Smoked Beef Short Ribs

Cook Dates: July 4 & 8, 2023

I hope you’ll indulge my not following my usual chronological order of posts. In May I was *this* [thumb and forefinger almost touching] close to being caught up on my blog posts. Then life happened. At this point I should be posting about our trip to the central California coast in late April / early May. But, I made these spectacular beef ribs for the Fourth of July (Independence Day in the United States) and wanted to share about them while we are still in the middle of the outdoor cooking season.

I first tried to smoke beef short ribs back in 2011 – in fact it was my second cook on a pellet grill – but they came out incredibly tough. You can read about the two day prep and cook here and here. I told myself I’ve learned more about cooking in the intervening dozen years and I should try again. They came out so well for our family celebration I cooked them again for friends just 4 days later. Pictures of the two cooks are intermingled. On July 4th we had 5 ribs – along with a tri-tip roast/steak – and on the 8th we had 8 ribs. I hedged my bets on the 4th so had the backup.

Beef short ribs are aptly named since they are short sections of ribs found near the spine. They usually have a lot of meat on them but need to be cooked properly to become tender and provide that nice beefy flavor. Here is what they look like straight from the butcher. These 8 ribs weighed in at about 6¾ pounds.

Beef short ribs ready to be prepped.

Depending on your butcher you may need to trim some excess fat and/or silver skin before prepping. These came from The Meeting Place on Cornelius Pass Road in Hillsboro (Oregon) and needed very little work. I used a four step approach with the cooks: overnight dry brine, rub, cook, eat. After trimming excess fat and silver skin from the ribs, dust them liberally with kosher salt and place them on a wire rack inset in a cooking sheet and refrigerate overnight. Here they are after the overnight dry brine.

Ribs after their overnight dry brine

I used the Big Bad Beef Rub recipe from Amazing Ribs. Here is a picture of an earlier version in 2013. Since then MeatHead has adjusted the recipe and approach. Instead of including salt in the rub, he recommends doing the overnight dry brine then applying the rub that has the salt omitted. This picture doesn’t do justice to the main ingredient – 3 Tablespoons of ground pepper. Other ingredients are white sugar, onion powder, mustard powder, garlic powder, chili powder and cayenne pepper.

Big Bad Beef Rub (Early version includes kosher salt; now we dry brine first then apply a no-salt rub)

Here are the ribs after some rub is applied. I applied a bit more after the photo and on the second cook used an even heftier amount of rub.

Ribs after rub was applied

The rubbed ribs then sit out at room temperature while the grill comes to temperature. My plan was to set on a low, “smoke”, temperature for 30 minutes then cook at 235° until they are ready. Let’s get started

Ribs on the grill

There’s plenty of smoke

The pellet grill doing its smoking thing

After 3 hours they are between 165° and 170° and starting to shrink off the bone a bit, but still have a while to go.

Three hours in on the first cook
Three hours in on the second cook

At 5+ hours in they are really getting a nice bark with internal temperatures ranging from 180° to 190°

Five hours in on the second cook.

It took close to 7 hours each cook to get them ready to eat at as they touch 200°. WHAT! you ask? Don’t we want them medium rare? Not with this tough meat. The trick is to slowly build the temperature to melt the fat and connective tissue; that will give them the tenderness and juiciness we want.

On the Fourth I also cooked a Tri-Tip in case my ribs attempt was as bad as my first one in 2011. Not to worry; the ribs were gone fast.

Short ribs and tri-tip. Beef: it’s what’s for dinner

On the eighth I didn’t worry about a backup plan.

Beef short ribs for dinner!

On the second cook the smaller ribs were sliding right off the bone when I put them on the platter.

Dinner is served: Ribs, pasta salad and watermelon. BBQ sauce was available – but I didn’t use it on mine.

Dinner is served: Ribs, pasta salad and watermelon.

Let’s cut into the rib to see how it looks. That dark red rib just under the bark (crust) is the smoke ring. They were very tender and juicy. I’m glad I made enough for 2 per person


This close up shows how juicy tender the ribs are.

Cross section close up

Verdict: ★★★★★ – The full 5 stars. They bring so much beef flavor. Remembering 2011 Carla was pretty wary when I suggested this dish for dinner, but the new approach knocked this out of the park. She loved it so much she wanted it again just a few days later.

And I just received another vote of approval: this time from Riley: Jim and Terri’s granddog. They took a few of the leftover rib bones and Riley worked them like a job.

Jim and Terri’s grand-dog Riley enjoying one of the rib bones.

This method is ideal for smokers (pellet, barrels, WSM, ceramic, offset, what have you) but would also work well on a charcoal grill that can handle two zone cooking (one hot zone and one cooler zone). The two keys to success are keeping the temperature under 250° and using smoke to set that nice bark. You can come close on a gas grill but you’ll need to feed foil packets of wood chips – or some other method like a pellet tube – throughout the cook.

If you want the nitty-gritty details here are my cooking logs from both cooks. Yes, I keep detailed cooking logs. I refer back to them when I want to find what worked (or didn’t work).

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