The Best Inexpensive Steak for the Grill, Part 3: Short Ribs
The Koreans and the Argentineans know something that we don't: Short rib is the best cut of meat for grilling. In Korean restaurants, it's on the menu as kalbi. At most, you'll find the short ribs cut flanken-style—that is, thin slices cut across the ribs so you see a few rib cross-sections in each slice. At fancier restaurants, you'll the ribs served as a single bone, the meat carefully butterflied so that it stretches out into a long thin ship.
In Argentina, the cut is known as asado de tira, and it's served thick-cut, grilled on an open fire, and drizzled with an herb, oil, and vinegar-based chimichurri sauce.
You're probably most familiar with short ribs as a braised cut—meat that gets cooked for a long period of time in a wet environment until its internal connective tissue gelatinizes and the meat turns spoon-tender. This method is fine, but in my opinion, a distant second to grilling. More intensely beefy than a strip steak, more well-marbled than a rib-eye, far more flavorful than a tenderloin, thicker and meatier than a skirt or hanger, there's nothing—and I mean nothing*—better on the grill than a short rib.
*OKay, maybe a ribeye cap
Nothing, that is, when the short rib is prepared properly. Ancient Korean secret, eh? Here's how to do it.
Also Sold As: Kalbi (Korean), Jacob's Ladder (U.K., when cut across the bones), asado de tira (Argentina)
Where it's Cut From: The ribs. Short ribs can be cut numerous ways, but come from the area of the ribs a bit further down towards the belly than rib steaks or strip steaks (which come from closer up towards the back). When cut into long slabs with bone sections about 6 to 8-inches in length, they are referred to as "English cut." When sliced across the bones so that each slice receives four to five short sections of bone, they are known as "flanken style."
Like all meat, short ribs can vary in quality. The very best short ribs come from high up on the ribs, close to where ribeye steaks are cut from. The top 6 inches or so is what you're looking for. With steaks cut from this region, you'll find a bone about 6 inches long, 1 1/2 inches wide, and 1/2 inch thick along with a slab of meat sitting on top of it about an inch tall.
Some less scrupulous butchers will sell sections cut from much lower down on the rib as "short ribs." You'll recognize these by the skimpy amount of meat on them. Don't bother with these, they won't work at all (unless you've got a couple of hungry dogs). Look for meaty ribs with plenty of intramuscular fat known as marbling.
Either English or flanken cut will work just fine on the grill, but I personally prefer to buy my ribs English cut. This affords me the possibility to remove it from the bone into one, relatively thick steak, like this:
The bones are great for stock (or for dogs). If you can manage to find boneless short ribs, all the better. Simply slice them into individual steaks and you're good to go, no waste.
Because short ribs have such a high fat content—they are unforgivingly rich—they're a relatively fool-proof cut to work with. Intramuscular fat acts as an insulator, which means that they cook a bit slower, giving you a larger window of time to pull them off the grill at the desired level of doneness. While a lean cut like, say, a tenderloin might be in that perfect medium-rare sweet spot for a matter of seconds before it starts to overcook, with a short rib, you get a bit of extra leeway.
Because of its high fat content, I treat my short ribs much like I would a high-end Japanese Wagyu-style steak. That is, whether you like your regular steaks rare or well done, I very strongly suggest cooking your short ribs to medium-rare—about 130°F. Any cooler than that and the intramuscular fat will remain solid and waxy, rather than unctuous and juicy. Much hotter and the fat will start leaking out copiously, making your ribs tough and dry.
Short ribs cook best over a hot but not blazing hot fire. Like all things, fat has a tendency to burn when it gets too hot. If you were to cook your ribs over an inferno, that excess fat would vaporize, leaving a foul-tasting sooty deposit on the surface of your meat. A moderately hot fire is best. You should aim to have the short ribs cooked through to the center exactly as the exterior becomes deep brown and crusty.
Flavorings, Slicing, and Serving
I prefer my steak the Argentine way: cooked with nothing but salt and pepper, perhaps served with a nice sauce. There is, however, something to be said about Korean-style kalbi, although to be honest, I've found that the nicer the restaurant and the higher the quality of the meat, the less likely you are to see an over-marinated steak.
Short rib is a bit touger than the premium cuts of meat, so once again, slicing thinly against the grain before serving (or at least instructing your diners to do as much) is the way to go.
Trust me. Once you've tried short rib on the grill, you will never want to ruin it by braising it in the oven again. At least not until the winter comes.
Get The Recipes!
- Tender Grilled Short Ribs »
- Argentinean-Style Grilled Short Ribs With Chimichurri »
- Chimichurri »
- Galbi (Korean-style Marinated Grilled Short Ribs) »
About the author: J. Kenji Lopez-Alt is the Chief Creative Officer of Serious Eats where he likes to explore the science of home cooking in his weekly column The Food Lab. You can follow him at @thefoodlab on Twitter, or at The Food Lab on Facebook.