3 dishes you will learn how to cook:
Over the last few years, beef ribs have grown in popularity in the barbecue world. You may have even heard them referred to as “brisket on a stick”. Some of the beef rib cuts have an enormous amount of meat on each bone. They do have some unique characteristics compared to pork ribs, causing many people now to have a hard time choosing which they prefer. Except for many Texas-style BBQ purists who will usually always argue for beef.
But, with so many different cuts and variations of beef ribs available, you may be left a little confused. In this article, we’ll break down exactly what the difference is between pork and beef ribs, what kind of beef ribs to get or ask your butcher for, and what rib cut is best for barbecuing, smoking, or grilling. Let’s take a look:
You may be wondering what exactly are the differences between beef and pork ribs. One of the most obvious characteristics of BBQ beef ribs is their larger size compared to pork ribs. Not only in length but also, when referring to beef short ribs, the amount of meat on the bones.
Also, compared to pork ribs, beef ribs are more marbled with an unctuous, gelatinous fat running through them that, when cooked, helps tenderize and flavor the meat. They do have more connective tissue than pork ribs so it is important to make sure you are preparing and cooking them properly to ensure you end up with great-tasting, tender beef. They’ll need more active attention than pork ribs.
On a steer, there are 13 ribs down each side of the animal. The ribs cover a lot of territory on a steer. About 3 linear feet from the breastbone to the backbone and another 3 to 4 feet from the shoulder to the last rib. Where your ribs are cut from matters a lot as far as the taste, texture, and best method of cooking.
Essentially there are two major types of beef ribs, short ribs and back ribs, and they are very different from each other but both can be tender, beefy, and delectable if cooked properly.
More and more, short ribs are becoming the preferred rib choice for outdoor cooking because of the large amount of meat on top of the bones. This is because short ribs are cut from the front lower section of the steer from the 1st through 5th rib and the lower, ventral section from the 6th through 10th rib. Resulting in almost flat ribs, can reach 12” in length, and often have 1 to 2” of meat on top.
But, oftentimes, a lot of the confusion with beef ribs comes in the fact that there are several different variations in where short ribs are cut from plus different ways they are cut, each with their own name.
Short ribs are cut from two different places on the steer. One area further towards the front and one area on the lower portion. Let’s break it all down:
Plate short ribs come from the lower portion of the rib cage known as the short plate. The short plate runs from the 6th to the 10th rib and sits between the delicious brisket cut in front of it and the flank steak cut behind it. These are the ribs that often garner the name “brisket on a stick” because of their close proximity, length of usually 12”, and 2” of meat on top.
You usually won’t be able to find good quality plate short ribs, cut the way you like, at the grocery store, so your local butcher is your best bet.
Plate short ribs do great being cooked/smoked low and slow. Which allows the fat to render down without drying out the meat.
You’ll find chuck short ribs closer towards the front of the steer right under the chuck, which sits above the shank and brisket. The chuck ribs run from the 1st to the 5th rib. Similar to the plate short ribs, the chuck ribs are still very meaty but are shorter in length, usually 3” to 6”.
Source: Flanken Style Beef Short Ribs from seriouseats.com
It’s important to be aware that there are several different variations, or styles, that short ribs can be cut. Some styles of cuts result in meatier pieces that are better for smoking or barbecuing and some are thinner and better for braising or grilling. The different variations of cuts include:
This is the most common type of cut. The English style cut for short ribs means they have been cut between the ribs to separate them, resulting in a thick piece of meat sitting on top of the bones. You can either buy them as a rack of 4 bones, about 3” long and 7” to 8” wide, or cut individually. Plate short ribs are what are frequently available in English cut.
The English style cut will result in a layer of fat and muscle on the top that can either be left on or removed by your butcher.
Flanken-style short ribs are thinner cut, usually about a half-inch thick, that goes across the bones. Resulting in a thinner strip of meat with four to five pieces of bone in it. Chuck short ribs are frequently cut this way.
This cut is good for if you are doing Korean Kalbi style cooking and can be found at Korean markets or cut to order from your butcher.
As we mentioned above with the English cut plate ribs, they will come with a layer of fat and muscle across the top. Getting them untrimmed then just means that you are buying them without that layer being removed by the butcher.
If you get the English cut trimmed, then the butcher will remove a good portion of that latissimus dorsi muscle, and its exterior fat cover.
This is just like the trimmed cut but the butcher will extensively trim the fat layer.
Short rib riblets are an English style cut where the bones have been cut apart individually and then cut into shorter, approximately 1 to 2 inch long pieces with the thick meat on top. These are great for braising or in a slow cooker.
English style ribs can be cut away from the bone to result in a boneless slab of beef rib meat. Your butcher will remove the bones and the intercostal meat. Resulting in a slab of meat that is about 1 to 2” thick and roughly 8” long.
The second type of beef ribs is back ribs. These are cut from the top dorsal area of the steer, just behind the shoulder. Back ribs are what you get when the delicious rib roast (Prime Rib) is removed from the bones. The rib roast is one of the most expensive cuts of beef, so most of the meat will stay with the roast and very little meat is left on top of the rib bones.
So, most of the meat for back ribs will be between the bones. They are also smaller than other types of ribs and cook faster. These ribs are 6 to 8” long with a curved bone.
Back ribs are great for braising or cooking on the grill over indirect heat, as well as adding wood smoke.
Source: Traeger Grills
As you can see, there isn’t just one kind of beef rib. There are a lot of different variations available. So, it’s no surprise that many people who are interested in barbecuing or smoking beef ribs get confused as to what they should be buying.
But, hopefully, after reading this article, you’ve got a clearer picture of what beef ribs you might prefer and exactly what to tell your butcher. It’s also important to make sure that you pay attention to the beef grades and get a high-quality beef that is sure to result in some great tasting meat.
Make sure you also check out our article on “10 Insider Tips On How To Smoke Ribs”.
Insider tips and tricks like those are the kinds of things you’ll learn from our Champion Pitmasters and Grillmasters here at BBQ Champs Academy. If you feel intimidated by cooking beef ribs, we'll show you how to smoke beef ribs like the pros. Learn how to cook them from World Champion pitmaster Joey Smith. He will show you from start to finish how to cook amazing Texas-style BBQ Beef Ribs.
Check out our All-Access pass to get the full inside look at all different types of BBQ. You’ll learn, on stunning high definition 4K video, how to cook competition-worthy barbecue, detailed step-by-step like nowhere else.
Also, make sure to check out our YouTube channel for the latest videos packed full of tips, insider info, and BBQ news. Hit “Subscribe” on our channel so you catch all the latest from BBQ Champs Academy!
Source: Texas Beef Ribs With Joey Smith & BBQ Champs Academy
3 dishes you will learn how to cook:
I found beef "center cut back ribs" pre packaged at my grocery store. I am trying to figure out what cut are these. I know they aren't plate or chuck. Are they a variation of the English cut? The ribs are about 4" long. Any clue? Thanks
Hi Geoff! There are two main types of ribs, back ribs and short ribs. Since the ones you found are labeled "center cut back ribs", that would mean they are cut from the top dorsal area of the steer. Short ribs are the ones that can come from either the plate or chuck.
There is only one type of beef back ribs. So, that is the cut you found, back ribs. If the ones you found are about 4" long it sounds like the ribs were cut in half.
So what are the Texas Beef Ribs at the bottom? Based on everything I read, it seems English Cut Short Ribs are the "biggest", but those look trimmed/different than what I get when I Google for "English Cut Short Ribs". I'm really trying to find the elusive "Brontosaurus Ribs" or "Dinosaur Ribs" --> The giant ones you can find in some places. The NAMP guide doesn't list Brontosaurus Ribs as a known meat cut. Any advice?
Thank you and great post!
The "Texas Beef Ribs" at the bottom of the article refer to the Texas-style of cooking that Joey Smith specializes in. Those ribs are plate short ribs. Plate short ribs are the longest (at usually 12" long) with roughly 2" of meat on top of the bones. These are the ones you are probably referring to when you say "Dinosaur Ribs" and are most often found at your local butcher shop if you ask them for large plate short ribs.
Remember, English Cut is just a variation of how some short ribs are cut and simply means they are cut long-ways between the bones to separate them into individual bones or groups of 3-4 bones.
Great article, very basic but packed with a lot of information. The pictures are very helpful.
Thank you Marvin! Make sure you follow us on Facebook @bbqchampsacademy. We do a LIVE weekly podcast every Tuesday at 7:00pm CST. Lot of great information and you can ask questions while we are live on the podcast!!
I was looking for info on "prime ribs" not a word. Thanks much.
We touched on Prime Rib (aka Rib Roast) under the Back Ribs section of this article. Prime Rib is actually separate from Back Ribs and a different piece of meat. But, keep an eye out. We'll have an article specifically on Prime Rib here on the blog in just a few days!
I was with you all the way through until the 2nd paragraph under 'Back Ribs' where you mention "spare ribs." Is spare ribs another name for short ribs?
Hi, thanks for your question! Spare ribs are the pork equivalent of beef short ribs but don't have as much meat. So, beef back ribs will have more meat between the bones versus on top of the bone like beef short ribs.
just learning as much as i can thank you
Glad you enjoyed the article Mitch!
Is there such a thing as baby back beef ribs?
Hi Marilyn, "baby back ribs" are always going to be pork. Back ribs are one of the types of beef ribs and are cut from the top part of steer behind the shoulder blades. But the term "baby back ribs" is solely used for pork back ribs that are cut from that upper part of the pig and are smaller in length.
I am purchasing Chuck Short Ribs in bulk (12-14lbs) for a party I am having for about 20 guests. They are not cut. I would like to make English Style braised Short Ribs. I am wondering if I am able to butcher them myself with a cleaver? Or does a Butcher have to cut?
Hi Kasarah, thanks for checking out our article! To answer your question, you could definitely cut the short ribs between the bones with a cleaver yourself to make them into English Style.
Thank you for the well organized and clear explanation!
You're welcome Chris! We're glad you enjoyed the article and thanks for visiting our site!
Wow, it's so cool that you talked about beef ribs and how to identify their cuts. My brother and I want to find the best ribs in town, so we think it'd be wise if we learned about them. We just started our new tradition last week, and now, we want to try every restaurant's ribs, so we'll be sure to read your tips first. Thank you for the advice on beef ribs and how where they're cut from could affect their flavor.
Thanks for checking out our blog Eli! We're glad you enjoyed the article and have fun on your search for the best ribs!
was wondering if the thick usually fatty sheath on under side of the long rib has more nutritional value than just plain fat??? Should it be removed before cooking
Hi Nancy! Thanks for checking out our blog! To answer your question, that layer on the bottom-side of the ribs may have some nutritional flavor but it can be detrimental to your cooking process and the end result. It is best to remove this layer. If you don't, your rub/seasoning can't penetrate the bottom side of the ribs and it can also lead to your ribs ending up dry and tough.