Short ribs are one of the meatiest and most flavorful of beef cuts, but they're not for the impatient. They're liberally veined with fat and connective tissue, which make them too tough for most quick cooking methods. Instead, they must be lovingly slow cooked to dissolve the connective tissue and melt the fat, leaving the ribs lush and tender. They're usually sold "English style," as a short slab of bones with a thick layer of meat, though you might also find them cut into smaller portions or even thin-sliced across their grain.
Braised Short Ribs
Braising is the most traditional way to prepare short ribs, and it's deservedly a classic preparation in many cultures. Brown the ribs on all sides in the bottom of a heavy Dutch oven or roaster; then pour in a splash of broth, wine, or other liquid to dissolve the browned-on juices. Add your choice of aromatic vegetables such as onions and garlic, and enough additional liquid or sauce to largely immerse the ribs. Cover the pan, and simmer it on your stovetop or in a moderate oven -- 300 to 325 degrees Fahrenheit -- for 2 to 4 hours, or until the ribs are perfectly tender when pierced with a fork.
Slow Cooker Short Ribs
If you own a slow cooker, braised short ribs become an even easier meal. All you need to do is to layer the ribs into your cooker with their aromatic vegetables, and add the cooking liquid. You can't brown the ribs first in the slow cooker, so you'll need to brown them separately to achieve the same flavor. That's an extra step and extra pans, so as an alternative, you can simply change the cooking liquid for a richer, saucier option. Tomato-based sauces, thinned barbecue sauce or Asian-style braises with soy sauce are also good choices. You can also cook the ribs without a braising liquid in your slow cooker. The cooker retains enough of their moisture to cook them without drying. They'll usually be tender after 3 to 4 hours on High, or roughly 8 hours on Low.
Smoke-Roasted Short Ribs
If you own an electric smoker or a charcoal kettle, smoking your ribs barbecue-style is one of the tastiest ways to prepare them. As with braising, this long, slow, low-temperature cooking method melts the ribs' fat and dissolves their chewy connective tissues to leave them lush and flavorful. Set your smoker for a temperature of 225 degrees Fahrenheit, or -- in a charcoal kettle -- manipulate the draft to keep the temperature as close to that level as possible. Slow-cook the ribs for approximately 8 hours, or until they're meltingly tender when tested with a fork. If you don't have a smoker, you can achieve a similar, if less tasty result, in your oven. In either case, you can add a spice rub to improve the ribs' flavor.
Grilled Short Ribs
Ordinarily, short ribs are too tough for quick cooking, but there's one notable exception. If the ribs are cut "flanken" style -- thin, steak-like strips with nubbins of bone along one side -- they're ideal for grilling, Korean-style. Marinate the ribs ahead of time in Korean kalbi marinade for 3 or 4 hours; then drain them and gently blot them dry with paper towels. Grill them over a medium-high gas or charcoal flame, at roughly 400 to 450 F, for just 2 or 3 minutes per side. The ribs must be cut to no more than a 1/3-inch thickness, which shortens the chewy strands of muscle. Though still slightly tough, the thin-cut ribs will have only the pleasant chewiness of a lobster tail.
Fred Decker is a trained chef and certified food-safety trainer. Decker wrote for the Saint John, New Brunswick Telegraph-Journal, and has been published in Canada's Hospitality and Foodservice magazine. He's held positions selling computers, insurance and mutual funds, and was educated at Memorial University of Newfoundland and the Northern Alberta Institute of Technology.