The Other Red Meat

Beef Ribs: BBQ's Next Big Deal

The only thing tastier than a perfectly barbecued brisket...

By Robb Walsh September 19, 2013

NAMP 130 beef chuck ribs--also known as short ribs, flanken ribs or Korean short ribs

Don't miss the beef ribs at Killen's BBQ pop-up in Pearland this weekend.

Beef ribs are getting more popular among the barbecue cognescenti, and Ronnie Killen is doing amazing things with these underappreciated cuts. It's all about the flavor: a well-cooked beef rib is just as succulent as a perfectly cooked brisket, but with a softer, silkier texture.

In Korean barbecue, sliced and marinated short ribs (galbi or kalbi) are rated alongside ribeye (bulgogi) as the best cuts of beef. Top chefs raised the profile of braised beef ribs in restaurants and that popularity spilled over into the realm of Texas barbecue. 

"I think they have become popular because they have so much meat on them. Before the barbecued beef ribs were always dry and chewy," says Ronnie Killen. "Now, cooked right, they are like the fatty end of the brisket but without all the fat." Killen's is cooking two varieties of ribs—the shorter ones are served on barbecue plates, and the big ones are sold by the pound. Since the big ones run from a pound and a half to two pounds, they are best eaten family style—one rib serves two or three people.

NAMP 123A beef plate rib (left) and NAMP 130 beef chuck ribs (right) at Killen's pop-up BBQ in Pearland

I have had some wonderful beef ribs over the years. Gonzales Food Store used to serve crispy smoked square-cut short ribs, but discontinued them. Crosstown BBQ in Elgin did an amazing job with the giant ones—before they went out of business. But Ronnie is right; beef ribs used to be the worst bet on the barbecue menu. Now, they've moved into the spotlight. 

It was the super-moist, perfectly cooked Flintstone-style beef ribs served by rock star pitmaster Justin Fourton at Pecan Lodge in Dallas that really put the beef rib back on the table in Texas. Once people tried the Pecan Lodge version, they couldn't get enough.

Fourton was a guest pitmaster at the Foodways Texas Barbecue Summer Camp at Texas A&M Meat Science center last year, and he shared some tips about cooking them. (It's not as easy as it looks.) Don't be surprised if beef ribs turn up at your favorite Texas barbecue joint soon. 

The two big problems with beef ribs are the inconvenient serving size and the confusing nomenclature. The subject of beef short ribs is a rabbit hole that we won't venture into here. The ribs can come from three different parts of the animal and are cut in an endless variety of shapes and sizes. The short ribs in the meat case at the grocery store might be any one of these.

Ronnie Killen has resorted to using the numbers from the North American Meat Association's meat buyers' guide to specify which ones he is talking about. The smaller ones are called chuck short ribs (NAMP 130), and they are easily carved into just the right size for a single serving. The giant ones are called plate short ribs (NAMP 123A), and Killen's sells these by the pound. The 123A Ronnie Killen is holding in the photo weighs a pound and half—at $12 a pound, that's an $18 beef rib. 

Killen's pop-up barbecue stand at 3613 E. Broadway in Pearland will be open Saturday and Sunday from 11 a.m. until the 'cue runs out—usually around 2 p.m.


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