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Long Process, Short Ribs

February 21, 2011


At a recent outing with friends, I made the mistake of shooting my mouth off about a new technique I had tried in the kitchen.  It was pretty complicated, but it had (mostly) good results, and I may have been bragging a little.  I shouldn’t have been surprised when Jennifer Adams emailed me and expressed interest in my posting about it.  As you regular readers know, I love cooking, but I’m terrible at documenting.  I’m going to try to approximate what I did here for you, because I think this is a pretty cool thing, but I apologize in advance for the terrible photos and spotty narrative.

The first thing I should say is that I got this recipe/technique out of Cuisine at Home.  I really think this magazine is worth the subscription, and I hate to contribute to the demise of another food magazine, so I’m not going to steal their recipe and reprint it here, I’m going to report my experience and give them the credit.

The technique is called “tea smoking” and it infuses meat with  intense smoky flavors. Just like regular smoking on your grill or outdoor smoker, it brings that extra level to slow cooked meats.   Cuisine at Home used pork ribs, but I used bone-in beef short ribs I had from my meat CSA with pretty delicious results.

First I rubbed down the ribs with a combination of brown sugar, five spice powder, salt, ground ginger, ground coriander, and a few red pepper flakes and let them sit while I assembled my apparatus.

Setting up your smoker is the most difficult part of this process. Besides using beef instead of pork, this is the only place I diverged from the prescribed program, and it was a big mistake.  They recommend you criss cross two sheets of heavy duty aluminum foil in a roasting pan, put in your tea mixture, put a rack over it, put your ribs on that, then seal the whole thing up. In one section of this tutorial/recipe, they tell you the smoke is sealed in the foil, which makes sense, but in another section they tell you to turn on your hood fan.  Well like everything else in my ancient house, my hood fan doesn’t work.  At all.  I have zero ventilation, and since it was literally below freezing the day I did this, I couldn’t exactly open a window. So I did it exactly like they recommend, except instead of a roasting pan I become obsessed with the idea of  doing this in a dutch oven with a heavy lid to seal in the smoke.  Big mistake.  There is no moisture in this setup, so when I put it on the burner to smoke, it burned the interior bottom of the pot.  On the other hand, the heavy top kept the smoke in, and it worked great, but I don’t think it was worth the discoloration in my most expensive cooking vessel.

makeshift rack

My husband just wants to go to the gym and I'm all like, make my a circular rack out of this cookie rack, dude!

Also, I don’t own a rack that would fit inside my dutch oven, so I used a pair of wire cutters to fashion one out of a cookie sheet.  This was a huge PITA and even with my husband helping me, it took me forever and someone could have easily lost an eye.  And then I had to stick tinfoil all around the edges so it wouldn’t punch though the other tinfoil and/or scratch the enamel on the Le Creuset.  Seriously, don’t try this at home. Just use a roasting pan and a normal rack like they suggest. Don’t be a hero.

Once I got it all together, I added my tea mixture. I used 1/2 cup of oolong leaves, 1/2 cup brown sugar, 1/4 szechuan peppercorns, a few anise stars, a piece of ginger sliced up and a 1/2 of uncooked rice.  The important things here are the rice, the tea and sugar.  The tea does the actual smoking, the rice is the fuel source and the sugar colors and sweetens the food after it is carmelized.  You can use whatever aromatics and spices you want.   Then I sealed up the foil, put the lid on, and set it on a burner over medium heat for a half hour.

tea smoking mix

Smoking goodness. Technically you could eat this, I guess.


A major feat of engineering. Don't try this at home.

ready to smoke

Ribs on the rack, ready to smoke. This looks cool, right?

Sealed up tight

Make sure you have a tight seal, or you will be smoking your house.

This part is pretty unnerving, because if your smoker is working right, you aren’t going to really know it.  The smoke will stay trapped inside the foil and there is no liquid, so you can’t hear anything cooking.  You just have to trust the magic of smoking.  After a half hour, I took it off the burner and let it continue to smoke off heat for 30 more minutes.

After they were fully smoked, I carefully opened the foil, poured in a cup of apple juice, resealed the foil, stuck the lid back on and put them in a 300°F oven for 90 minutes.


After the smoke, before the roast. The smoking has definitely cooked them, but they don't look super appealing right now.

Meanwhile, I made a BBQ sauce from ketchup, soy sauce, orange juice, brown sugar, hoisin sauce, black bean sauce, molasses and ginger. I simmered it for the last 30 minutes of the ribs roasting to thicken it.  I took the ribs out, cut them into individual riblets, dipped each one into the sauce and set them under the broiler until they were carmelized and charred, about five minutes. The photo does not do them justice.  Layering flavors can be a a time suck, but I like to think each layer has some culinary love wedged between it and the next one, and sometimes it becomes more than the sum of its parts.  This was one of those times.

tea smoked short ribs

I didn't want to take pictures, I wanted to eat. Sorry.

4 Comments leave one →
  1. February 21, 2011 2:02 pm

    You joined a meat CSA? Which one?

    This is such a cool post. Thank you for sharing! Your photography skillz are definitely improving. That last picture is actually quite mouth-watering!!!

    • killercoconut permalink*
      February 21, 2011 3:39 pm

      Thanks. It’s out of focus in the middle, which is not what I was going for. I think the loveliness of the ribs won out over the crappiness of the photography.

      Also, do not believe everything you read on the internet. I said CSA but only because I didn’t feel like getting into my extremely complicated relationship with the 8 O’clock Ranch. I didn’t really mean it.

      • Jennifer A (Bread and Putter) permalink*
        February 21, 2011 3:46 pm

        I noticed the focus issues but I forgave them. The deliciousness shines through.

        I totally understand, man. I was just going to complain that if it was 8 O’Clock they never send me any beef short ribs. The pork spare ribs are dandy though.

  2. February 21, 2011 6:33 pm

    This is the coolest thing! I want to try this, except I’m going to need some extra time on my hands to get this whole shoot and match together. I’m bookmarking this–hopefully to be made soon!

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