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Ribs have long been a favorite option when it comes to BBQ. You can cook them in a variety of different ways, flavored by a wide range of different things. But, not all ribs are created equal. There are a variety of different types available, each having its own characteristics and differences from the others. 

A common mental rabbit hole that people fall down when thinking about options of meat to smoke (or grill) is beef ribs vs pork ribs. Of course, there’s more to it than the fact that they come from two different animals. Frequently asked questions often include things like “what is the difference in size between the two?”, “which is cheaper”, “which tastes better?”, etc.

Don’t worry, we’ve got you covered. In this article, we break down the differences that you need to know between pork ribs and beef ribs. Let’s take a look:

 

Quick Breakdown of the Different Rib Cuts

In this article, we’ll cover the differences between beef and pork ribs in a generalized sense. But, as you may know, both types of ribs are usually available in a variety of different cuts at your local butcher shop. Here is a quick breakdown of the different rib cuts, as some of the specific cuts are referenced throughout the rest of this article.

Beef:

  • Plate short ribs - Cut from the lower portion of the steer’s rib cage from what is known as the short plate.
  • Chuck short ribs - Cut from a little higher up and more towards the front of the steer, just below the chuck.
  • Back ribs - Cut from higher up the steer at the top dorsal area just behind the shoulders.

Check out our in-depth beef rib cuts article for more information on the different beef rib cuts available. 

Pork:

  • Baby back ribs - Cut from the upper loin area, near the spine, at the highest point on the pig’s rib cage.
  • Spareribs - Cut from further down the side of the pig’s belly and run to the breastbone.
  • St. Louis ribs - A rack of spareribs that have been trimmed down and squared off.
  • Kansas City ribs - Similar to St. Louis ribs but still have the cartilage attached.
  • Rib tips - The ends that are leftover from trimming spareribs into St. Louis ribs.

For more info on these different types of pork ribs, check out our in-depth beef rib cuts article.

 

pork ribs | beef ribs vs pork ribs | pork ribs vs beef ribs

Source: SunPork Fresh Foods

 

Size Difference

The process of smoking pork ribs and beef ribs will be very similar. But, one of the first differences you may notice when it comes to beef ribs vs pork ribs is their size. In general, beef ribs will be bigger. All of the beef rib cuts will be longer than pork rib cuts and, in the case of beef short ribs in particular, will have more meat on them.

Many times, beef ribs will be 8 to 12 inches long and be weighed in pounds, while pork ribs will usually be 3 to 6 inches long and weighed in ounces. Sometimes, because of their size, you may hear beef ribs referred to as “dinosaur ribs”. In most cases, these are going to be plate short ribs in particular. There are some instances where butchers will cut a rack of beef ribs in half along the full length of the rack. So, in this case, the beef rib bones would be very similar in length to a rack of pork ribs.

Also, because beef ribs are usually larger, they will often take longer to cook compared to pork ribs in general.

 

Ratio of Meat to Fat

Of course, the amount of meat and the fat content on ribs will vary from animal to animal depending on size, breed, and the specific cut. But, there are some general differences in the fat content between beef ribs and pork ribs.

For most cuts of pork ribs, they will be reasonably lean (more meat than fat) and moderately meaty when compared to beef. As you go lower down the rib cage of a pig, the fat content will increase, with rib tips being mainly fat with bone. For baby back, spare, and St. Louis-style pork ribs, you’ll usually get quite a lot of bone and the amount of bone will be pretty consistent across the three types of cuts. 

Even though pigs may seem like a chunkier animal, beef ribs will have a much higher fat content and will be closer to even portions of fat and meat. You’ll get a lot more meat on top of the bones of beef ribs and the meat is more marbled with gelatinous fat. This fat spider webs throughout the meat, helping to tenderize it and create a deeper flavor.

The meat on beef ribs does also have more connective tissue compared to pork ribs so they will need more active attention while cooking them to ensure they are cooked to a delicious and tender finish.

 

beef short ribs | beef ribs vs pork ribs | pork ribs vs beef ribs

Source: Charmate NZ

 

Nutritional Differences

The difference of fat between beef ribs and pork ribs, as well as the amount of meat in general, does affect the nutritional content between the two as well. 

Beef ribs will be more filling because they do have a higher calorie count, a higher amount of protein, and a higher amount of iron compared to pork ribs. 

 

Difference in Cost

Ribs, both beef and pork, are great options when you are looking for more affordable cuts of meat. Prices will, of course, fluctuate based on location, quality of the meat, and the specific cut of ribs. 

For example, a rack of ribs from the big-box grocery store case will be less expensive than a rack at your local butcher shop that is sourced from a local organic farm.

But, when comparing the two types, generally speaking, pork ribs will cost less than beef ribs. There will usually be about a $1.50 per pound difference between the two.

 

Which Tastes Better, Pork or Beef Ribs?

The true answer to this question will be very subjective. Some people prefer the taste and mouthfeel of pork ribs over beef ribs. While others feel the opposite. It all comes down to the type of taste you and those you are cooking for prefer.

Compared to pork ribs, beef ribs, like all good cuts of beef, have a strong distinctive flavor that doesn’t need much additional seasoning other than salt and pepper (and sometimes garlic). Many say beef has an umami-based taste. 

Umami is the 5th flavor profile that our tongues can taste and is sometimes grouped in with “salty”. But, umami combines salty with hearty and earthy. Beef is high in all of the elements and acids that make up the umami flavor profile (check out this article for more on that!). Umami is also found in things like mushrooms, parmesan cheese, seaweed, soy sauce, bacon, and more.

Alternatively, pork ribs have a taste that is not nearly as strong as beef. Some even describe the taste as slightly sweet. Without additional flavorings, pork ribs often taste very similar to pork chops. But, pork ribs can pair well with a variety of different combinations of spices, rubs, and bbq sauces.

 

beef ribs vs pork ribs | pork ribs vs beef ribs | which is better pork or beef ribs

Source: Mark Wiens

 

The Preference Between Beef Ribs & Pork Ribs is Up to You

As you can see, there are some distinct differences between these two types of ribs. Knowing the differences and more about different meats will help you more confidently become a master of backyard cooking.

When it comes to pork ribs vs beef ribs, it would be hard to determine if one is necessarily better than the other. It really comes down to personal preference at the time. Both are great options when it comes to a delicious cut of meat that smokes well and will feed a crowd.

Do you favor one of these types of ribs over the other? Plan on smoking ribs soon? Tell us about it by dropping a comment below. We want to hear from you!

If you want step-by-step instructions straight from the champion Pitmasters and Grillmasters on cooking a variety of delicious foods, including ribs, check out our backyard barbecue cooking classes here at BBQ Champs Academy. If you really want to step your competition outdoor cooking game up, check out the All-Access passes to learn everything you need to know to cook award-winning meat.

Make sure to also check out our YouTube channel and stay on top of all the latest insider tips, secrets, and BBQ news straight from the pros!

Not all pork ribs are created equal. Many people don’t realize that there are several different types of pork rib cuts. To truly elevate your barbecue game and master the art of cooking ribs, it is important to understand the different types of pork ribs and how the cuts vary. 

Some pork ribs have more meat on the bone than others while some are more uniform in shape. Some pork rib cuts are better suited for smoking and cooking low and slow than others. Each rib cut has some unique characteristics and variations. 

In this article, we’ll break down the different pork rib cuts and what to look for when buying your ribs. Let’s take a look:

 

5 Different Types Of Pork Rib Cuts

A pig has a total of 14 ribs attached to the center section of the spine. Each type of rib cut comes from a different section of the ribs. Where the ribs are cut from on the pig matters a lot when it comes to how much meat is on the bone, the length, and even the taste.

 

types of pork ribs | pork rib cuts | pork rib cuts explainedSource: Chowhound

 

There are 5 popular types of pork ribs:

 

Baby Back Ribs

One of the most popular types of pork rib cuts, baby back ribs come from the upper loin area of the pig near the spine. These ribs are also sometimes referred to as loin back ribs. In the name baby back ribs, the term “baby” does not mean they come from piglets but refers to the size of these ribs being smaller compared to spareribs. 

Baby back ribs tend to be between 3 and 6 inches in length and have a distinct bend in the bone where the rib meets the spine. Even though they usually have more meat on the bones, this rib cut is leaner in the amount of fat in the meat compared to spareribs so they don’t take as long to cook. Baby back ribs usually take 3 to 4 hours to properly cook.

 

Spareribs

Arguably the most popular type of pork ribs, spareribs are cut from further down the side of the pig near the belly, reaching down toward the breastbone. You may also hear these referred to simply as spares. 

Spareribs are longer and flatter in comparison to baby back ribs, allowing them to brown more evenly. On one end of the spareribs, where they have been cut away from the baby back ribs, you’ll see the marrow of the bones. The other end, towards the chest of the pig, will be more tapered. At this tapered end will be a larger chunk of meat, cartilage, and gristle.

One of the biggest differences is that spareribs have significantly fattier meat with more marbling along the top and between the bones. This is why these ribs take longer to cook and are often the better choice for smoking. Spareribs usually take 5 to 6 hours to cook.

 

St. Louis Ribs

 

pork ribs | types of pork ribs | st. louis ribsSource: Serious Eats

 

Another popular variation of ribs, St. Louis ribs are simply spareribs that have just been trimmed up more. These have had both the cartilage and gristle-filled area and the tapered end of the ribs cut off. This results in a more rectangular, uniform look to the rack of ribs. Because of this, many competition pitmasters prefer to use St. Louis style ribs. Both for their clean appearance and the amount of meat on the bones. 

The name of this rib cut came from the meatpackers in St. Louis who started cutting their ribs this way in the mid-20th century. Because of the way they are trimmed, St. Louis ribs are longer than baby back ribs but shorter than standard spareribs. 

You won’t often find this type of rib cut in your local big-box grocery store. Unless you trim the spareribs yourself into St. Louis style, your local butcher will be your best source for these types of pork ribs.

 

Kansas City Ribs

Kansas City ribs are very similar to St. Louis ribs but are not trimmed as closely. With St. Louis style ribs, the cartilage section is removed, while Kansas City ribs have the cartilage section still included. 

 

Rib Tips

Finally, rib tips are the small bones and cartilage that connect the lower breast bone to the front ribs. These are cut from the lower ends of spareribs when cutting them into St. Louis ribs. This cut used to be considered butcher scraps but actually makes a great appetizer. Rib tips are usually 8 to 12 inches long and 1 to 3 inches wide. Then, when they are ready to be served, they are usually cut into 2-inch chunks.

Because of the high amount of cartilage, rib tips do tend to be chewier compared to other types of pork rib cuts but can still be delicious when cooked properly. 

 

pork rib cuts | types of pork ribs | rib tips

 

Country-Style Ribs

You may have heard of country-style ribs as well. But, for clarification, these are actually not ribs at all. These are basically a bone-in pork chop that is cut near the shoulder from the front of the baby back ribs.

Depending on the overall size of the pig, country-style ribs may be served with either a one bone or two bone thickness with a significant amount of pork loin meat attached.

 

Selecting Good Quality Pork Ribs

The quality of your pork is just as important as the type of rib cut and cooking technique when it comes to great-tasting pork ribs. Pork doesn’t have the same kind of grading specifications as beef, which goes by the level of fat marbling. But, there are still ways you can determine good quality pork ribs. 

When it comes to pork, you want to look for dark reddish-pink to purplish-red with some good marbling. Remember, the fat helps add tenderness and flavor. But, try and avoid large chunks of fat on top. You also want to look for an even thickness across the ribs. Ideally, you want to get ribs that are around an inch thick.

 

pork quality chart | pork ribs | types of pork ribsSource: Pork Checkoff

 

Your local butcher is going to be your best source of high-quality pork with the largest selection of the various types of pork ribs. Plus, if the rib cut you want is not in the case and ready to buy, just ask and they’ll gladly cut it for you.

 

Wrapping It All Up

Now, with this article on pork rib cuts explained, you should have a clearer picture of what differentiates different types of ribs and also what to look for when you are buying your pork ribs. Set up a two-zone grill and don’t be afraid to experiment with cooking and smoking different types of ribs to determine your favorites and achieve the results you are looking for. 

If you are a rib fan, make sure to check out our articles on the different types of beef rib cuts and the differences between beef and pork ribs as well. Taking the time to understand the different types of meat cuts and further expand your outdoor cooking knowledge will help you quickly step your barbecue game up.   

For more insider tips and tricks straight from top barbecue Pitmasters and Grillmasters, dive into the one-of-a-kind, in-depth classes here at BBQ Champs Academy. You can master how to cook BBQ ribs and much more. 

Check out our All-Access pass to get the full inside look at all different types of barbecue. You’ll learn, through stunning high definition video, detailed step-by-step, how to cook competition-worthy barbecue like nowhere else.

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