Friday, July 26, 2013

The "Zen" of Beef Ribs (Part 1 of 2)

When I was little, I watched the Flintstones cartoons.  At the beginning, during the opening song, there's a car-hop waitress that brings Fred a rack of ribs that is so big, it actually tips his car over.  I think about that to this day, and I'm almost 50 years old.  "Someday," I think, "They'll clone a Woolly Mammoth and they'll pick me to cook it's ribs!"  That would be a glorious day, indeed.

Everybody is hung up on pork ribs.  Don't get me wrong, baby-backs, St. Louis style, Country Pork Ribs (which aren't ribs at all, by the way, just cross cuts of the pork shoulder), any rib from a pig is certainly delicious, but there's something special about a beef rib.  I'm not talking about the Short Ribs your mom has stewing in the crock-pot either, I'm talking about fulfilling that primal urge to grab the whole damn rib bone out of the cow, holding it like a big beefy club, and gnawing on it, caveman or Polar Bear style.

Admit it.  You want the rest of the neighborhood to buzz when they talk about your BBQ and your ribs, etc, "Have you been over to Ken's house for ribs yet?  OH... MY..... GOODNESS.... It's crazy!"  If you are looking for something distinctive, something different, something people have only seen on the Food Network's "Diners Drive-Ins and Dives" in a small BBQ joint in West Texas, then Beef ribs are the ticket.

First, you gotta find them.  This isn't as easy as it might sound, since we're living in an age where most meat is shipped boneless.  What you want to tell your butcher is, "I'd like the whole, uncut beef ribs off of the short plate, please.  Blades of 4 ribs are preferable."  Here's what you're asking for:


Notice, if you cut your own cow and pulled an entire rib out, it would be about 30" long (don't think I haven't thought about cooking a whole one).  The bone in a "bone-in ribeye" steak is one end of the rib.  Let's face it, we don't want to ruin a prime rib roast just so you can have beef ribs, besides, the butcher would charge you a fortune to cut it up.  No, we're interested in the lower half, the "Short Plate" as they say.  Meat processors divide the short plate into blades of 4 ribs each before vacuuming them sealed in a cryo-vac bag and sending them to your local meat dept.

Sadly, most local butchers either cut the blades in half before separating them, thus offering a "Stew Cut" or some individual "Short Rib" offerings for soups or crock pots.  Even more disastrous is the growing trend of slicing the Plate very thinly across the rib face for Asian "Stir Fry" applications.  Witness the sacrilege here on the left.


What you want is the whole blade, straight from the Plate, usually right out of the cryo-vac bag from the walk-in cooler of your market.  Right-click this picture and open it in a new tab or window.  Print it.  Show this picture to your butcher.  Properly described (in "butcherese"), you're looking at "Four Whole 4-Bone Short Plates, from the front lower rib cage."  Cows have 13 pairs of ribs, and the closer to the head of the animal, the longer your set of 4 bones will be.  If you're lucky, you'll find sets like these where the bones are each 10 or 12 inches in length!  These particular ribs have been trimmed and rubbed, and then laid out on my smoker.  Obviously, the ribs you bring home from the market will be bright red and raw, but you get the picture.  Also, they'll need some trimming, which we'll talk about in part 2.

Ok, this wraps up part 1.  If you find them, I promise to help you cook them!  If you have a smoker that hold them, this will be easy!!

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