Those who know me (even a little bit) know that I love pork in practically all of its glorious forms. I even created a t-shirt to make my feelings about pork perfectly clear. That said, when it comes to ribs, there’s really no contest: beef back ribs are king. Don’t get me wrong, I think baby back ribs are great and even spareribs can be good if done well. But they don’t hold a candle to really good beef back ribs.
Here’s the thing: beef back ribs are big and hearty and if you prepare them properly, they have the perfect balance of lean meat and fat. Baby backs are exceedingly porkalicious and super tender, but they’re small and often too lean, while spareribs are often too tough and fatty. And size really does matter…it’s like why I prefer king crab to Dungeness crab: if I’m going to put that much effort into making/eating something, I might as well go for the greater stuff-to-effort ratio.
Not many prefer beef ribs to pork ribs. In fact, I’ve found that a lot of people (a) don’t like beef ribs at all, (b) don’t know beef ribs exist (as a delicacy, not as an anatomical entity), or (c) don’t know what kind of ribs they’re eating. Consequently, not that many BBQ restaurants offer beef ribs*. Furthermore, many of the restaurants that do offer beef ribs don’t make them very well (typical offenses include tough meat and complete charring). The best beef ribs I’ve ever eaten are at the Naples Rib Company in Long Beach. Two other places that make good beef ribs are Lucille’s BBQ and Claim Jumper. Pretty much every other establishment I’ve tried makes mediocre-to-terrible beef ribs.
The three restaurants I just mentioned are mostly in Southern California…a bit of a drive for san mateo pete. Fortunately, I’ve come up with a pretty good and fairly simple recipe for beef back ribs, which I now humbly share with you.
Barbecue Beef Ribs
- 3 beef back ribs (~1.5 lbs) per person. I typically buy them from Safeway or Piazza’s Fine Foods. Frozen is fine, but they should be completely thawed when you begin. Note: not short ribs!
- Barbecue sauce. Any decent quality sauce(s) should do, but I like to use a mixture of approximately equal parts Sweet Baby Ray’s (Original) Barbecue Sauce and Stubb’s Spicy Barbecue Sauce. One 18 0z. bottle of each should cover you for up to ~15 ribs.
- Fresh ground pepper
- Hot sauce, if desired. Crystal or Tabasco will do.
- If the ribs are in a full rack, cut them apart so that you have individual ribs.
- Trim excess fat and remove as much of the membrane from the bottom side as possible. You want some fat, but not too much: think flecks and rivers of marbled fat, not huge deposits of it.
- Parboil for 10 minutes and drain.
- Pre-heat oven to 275˚F.
- Mix barbecue sauces in a large bowl. Add pepper and hot sauce to taste. Like a good bourbon, the result should be a sweet and spicy mixture. (After burning my wife’s lips once or twice, I stopped using hot sauce. Stubb’s and ground pepper will provide plenty of spice.)
- Generously cover each rib with sauce by dipping it the bowl.
- Bake covered in baking pan for 75 minutes.
- Pre-heat grill and set to low flame.
- Remove ribs from the pan and grill for 15 minutes, basting with sauce before you start and again mid-way through. Be very vigilant — the sugar in the barbecue sauce causes it to burn easily. Finished ribs should be saucy and slightly singed.
- Alternative to the grilling step: remove cover, baste with sauce, and bake uncovered for 30 minutes, basting again mid-way through.
* I’m talking about BBQ beef back ribs, not braised short ribs or Korean-style cross-cut ribs.