A reformed vegetarian has a go at low and slow
Until recently, when I thought “ribs,” I harked back to the somewhat crunchy, dry, pain-in-the-ass ribs from my childhood which had been cooked over a charcoal grill in a relatively short period of time. Gnawing the tough meat off the bone seemed like too much work for too little reward. Why bother?
Well, thank goodness for motorcycles, because on the road I learned what Real BBQ tastes like.
For those of you who don’t give a hoot about my history with BBQ, just scroll on down to the recipe itself.
Having traveled all over this amazing country of ours (boy howdy do long-distance motorcyclists love their BBQ,) I’ve been fortunate enough to sample Proper Barbecue from many BBQ joints large and small, in Florida, North and South Carolina, Texas, Kansas, Missouri, Michigan, Arkansas, Oregon, Washington, Pennsylvania, Nebraska, and more. From Mom and Pop walk-ups, to fancy BBQ restaurants, to trucks at the side of the road with portable smokers, to professionally-catered BBQ dinners with tow-behind pits as big as my living room. I have sampled a lot of barbecue over the years.
The best stuff seems to come from the smallest joints, too. But as the saying goes, “there’s really no such thing as bad BBQ.”
Then, in 2004, I became a complete vegetarian. This caused my BBQ adventures to come to a screeching halt. I recall one time, in particular, it was nearly physically painful to refrain from indulging myself at a tiny roadside BBQ diner in Fredericksburg, Texas, where my companions had fat and juices dripping off their chins onto the napkins tucked into their collars, while I ate cole slaw and potato salad. The aroma wafting in from the kitchen was nigh unbearable, but my personal ethics won out.
Now, here in 2012, I’m eating chicken and beef again, thanks to a local, organic, humane, pastured animals farm. This means BBQ is once again a part of my life – woohoo!
The Low and Slow Philosophy
Pit masters’ personalities range far and wide, just like their fare; some will talk all day, interjecting colorful regional idioms, while others mostly grunt and keep to themselves. However. Any pit master from any part of the world will tell you the same thing about BBQ: “Keep it low and slow.”
“Low and slow” refers to cooking the meat at low temperatures over a long period of time, slowly, slowly, slowly. For some, “slowly” might be 8 hours; for others, several days. It all depends upon the type of meat, the method of cooking, and the desired result. The low temperature could come from a smoker, an oven, a slow cooker, an outdoor grill, or the coals of a low fire built over a pot underground.
The low temperature gives the collagen in tougher cuts of meat time to break down under the heat and acid, and allows the meat to absorb the add-in flavors. If you’re interested in the science behind “low and slow,” this page offers a lot of excellent information.
While I don’t eat meat on the road anymore, I can at least make delectable slow-cooked meat products here at home, and this here beef short ribs recipe is top-notch.
This “low and slow” recipe borders on the lightning-fast, because it’s done in only 8 hours. You can use a crock pot or a large dutch oven; I’ve used both and they each work wonderfully.
A word about ingredients
I don’t have the time, energy, or tomatoes to make my own ketchup or barbecue sauce. I buy it at the store. The Engineir is a 100% KC Masterpiece sort of guy, but I like other sauces – namely those without high-fructose corn syrup. One of my favorites is Stubb’s. For today’s batch, I used about 75% Stubbs Smokey Mesquite and 25% Roadhouse Jalapeno and Hickory “Texas Tango.”
There are so many benefits to pastured beef, it would be impossible to coherently add them to this post (which is already far too long, right?) Thus, I’ll simply include a link to a related post, which includes a PDF outlining the benefits of pastured meat.
Using the best quality ingredients you can find and afford truly makes a difference, not only better health, but also in taste and satiety.
The “Yer Damn Skippy” Beef Short Ribs Recipe, Finally
Please consider this recipe to be a “base formula;” you can vary the ingredients six ways from Sunday for a bunch of different dishes, and I’ll give you some suggestions at the bottom. If you have less than 6 pounds of ribs, you can still use the same amount of the rest of the ingredients; you just won’t need to top it off with broth or water.
There is only one “Don’t” with this recipe: Don’t rush the cook time! Low and slow yields tender, juicy, melt-in-your-mouth ribs, while higher temperatures and a shorter cooking time will mean tougher, less awesome meat.
6 pounds beef short ribs (organic, grass-fed preferred) cut into manageable lengths (3-4″)
1 cup barbeque sauce ( or ketchup, if that’s what you’ve got – but spice it up a bit)
1 large or 2 small onions, chopped as you like them
3 cloves garlic, chopped or sliced
A glug of butter, ghee, olive oil, or your favorite sauteeing fat
3 tablespoons soy sauce, tamari, or balsamic vinegar
3 tablespoons apple cider vinegar
1/4 cup pure maple syrup (or sucanat, or rapadura, or molasses, or if you must, white or brown sugar)
1 tablespoon hot pepper flakes (or not)
Arrange the ribs in a single layer on the broiler pan. Place under the broiler until well-browned on the first side, then turning to brown the remaining sides. This process not only develops a deep, rich flavor, but also help to remove some of the excess fat so the end result is not overly-greasy. Short ribs are a very fatty cut, and while we whole foodies know fat is good for us, there’s a line when too much fat becomes unpleasant.
While the ribs are browning, cut up the onion (chopped, sliced, diced, whatever you prefer,) and heat up the fat. If you’re using a crock pot for your main cooking vessel, you’ll of course want to use another pan for the saute. However, if you’re using a Dutch oven, you can saute the onion right in there. This will preserve the yummy browned bits on the bottom and add them to the final product.
Saute the onion with the hot pepper flakes until soft and translucent. Add in the chopped garlic and saute for one additional minute, stirring continuously so the garlic doesn’t burn. Add in the 1 cup of barbecue sauce, 3 tablespoons acid (vinegar, soy sauce, tamari, et cetera,) 1/4 cup maple syrup, and the apple cider vinegar. Stir to incorporate and bring to a simmer.
When the sauce is bubbling and the ribs are fully-browned on all sides, transfer the ribs (patting them down with a towel to remove drippings if you like,) into the crock pot or Dutch oven, arranging to fit as necessary.
If the tops of the ribs poke out of the sauce, you can top off the mixture with broth, more BBQ sauce, or even water if you like. I’m including the photo below to show new whole foodies what proper beef bone broth looks like when chilled – it looks like set gelatin, because that’s exactly what it is.
Compare the nutritional value of this beef broth to that of the thin, dead, canned stuff at the store, and you’ll be amazed. As a side note, you can reserve the bones from these ribs and use them to make a new batch of bone broth.
Onwards! We’re almost done.
If using a crock pot, put the whole deal on low heat and walk away for 8 hours.
If using a Dutch oven, bring to a simmer, then reduce the heat to a very low setting that will continue a gentle simmer – we don’t want a boil. Walk away for an hour, then check to make sure you got the temperature right. If you didn’t, readjust and come back 30 minutes later to recheck. If you did, walk away for another seven hours.
When your eight hours are up, you will have in that cooking vessel some of the tenderest, most to-die-for, tastiest ribs you’ve ever laid upon your taste buds. Yer damn skippy.
If you’d like to go the extra mile and really wow your dinner guests, bring the remaining sauce to a boil and reduce to a glaze to serve over veggies, potatoes, et cetera.
Serve with greens sauteed in fat with just a hint of nutmeg, with corn on the cob, over rice, with mashed garlic potatoes, with green veggies, with sweet potato fries – you name it!
- Asian – Use peanut, Schezuan, miso, or teriyaki sauce (or a combination) in place of the barbecue sauce, and use soy sauce or tamari (gluten-free soy sauce) for all of the acid (6 tablespoons total, replacing the soy sauce and apple cider vinegar,) and use peanut oil for the saute. During the last hour of cook time, you could add in sliced bok choy, water chestnuts, sliced carrots, baby corn, mushrooms, broccoli – anything you might find in a stir-fry. Sauteing these veggies before adding them to the main cooking vessel will enhance their flavor. Serve over rice, possibly next to a salad with ginger dressing or kimchee.
- Cowboy – Add pre-soaked but uncooked pinto, great northern, or other similarly-sized beans at the beginning of the cook time, 1 teaspoon liquid smoke, 1/2 cup coffee (or 1 teaspoon espresso powder,) and add an additional 1/2 cup of liquid of your choosing. Cooking over an open campfire optional. Serve over mashed potatoes, or next to oven-baked ones.
- Face-melter – Double or triple the volume of dried hot pepper flakes, and/or add in some sliced, pickled hot peppers at the beginning of the cook time. Double or triple the garlic, too. Consider adding some horseradish.
- Curried – Instead of the BBQ sauce, use a combination of broth and full-fat coconut milk, and omit the maple syrup. Saute the onion in coconut oil. Add in 4 – 10 tablespoons of your favorite curry powder or paste, 1 teaspoon of pepper, and 1 teaspoon of natural salt. Add in 2 tablespoons of grated, fresh, peeled ginger. Halfway through the cooking time, sample the broth to ensure the level of spice is where you’d like it to be, and add more if necessary. Quarter some potatoes and add them in at the halfway point. With one hour remaining, saute some mushrooms and add them in. With 5 minutes remaining, toss in some frozen or fresh peas. Upon serving, top with ground peanuts or cashews.
- Po’boy – Prepare one of the methods above, but at the end of the cooking time, remove the meat from the bone and pile into large po’boy buns. Top with cheese, veggies, whatever you like!
- Sweet – Double the maple syrup, and add 1 or 2 sliced apples and 3 sliced carrots to the saute.
There are myriad other possibilities, such as serving with saurkraut, making a plain old American stew with beef stock instead of BBQ sauce, adding any number of beers or wine, adding Mediterranean spices, using tomato sauce and Parmesan for an Italian take, go Mexican with chili powder and/or mole sauce – run with it – Have fun!