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A Case for Grilled Short Ribs

By Lan Lam Published

With their rich marbling, intense beefiness, and satisfying chew, boneless beef short ribs can rival a rib eye on the grill—at about half the cost.

The best steaks for searing over hot coals are those that have enough fat and beefy flavor to support the smoky, charred aromas that the meat acquires during grilling. Meaty rib eyes and strip steaks fit the bill—but they are a real splurge. So what if I told you that there is an equally flavorful cut that will run you only about half as much? Boneless beef short ribs are ribboned with fat and grill up as juicy as can be, with a satisfying chew similar to that of flank or skirt steak.

The seams of fat that run through beef short ribs are responsible for the incredible flavor that they can achieve on a grill. As with any well-marbled steak, as the beef cooks, fatty acids form aromatic compounds. It’s these compounds that enhance the meat’s rich, beefy taste. Meanwhile, the proteins on the surface of the ribs brown and contribute roasty flavors. Finally, the fat-laden juices drip onto the coals, creating flare-ups that impart charred savoriness to the meat.

Recipe Grilled Boneless Beef Short Ribs

These beefy-tasting steaks need nothing more than a sprinkle of flake sea salt and a spritz of tart lemon juice, but they’re also terrific with a bold, bright sauce.

Making Short Work

To get my bearings, I reviewed several existing recipes. Many start with a marinade, which I rejected out of hand, since a marinade flavors only the surface of the meat and would be barely noticeable in a cut this thick. But I decided to give the grilling approach used by most recipes a test run. It’s the same technique that is often suggested for a rib-eye or strip steak: Sprinkle with salt and sear over hot coals until the meat reaches a rosy medium-rare, flipping it halfway through searing. But although boneless short ribs grilled this way had a deeply beefy taste, the meat was unevenly seasoned and rather chewy. What’s more, the short ribs’ blocky shape and roughly 11/2-inch thickness meant that by the time their centers were up to temperature, their exteriors were burnt. I knew that I could do a lot better.

The Skinny on Boneless Short Ribs: The Versatile Boneless Short Rib

Most of us have enjoyed meltingly tender boneless short ribs braised to about 195 degrees. So why is the same cut also good when grilled to only 130 degrees? It has to do with its high fat and collagen contents. Both melted fat and broken‑down collagen impart juiciness to meat. While long, slow braising breaks down most of the collagen, turning a short rib fall-apart tender, even quick, high-heat grilling will still break down some collagen, bolstering the juiciness of the meat.

  • A Confusing Cut

    Despite its name, the boneless short rib isn’t cut from the rib of a cow. Instead, it is cut from the area above the ribs closest to the chuck, or shoulder, of the animal, where most of the meat is made up of the heavily marbled serratus ventralis muscle.

Slicing Against the Grain

  • Meat is made up of bundles of muscle fibers that run parallel to one another. The fibers form a pattern that is referred to as the “grain”; it looks similar to wood grain. Slicing against the grain means cutting the fibers into shorter pieces. This makes tougher cuts such as boneless short ribs more pleasant to eat because shorter lengths of muscle fibers are easier to chew. It’s easy to cut boneless short ribs against the grain because the muscle fibers tend to run diagonally. That means that as long as you slice the meat lengthwise, you’ll be cutting against the grain.

I started by ensuring that the meat would be thoroughly seasoned, sprinkling 2½ teaspoons of kosher salt onto 2 pounds of boneless ribs that I’d cut into 3- to 4-inch lengths. I let the ribs sit for an hour—plenty of time for the sodium ions to penetrate deep into the muscle fibers. While they sat, I considered the best way to grill them.

I decided to try a method that we’ve used on the stovetop for other thick cuts of beef, pork chops, and even swordfish. It calls for repeatedly flipping the protein over high heat until it comes up to temperature. (Boneless short ribs are so thick and chunky that I’d need to grill them on all four sides, not just the top and bottom.) The upshot is that the interior warms evenly and gently, since each time the meat is flipped, the side not touching the pan (or the cooking grate in this case) cooks via residual heat, producing rosiness from edge to edge. Meanwhile, a rich, dark crust builds up gradually.

For the most tender results, we remove the short ribs from the grill when they register 130 degrees.

A Searing Success

To produce a concentrated area of heat, I spread hot coals over just one side of the grill. I then seared the ribs on each of their four sides for 2 to 3 minutes per side. But I soon realized that I wasn’t flipping them often enough. Boneless short ribs are not uniformly sized and some are tapered at one end, so a few were done after just three of their sides were browned. It was better to flip them every minute until they were well seared on all sides and had come up to temperature, checking the smaller ones early and often.

Serve the rich short ribs with a bright, bold sauce: Kimchi-Scallion Sauce (left); Preserved Lemon-Almond Sauce (right).

Speaking of temperature, to determine how high to take the ribs, I cooked half a batch to medium‑rare and the remainder to medium. A few years ago while working on a grilled skirt steak recipe, I learned that cooking tougher cuts to medium instead of medium‑rare causes the muscle fibers to shrink and separate, making the meat more tender—and in a well-marbled cut, the rendered fat makes up for any loss of juices. I suspected that short ribs would also benefit from this treatment.

Inside, after letting the ribs rest for 10 minutes, I sliced them thin against the grain to shorten the meat fibers—another trick to ensure that each bite is tender. Both samples were juicy and beefy, with deeply browned crusts, and just as I had suspected, the 130-degree ribs were more tender.

The Bright Side

I love these steaks with nothing more than a sprinkle of flake sea salt and a spritz of tart lemon juice to balance their richness, but they’re also terrific with a bold, bright sauce: I whipped up two that get their backbones from fermented products. The first features kimchi combined with a hit of fresh scallions; the second marries citrus and nuts in the form of tangy, floral preserved lemon and crunchy toasted almonds. No matter how you serve these steaks, I guarantee that you’ll be getting more than your money’s worth.

Recipe Grilled Boneless Beef Short Ribs

With their rich marbling, intense beefiness, and satisfying chew, boneless beef short ribs can rival a rib eye on the grill—at about half the cost.

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JC
JOHN C.
16 days

Absolutely the best chicken ever, even the breast meat was moist! It's the only way I'll cook a whole chicken again. Simple, easy, quick, no mess - perfect every time. I've used both stainless steel and cast iron pans. great and easy technique for “roasted” chicken. I will say there were no pan juices, just fat in the skillet. Will add to the recipe rotation. Good for family and company dinners too. I've done this using a rimmed sheet pan instead of a skillet and put veggies and potatoes around the chicken for a one-pan meal. Broccoli gets nicely browned and yummy!

Absolutely the best chicken ever, even the breast meat was moist! It's the only way I'll cook a whole chicken again. Simple, easy, quick, no mess - perfect every time. I've used both stainless steel and cast iron pans. great and easy technique for “roasted” chicken. I will say there were no pan juices, just fat in the skillet. Will add to the recipe rotation. Good for family and company dinners too.

MD
MILES D.
JOHN C.
9 days

Amazed this recipe works out as well as it does. Would not have thought that the amount of time under the broiler would have produced a very juicy and favorable chicken with a very crispy crust. Used my 12" Lodge Cast Iron skillet (which can withstand 1000 degree temps to respond to those who wondered if it would work) and it turned out great. A "make again" as my family rates things. This is a great recipe, and I will definitely make it again. My butcher gladly butterflied the chicken for me, therefore I found it to be a fast and easy prep. I used my cast iron skillet- marvellous!

CM
CHARLES M.
11 days

John, wasn't it just amazing chicken? So much better than your typical oven baked chicken and on par if not better than gas or even charcoal grilled. It gets that smokey charcoal tasted and overnight koshering definitely helps, something I do when time permits. First-time I've pierced a whole chicken minus the times I make jerk chicken on the grill. Yup, the cast iron was not an issue.