letting your ribs rest. Both are best done in an ice chest to help retain the heat. The tighter the fit in the ice chest, the better. A high-quality ice chest is also better so it doesn’t lose heat too quickly.
If all you have is a large ice chest, you can pack some towels in it to make the interior smaller.
If you want a little more chew to your ribs, just rest them in the ice chest without wrapping.
If you want them jiggly tender, wrap them in uncoated, food-grade, peach butcher paper, then put them in the ice chest.
Wrapping them with butcher paper will soften the bark on the outside (the crust) but will make them far more tender on the inside.
Either way is excellent and up to personal preference.
To Sauce or Not to Sauce
In my mind, Texas-style barbecue should never have sauce on it, especially a sweet sauce. Save the sweet candy coating for pork.
If you absolutely need to put sauce on your ribs, try a thin Texas Mop Sauce, and serve it in a bowl or a squeeze bottle on the side.
Serve your beef ribs up simply with some white bread, sliced white onions, sliced pickles, and your choice of sides. Maybe some German potato salad and soupy pinto beans.
Slow Smoked Coffee-Ancho Rubbed Beef Ribs
- Grill or barbecue pit
- 1 rack plate or chuck ribs - 3-4 bones
- yellow mustard - for slathering
- water - for spritzing
The Day Before Cooking
- Trim the silverskin and fat off of the meaty side of the ribs, then cut a crosshatch pattern on the bone side (do not remove the membrane from the bone side of the ribs).
- Use about 1/2 teaspoon of kosher salt per pound and sprinkle it all over, sprinkling more heavily on the meaty side. Place in a pan, cover, then put in the refrigerator overnight.
- Combine the ingredients for the coffee-ancho rub and mix together thoroughly.
- Slather your beef ribs all over with a thin layer of mustard, then sprinkle on an even layer of your rub.
- Preheat your smoker to cook at 275 degrees, while your ribs rest on your counter at room temperature.
- Once your smoker is up to temperature, place the ribs in the center and insert the temperature probe in the thickest part of the meat, ensuring that it is not up against a bone. Add a few ounces of wood to the firebox. Close the lid to the smoker and have your first beer.
- After the second hour of cooking, spritz your ribs with water, then spritz every hour thereafter.
- Once your ribs hit 197 degrees, begin probing for tenderness as described in the article above.
- Once your ribs have reached the proper tenderness (usually around the magic number, 203 degrees), use a pair of barbecue gloves or a towel to remove them from the pit. Wrap with your peach butcher paper, and place in a pan. Transfer the pan to an ice chest along with a couple of old towels. Close and seal the lid to the ice-chest, and let rest for 1 hour.