You can’t just throw short ribs on the grill though – they’ll wind up inedibly tough, and you’ll be sad. Short ribs are the kind of cut that’s full of connective tissue holding the meat fibers together (collagen). If cooked quickly, collagen tightens up, making the meat tough – and squeezing out moisture so it’s dry too. Not fun. When cooked low and slow, however, all that collagen has the opposite effect, dissolving into gelatin, which makes the meat incredibly succulent and moist. The answer is to braise the ribs before grilling them, a process that has the added bonus of melting away a large percentage of the significant fat in the cut. (Don’t worry, though – there’s still enough fat to be utterly delicious.) For more information about where cuts of beef come from and the best cooking method for each cut, check out this cool infographic from Visual.ly.
Braising takes several hours, so is best done the day before you plan to grill. I do this in a pot in the oven, but I’ve been assured it works great in a slow-cooker, which would allow you much more freedom on the day before grill day. There’s a lot of waste with short ribs – the fat that cooks off, and the large bones – so cook about a pound of ribs per diner. If you have leftovers, no one will complain.
Braised and Grilled Beef Short Ribs with Sticky, Spicy Beer BBQ Sauce
Sprinkle 4 pounds of short ribs with salt and pepper. Heat 1 tablespoon of oil in a large Dutch oven, and brown the ribs in the oil. You want a deep brown crust on at least a couple of sides, since the main reason to do this is to get great caramelized flavor. You’ll need to do this in two or three batches so as not to crowd the meat.
When the ribs are browned and removed from the pan, toss in 1 sliced carrot and a quartered onion. Let them brown a little in the rendered fat, then nestle the ribs back in among the onion and carrot and add 1 bay leaf. Pour in 1 cup water and 1 cup chicken broth. If the ribs aren’t mostly covered with liquid, pour in more water until they are. Bring the mixture to a boil, then put on the lid and slip into a 275-degree oven. Bake for three to four hours, until the ribs are so tender you can easily pull off pieces of meat with a fork. (Alternately, cook in a slow cooker on low and go to work or whatever.)
When the ribs are tender, remove from the oven and let cool, then refrigerate overnight in their liquid.
On the day of grilling, remove the ribs from the liquid (which has now become a rich beef broth. Remove the fat from the top and save for another use) and scrape off any large chunks of fat on the outside. Heat your grill. Grill over medium heat, mopping often with Sticky, Spicy Beer BBQ Sauce or your favorite grill sauce, until well coated and lightly charred in spots and hot through. Eat with lots of napkins, some good friends, maybe a beer, and plenty of laughter.