Barbecue around the country comes in many different forms. Pulled pork from shoulders or whole hogs, pork spare ribs and baby back ribs, sausage and brisket are familiar fare from coast to coast. One cut, however, is gaining in popularity: the beef rib. Compared to its pork counterpart, this meaty option is sometimes referred to as “brontosaurus ribs” because of its grand size and scale. Of food items shared on social media, the beef rib may be near the top because of the spectacular nature of this wonderful item.
The primary difference between pork and beef ribs is that the beef ribs have the M. serratus ventralis as the major muscle attached. This muscle is richly marbled, especially when sourced from Prime and Premium Choice beef carcasses. The M. serratus ventralis is considered one of the “very tender” muscles based on its shear force values. Using the low and slow method of preparing barbecue for these ribs results in a great dining experience. The combination of the buttery flavor and the great tenderness make it an outstanding item to eat.
There are three main beef ribs: the short plate short rib (IMPS No. 123A – Beef Short Plate, Short Ribs Trimmed) from the short plate, the rib short rib (IMPS No. 123B – Beef Rib, Short Ribs, Trimmed) from the primal rib, and the chuck short rib (IMPS No. 130 – Beef Chuck, Short Ribs) from the chuck region. For the most part, the IMPS 123A usually consists of both the short plate and rib portions of the short rib, so purchasers usually have two options: plate short ribs or chuck short ribs.
The IMPS No. 123A beef plate short ribs, trimmed originate from the mid-section of ribs 6 through 8. For barbecue, these would typically be referred to as “3-bone beef ribs.” These ribs are 8 to 12 inches long, and the rib bones are typically wide and more oval shaped from this area of the beef carcass. The M. serratus ventralis covers these ribs but begins to fade out over the remaining ribs of the short plate, which is why this section of the short plate is so popular.
The IMPS No. 130 beef chuck short ribs originate from the mid-section of ribs 2 through 5. For barbecue, these would typically be referred to as “4-bone beef ribs.” The rib bones are typically smaller and more rounded from this area of the beef carcass. The M. serratus ventralis is partially present in rib 2, but that rib is usually not served individually because of its lean-to-bone ratio.
The prices for these beef ribs in the marketplace are not inexpensive. Recent market reports show that the chuck short ribs are in the $3.50 per lb. range, whereas the plate short ribs are in the $5.50 range, which make the plate short ribs about 60 percent higher in price than the chuck short ribs. Not all the demand for these beef ribs come from barbecue. For many years, these beef ribs have found their way into the export market, especially in Asia where Korean-style cooking methods of thinly sliced ribs are quite popular. Chuck short ribs or “costela” are an important part of the Brazilian-style of cooking, and with the popularity of Brazilian steakhouses in the US, there are many chuck short ribs that go through this channel.
The high price for these ribs, especially for the plate short ribs, can be an issue if the ribs are served bone-in. Retail prices for barbecued beef ribs is around $20 per lb., and by the time the 3-bone rib is cut into three portions, it is not uncommon for the ribs to be $20 to $25 per rib. The ribs are sharable, but this elevates the purchase of these ribs to a guilty pleasure at times. A small number of restaurants serve these ribs daily while some only offer them as a weekly special. A few barbecue restaurants are curing these ribs to make pastrami short ribs, which takes the flavor to an even higher level.
If size and price are an issue, there is a way to provide smaller portions of these ribs. Many establishments, especially at barbecue festivals, will take the plate short ribs, remove the ribs by simply pulling them out (the cooking process softens the attachment), make the usual cuts between where the ribs were, and then cut across the three sections to make short rib cubes. These cubes now can be placed on croissants, slider rolls or Hawaiian-style sweet bread rolls to make a wonderful sandwich.
There is nothing magical about preparing beef ribs. Simply salt and pepper them before using a low and slow method of smoking and cooking. These ribs are usually cooked to advanced degrees of doneness so that the fat will render properly, and the meat becomes quite tender. The combination of salt, pepper and smoke works well for most barbecue, and when used for these unique cuts of beef it makes a wonderful dining experience.