Rich in fat and flavor, beef back ribs are perfect for barbecue smoking. Learn how to cook the best smoked beef back ribs with our easy recipe.
Beef back ribs might not be the first type of smoked ribs you think of when planning a barbecue platter, but once you give these a try you’ll never look back.
Served fresh off the smoker, these beef ribs are as tender and juicy as any other cut of barbecue meat. Best of all, they’re easy to smoke.
Learn how to cut them into shape and prepare them for the smoker with a dry brine, before matching them with the perfect dry rub and wood. Let’s get into it.
What are beef back ribs?
As the name might suggest, beef back ribs come from the rib primal region of the cow, specifically closer to the spine. They’re not to be confused with beef short ribs, which are from further down the rib cage and carry more meat on them.
Back ribs actually come from the same primal cut as prime rib and ribeye steak. If that’s got your attention, good. Back ribs have the same intense and delicious flavor and these two popular cuts, except in rib form.
How to prepare beef back ribs for smoking
Remove the membrane
If you have smoked any type of BBQ ribs before (either beef or pork), you’ll know that a big part of the meat prep is to remove the membrane. Also called silverskin, this thin layer sits on the underside of the ribs and will need removing. The membrane doesn’t render when cooked and, in fact, can turn rubbery. It’s practically inedible so we need to get rid of it.
Thankfully, removing the membrane from ribs is easy. Simple glide a blunt table knife under the membrane in one of the corners of the rib rack, and use a dry paper towel to get purchase on it. Slowly pull it away. With any luck, the entire thing will come away in one go. If not, you will need to keep going until the whole silverskin has come off.
Use meat scissors or a sharp knife to cut any other excess fat off the rack, and rinse the ribs clean with cold water. Finally, cut the rib rack into smaller single or double ribs before smoking. This will speed up cooking time, as well as allow the beef to cook more evenly and develop a beautiful brown color all over.
Dry brining helps with water retention during the cooking process, which better ensures a final plate of juicy and flavorsome BBQ ribs.
Apply coarse salt to the entire rib rack. Place in your refrigerator and leave for at least two to three hours. Overnight is also fine.
BBQ dry rub
For barbecue beef ribs we want a seasoning blend that is strong and robust enough to match the rich flavor of beef. Spicy or sweet mixes tend not to work very well, so I recommend my all-purpose coffee dry rub. It has a deep, earthy taste that improves when exposed to heat and smoke, and adds a nuanced and delicious note to most cuts of beef.
The dry rub ingredients are a simple blend of ground coffee, brown sugar, salt, cinnamon, and crushed black pepper. The key is to use instant coffee granules and not fresh. This might sound counterintuitive, but instant coffee is can stand up to high temperatures without turning bitter. The full ingredient list and measurements are in the recipe below.
Smoking times & temperatures
It will take approximately 3 to 5 hours to cook beef back ribs at 275°F, and for the internal temperature to reach 203°F. Time will vary depending on meat thickness and your smoker’s heat retention. Always use a smoker thermometer to ensure you get an accurate reading of your beef ribs’ doneness.
Ribs are safe to eat when they reach an internal temperature of 145°F (63°C), but they will still be tough. Smoking them to reach 203°F (96°C) allows the fat and collagen within the meat to render, giving you a more mouth-wateringly tender slab of ribs.
Best wood for smoking back ribs
I use a combination blend of oak and cherry for beef back ribs. Oakwood provides a deep flavor that complements the beef, while a hint of cherry adds a delicate sweet note. It also adds a (slight) touch of color!
Cooking with beef usually allows us to use strong smoking woods that are more pronounced in aroma. But, because there is less meat on this than other beef cuts like brisket or chuck, I recommend avoiding robust woods like hickory or mesquite.