Everyone loves a giant beef rib
Big beef ribs have become much more common at Texas barbecue joints over the last few years. Once a rarity and found at only a handful of establishments such as Louie Mueller Barbecue and Black’s Barbecue, they can be found at a large number of independent joints lately. It seems like everyone is getting into the game.
Revered by foodies for their sheer photo-worthiness, a selfie with a beef short rib is becoming as standard as a selfie while in line at Franklin. Sometimes jokingly referred to as dinosaur ribs, a giant beef rib is indeed a spectacle. It’s not just a photo opportunity though; the flavor of a well smoked beef rib can be outstanding. Personally I prefer the flavor of a well smoked short rib over brisket. With the rib, its texture and flavor is a combination of the point (“moist”) and lean (“flat”) sides of a brisket and the taste is sensational. If you normally steer away from ordering the fatty side of brisket, you will still like the texture of a beef rib. If I was to only be able to order a single cut of meat forever, and money was not a factor, it would be beef short ribs.
Plate and Chuck short ribs
With beef short ribs, there are two cuts and they vary distinctly by average size. IMPS (Institutional Meat Purchasers Specifications) and NAMP (National Association of Meat Purveyors) define the specific cuts. Beef plate short ribs are referenced as IMPS/NAMP cut 123, and typically come 3 to a rack. There are also some joints that use beef chuck short ribs, IMPS/NAMP cut 130. These come 4 to a rack and individually weigh about half of the larger ones. For the rest of this article I’ll just refer to “plate ribs” and “chuck ribs”. Killen’s Barbecue in Pearland, Texas uses the chuck ribs on their beef rib combo with two sides, priced on my most recent visit at $15.95 regardless of weight. Killen’s sells the plate ribs by the pound. Some joints use the chuck ribs but it seems that more joints are using the plate ribs due to their visual appeal. One can’t walk past a table with one of these monsters without pausing a moment to stare.
The pricing of beef ribs runs near the price of brisket, but with a major differentiation; beef ribs are priced with the bone. Lately I’ve seen prices as high as $21.99 and $22 a pound, but have also watched steady streams of happy purchasers continue to walk past with beef ribs. With the weight of plate ribs running over 1 pound and typically 1.5 or more pounds it is not unusual to pay $30+ for a single rib. You can occasionally find one a full 2 pounds after cooking, but in my experience they tend to run closer to 1.5 pounds. . I was taken aback at a visit in March as one customer walked past with three of the plate ribs taking up the entire tray, a likely purchase price of $90 before tax! I admit I had a bit of envy as well. After feeling the weight of a bone I began wondering just how much they weighed, and how much it affected the total purchase cost. In other words, how much is it really costing you to enjoy possibly the single finest cut of barbecue? I collected 5 of the plate rib bones and purchased an inexpensive home food scale. While its accuracy is far from professional ones, I felt it would give me enough of a value to write this article. I didn’t collect chuck ribs, nor did I collect pork ribs of any variety, but I will do so over the next 2-3 months and report back with what I find.
The heaviest of the 5 bones weighed an amazing half pound! At 8oz that means that the bone itself cost over $10 or conversely that if you exclude the bone, a 1 and ¾ rib priced at $21.99 per pound actually equates to over $30 a pound. The other bones weighed between 6.5 and a little over 7 ounces each, and if we even use the low end of 6.5 ounces, you are paying well over $8 for that bone. In general, add about 40% to the cost of the meat without bone to get the final price.
Now before you feel like you are getting ripped off consider that according to this article from TMBBQ (validated as well with factoring in the raw cost and final cooked weight) that barbecue joints aren’t making as much profit on these giant ribs as they are on brisket and other proteins. Beef short ribs have high upfront costs, shrink significantly during cooking, and of course the restaurant is also paying for the rib bone when they purchase the raw product. Beef rib pricing is also no different than pork rib pricing, including the bone is standard and the pricing is indicative of supply and demand. It’s not a scam, it’s just how the pricing works so relax and don’t yell at your barbecue joint. In full disclosure, I finished off a leftover plate rib while writing this article.
Update: Chuck rib pricing
In July of 2016 I finally finished up with weighing a batch of chuck ribs. On average the ribs weighed just under a half pound and the average bone was a little over 2 ounces. If $15 a pound retail pricing is used (chucks usually retail for less than plates regardless of weight) it results in around $2 for the bone and $19 a pound.