Short ribs, when done right, are tender and succulent with big beef flavor. While there’s no substitute for brisket, good short ribs come close. They also take about half the time, and the smoking process is incredibly easy. In fact, smoked short ribs might be the simplest BBQ recipe I know. This article will take you through the whole process, starting off with a concise recipe then diving deeper into all things short ribs!
If you’re looking for a quick rundown on smoking short ribs, here it is! But be sure to check out the other sections below for some more info and tips.
- 6 beef short ribs, in sections or individually cut
- 1 tablespoon kosher salt
- 2 tablespoons hot sauce OR mustard OR Worcestershire sauce, to act as binder for rub
- 1/4 cup beef rub of your choice (I love Oakridge BBQ’s Black OPS Brisket Rub) OR equal parts salt, pepper, and garlic powder
- Dry brine short ribs by seasoning with salt and refrigerating uncovered for a minimum of 1 hour but ideally overnight.
- Rub hot sauce binder on ribs and season with dry rub.
- Smoke at 250° F until short ribs are probe tender, usually in the 200° – 210° range. This will typically take 5-6 hours, but could take up to 8 hours if you have particularly meaty ribs that aren’t individually sliced.
- Rest short ribs for at least 30 minutes before digging in!
Recipe Notes and Tips
- If you’re making these last minute and don’t have time to dry brine, no worries. While it’s useful, it’s not absolutely essential.
- Almost any sauce or liquid can be used as a “binder” for the rub – hot sauce, mustard, Worcestershire, and oil are some common choices.
- Assuming heat is coming from below your ribs, place them bone-side down to protect the meat from the heat.
- If you don’t have a smoker, you can use a simple charcoal grill set up for indirect cooking, as demonstrated in this video. Or check out my best beginner smokers guide!
Types of Beef Short Ribs
Buying beef short ribs can be confusing because butchers break down these ribs a bunch of different ways. First it should be noted that ‘short’ ribs are not actually short in size, but they are referred to as such because they come from the short plate. Check out the video below (at the 18:00 mark), and you’ll see how massive the short rib plate really is.
There are typically two main types of short ribs you can find at your local grocery store. English cut short ribs are what you’re after. These are cut between 3″ and 6″ in length. Sometimes the bones are left together in a slab, but more often than not you’ll find them individually separated.
The alternative is Flanken-cut short ribs, also referred to as Korean-style short ribs. These are no good for smoking, since they are only ~1/2″ thick. However, they are amazing grilled!
Note that you’ll want to avoid beef ‘back’ ribs, where there is a smaller amount of meat only between the bones.
How to Prepare Beef Short Ribs for Smoking
Short ribs often have some fat and silver skin on top (opposite side of the bones), and you’ll definitely want to trim that away.
Whether or not you should remove the membrane covering the bones is a point of some debate. It’s more difficult to remove than the membrane on a rack of pork ribs, and bones are more likely to fall off of the meat without it, especially if you have individual ribs. I have seen some folks score it rather than remove it. My advice would be to not worry about it and leave it intact.
The last step of preparation is dry brining. As mentioned in the recipe above, this is done by seasoning the beef with salt and allowing it to sit uncovered in the fridge. Why? Dry brining allows meat time to really absorb the salt and begin to break down the tissues. Also, the process of denaturing proteins allows these proteins to do a better job of retaining moisture, meaning juicier beef.
What's the Best Wood for Smoking Short Ribs?
There are a lot of possibilities when it comes to choosing wood for short ribs. Mesquite is a great choice if you like intensely smokey flavor. If you want authentic central Texas flavor, go for oak, specifically post oak. Another common choice for beef is hickory, and pecan also works nicely.
And it’s totally fine to use whatever you might have on hand. While something like alder or cherry might not be ideal, remember that at the end of the day, smoke is smoke.
Should You Wrap Beef Short Ribs?
Wrapping your beef midway through the cook, like you would with brisket, is not necessary for short ribs. However, you can definitely finish your short ribs in a more traditional manner by braising them, which allows you to incorporate red wine and various vegetables. Malcolm Reed has a recipe that follows this method, so check it out if you’re interested in going that route.
Wrapping or braising can also get you out of trouble if your ribs don’t turn out tender. For example, let’s say you run your fire a little hotter than you wanted. As a result, your short ribs reach 200° in just a few hours and end up tough. Don’t give up on them! Instead, wrap them in foil with a little beef broth or braise them – they will get more tender!
Should You Sauce Your Smoked Short Ribs?
I personally don’t think a sauce is necessary for short ribs or other smoked beef, like brisket. And I think it may be a crime in Texas.
However, a lot of folks think that BBQ means sauce, so your friends and family might expect a sauce. If that’s the case, just avoid anything too sweet, as sugary sauces work better with pork than beef.
Summing Things Up
I hope you’ll give smoking beef short ribs a try, especially if you come across a meaty slab at your local grocery store or butcher! The process is really simple, so as long as you can control your smoker’s temperature, you should be golden! Let me know how it goes for you in the comments below, and feel free to ask any questions.