How to Smoke Beef Short Ribs like a Pitmaster

Whether you prefer using a charcoal smoker for a traditional BBQ or you like the convenience of an electric smoker or propane gas smoker instead, this cooking method offers you a great deal of versatility.

How about cooking short ribs in a smoker, though?

We’ll outline this for you today after some beef short ribs basics.

I. Beef Short Ribs 101


Beef short ribs are super-short sections of ribs that comes from various areas of the cow.

Short ribs range from 3 to 6 inches long, and these ribs are packed with meat. The most common ribs you’ll find in the grocery store are 3-inch ribs with individual bones. The larger 6-inch ribs comes with 3 bones attached.

These ribs, then, come from the rib, chuck, brisket, and plate of the cow.

To qualify as true short rubs, there should be parts of a specific muscle, the serratus ventralis muscle, visible throughout the meat.

As a rule, ribs from the chuck and brisket tend to be more expensive.

II. What’s the Problem with Beef Ribs?


Now, while short ribs are usually extremely meaty, they can also come out too tough.

When you’re cooking ribs, you need to pay close attention to the smoking time and smoke temperature, as well as the internal temperature. You should make sure you have a good smoker thermometer for this purpose.

Assuming you take care of all these elements, though, smoking short beef ribs should give you a flavor-packed treat next time you host a cookout.

In some ways, beef short ribs have very little in common with pork ribs. They have much more flavor and meat to start with, and they also have far more fat and connective tissue. This is one of the reasons that makes these ribs prone to toughness. Get the cooking right, though, and there’s no need for this.

Beef short ribs have one thing in common with pork ribs, though: they respond most favorably to coking at low temperatures. This allows the fat and connective tissue to melt. Beyond this, cooking your beef short ribs slow and low will ensure the protein doesn’t knot up. This can make rib even tougher. Much like brisket, you’ll need to cook ribs until they’re way past done to benefit from that full tender taste sensation.

As the fat and connective tissue melt during a low smoking process, this serves to lubricate the muscle fibers. You’ll find the connective tissue in ribs ­– this is collagen – starts melting at anywhere from 160F to 170F.

Now, what about buying the best short ribs?

Luckily, this is pretty straightforward, and we’ll touch on a few pointers next for finding the choices racks of beef short ribs.

III. Buying Beef Short Ribs the Easy Way


You should look for beef short ribs with marbling throughout. Marbling is the visible intramuscular fat that helps impact flavor and moisture while making meat even more tender. As a minimum, you should aim for USDA choice. Prime is even better.

When it comes to the sizing, ensure the length of the bone is consistent – 3 to 4 inches is the norm for most store-bought short ribs – although you will find more variety when it comes to height. Ask your butcher for a uniform height as well as length to streamline cooking and ensure your short ribs will be evenly smoked throughout.

OK, with those basics in place, you should be clear on what short ribs are and how to find the best ribs out there.

Now for the main event with how to smoke beef short ribs the easy way.

IV. How to Smoke BBQ Beef Short Ribs


As mentioned, you should have some beef short ribs with plenty of marbling. You need the best ingredients if you expect the best results, so don’t stint on the ribs you’re using. You want ribs that will fall off the bone after being cooked long and slow, and ribs that are bursting with flavor.

You can use a simple salt and pepper rub to enhance the flavor imparted by properly marbled short ribs. This will intensify the beefy flavor rather than overpowering it. Between the smoke, the seasoning, and the best beef short ribs, you’ll end up with a mouthwatering feast for the whole family and guests.

You could throw on some garlic powder or a dedicated beef seasoning if you feel you need an extra edge, but we can assure you keeping it simple works well, too.

When you’re cooking ribs, the main thing you need is plenty of patience. Smoking ribs is the polar opposite of fast food, but when you taste the results, you’ll realize how far you are from instant processed junk food.

What You Need


  • Beef short ribs (2.5 pounds)
  • Extra virgin olive oil (4 tbsp)
  • Beef rub or salt and pepper in equal parts (4 tbsp)
  • Apple cider vinegar (1 cup)
  • Apple juice (1 cup)
  • Red wine (1 cup, optional)
  • Beef broth (1 cup, optional)
  • Red wine (1 cup, optional)
  • Butter (2 tbsp, optional)
  • Dry rub (2 tbsp, optional)
  • Worcestershire sauce (2 tbsp, optional)

What To Do

  1. Preheat your smoker to 225F. Cherry wood works especially well when you’re smoking beef short ribs
  2. Trim off all the membrane from the ribs along with any excess fat. Pay attention to our comments above concerning fat
  3. Coat the ribs and olive oil and the rub you’re using. We recommend starting with a basic salt and pepper rub – combine the ingredients in equal parts – and then experimenting with more leftfield rubs if you feel the taste is lacking. Make sure you coat all sides of the ribs with the rub
  4. Leave the ribs inside the smoker for approximately 3 hours. This should allow the color to turn a deep mahogany, and you should notice the start of a crust forming
  5. Once the first hour of smoking has elapsed, you should spray the meat every 30 minutes using a spritz. Continue with this spritzing twice-hourly until you start wrapping
  6. At the 3-hour point of smoking, place the ribs into a baking dish. You add the ingredients marked optional above at this stage. You should then cover your ribs with foil and continuing smoking them for a further 2 hours. You’re aiming here for an internal temperature of 200F
  7. Serve your ribs when the beef is ultra-tender and the meat is literally falling off the bones. If you ribs look spongy or rubbery, this is a surefire sign they are not fully done. Keep going until your instant-read thermometer shows you an internal temperature of 200F to 205F.

V. How Long Does it Take to Smoke Beef Short Ribs?

The overall time period you should set aside for smoking beef short ribs is around 7 to 8 hours. As we said, this is absolutely not the sort of dish you can rack up quickly, so plan accordingly.

The thickness of the meat on the ribs will influence the total cooking time. The ability of your smoker to consistently maintain a temperature will also play a part in how long it takes to cook beef short ribs.

While this can be used as a reasonable benchmark, you should be cooking to temperature rather than time. With beef short ribs, it’s key to get that internal temperature up to 200F+.

With the prep time and resting time thrown in – you should allow your ribs to rest for at least an hour once your remove them from the smoker – you are looking at anywhere between 8 and 9 hours or more for the best beef short ribs.

VI. What Is The Best Internal Temperature for Smoking Beef Short Ribs?

In closing, note that beef short ribs cook at a higher temperature than other types of smoke beef.

As a guideline, smoked beef short ribs start softening between 205F and 210F.

As we have mentioned repeatedly above, you’ll need a precise and reliable thermometer. When your ribs are done, this should slide in easily and without resistance. Even if your smoker comes with an integrated thermometer for the temperature inside, you’ll need an instant-read thermometer with a probe to measure internal temperature, and many of the bundled versions are not particularly precise.

VII. Conclusion

If you take a little time and trouble when you’re smoking ribs, there’s no need at all to end up with tough food. Properly done, smoked beef short ribs should be tender and falling off the bone.

How about if you have some leftovers? Well, check out our guide to reheating ribs without drying them out and you won’t waste any of those short ribs.

Before you head off today, take a moment to bookmark our blog. Here at Royal Tavern, we bring you informative guides on all aspects of grilling like a pitmaster so pop back soon for more impartial and fun-filled content. See you soon!

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