From America's Test Kitchen
In Texas, good beef ribs are all about intense meat flavor—not just smoke and spice. The
barbecue chefs we’ve met get this flavor just right, thanks to the assistance of massive
electric smokers with automated temperature controls. But can a backyard cook replicate
this Lone Star classic without the help of special equipment? We were looking for a recipe
that would yield potent meat flavor with a bit of honest Texas chew—on our conventional-
We began by debating whether to trim the fatty membrane that runs along the back side
of the ribs. Surprisingly, the juiciest meat with the most flavor was accomplished by the
path of least resistance: simply leaving the membrane in place. The fat not only bastes
the ribs as they cook but also renders to a crisp, bacon-like texture. A simple mixture of
salt, pepper, cayenne, and chili powder rubbed into each rack was all that it took to bring
out the flavor of the meat. To turn our grill into a backyard smoker, we made a slow, even
fire with a single pile of coals on one side of the grill and kept the temperature in the
range of 250 to 300 degrees. A couple hours of slow cooking were enough to render
some of the fat and make the ribs juicy, tender, and slightly toothy. When cooked any
longer, as is the case with pork ribs, the meat disintegrates into messy shreds, taking on a
sticky, pot-roasted sort of texture that any real Texan would immediately reject.
For real Texas-style barbecue sauce to pair with our ribs, we pulled together the usual
ingredients—vinegar, onion, molasses, to name a few—with dry mustard and chipotle
chiles for spiciness. Savory Worcestershire sauce added depth while tomato juice (in place
of ketchup) provided tangy flavor and helped thin the sauce out.
It is important to use beef ribs with a decent amount of meat, not bony scraps; otherwise, the rewards of making this recipe are few. On a gas grill, leaving one burner on and turning the other(s) off simulates the indirect heat method on a charcoal grill. Use wood chips instead of wood chunks and a disposable aluminum pan to hold them. On a gas grill, it is important to monitor the temperature closely; use an oven thermometer set on the grate next to the ribs and check the temperature every 15 minutes. Try to maintain a 250- to 300-degree grill temperature by adjusting the setting of the lit burner.