Short ribs are a traditional local favorite, but many don’t know the secrets behind perfecting the dish. Chefs Kelvin Ro and Roy Yamaguchi explained the way to cook the best short rib, a staple of both of their childhoods. “Hawaii is very connected to short ribs, and it’s in my blood,” explained Ro, who has been preparing the dish since his high school gatherings 40 years ago.

Traditional Texas smo-braised short ribs, prepared by chef Matt Pittman. Photo: courtesy of Meat Church

Yamaguchi felt similarly. “Short ribs to me define a sense of place. Whether using the traditional preparation or borrowing from the Korean, Japanese, Hawaiian, Chinese, Portuguese or Filipino, it’s what makes Hawaii, Hawaii.” Both chefs felt a personal connection to this local comfort food and were happy to help others try their hand at short ribs at home.

“The reason I like short ribs is because of the texture and the marbling of the fat to ligament to meat ratio,” explained Ro, who uses the meat’s resilience to heat to prepare delicious kalbi ribs at Diamond Head Market & Grill. He recommends throwing the thin pieces on the grill to be cooked quickly. Ro uses kiawe wood on his grill to get a beautiful charred flavor on his ribs. In perfecting his short ribs, Ro worked hard on his kalbi marinade. “It’s the ratio of sugar, shoyu, ginger and garlic.”

Chef Kelvin Ro preparing his dish at the HFWF19 EFFEN Vodka Presents Drag Appetit at Blue Note Hawaii. Photo: Reid Shimabukuro/Hawaii Food & Wine Festival, 2019

Yamaguchi explained the benefits of this technique as well: “By marinating and grilling the short ribs, you’ll be able enjoy the great chew and the flavors of the meat, the connective tissues and the bone, which is a bonus.” The marinade is crucial to short ribs and can “make a lesser grade of meat become great,” as Ro described. Ro recommends marinating the ribs for 2-3 days before grilling and serving them “local style” with potato macaroni salad and rice.

Braising the short ribs is another way to unlock the delicious flavors of the meat. This preparation has been on the menu at Roy’s since the restaurant opened 33 years ago, and Yamaguchi loves the dish. “I personally enjoy the sense of comfort braised short ribs bring to the table. It’s like the weight of your problems being lifted from your shoulders.” Ro specified that thick pieces of short rib are the best to braise. “The thicker the meat, the longer the cooking time and the lower the temperature.”

Chef Ro’s Korean Kalbi short ribs. Photo: courtesy of Kelvin Ro

Yamaguchi advised new short rib chefs to “braise the short ribs well in advance to allow the liquid to sit without disturbance so you can skim the fat that rises to the top.” In addition, the short ribs should be kept in a sealed container to ensure they don’t dry out while you cook your short rib sauce. Yamaguchi’s trick is to place the meat and sauce in a Ziplock bag once they have cooled to room temperature. Then, when you are ready to serve the ribs, heat the bag in hot water until the meat is hot. “Creamy mashed potatoes, carrots, peas, poi and lomi-tomatoes are my go to sides and garnishes,” added Yamaguchi.

BBQ pitmaster, Matt Pittman of Waxahachie-based Meat Church, demonstrates different styles of short rib dishes popular in Texas. Photos: courtesy of Meat Church

Hailing from Texas, chef and BBQ pitmaster Matt Pittman described the styles of short ribs, also known as “beef plate ribs or 123A ribs,” that he has tried and prepared in Texas. These mainland short ribs are very different, but just as delicious. “Taking one bite of a short rib in Lockhart, Texas, which is regarded as the BBQ Capital of the world, snapped my head back because it was so good.”

Chef Pittman. Photo: Kris Labang/Hawaii Food & Wine Festival, 2019

Similar to Yamaguchi and Ro, the founder of Meat Church BBQ, enjoys braising his short ribs. However, he smokes the ribs prior to braising, a technique called “smo-braising.” Instead of quickly grilling short ribs, Pittman and other Texas chefs smoke their meat for over eight hours.

Another notable difference between mainland and local short ribs is the flavor profile. Pittman explained, “The pepper forward bite is bold. The combination of the seasoning and perfectly rendered fat is tough to beat! The flavors are not complex or sweet or fruity in any way,” which differs them from the teriyaki and kalbi short rib flavors in Hawaii.

Texas short ribs are simple to prepare and worth the try. Prepared with equal parts salt and coarse cracked black pepper, the meat should be seasoned and cooked “low and slow with a post oak fire.”

Pittman explained the way he ensures his ribs are cooked perfectly: “We are looking for them to be slightly beyond probe tender. I achieve that by pressing the thickest part of the meat with my fingers and looking for them to be almost as jiggly as jello.” Pittman recommends serving the smoky Texas-style short ribs over grits or with pickled red onions.

Next time you prepare short ribs — grilled, braised or smoked —try mixing it up! Either “local style” or the Texan-way, expand your cooking skills and be sure to please any meat-eater.

Korean Kalbi Short Ribs

Yield 2-4 servings | By Kelvin Ro

2 pounds ¼-½ inch-cut short rib

1 cup shoyu
½-1 cup sugar, depending on sweetness preference
2 tablespoon ginger and garlic
2 tablespoon sesame oil
2 tablespoon vegetable oil
2 tablespoon grated onion
2 tablespoon water
Green onion and sesame seeds, for garnish

Marinate for at least 4-6 hours or longer. Grill until cooked to your desired doneness. Kiawe (mesquite) charcoal is recommended.