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.
Traditionally, beef back ribs will taste just like steak. You can’t get rid of the beef taste that easily! The high-fat content gives beef back ribs a melt-in-the-mouth texture. When they are smoked, they absorb the taste of the wood used to smoke them, which is why you need to be deliberate about the type of wood you use. Smoking them also enhances the beef flavor.
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. Dry brining back ribs is necessary if you want to make sure that they are correctly salted. Also, when you brine your ribs, you help them retain moisture. When you brine the ribs, it also helps to cut the cooking time slightly. You must cook ribs low and slow on the smoker. Brining will help speed this process along without compromising the quality and taste of the back 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.
While some may be okay with brining for between 1 and 2 hours, this process can be done overnight to ensure that they soak up the flavors and also that you get the maximum benefits.
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.
Beef back ribs vs short ribs
Beef back ribs are longer than short ribs. They differ in that they are taken from the cow. Short ribs are taken from the beef plate. Beef back ribs are taken from the cow’s rib section closest to the spine. The other difference between the two is that they require different cooking methods.
Back ribs are better off grilled, braised, roasted, or grilled. They have higher fat content, and therefore they do very well on the fire. But if fat is not what you are after, then back ribs may not be what you need to be getting.
On the other hand, short ribs are better off braised, and they are less fatty. This also means that they are healthier. If you want to grill short ribs, you will need to make sure that they are braised first. As much as they have their differences, they are also a great source of protein, vitamins, and nutrients.
Side dish ideas
Once they are done, you will probably be looking for the best way to serve your ribs. Smoked beef back ribs go well with several sides. You can serve them with smoked baked beans, simmered such that they are bursting with flavor. Cooking them the night before helps bring this about.
Another side that you can choose to have with beef back ribs is macaroni and cheese casserole. It will take you about 30 minutes to bake and is a hearty side. You can also pair the ribs with grilled baby potatoes and dill. This won’t just be a filling side, but it will also be pretty to look at. Make sure to keep the inside fluffy as the outside is crispy.
If you’re looking for something different, you can make Italian pasta salad to go with the ribs. This salad doesn’t have mayonnaise but rather has Italian dressing, keeping it light and complementing the ribs’ taste. It’s easy to make and can be made in a matter of minutes. So when your ribs are about to be done, you can toss your ingredients for the salad together and chill it in the fridge.
If you’re looking for a more crispy taste, you may like to pair the ribs with southern hush puppies, which are deep-fried cornmeal dough. The batter is made of buttermilk, and this gives a soft interior and a crispy exterior.
Should I wrap beef back ribs when smoking?
There are two sides to wrapping ribs in foil or butcher paper. The paper can limit the amount of smoke that goes into the meat. This is good in that it also helps you control the color and the flavor of the meat. Wrapping in butcher’s paper, also known as parchment paper, also helps to seal in moisture and keep the ribs tender.
The other reason why you need to be wrapping up your ribs is that it helps speed up the process by isolating the temperatures. However, it is essential to make sure that you wrap them at the right time.
Got any burning questions about where to start with smoking beef back ribs? Our frequently asked questions are here to help.
Why are my beef ribs tough?
If your beef back ribs are too tough, there’s a high chance that you did not cook them long enough and also that they did not reach the right internal temperature. If you cook on high heat and for a short amount of time, there’s a chance you will end up with chewy ribs. Be deliberate about the temperature and the amount of time that you cook them for.
The other reason why they may turn out dry and chewy may be because you would have left the membrane in, which is found at the back of the ribs. Proper preparation is key and may help you avoid winding up with dry and chewy ribs.
Is it possible to get a smoke ring on beef back ribs?
Yes, it is possible. You will simply need to know how to smoke the ribs so that you get the smoke ring. Remember that increasing the amount of smoke will not necessarily mean that you will get a better smoke ring. This is a common misconception; however, you may find it challenging to create a smoke ring using an electric smoker. Complicated does not mean impossible, though.
If you want to get a good smoke ring, make sure the meat is properly prepared. Make sure to remove excess fat, which hinders the carbon monoxide and nitric acid from traveling through the meat to get to the parts with the required myoglobin to make the smoke ring.
What’s the best way to tenderize beef ribs?
You can have tender ribs by using a few hacks as you smoke them. You can use foil to help seal in the moisture and marinades you would have used to infuse even more flavor into the ribs.