Beef Ribs vs Pork Ribs

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If you ask most people to picture barbecue ribs in their heads, chances are you’re likely going to hear about either baby back ribs or spare ribs. Both of those types of ribs are pork. However, there are also ribs that come from cows like short ribs or back ribs. So what are the differences between beef and pork ribs? Yes, we…

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Beef Ribs vs. Pork Ribs

If you ask most people to picture barbecue ribs in their heads, chances are you’re likely going to hear about either baby back ribs or spare ribs. Both of those types of ribs are pork. However, there are also ribs that come from cows like short ribs or back ribs. So what are the differences between beef and pork ribs? Yes, we mean beyond some types come from a cow while others come from a hog. Which is better eating, pork or beef ribs? Or which is better for smoking? 

What Are Pork Ribs? 

Pork Ribs on Hog

Ribs, whether they are baby back ribs or St Louis-style spare ribs, are iconic in the world of barbecue. Some people prefer them with only a dry rub, others slathered in sauce, but pork ribs are a staple of BBQ joints and competitions all over the place. 

If you go into a grocery store to buy pork ribs, you’ll come across three standard pork rib cuts: baby back ribs, spare ribs, and country-style ribs. Of these three rib cuts, only two actually come from a hog’s rib section, the baby back ribs and spare ribs. 

1. Baby Back Ribs

Perfectly Smoked Pork Ribs (Baby Backs)
Smoked Baby Back Ribs

Depending on when you were born and how much television you watched, you might have just had an ad jingle pop into your head for baby back ribs. Old commercials aside, baby back ribs are a favorite of a lot of people when it comes to pork ribs.

These ribs have a distinctive curvature due to coming from the rib section closest to the hog’s spine, near the pig’s loin. Most of the meat on baby back ribs sits on top of the bone, not in between the ribs, and the ribs are fairly lean. A rack of baby back ribs is smaller than a rack of spare ribs. 

2. Spare Ribs

Spare Ribs
Smoked Spare Ribs

Want to be confused? You can walk into a grocery store and find two different kinds of spare ribs. In reality, though, it’s not confusing. There are spare ribs, and then there are St. Louis-style (or St. Louis cut) spare ribs. The only difference? St Louis ribs have been trimmed to make the rack uniform. Spareribs have a decent amount of extra meat and bones along the top of the rack and on the sides. Butchers will trim them up and even sell the trimmings as riblets or rib tips.

These ribs come from the section of the rib cage closest to the belly of the pig and the breastbone, so these ribs have a bit higher fat content. Most of the meat sits between the rib bones, not on the surface of the bones. You might even hear or see these ribs referred to as side ribs due to them being more on the side of the pig.

A rack of spare ribs, whether trimmed or untrimmed, is larger than a rack of baby back ribs.

3. Country-Style Spare Ribs

Country Style Ribs
Country Style Ribs

Here’s the real confusing part: country-style ribs are not actually ribs. They are cut from the shoulder of the hog, so it’s the same meat that you would find on a pork butt to make pulled pork from. You can find bone-in or boneless country-style ribs, and if you get bone-in, it’s actually part of the shoulder blade. 

Country-style spare ribs are incredibly meaty and have plenty of fat. You’ll want to cook these ribs low-and-slow to allow the fat to render and connective tissue to break down so you can get tender, delicious pork. 

For a more in-depth look at pork ribs and the differences between them, check out our explanation of the different types of pork ribs.

What Are Beef Ribs?

If what you picture when you think about barbecue ribs is pork ribs, then you may not be as familiar with the different types of beef ribs and what part of the cow they come from. If you’re an avid social media user, you’ve probably seen dino ribs before. Those are plate short ribs, one of the types of beef ribs. 

There is more variety to beef ribs than there are pork ribs, but you aren’t likely to find a rack of beef ribs (at least not plate ribs) at a normal grocery store. There are three major types of beef rib cuts and then two different types of preparations as well. The three actual types of beef ribs are short plate ribs, short chuck ribs, and back ribs. Then you have ribs that are English cut and flanken cut.

1. Short Plate Ribs

Beef Plate Ribs
Short Plate Ribs

These ribs come from the plate primal, low on the ribcage, and just behind the brisket primal on the cow. If you get a rack of these ribs untrimmed, each rib is nearly 12 inches long and can have two-plus inches of meat on top of it.

One of the nicknames of the short plate ribs is dino or dinosaur ribs due to the size and the amount of meat on a single bone. Honestly, one rib is usually enough for one adult. 

However, that’s not the only nickname for short plate ribs as they are sometimes known as “brisket on a stick.” The amount of marbling on one of these ribs resembles the point of a brisket, so it can be a similar experience.

Even when short plate ribs are trimmed, the bones will still be around six inches long with between one to two inches of meat on them. 

A full rack of short plate ribs typically has three or four bones and weighs somewhere around five pounds. Find a local butcher and become good friends to track a rack of short plate ribs down.

2. Short Chuck Ribs

Chuck Short Ribs
Chuck Short Ribs

These ribs are from the chuck primal, the same area where you’d find chuck roasts (which can be smoked like a brisket.) Like the short plate ribs, short chuck ribs have a thick layer of meat, between one and two inches, on top of each rib. However, short chuck ribs (or chuck short ribs) are nowhere near as long as short plate ribs so you do get less meat. 

The quality of the meat is still quite good and has plenty of marbling on short chuck ribs. You aren’t likely to find these in your local supermarket as a rack of ribs, unfortunately. You would need to look for a local butcher to find them. 

3. Back Ribs

The majority of the meat on a rack of beef back ribs sits in between the bones due to their location. These ribs come from the rib primal where you also find ribeyes and prime rib. Prime rib roasts are cut from around these ribs so you won’t find much meat on the surface of the bones. 

Due to the trimming of the prime rib, back ribs are the leanest cut of beef ribs. They still have plenty of beefy flavor, so if you or someone you know is looking for a leaner option but still wants to enjoy ribs, back ribs are a good option.

English Cut Beef Ribs

This is not a specific type of ribs from the cow, this is actually a method of cutting short ribs. This can be done with either short plate or short chuck ribs. Rather than serving as a rack, these ribs are cut into individual bones then trimmed down. You can find these in a local grocery store. These can be smoked, but it is not uncommon for people to braise these ribs by first searing them then cooking them low and slow in a liquid. Most beef ribs are cut this way.

Flanken Cut Beef Ribs

Flanken Cut Ribs

Like the English cut ribs, flanken ribs are simply a trimming style. Rather than cutting the ribs into individual bones, flanken ribs are short plate or short chuck ribs cut across the bones. This results in thin pieces of meat with slices of bone still in place. These are incredibly common in Korean BBQ and can be cooked hot and fast, typically after sitting in a marinade. You can also find these in your local supermarket.

Pork Ribs VS Beef Ribs: What Are The Differences?

Besides coming from two different animals, there are a number of differences when comparing beef ribs vs pork ribs. They differ in size and amount of meat on the ribs, the amount of marbling, flavor, cost, availability, and how long they take to cook. 

Size/Amount Of Meat

Typically, beef ribs are going to be larger and contain more meat than pork ribs. It’s simply a function of cows being larger animals than hogs by a substantial amount. That’s not to say you won’t be happy with eating pork ribs because a lot of people are. It’s just that you might eat half a rack of pork ribs compared to one short plate beef rib. The exception is the beef back ribs due to most of the meat being cut away for prime rib. 

Marbling

Marbling of Beef Ribs

Why do we care about marbling? It’s the intramuscular fat in the meat that renders out during the smoking process and adds even more flavor. So the more marbled a piece of meat is, the more flavor it will pack. In terms of ribs, the short ribs (both chuck and plate) have much more marbling than the pork ribs. Spare ribs have more marbling than baby back ribs, but they still cannot compete with beef short ribs. 

Flavor

The marbling plays heavily into the flavor, no question. So it should be no surprise that beef ribs tend to be a stronger flavor than pork ribs. Pork doesn’t have the strongest flavor in itself while beef does. You could argue that makes beef ribs superior to pork ribs, but it really depends on what you’re looking for. If you want ribs that need little seasoning and instead let the taste of the meat shine through, then you’ll probably want beef ribs.

However, if you have a BBQ dry rub or a barbecue sauce that’s to die for, you might want to go with pork ribs. To best enjoy beef ribs, I typically stick with salt and black pepper and let the beef take center stage. However, if I want a sweet and savory experience with a dry rub and BBQ sauce, I’m going pork ribs every single time. 

Cost

Pork ribs, whether spare or baby back ribs, tend to be much cheaper than beef ribs. The differences can vary widely, but you’ll pay at least $1.50 more per pound for beef ribs over pork ribs with short plate ribs being the most expensive of them all.

Availability

Due to their longstanding, iconic nature, pork ribs are quite common in grocery stores. You don’t need to go to a local butcher to find a rack of spare ribs. You might not always be able to find St Louis cut spare ribs, but chances are you can find a rack of spare ribs or baby back ribs with regularity.

You can find English cut short ribs and flanken ribs at a grocery store fairly frequently as well. However, finding a rack of short ribs is extremely unlikely if you’re just at your friendly neighborhood supermarket. Like me, you’ll need to find a good local butcher shop. 

Cook Times

Not only are pork ribs more readily available, they also tend to cook faster. Baby back ribs cook faster than spare ribs, and beef back ribs are fairly comparable. Just don’t use the 3-2-1 method to smoke your pork ribs. Instead, check out Michael Haas’ method which will give you great ribs that you can bite through. 

A rack of short ribs (regardless if it’s chuck or plate) on the other hand will have much longer cooking times than any type of pork rib. All that beef takes time to smoke and all the marbling and connective tissue need to render out properly so you get the right texture of the meat. The drawback to being more meaty is that it takes longer to cook.

Which Is Better, Pork Or Beef Ribs?

So here’s the thing. Just because pork ribs and beef ribs are both ribs doesn’t necessarily mean they’re comparable. They’re two entirely different experiences. If you love smoky beef that is simply seasoned with salt and black pepper, you’re going to love beef ribs. If you love using the latest and greatest barbecue dry rub and BBQ sauce while also loving the classic rib experience, you’re going to go for pork ribs.

The truth is that there’s a time and a place for both kinds of ribs. Due to the differences in flavor and amount of meat, you’re not going to serve them the same way. Most people are going to want multiple rib bones from pork ribs while one bone of a short plate rib should be enough. 

I personally encourage people to try both ribs. I have and thoroughly enjoy both kinds. I’ll happily smoke, serve, and eat both. 

What Are The Best Ribs For Smoking, Beef Or Pork?

Whether you’re smoking pork ribs or smoking beef ribs, the process is fairly simple. The biggest difference when smoking baby back or spare ribs vs beef short ribs is that the beef ribs are just going to take longer due to the amount of meat. 

If you’re looking to feed a big crowd, you’ll want to go with pork ribs due to them being cheaper per pound typically. If you’re looking for something a bit more special for yourself and a few people and you’ve got the time, beef ribs are great to smoke too.

Final Thoughts

In the battle of beef ribs vs pork ribs, everyone wins. There’s a type of rib for everyone. That’s important as just because beef ribs and pork ribs share the same name, they’re two entirely different eating experiences. One bone of a short plate rib and you’ll be chomping down on a huge beefy (both in size and flavor) “brisket on a stick.” Or you can mow down half a rack of baby back ribs with your favorite glaze on it.

If you’re trying to figure out what wood to use when smoking pork ribs, check out our breakdown of the best wood for smoking ribs. You can try some combinations, but a fruit wood like cherry paired with oak or hickory can be amazing. 

If you’re trying to figure out what kind of wood to smoke beef ribs with, you’ll want to think about smoking brisket due to the similarities. Oak or hickory will give you really good results.

What’s your favorite type of rib to smoke? Where do you come down on the beef vs pork ribs debate? Let us know in the comments!

FAQS

Question: Do Ribeye Steaks And Ribeye Roasts Have Anything To Do With Beef Ribs?

Answer: While ribeye steaks and ribeye roasts both have the word rib in their names, they aren’t exactly types of beef ribs. Instead, ribeyes and ribeye roasts come from the same section of the cow as beef back ribs. A rib roast and ribeye steaks are cut from the meat inside the cow’s ribcage and the leftover meat between the bones is what gives us beef back ribs.

Question: Can I Cook Ribs On The Grill?

Answer: You absolutely can cook ribs on your charcoal grill. In fact, the first few times I smoked ribs, I did it on my kettle grill set up for indirect heat. Just add some wood chunks and you can still get some great smoke flavor on racks of spares, baby backs, or any type of beef ribs. While you can technically cook ribs in an oven or even a slow cooker, you can’t get the wood flavor you’re looking for. You certainly can do that on a charcoal grill.

Jeremy Pike

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4 thoughts on “Beef Ribs vs Pork Ribs”

  1. I’m not a chef but I saw the diagram of the hog for your article and you’re calling the shoulder a butt? Please explain how that can happen.

    Reply

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4 thoughts on “Beef Ribs vs Pork Ribs”

  1. I’m not a chef but I saw the diagram of the hog for your article and you’re calling the shoulder a butt? Please explain how that can happen.

    Reply

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