I have eaten short ribs cooked by others and loved them, soft, tender, litterally falling apart, intensely beefy. I wanted to give them a try for a pot luck at work. I use a Southern Pride DH-65 electric water smoker I bought as restaurant surplus, intending to eventually open my own place once I've gotten the menu items worked out.
First the smoker. Being a water smoker I've found it very difficult (impossible) to get either a crust or a smoke ring on my Q no matter what I cook in it. The meat turns out spongy. Something is right, because it's delicious, but the texture and look are all wrong. So with these ribs I decided to just go with it and try smoke/braising them, meaning I put a pan with braising liquid in the smoker and the meat inside the pan. The top of the meat is exposed to get smoky and the bottom, where the bones are, to dissolve in the liquid and blend into the base of the sauce to come.
The first small test batch I did I used the water smoker in it's full capacity, pan full of clean water and smoke box full of apple pellets, running it up to 300 degrees for 3 hours until the meat was 185 inside. As expected the tops of the ribs were soft, but smokey, and the bottoms were moist and flavorful. But the meat was chewy, the connective tissue poorly dissolved and the fat waxy. The standard test of rib doneness, wiggling the bones in the meat, underlined this fact as they were still cemented to the meat. These results were identical to almost every other thing I've smoked in this box since i got it in September, regardless of method used.
The second, larger batch was for real, to be served to my co-workers at the pot luck, and I didn't want chewy ribs. I figured I'd go for broke. Beef ribs are supposedly bullet proof, nearly impossible to overcook and make dry because of the high amounts of fat and conective tissue that will melt over time and lubricate the meat. Add to this my braising liquid in the pan and I figured I could hammer the ribs into tenderness without fear, though not without apprehension.
I mixed 2 cups of red wine with 2 cups of beef broth and 2 cups of Cattleman's Texas sauce, plus a cup of water to make it stretch. I filled 2 full-size hotel pans with individually cut beef short ribs, each between 4" and 6" long and divided the braising liquid evenly. I marinated the meat in these pans for 9 hours before rising extra early and putting them in a preheated 225 degree smoker, sans water pan, with my favorite wet mesquite chips in place of the apple pellets. I removed them 6 hours later. I did not check the internal temperature, because at that point they needed to be prepped for delviery, done or not.
The results were better, but still not exactly what I wanted. The meat had shrunk and balled up on the bone, looking like giant snails in thin red mud. The membranes were intact, and while some of the fat had dissolved, there were still giants pillows of it dividing slabs, and sometimes slivers, of meat. They were unservable in this condition.
I had the broiler going already and placed each pan individually under the heat for 8 minutes each, to give it some texture and hopefully melt away just a little extra fat, perhaps crisping some of it as well. But the ribs were a mess, some falling clean of the bone, entirely or partially, some not.
So I went about cleaning and trimming them, removing the thick membrane and trimming, scraping and dividing the fatty layers away from the meat as much as possible, losing more meat in the process than I would have liked in some places, losing less of the fat than I wanted in others, all very inconsistent.
The good: I wound up with several, large rib-like slabs of beef, softand flavorful, the size of giant pork spare ribs but without the rib, all meat, no fat or grissle, reminding me of brisket more than ribs. Even the parts poorly cleaned were quite tasty, and the fat less offensive than I feared.
The bad: Some pieces, like the edges of the ribs I had tried to salvage, were tough with membrane and grissle and char. And even those pretty and delicious slabs of clean meat had issues, most if not all being mushy, missing the tooth of properly cooked meat, yet still not falling apart like so many other short ribs I've had, like a grandmothers pot roast from her 100 year old dutch oven.
Overall the results were mixed, in my opinion, and not suitable for serving in a professional kitchen, which is my goal. Flavor I have. Texture and tooth and tenderness I do not. I don't know if it's me, or the smoker, or the meat (which was quite good IMO, having been bought from a local butcher and not a warehouse).
So, there's the story, and as many of the details as I could fit in. Can someone guide me into what I should be doing, instead of what I am? Or am I being unreasonable in my expectations of this method of cooking, and I am getting exactly the results I should be?
On a side note, the sauce was delicious. I simmered it in a pan while I was broiling and trimming the ribs, reducing it by about 1/4, not as much as I would have liked, but nice. It was rich, not thin or thick, and very tasty, dare I say delicious, full of the flavor of cooked wine and beef broth, enriched by the juices from the meat cooked in it. It's the best sauce I have ever tasted from anywhere, and I saved every drop. I think it saved the meal.