I keep telling people there’s two types of BBQ, what the restaurant sells to customers and what the kitchen eats. And what the kitchen eats is always light years better. That’s because the kitchen can afford to make things for themselves that simply don’t scale in labor or food cost to have on the front menu.
Case in point, if your BBQ restaurant serves Beef Back ribs, no one in the kitchen is going to eat chopped brisket. One of the greatest secrets about BBQ beef is how much more tender and flavorful rib meat is over brisket. So why doesn’t everyone eat ribs then? Well first off as far as an eating exercise beef ribs are messy and don’t yield a lot of meat per rib. Second of all, going the route of shaving or peeling the meat off every bone is simply too labor intensive (it can take 30 minutes just to yield a properly trimmed and chopped pound of rib meat, and the person doing it has to know just how much fat to trim over keeping enough to make the meat flavorful and moist.)
But after hours when the customers have left and there’s a couple of racks of ribs left that will otherwise go to waste? Well….Let me tell you how to enjoy this for yourself. With a little time and effort you’ll be eating like the kings of BBQ: The kitchen staff.
I prepared 24 pounds of this recently for a private event among friends, not only did they devour it all the general opinion was it was the best meat many of them had ever had. I can’t claim to have invented this. I can only claim to have benefitted from 5 years Texas BBQ restaurant experience.
2 racks of grass fed Beef Back Ribs. (You don’t *have* to do grass fed, but it’s healthier and more "beefy" in its flavor. The downside is less soft fat. You can absolutely use normal store bought beef back ribs and have a great experience)
12-16 ounces of your favorite sweet BBQ sauce. (For the purposes of this recipe I usually use Sweet Baby Ray’s Sweet and Spicy sauce. WARNING: Contains HFCS but it’s one of the few times it’s worth it)
4-6 ounces brown or yellow mustard.
First off let the meat sit at room temperature for 30 minutes, then peel the membrane of tough fat off the backside of the ribs. It should come off in a clean rib-wide strip less than a mm in thickness but you might have to work at it.
Next, rub that meat thoroughly with the rub. Allow it to sit another 30 minutes. The meat will sweat a bit over time, allowing the rub to adhere to the surface a bit better. While the meat is resting with the rub, combine the mustard and BBQ sauce in a bowl and mix thoroughly. We’re adding mustard here to give it a South Texas style flavor. Don’t worry if you don’t like mustard, combined with the sweet sauce the final product after slow cooking on the meat is very subtle, especially after we chop it all up.
Now delicately spoon half the sauce all over the meat, using the back of the spoon to spread it around, DO NOT USE A BRUSH. We’re not looking to brush our rub off, but at the same time we’re going to go so low and slow with this meat that spooning a thin layer of sauce all over the top of the rub at the beginning actually creates a kind of moist crust over time when its cooking.
Ok the meat should be covered in a very thin layer of sauce. Set your oven to 170. That’s right, the oven. You can absolutely use a smoker if you wish, it will make things about 5-10% better flavor wise but adds a lot of work tending it properly. Beef ribs don’t need the smoke preservation that pork ribs do to cook them so low and slow, and unlike baby back pork ribs I find overly smoked beef to be a distraction flavor wise. This is one of the reasons I cannot stand “Smoked Prime Rib” or “Smoked Tenderloin”. To each their own if you enjoy such things, if you do please use a smoker in this recipe and you’ll be pleased.
Now let those ribs cook for 7 to 8 hours, checking once or twice just to make sure the low and slow isn’t drying them out. Note that you can go even longer if you wish. At the four hour mark you can choose to apply more sauce, but what I prefer to do, since some fat is rendering slowly at the point, is spoon the fat/sauce/rub drippings onto the meat and massage it in with the back of the spoon.
At roughly the 7 hour mark the exterior should look like it has a moist saucy crust from the rub and sauce, here it is safe to *lightly* spoon or brush 1/2 of the remaining sauce, but keep a quarter of the prepared total on hand. We’re going to need it later. In other words at this point you should have used 3/4’s of the prepared sauce. You should also notice the ribs have changed significantly and peeled far back from the ends of the bones, almost like braised short ribs.
Let the ribs cook for another hour, bringing our cooking time to somewhere between 8 and 9 hours (it can go longer as long as the meat is moist). Take them out and let them rest for 20 minutes.
At the 20 minute mark, with some sharp meat scissors and a good fork and knife set, separate the ribs. Then take the individual ribs and shave the meat off the bone with a knife, you can use your hands to get the stuff at the end of the bone. You want to lose some fat here, but not too much. You also want to avoid mixing in the tougher membrane on the “fat” side of the rib wherever possible. As a general rule I like to reduce the fat by about 50% or so from what it would be if I just ate the meat off the ribs, so some trimming is going to be required. After 30 minutes or so you should have a nice pile of picked meat. Chop to your desired fineness either for sandwiches or eating on its own, then mix in the remainder of the sauce to taste or for moistness. You’ll want to then put the meat into a warming oven if you plan to eat it soon, or seal it and prep to reheat in the oven at 170 again for when you are ready to serve it so that the moistness is perfect.
If everything has gone well your first bite will be a revelation. Properly done, rib meat can be wonderfully tender. Slow cooked over 9 hours with a nice rub and sauce then chopped and mixed up yields the most succulent melt-in-your-mouth beef with a much more choice flavor than brisket, such that while you would never give up good sliced brisket, it might be knocked down a notch in your favorite beef BBQ sandwich list.
Oh and did I mention the whole experience can be achieved for about 1/2 the price of a large brisket? The painful part is the skill required to shave the meat off the bone in such a way that you don’t end up with an overly fatty mess, and the labor in prepping the rack and trimming it. It’s messy and takes a lot of time vs simply slicing brisket with a meat processor.
Best part? Not only do you have amazing meat, you have roasted rib bones all cleaned off and ready to make beef stock out of!