What are short ribs?
Short ribs are just what their name says they are — “short ribs” cut from any part along the length of the cow’s ribs. They can come from the lower belly section or higher up toward the back, from the shoulder (or chuck) area, or the forward midsection.
When we started testing short ribs, we went to the local grocery store and bought out their supply. What we brought back to the test kitchen were 2- to 4-inch lengths of wide flat rib bone, to which a rectangular plate of fatty meat was attached. We also ordered short ribs from the butcher. Imagine our confusion when these turned out to be long, continuous pieces of meat, about 3/4 inch thick, that had been cut across the ribs and grain and that included two or three segments of rib bone. The former, we learned, are sometimes called English-style short ribs, and the samples from the butcher are called flanken-style ribs.
We began by braising both types of ribs. The ones from the butcher were favored by most tasters because the relatively thin, across-the-grain cut made the meat more pleasant to eat; the supermarket ribs were a bit stringier because they contained longer segments of “grain.” Both types were equally tender and good, but considering the cost ($5.99 versus $2.99 per pound) and effort (special order) required to procure the butcher-cut specimens, we ultimately chose to develop our recipes to use the English-style.