It’s almost the 4th of July- AKA, barbecue season! Do we agree that barbecues are the perfect meal, the only way to celebrate summer? Yes? Good! Let’s begin.
What do your barbecues look like? Are they a carnivorous feast? Do you dole out fat slices of watermelon as guests arrive? We usually begin with lots of grilled vegetables; kebabs of juicy summer squash, burst tomatoes, and lately, thyme marinated grilled zucchini. Often, there’s a potato salad in attendance (we like mayo + herbs!) my mother’s cold pesto pasta, and cobs of corn that are fresh off the grill.
When it comes to meat, we’re all over that, too. Sausages, sticky sweet chicken wings, and fresh burgers (my mom uses ice water to keep them moist) are constants throughout the summer, and steak is always welcome, too, especially when topped with a nice amount of smoked, flaky salt. We end with classic desserts: chocolate chip cookies, vanilla ice cream, fresh berries, and often, a pie or a cobbler.
Sounds good? It is. But until now, our barbecues weren’t complete. They weren’t complete because they didn’t have ribs; specifically, these ribs.
To be fair, ribs are slightly confusing. There are countless (expensive) varieties, different ways to cook them, and usually, they take a fair amount of time from start to finish. They always intimidated me, and the thought of ruining them kept me from trying them out- until now. With barbecue season in full swing, and the meat aisle as perplexing as ever, I decided to finally wise up about ribs and attempt them myself.
A few hours and one trip to the butcher later, we had these ribs. The softest, tenderest, short ribs, and guess what? They don’t even need a grill. That’s right! Instead, they are rubbed with a spicy, herbed dry rub, seared in a hot pan until gorgeously caramelized and then braised in a pan of beef stock for a few hours, like all good short ribs.When they’re done, they’re treated like a rack of ribs: basted with a bourbon-y, homemade barbecue sauce and then broiled to perfection.
While they braised away, I made a slaw: simple, with a refreshing, vinegary bite to complement the spicy, sweet richness of the ribs, this slaw only gets better as it sits and soaks up flavors, making it perfect for a dish like this.
Together, the ribs and the slaw will be the stars of your barbecue; they will leave you with sticky-sweet fingers, big grins, and as you will quickly discover, the most flavorful ribs of your life, ones that are tender, spicy and beefy. I think you should make these for your weekend barbecue (do it, do it! Also: fries and cold beer!) but they are just as good on a random Wednesday night, and even delicious a day or two later.
Trust me on this one. I know you won’t regret it. Happy almost Independence Day!
Yield: 6-7 servings
Slaw recipe via Smitten Kitchen Cookbook
Why I love this recipe: these beef short ribs are treated like traditional short ribs in the beginning, with a spicy and fragrant dry rub, and a long, slow braise in beef stock, but they’re finished like a rack of ribs: basted and broiled in a homemade barbecue sauce. The sauce is sweet, spicy and tangy, thanks to vinegar, bourbon, molasses and my secret addition: sumac, which adds a sour, slightly fruity note. Served with a cold, refreshing slaw, these ribs are what barbecue dreams are made of.
Notes: beef ribs are sold in a variety of cuts, the most popular being back ribs (sometimes sold as baby back ribs, on a rack, not very meaty, best for grilling or smoking), spare ribs (similar to back ribs, but meatier and from a different section, sold on a rack or separated into pieces) and short ribs (the leanest choice, with a delicious, beefy flavor, best braised), which are sold in two cuts: flanken, or English.
Flanken ribs are thin and cut across the bone, so each piece contains a few thin, round medallions of bone. They are most often used in Korean barbecue. English cut ribs, which are what I used here, are cut parallel to the bone, leaving you with a thick piece of meat atop each bone. Since they’re so full of meat, they’re best braised, which makes them fall-off-the-bone tender. Buy them thick, if you can, so they’re less fatty and more succulent. Don’t try to substitute these for boneless short ribs: bone-in ribs are a lot more flavorful and will taste better.
Variation: on the grill: instead of finishing these under the broiler, grill them in the sauce, on high heat for a few minutes on each side, until they’re sticky and caramelized. Just be careful as they’ll be very tender and prone to falling apart! (This is a good thing.
For the Bourbon BBQ Ribs:
- 4 lbs. beef short ribs, English cut
- 12 cups beef stock
- dry spice rub, recipe below
- bourbon barbecue sauce, recipe below
For the dry spice rub:
- 1/4 cup coffee
- 3 tablespoons chili powder
- 3 tablespoons onion powder
- 1 tablespoon dried dill weed
- 3 tablespoons garlic powder
- 2 tablespoons kosher salt
- 2 tablespoons freshly ground black pepper
- 3 tablespoons cumin
- 6 tablespoons dark brown sugar
- 1 tablespoon dried basil
- 1 tablespoon oregano
- 2 teaspoons rosemary
- 1 teaspoon thyme
- 2 tablespoons smoked paprika
- 1 tablespoon sumac
For the bourbon barbecue sauce:
- 1 cup ketchup
- 1 cup tomato sauce
- 1/3 cup bourbon
- 1/3 cup apple cider vinegar
- 2 tablespoons molasses
- 1 tablespoon soy sauce
- 1 tablespoon teriyaki sauce
- 2 tablespoons dark brown sugar
- 2 teaspoons fine sea salt
- 1 teaspoon sumac
- 1/2 teaspoon chili powder
- 1/4 teaspoon cayenne pepper
For the cucumber vinegar slaw:
- 1 medium head cabbage cored and thinly shredded
- 1 large English cucumber, thinly sliced
- 2 tablespoons fresh dill, finely chopped
- 1/2 cup white wine vinegar
- 2 tablespoons salt
- 4 tablespoons sugar
- 1/2 cup cold water
- Preheat the oven to 400º.
- In a medium bowl, combine all the spice rub ingredients. Rub the ribs all over with the spice rub.
- Preheat a grill, grill pan or a large saute pan and rub with oil. Once the pan/grill is hot and smoking, add the ribs and sear until browned on all sides, four minutes per side.
- Fill two roasting pans halfway with beef stock, around 6 cups each. Sprinkle any remaining spice rub in with the stock.
- Place the ribs in the pans, with the meat side up and the bones curving down. Cover tightly with foil and cook for 4-5 hours, checking periodically for done-ness after 4 hours.
- As the ribs cook, make the slaw. It gets better as it sits, so you’ll want a few hours for the flavors to meld together. Whisk together the dressing ingredients and stir in the 1/2 cup water.
- Toss with the cabbage and cucumber, then let sit in refrigerator until the ribs are ready.
- Now, make the barbecue sauce. In a medium pot, combine the ketchup, bourbon, vinegar, molasses, honey, soy sauce and teriyaki sauce. Bring the ingredients to a boil.
- Lower the flame and add in the sugar, salt, sumac, chili powder and cayenne pepper. Bring to a boil again and let it boil until it reduces slightly, taking care not to let it burn. Remove from heat when done.
- When the ribs are tender and cooked through, remove them from the stock and gently place them on a clean cookie sheet.
- Heat the broiler on high. Slather the ribs, still with the meaty side up, with a generous amount of the barbecue sauce. Broil for about 2-3 minutes until the sauce begins to bubble and caramelize.
- Remove the ribs from the oven, flip them so the meaty side is down, and repeat as above, broiling again, this time for 3-4 minutes.
- Serve with slaw, french fries, smoked sea salt and extra barbecue sauce. And maybe some bourbon. Enjoy!