Beef Ribs - What’s the Difference?

Written in 2022
by Adam

    Beef ribs are considered an underrated food item in most cases, but this is because of a lack of information about these delicious cuts. The main type of ribs known are pork ribs, but in recent years, beef ribs have been gaining in popularity. Due to this newness in the market, most buyers usually find it confusing what they should be looking for and how to pick/select them.

    For an inexperienced buyer, the different types of ribs can be confusing. For starters, did you know a steer has 13 ribs down each side! Well in this article we will take a close look at the different types of beef ribs and answer questions like "What's the difference?" or "How do I know which one to get?" You might have heard about short ribs before, but what are they? The answers to these questions await. But first...

    What Are Beef Ribs?

    Beef ribs are cut from the rib and brisket area of a cow. The unique thing about beef ribs is that they have more fat than other types of ribs, which makes them very tender and rich in flavour. They are considered to be a bit difficult to cook because of this fat content, but they can also become one of your favourite barbecue cuts if cooked properly.

    There are two main types of beef ribs: back ribs (also known as finger ribs) and short ribs.

    1. Beef Short Ribs

    Also known as "flanked" or "kalbi", "braising ribs", "crosscut ribs", "English short ribs", "Korean short ribs".

    They consist of a thin layer of meat that covers one side and is mostly bone on the other - thus their name short ribs. The meat on these beef ribs is fattier than back ribs, and it tends to fall off easily; therefore they need more time in cooking.

    Short ribs are cut across the bones instead of along them and thus tend to be flat shaped and consist of two to three bones that can be anywhere between 10-30 cm long and 2-5 cm wide.

    The rib bones must be separated before cooking - this means you will get fewer pieces than what you would expect with other types of beef ribs. 

    Types of Short Ribs

    Short ribs are cut from the plate section (the lower rib area) from two different places, resulting in two different types

    1. Plates Short Ribs (“Jacob’s Ladder”)

    Plate short rib bones are from the lower half of the rib cage, known as the short plate. The short plate is positioned between the brisket cut in front of it and the flank steak cut behind it. It begins at the 6th rib and extends to the 10th.

    A rack comes in a set of 3 bones. The rib bones are usually in proximity to each other. They can have a length of about 30cms and 5cms thick consisting of meat, thus the name "loaded beef ribs". At maximum, a single bone can weigh up to 500g!

    2. Chuck Short Ribs

    This type of short rib is cut from the front of the steer right under the chuck, which sits above the shank and brisket. The chuck ribs are located from 1st to the 5th rib.

    Like the plate short ribs, the chuck ribs are still very meaty but differ in length, they are shorter typically 7- 15cms.

    Chuck short ribs are sold in different versions, either boneless or cut into thin strips of about 1 cm thick.

    Different Short Rib Cut Styles

    There are different ways in which short ribs are cut. The resulting cuts are either leaner or meatier.

    1. Flanken Style Short Ribs

    This is the most common way of cutting short ribs - it consists of a thin strip of meat, with two or three bones attached to one end and no bone at all on the other. The flanken method halves up each rib, so there are basically two pieces per rib (hence "half" in the name).

    The problem with this cut is that you get less meat than what you would if they were crosscut because only half your piece will have tender meat while the rest might be very tough due to lack of fat content.  These types are usually sold boneless but sometimes still come with bones which can cause concerns when cooking them as some people that they need longer time to cook while others say that they don't need much time at all.

    2. Crosscut Short Ribs

    These are considered to be better because more meat than bone comes with each piece - especially when compared to flanken style cuts, which have approximately less than 50% meat content per strip. The cross-section produces two pieces: one has rib bones attached, and the other doesn't; both however will have equal amounts of tenderized fat and leaner meat.

    In this type, you will have to separate the ribs from each other before cooking, as they are still connected by a tough membrane that needs to be removed first. The good news is that crosscut short ribs only take about half an hour longer than flanken style cuts, so there's no need for extra time in your schedule!  Even better - these types come already pre-separated and ready to cook, so less fuss!!

    But remember: when buying either of them make sure it has a nice fat content otherwise it'll taste dry upon eating which defeats the whole purpose of having beef ribs at all 😉

    3. English Cut Short Ribs

    Short ribs that are cut in the English style means they've been chopped between the bones to separate them, resulting in a big piece of meat sitting on top of the bones.

    This type is sold with bones about 4 per rack or boneless also known as "cutlets" ideally short rib chunks cut across the bones, usually about 7 to 10 cm thick (or more).

    The advantage of buying English Cut beef ribs is that you get both leaner meat and fatty bits, but they tend not to be as tender as other cuts so make sure it’s marinated before cooking to get the most out of it.

    4. Untrimmed Short ribs

    These are just what you think they'd be: the meatiest part of the rib with nothing to trim off! This cut is not very common because it needs a lot more time than usual in order for beef short ribs to become tender enough before cooking.  Untrimmed short ribs contain lots of bones- up to six per rack - and fat, making them even tastier.

    5. Trimmed Short Ribs

    This type of beef ribs is the one most often sold in restaurants and supermarkets across the UK, Canada, US.  These are cut at least once between every rib with minimal fat left on it, which can be further trimmed off if necessary to achieve a leaner final product. These types require less time than untrimmed short ribs, but still, need about an hour or two of braising before they become tender enough for cooking.

    6. Boneless Short Ribs

    This is another type of short ribs that are sold without bones. These types tend to be more expensive because the bone-in versions have more meat on them, which results in a lower cost per gram for consumers. Some boneless beef rib cuts may also contain some fat and connective tissue as well, so they're not as lean as their counterparts but still require less preparation time before cooking.

    2. Beef Back Ribs (“Finger Ribs”)

    The back ribs come from the upper part of the rib cage, right behind the shoulder. During the cut, the prime rib, which contains most of the meat, is cut and what is left is the back ribs which has a thin layer of meat on top and between the rib bones.

    These ribs are distinctively curved, and a rack of back ribs can have about 7 bones. The length of the back rib can range from 15 cm to about 20 cm, depending on the size of the steer.

    How To Cook Beef Ribs

    Each type of beef rib has a different way of cooking because of the amount of beef and fat it contains.

    1. The Best Way of Cooking Plate Short Ribs

    Keep in mind that this type of short ribs has more meat and fat than the other types. The cooking method is the same as with a brisket due to the fat content.

    All you need to do is rub some salt and pepper on the meat, doesn't need to be marinated. Then proceed to cook them at a slow and low temperature, so the fat can break down while the meat stays tender and moist. 

    It's also advisable not to separate the bones from the rack, as it can cause the meat to dry out faster. When cooked with the ribs are attached, it often comes out looking like a ladder, thus the popular name "Jacob's Ladder" in the UK.

    2. How to Best Cook Chuck Short Ribs

    These ribs are some meaty as the plate ribs but take less time to cook. They are mostly found used in the Korean style of barbecue.

    The best method when cooking this type of beef rib is braising because their fat content makes them perfect for slow cooking over low heat.

    Alternatively, you can just rub some salt and pepper, or marinate them with preferred spices and then grill over direct heat.

    Another thing you should do with these types of short ribs is to make sure they're separated first, often by cutting through (or using your hands) before seasoning or marinating it. Then you can proceed on browning both sides if desired before putting them together again - usually under pressure, so there isn't too much liquid inside while still achieving good results regarding flavour.

    3. How to Best Cook Beef Back Ribs

    These ribs have the least amount of meat out of the three and require less time to cook. The meat is also tender in quality.

    Beef Back ribs are best cooked with a dry rub or marinade with a sweet BBQ sauce. The meat has the tendency to become tough if not properly seasoned, so make sure you apply enough seasoning on it before cooking, starting at least 24 hours in advance.  

    The fat content is also high which makes these types ideal for braising, but they can be indirectly grilled.

    How to Pick Beef Ribs

    You may find some beef ribs in your butcher shop that has already been separated from each other after cutting off one full rack, while others prefer keeping whole racks together by using string or netting before placing them inside a display case where customers can easily pick out what they need themselves without assistance unless needed otherwise. Some places slice these up and package them into smaller portions to make it easier for customers that don't need a full pound of beef ribs at once.

    The best way of selecting fresh beef ribs at your preferred butcher shop is by looking for ones with bright red colouring still. If it's brown, they're old and not recommended.

    They should also be firm to the touch, with little or no dampness on them at all. While you can't really determine tenderness based on appearance, most butchers will give an indication if asked about ones that are more suited for slow cooking than grilling because of their high-fat content - which is usually done through pressing into the meat lightly. 

    Difference Between Beef and Pork Ribs

    Beef ribs are bigger compared to pork as a steer is much bigger than a hog

    Pork back ribs have more meat than short ribs but less fat, making them suitable for dryer forms of cooking like grilling or direct heat methods because there's no chance that the meat will become tough. 

    Beef Short Ribs are mostly marinated before being cooked using a slow method to ensure tenderness, such as braising or stewing them in liquid over low heat. This makes beef ribs ideal for wetter types of cooking such as roasting, smoking etc where they can absorb flavour from other ingredients better due to their larger surface area which leaves room for seasoning/marinade even if you don't want to use much seasoning.

    To Conclude

    Hopefully, by now you have understood the different types of beef ribs available, what are short ribs, where are short ribs cut from? Different cutting methods of short ribs, the best method to cook them and how to pick/select beef ribs.

    It's important to keep in mind that different butchers have different standards and types of cuts. But the general knowledge is still the same. So, don't be shy in telling them exactly what you want.

    Have all your questions been answered? Share down below, plus, I'd love to hear how you prepare your favourite beef ribs!

    FAQs

    Which are the best beef ribs for a barbecue?

    Plate short ribs are the best cut for barbecue. They come from the upper part of ribs near the shoulder blade which is well marbled with fat and connective tissues, making it perfect for smoking because there's much flavour to be extracted out during low heat cooking methods.

    Which beef ribs have the most meat?

    Short ribs have the most meat. They are a third of beef plate short ribs, which is why they're so tender and juicy because there's more muscle with high-fat content to work on.

    Which cut of the beef rib has the least amount of fat?

    Back ribs have less marbled muscles(fat) but still, contains plenty enough from what it needs for cooking purposes making them suitable for dryer forms of cooking like grilling or direct heat methods where you won't find much moisture being drawn out during the process as well as little chance that its quality will diminish due to excess exposure to heat/fire compared to other cuts such as flat-cut brisket. 

    What kind of beef ribs are best?

    The best cut of beef ribs is the short ribs because they are meatier and tender. They are cut from the short plate that is the lower section, from the 6th through 10th rib.

    What are the 3 types of ribs?

    Plate short ribs, chuck short ribs and back ribs.

    Article Written by Adam

    Adam is the creator of the SmokeGuys website, running it since 2016. Hater of coriander, lover of all things meat... Adam currently works in marketing with a dream of being able to make food his full-time 'job' in the longer term.

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