Wednesday, January 14, 2015

How I Smoke Beef Short Ribs on a Kamado Grill

I have a dirty secret.

When it comes to the classic BBQ dishes - chicken, pork ribs, pork (pulled or chopped), and brisket - pork ribs are my least favorite by far.  For the general public, pork ribs seem to be the Nirvana of BBQ but for me, they just don't have the wow factor.

When in comes to ribs, I like mine big and beefy!  Usually I make beef back ribs which are the ribs cut off of the prime rib to make ribeye steaks.  I choose those mainly because they are easier to find around here.  But when I want my favorite ribs of all, I use the chuck plate short rib - aka "dino bones" -  to get the most meat of any rib and the biggest beef flavor.  It's like brisket on a stick.  Speaking of brisket, you pretty much cook a full rack of short ribs similar to a small brisket.

Smoke dino bones on Big Green Egg, primo, Kamado Joe, Grill Dome, Vision grills
I like my beef ribs big enough to flip Fred Flinstone's car over at the drive in!

Here's how I smoke those dino bones on a ceramic kamado grill like the Big Green Egg, Grill Dome, Vision Grill, Primo, or Kamado Joe (or if you have deep pockets - the Komodo Kamado). 

Preparing the Kamado Grill

  • This will be a long cook so it is important to clean out the ashes from any previous cooks to ensure free air flow.  
  • Wood - I used to use chunks or chips but I have become a big fan of using small 13" x 1" split oak or hickory logs.  I set them up in a triangle as pictured below and then fill in with coal around and above the logs.  The triangle arrangement seems to burn consistently throughout the process and I get a steady smoke from it.
  • I use a MAPpro torch to light three places (away from where the tops of the logs are) 20 seconds each.  I have the bottom vent and DMFT top vent wide open until the kamado dome temperature reaches about 175°F.  Then I cut the bottom vent to about 1" and shut the DMFT slide but leave the petals fully open.  On a kamado with a plain disc top vent, I'd have it open about 1/4" at the widest point.  I then gradually shut the vent to about 1/4 to 1/2" to stabilize the temperature at 225°F.
  • I don't put in the plate setter/heat diffuser and other equipment until the temp is stable.  Then once I put everything in, it only takes a few minutes for the temps to re-stabilize.  My typical set up is the plate setter in "legs up", a 13" drip pan to catch the rendered fat, a 16" tuning plate to help tame the gaps around the plate setter, and the grill grate. I fill the drip pan half full with liquid to help keep a moist environment to facilitate converting nitrogen compounds in the smoke to compounds on the meat that will form a smoke ring.
  • Once the temperature is steady and the smoke has turned from thick white to very thin white, clear, or what BBQ aficionados refer to as "blue".
Big Green Egg, Grill Dome, Primo, Kamado Joe, Vision Grill
Triangle configuration for my smoke wood set up in the Ash Kicker basket.

MAPP gass coal light
The lighting method is pretty inconsequential on how the food turns out, I just like using a torch for speed.

At least you need a plate setter/heat diffuser and grate.  I like to include the 13" drip pan to avoid a mess and the 16" tuning plate to balance the heat in the gaps around the diffuser/plate setter. 

Prepping The Meat
  • Buying beef short ribs.  If you have a real butcher, this shouldn't be hard, just ask for a rack of untrimmed beef short ribs, which can be either NAMP #123 or 130.  If you are looking for them in a grocery store, you won't see them on the rack whole but if the meat department sells cross cut "Korean style" beef ribs or the 3" trimmed short ribs for braising, ask the meat associates if they have any whole short ribs that haven't been trimmed down yet.  Of course, this only works at stores that cut their own meat, some stores have it shipped in pre-cut. Look for ribs that have a nice red color and marbling.  You want one rib per person, these things are huge.
  • Beef short ribs can come with a little excess fat and some silverskin on the meat side.  I remove all of the silver skin by carefully working the tip of a boning knife under the silver skin and then slicing along it (just like you do on a pork tenderloin for example).  I trim the fat down to as thin as I can get it, about 1/8th inch or less.  I remove the membrane when cooking back ribs but for short ribs with so much meat on top of the bones, I just don't find removing the membrane necessary.  Instead I just score it with the tip of a knife.
  • Rack vs Single - The first place where I ever got a dino bone sliced theirs into single ribs before smoking.  This gives you more rub and bark on each rib so the flavor is more intense.  I prefer smoking a whole rack for a more balance beef flavor.  It's just a matter of preference.
  • Brine - none
  • Injection - It doesn't need it and I generally don't use one.  If I did it would something similar to the injection that I use for briskets.
  • Slather - This adds a layer of flavor and helps the rub stick to the meat.  Same as briskets, I take maybe a tablespoon of beef base, mix it with enough Worcestershire sauce to make a paste and rub it all over the rib meat.
  • Rub - For quality beef, all you really need is pepper, salt, and garlic. I don't want a lot of sweet from the typical BBQ rubs. I usually use my NMT Beef Rub, which is that and a few other ingredients.  For this particular cook I cooked one rack with my rub and the other with Meat Church Holy Cow rub that I got for free from fellow Egger and Meat Church creator, Matt P.  Just try a few beef rubs to see what you like but look specifically for beef rubs, not general BBQ rubs.
Removing the silver skin is necessary because it won't render away, it just stays there and gets tougher. Removing the excess fat just keeps the ribs from being too fatty and greasy.

From the end view, you can see from where the sliced Korean style beef ribs come.
Scored membrane to allow rendered fat to drip out more easily and for the rub to penetrate.  You can remove the membrane altogether if you like.  This is the only rib that I don't bother with removing the membrane.

Both of these rubs worked well.  Both are salt and pepper based, mine uses black and green pepper, Meat Church uses red and black.  I'll be doing a full review of Holy Cow later.

Prepping dino bone ribs
Rubbed and ready to go into the smoker.
Let's get this show on the road!  Using two remote probes (Thermoworks ChefAlarms) because the smaller rack should finish earlier.

  • Just like most BBQ meats, short ribs are full of connective tissue and need a long, slow cook to break those down.  You can do them either low and slow (200-250°F) or hot and fast (above 300°F), I just mean long and slow as in you are not going to cook these in 2 hours.
  • Regardless of low/slow vs. hot/fast, I like to start my short ribs at a dome temperature of about 225-230°F (200-210°F at the grate level) for the first two hours.  I do this because the longer that the meat is below and internal temperature of ~120°F, the enzymes calpains and cathepsins will be very active and break down the protein and collagen in just a few hours similar to how weeks of dry aging would do (On Food and Cooking - McGee location 3951).  I also find I get a better smoke ring.
  • After two hours, I raise up my cooking temps to 275-300°F for the duration.  
  • I do my best not to open the kamado dome until the internal meat temperatures hit 160°F. At that point I will check every few hours to see how the color of the bark is.  I want a dark mahogany brown, almost black, crust. Once I get that color I will wrap the ribs in a double sheet of foil to 1) halt the darkening of the crust and 2) speed up the remainder of the cook. When using my stick burner, that usually happens right at 160°F but kamados have a much cleaner burn and I don't have to wrap until around 180°F, sometimes not at all. 
  • Spritzing/Mopping - I use a spritz of 1 cup beef stock and 1 tablespoon of Braggs liquid aminos. I spritz the meat once at the start of the cook, making the meat surface moist which gets those nitrogen compounds in smoke to convert and bond with the myoglobin in the meat, creating that tell tale smoke ring.  Then I also spritz the few times that I open the grill - this will just build a subtle layer of umami flavor.
  • When the ribs hit an internal temperature of 198°F, it is time to start checking for tenderness.  I pick the rib up and feel for flexibility.  I touch the top of the ribs and stick them with a bamboo skewer to check for tenderness.  When the skewer slides in like you are sticking it into butter, it's done.  Typically this is around 205-ish for me, but it varies.

Short ribs first going on, they kind of look like small brisket flats here.

Lower vent and top DMFT vent settings for this cook.  These settings are highly variable by brand, weather, and all kinds of factors so you just can't say "position your vents to x and y to get 250°F".  The more you cook on your kamado, the more this becomes second nature.

Three hours in, these are both right at 160°F but they don't need to be foiled yet because the color is not dark enough for me yet.

Drag racing ChefAlarms.  Notice that the "blue" rack got off to a fast start but the "green" rack caught up at 160°F and then went on to finish 20 minutes faster.

I shoot for an internal temperature of 198-208°F.  After 198°F I occasionally test for tenderness by touch and by sticking with a bamboo skewer. I usually end up 205-ish but these felt ready at 201 and 202.

Graph of the cook.  Blue line is the cooking temp measured at the dome.  I raised it at 4 and again at 6:30 because I was trying to speed up the cook.  You can see how the internal temps of both ribs stalled around 4:30pm and then jumped as soon as I foiled them at 7:30pm.

Full cooking log from this rib cook.

  • Rest - I ate these as soon as they came out after a brief rest, but only because it was 9 o'clock.  Normally I like to place these foil wrapped ribs in one of our warm Cambro's to rest for 2-4 hours.  You could also put it in an empty cooler with a few towels to insulate the foil package.  That is what folks mean when they say FTC on the Big Green Egg forum ("foil-towel-cooler").
  • Sauce - I usually don't put BBQ sauce on these at all.  I will do a finishing sauce just to drizzle on them as an enhancement.  I reduce 1 cup of beef stock and 1/2 to 1 teaspoon of rub to 2/3rds cup (about 10-15 minutes of simmering) and then thicken it with a little xantham gum if needed.  Baslamic vinegar reductions also work well.
  • Slicing - Your normal slicer knife will do fine, nothing complicated here.
  • Leftovers - Leftovers are best reheated by putting them in a container just big enough to hold the ribs, add some stock, and seal the top with foil.  Cook at 325°F until heated through and tender, about 35 minutes.  This way they taste almost as good as fresh.  Also you can pull and shred the meat with forks and use that meat for tacos, sloppy joes, chili, etc.

dino bones smoked on the big green egg kamado joe primo grill dome
The bones are straight so slice right down the middle.

ceramic grill smoked beef ribs
Nice smoke ring around the edges.

Tender, luscious, and my favorite rib by far.

Other Grills and Smokers

Offset Pits
When cooking beef ribs on my "Warthog" offset pit smoker, I get plenty of smoke flavor and smoke rings so I would just cook at a straight 275°F for about 2 hours per pound.  There isn't much moisture in the air compared to a kamado so I'd definitely use a water pan and spritz the meat every hour using a watered down version of the spritz I used above.

Kettle Grills
I'd use the typical indirect set up with liquid in the pan under the ribs to maintain a moist environment.  You would add your wood to the coal.  Same times and temps, just more frequent spritzing and you'll have to be adding fuel and smoke wood during the cook.

Gas Grills
Not ideal for smoking, because gas grills are designed to NOT be air tight - they are vented.  But the majority of people that grill use gas grills so I want to to include it here.  You would set your grill up like I did below for a rack of Memphis style baby back ribs.  Your foil pack of wood chips will go over the burner that is on, a liquid drip pan near the heated side, and your beef ribs will go on the opposite side.  You'll have to replace your wood chips hourly or so which will drop your temps so you may want to increase the cooking temps to 300°F or plan for a much longer cook.

My Char-Broil Gourmet TRU-Infrared 3 burner grill set up for smoking.  If you are going to use a gas grill for smoking, I'd recommend using one with Infrared technology like this one because in my experience, they don't dry out the meat like standard gas grills do.
[Standard FTC Disclaimer]  I received the Meat Church rub for free, I received the kettle grill for free as part of a promotion, and I received the Char-Broil TRU-Infrared as part of my compensation for being on their great All-Star Team.