Today, we are discussing all things to do with ribs. There are 13 ribs on each side of a beef steer, from the backbone to the breastbone, perhaps 3 linear feet, and from the shoulder to the last rib, another 3 feet or more. Beef ribs can be bought in large racks, like pork ribs, or more commonly in small sections. A complete rack, usually from the 2nd to 10th rib, can have bones up to 18″ long, and is almost never sold as a whole at retail.
There are two major sections, back ribs and short ribs. In back ribs the meat is between the bones and these ribs are popular for barbecue, possibly because back ribs are popular pork cuts. The ribeye steak, also known as the Delmonico, is a back rib and is among the most expensive cuts of beef. The ribeye is a fabulous hunk of meat that is tender and juicy and lies in the dorsal area, on top of rib bones near the spine, towards the front of the animal, just behind the shoulder. Ribeyes are often sold boneless which leaves the back rib bones available for sale separately. The bones usually are 6-8″ long, slightly curved, with very little meat on top and a nice finger of meat between them. Why so little meat on top? Because it is so valuable the steaks are cut “to the quick” off the bone, leaving little meat behind. The bones often show through, and are called “shiners”. They usually come in sections of about seven bones. Back ribs are also good for braising because the marrow gives a great flavour to stews, and they are popular for barbecue, but they are not the best cut for barbecue because they have so little meat and they must be cooked very well to be made tender. Ribeye steaks are mostly composed of the Longissimus dorsi muscle but also contain the Complexus and Spinalis muscles.
The best cut of beef ribs comes from the lower, ventral, section, from the 6th through to the 10th rib, roughly the same cut as the St. Louis cut of pork ribs. The ribs are called short ribs not because they are short in length, but because they come from what is called the short plate. The short plate is located right in front of another inexpensive, chewy but tasty cut, the flank steak, and just behind another favourite cut for barbecue, the brisket. The bones are almost straight and they have 1-2″ of meat on top. They are good for barbecue, kalbi, and braising. Short ribs are often the favourite cut of beef to barbecue. The short plate comprises four bones and the meat is thicker on one side from near the shoulder. These are called chuck ribs sometimes, are the best quality and the muscle is the serratus ventralis which has a lot of connective tissue as well as marbling and is therefore the most flavourful. Brazilian steakhouses like to skewer the whole shortplate and rotisserie it. They then slice the meat off across the grain, parallel to the bone.
An English Cut of Short Ribs is the most common cut. There are usually 4 bones about 3″ long, 7 to 8″ wide, and about 1″ to 2″ thick. They can be sold as a rack or as a package of individual ribs. Short ribs often have a layer of fat on top, although some butchers remove it. Flanken cut rib bones are typically only 1/2″ to 1″ long and they are popular in Asian and Mexican groceries. There is a lot of hard fat but the meat absorbs marinades well and is tasty if grilled. Try the Korean Kalbi marinade. This cut is also good braised. and it can be cut off the bone and used to stir fry. Often shorties are sold in individual bone sections ranging from 1″ to 6″ long. A typical riblet, a section of a single bone about 2″ long and 1.5″ wide, is very versatile and they’re great for braising, for slow cookers, for barbecue, and for Korean Kalbi. You can occasionally buy boneless rib meat cut off the bone but if you can’t buy it, you can remove it from the bone yourself. With a filleting knife, cut the meat off the bone, trim the thick silverskin and thick fat from the top, and remove the connective tissue from the bottom. You will have slabs of beautiful meat and super bones for soup or stock. But buying short ribs requires attentiveness. There are often 1/4″ thick veins of fat running through the muscle layers, so you need to inspect the package carefully.
Meat from the rib section tends to be tender and well marbled with the fat that makes steaks and roasts juicy and tasty. Rib steaks and roasts are sometimes called “prime rib” even when the meat isn’t good enough to be graded “prime” by the USDA. The entire rib section includes seven ribs, but it’s usually cut into smaller chunks. Each rib will feed about two people, so if you’re feeding, say, six people, you should get a three-rib roast. You can buy this cut as a standing rib roast, with the bones left in, or as a rolled rib roast, which is boned, then rolled and tied. The nice thing about a standing rib roast is that it can stand by itself in the oven pan without a rack, plus the bones provide added flavor. A large end rib roast is cut from the part of the rib section nearest the chuck, so the steaks are bigger but tougher. The small end rib roast = sirloin tip roast includes the ribs next to the choice loin section, so the meat’s more tender and lean. If the short ribs are lopped off of a rib roast, you get a half standing rib roast. The term “cowboy ribeye” or “cowboy cut” is often used in American restaurants for a bone-in rib eye.
A full slab of short ribs is typically about 10 inches square, ranges from 3-5 inches thick, and contains three or four ribs, intercostal muscles and tendon, and a layer of boneless meat and fat which is thick on one end of the slab and thin on the other. There are numerous ways to butcher short ribs. The ribs can be separated and cut into short lengths (typically about 2 inches long), called an “English cut”; “flanken cut” across the bones (typically about 1/2 inch thick); or cut into boneless steaks. However, these boneless steaks are not to be confused with “boneless country-style short ribs,” a cut recently introduced in the United States as a cheaper alternative to rib steak, which are not ribs but cut from the chuck eye roll. In Korea, short lengths of rib are often further butchered by butterflying (or using an accordion cut) to unfurl the meat into a long ribbon trailing from the bone, or the meat can be removed from the bone entirely and cut into thin (1/4-1/8 inch thick).
There are four main ways to cook ribs. Barbecue them, because when roasted low and slow with dry heat and a bit of wood smoke, you get a dark brown exterior, and flavourful, tender meat. Kalbi them. When the meat is cut thin, marinated, and grilled hot as they do in Korean Kalbi, you get relatively tender, tasty meat, with both beef and marinade mingling to perfection. Braise them. When simmered low and slow in a flavourful liquid, as they do in France, you get very juicy, very tender, tasty meat that has absorbed the richness of the braising liquid. Tenderise them. First you sprinkle meat tenderiser, and then you pierce the flesh with a Jaccard meat tenderiser. The Jaccard has razor sharp blades that penetrate the meat and drive the tenderiser into it. This method results in very fine pieces of rare meat, very juicy and beefy.
- 2.5 kg beef back ribs
- 100g of sea salt
- A large pinch of brown sugar
- 1 tbsp of freshly milled black pepper
- 1 tbsp of chipotle chili powder
- 240 ml ketchup
- 120 ml dry red wine
- 100g brown sugar
- A large glug of olive oil
- A large glug of light soy sauce
- A splash of cider vinegar
- 1 tbsp of chipotle chili powder
- A few shakes of Worcestershire sauce
- A large pinch of garlic powder
- A large pinch of ground cumin
Combine salt, pepper and chili powder. Rub over the ribs. Preheat the oven at 150c/ gas mark 2. Place ribs in them on a baking tray. Cook for about 4 to 4 1/2 hours over a low heat. In a medium saucepan, add olive oil, garlic, chipotle powder, and cumin. Allow to heat through while stirring, for 1 minute. Add red wine and brown sugar. Simmer for 2-3 minutes. Add in soy sauce, vinegar, ketchup, and Worcestershire sauce. Simmer for 2 minutes more. Remove from heat, allow to cool slightly before using.Remove the ribs and paint them with the sauce. Turn up the heat to 240c/gas mark 9 to seal them and use any remaining sauce to drizzle over the top.