For short ribs done right, start with the right beef

One of my favorite things to order in a restaurant: beef short ribs. The reason: short ribs can be a pain to make at home, especially in the summer.

When properly prepared (low and slow), beef short ribs develop a deep, rich flavor. The texture is soft; delivering almost melt-in-your-mouth deliciousness. Preparation's only part of that tasty result though, from where that beef comes, perhaps, is even more crucial.

When it comes to beef these days, whether it's hamburger or steak, I always do my best to buy pasture-raised, grass-fed, grass-finished beef.

What's the big deal about grass-fed, grass-finished? In my opinion, beef was never meant to be processed the way most American beef is today. U.S. cattle, once reaching a certain age, is no longer grass-fed, it's sent to concentrated animal feeding operations to finish out their lives fattening-up on corn and soybeans. Both corn and soybeans are two foods cattle were never meant to eat (as ruminants, they're designed to feed on grasses).

CAFO-fed cattle stay in such confined living conditions they must be fed antibiotics (yes, it's in their feed) to keep them well. An antibiotic side benefit; it fattens them up. Muscle-growing steroids also seem to be part of this process.

Pastured cattle can roam and live out their lives naturally. According to the article "Grass Finished vs. Grass Fed Beef - What Is Better?" on Bradys Idaho Beef, grass-finished means: " ... the animal has reached physical maturity and was kept on grass while developing exterior and intramuscular fat. No grain is ever fed to grass finished animals and this process will typically take from 24-36 months."

If you've wondered why grass-finished beef is more expensive, that's the reason. It takes longer to raise than CAFO beef.

Testing and statistics seem to bear out that grass-finished beef is nutritionally superior to CAFO beef. For me, grass-finished, organic beef would be the best, but that's harder to locate.

A little less than a year ago I found a terrific company from which I get grass-fed, grass-finished beef: US Wellness Meats, located in Canton, Missouri (population 2,377). Contact them at The shipping and handling charges for any size order is $7.50, and its meat comes frozen solid in a Styrofoam cooler.

Even though grass-finished beef is much leaner than CAFO beef, my ribs were moist and full of flavor; almost difficult to stop eating. Courtesy of Don Mauer

If that Styrofoam container concerns you, US Wellness suggests contacting local Meals on Wheels, Boy Scouts, Girl Scouts, or similar organizations to determine if they could make good use of them, because they can't be curb recycled.

Buying grass-finished beef short ribs were, honestly, an experiment. Usually, if I'm going to braise beef, I go for a 7-bone chuck roast.

True to its name, I believed that beef short "ribs'" attached bones would enhance the final flavor. It turned out that I got a bonus thanks to those bones, too, ending up with a big-flavored simmering liquid broth from which I later made a grass-finished, organic hamburger and barley soup.

My short ribs began with a Texas BBQ Pot Roast recipe from a Food Network, Family Circle magazine show. Since the recommended barbecue sauce is loaded with sugar, I used tomato ketchup, instead. And, instead of adding a ¼-cup of brown sugar I substituted a tablespoon of molasses and organic stevia.

How were my beef short ribs? Amazing. Even though grass-finished beef is much leaner than CAFO beef, my ribs were moist and full of flavor; almost difficult to stop eating. My beef and barley soup had a big beef flavor from the bones.

Give it a try; you will not be disappointed.

• Don Mauer welcomes questions, comments and recipe makeover requests. Write to him at don@

BBQ-Flavored Beef Short Ribs

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