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How to Trim Beef Short Ribs (Three Easy Steps)

For best results, trim the fat on the frontside and remove the membrane on the back. We explain to you how.

Just the thought of beef short ribs to sink your teeth into makes the mouth water. Alas, every rack of ribs you buy has excess fat, and it is recommended that you remove the membrane. This can’t help but beg the question: What is the best way to trim the excess fat and discard the membrane?

You’re probably hungry—and those beef short ribs won’t trim, cook, and eat themselves. So let us waste no more time in formalities. The question is, “How do you trim short ribs without fuss?”

Use a fillet knife or boning knife to trim the fat. Turn the ribs over and grab the side of the membrane with a paper tower for a better grip. Hold the ribs with one hand and pull on the membrane with the help of the paper towel in the other until completely removed.

There is some doctrine about cutting off too much or too little fat, and how to achieve the cleanest cut possible. We will walk you through the steps of cutting off the fat and the membrane, and offer special techniques to make the job manageable.

We will reveal these tricks and more in this article, so read on!

The Best Knives to Trim Beef Short Ribs

The knives you use to cut beef short ribs can go a long way.

The best knife for this task is the fillet knife or a sharp boning knife. This blade fits well in the corner and prevents the tip from cutting too deep or not deep enough, which would leave excess fat and membranes on the cut of meat.

If you do not have such a knife set available, you can use a paring knife from your regular kitchen knife set as described by Cook’s Illustrated. However, be aware that this requires more effort than using an outdoor knife.

Blade care and sharpness is critical for all knives, especially those used to cut excess fat and remove rib membrane. A dull blade will tear the meat instead of allowing a clean cut. You will also have to apply more pressure when cutting, which can easily lead to slippage and cause an injury.

The membrane and fat are the most difficult parts to cut if you have a dull knife or a knife that is not suited for a certain quality of meat. You need a fillet knife with a thin, lightweight blade that will make quick, precise cuts through the excess instead of sawing through the meat.

A slab of short ribs that hasn’t been properly trimmed is also one left uneaten; it ruins presentation and wastes meat that is otherwise good. (Besides, it will take you twice as long to cut if the blade is dull, adding more effort to your task at hand.)

How Do You Trim Beef Short Ribs?

The short ribs are a cut of beef obtained from the brisket, chuck, plate or rib of the cow. The short rib bone portion is overlaid with well marbled meat. This meat has a front side covered with fat and a back side covered with a heavy membrane.

Unless you are slow cooking the meat for a very long time, you should cut off some of the fat and pull out the membrane. We have tips for you on how to make your life easier when preparing the meat and doing this work.

Step 1: Trim the Fat on the Frontside

What you want to do is hold the meat firmly in place with your hand or a fork. This will ensure that your grip isn’t shaky, and that your cuts are straight. You don’t want any unpredictable slicing or sawing motions because the meat will end up in pieces, defeating the purpose of tender ribs.

With the frontside up and the backside down on the working surface, make quick, precise cuts, trimming the fat down to the silver skin and pulling it off by hand. Many cooks choose to remove the silver skin along with the fat because it’s made from elastin, a protein that stays tough and chewy with cooking.

Step 2: Remove the Membrane on the Backside

Now that you trimmed the fat on the frontside, flip the ribs over so that the backside—the side with the bones covered by a heavy membrane—is facing up. The idea here is to make a cut along the bottom edge of this area, following it down until you hit the bone at about ¼ of an inch away from the bone’s edge.

Once you have a cut going in that direction, lift the knife up at a 45-degree angle with the tip still in place. You can hold onto the piece of meat or fork for this part to ensure it does not move around. Now, you want to use your hand to “pull” the membrane away from the ribs.

Set down your knife once done trimming, so you do not cut yourself when pulling! You will pull and then re-grip until it is all cleanly removed. (For an optimal grip, we have a technique for you below for this step that involves a paper towel.)

Step 3: Ensure the Removal

Once you have done this, use your knife to make a “V” cut going down the top rounded edge of the bones. You can test if it is cleanly removed by giving it a tug from either side. If it does not move, then you are good to go!

Just think about how wonderful those awesomely cut short ribs will taste as you begin to cook them!

The Paper Towel Technique

Ask a butcher what their least favorite part of beef short ribs is, and they will surely answer “the membrane.” This layer of sinewy connective tissue can be very difficult to remove, even for them.

You can spend a lot of time trying to tear it away from the meat, but enough frustration will lead you to cut it off with a knife (and possibly lose some meat in the process). Fortunately, there is one technique that makes removing the membrane easy.

The first step is to flip over your slab of ribs so that you’re looking at the backside. You will immediately notice that the bones are on the backside, and so is the membrane.

Grab the membrane by the corner with a paper towel, lift it a little, and then slide your fork underneath. The slimy nature of the membrane makes it difficult to pull, but—with the help of the paper towel—you have a better grip and can accomplish the task with less hassle.

Once you have slid the tip of the fork under the membrane, begin to slowly and steadily pull the membrane away from the meat while keeping the fork in good contact with it. You will know when you get all of it because it will suddenly come away with little or no resistance.

If some parts do not come off with this technique, use a knife to cut through whatever’s left. Trust us on this; it’s much easier than trying to tear or cut everything away by hand.

The Outcome of Trimming Too Much or Too Little Fat

If you cut too much fat from the ribs, you will find that they are dry and stiff, making them challenging to cut trough and frankly unpleasant to eat.

On the other hand, if you do not trim enough fat, some parts of the ribs may be undercooked while others are overcooked. A good guideline for how much fat you should remove is about ⅛ of an inch.

When the beef short ribs have been properly trimmed, you will see a thin layer of white connective tissue on the meat—a nice marbling, if you will. Cooked, you get a perfectly moist rack of beef ribs that needs no sauce or gravy.

My mouth is watering already; how does it look to you?