Types of Beef Ribs – Their Differences and What to Tell Your Butcher

In just the last couple of years the big, bad beef rib has been making itself known to the barbecue community.

It seems like every day I’m faced with pictures of enormous beef ribs that look more like brisket on a stick than ribs and would make Fred Flintstone jealous.

But did you know, just like pork, there are a few different types of beef ribs?

Close up of some smoked beef short ribs on a wooden chopping boardIn this article, I’m going to touch on what the different types of beef ribs are, what sets them apart from their pork counterparts we’re more used to, what to tell your butcher when you go shopping and finally, how to cook each type of beef rib.

What is the Big Deal With Beef Ribs?

As I said, it seems beef ribs are becoming more and more popular these days, but why? What is with the barbecue obsession with the beef rib?

The answer is very simple, and Texas columnist J.C. Reid does an excellent job of summing it up: beef ribs are delicious, photogenic, and primal.

The well-marbled beef rib is packed with flavor (never forget, fat = flavor), and when simply seasoned and smoked at a low temp for a long period, the meat will easily pull away from the bone and melt in your mouth.

On top of that, the large bone of the short plate rib makes for a great Instagram pic that will potentially make the staunchest vegan jealous.

You can click here to follow my method for how to smoke to beef ribs.

Difference Between Beef and Pork Ribs

When we talk about smoking ribs, we’re usually talking about pork, so it’s no surprise that the number one question I hear most about beef ribs is something to the tune of “what makes them different to pork ribs?”

While they have their similarities, they are clearly very different. Most obviously, beef ribs are much larger than all types of pork ribs. This should come as no surprise since a steer is much larger than a hog.

Besides their larger size, beef ribs tend to have more unctuous, gelatinous fat running through them that when rendered down can be like eating brisket on a stick, where the leaner beef back ribs are like eating something like a smokey, rendered steak when cooked just right.

Different Types of Beef Ribs

There are essentially three types of beef ribs:

  1. Plate Short Ribs (most commonly called beef short ribs.)
  2. Chuck Short Ribs
  3. Back Ribs.

The Plate and Chuck ribs typically have more beef than the back ribs, and they are located down towards the stomach of the animal while the back ribs are attached to the prime rib up top.

Plate Short Rib

These are the beef ribs that barbecue pitmasters wet dreams are made of. They are the big honking foot long; melt in your mouth tender, brisket like ribs that you see being cooked in the best barbecue joints in Texas.

According to award-winning author and television host Steven Raichlen, plate ribs are the biggest and beefiest ribs out there with a single bone sometimes weighing as much as 1 – 2.5 pounds.

How to Cook Them

Similar to brisket in their fat content, they will need to be cooked at a low and slow temperature to render the fat down without drying out the meat.

A simple rub of salt and pepper would do wonders for this cut, and it’s an excellent candidate for the smoker.

In the UK, this cut is commonly known as “Jacob’s Ladder” when prepared and cooked with the ribs attached – looking like a ladder.

Chuck Short Rib

Similar to the plate short rib, the chuck short rib is still very meaty, but with just a slightly smaller bone.

This cut will possibly be easier to come by in the supermarket. The ribs will only be 3 – 6 inches long with a rectangle mass of meat on top of the bone. They may also be available boneless or cut into thinner ½” strips.

How to Cook Them

This cut is also very popular in Korean style barbecue and can be marinated in a simple sweet Asian marinade before being grilled over direct heat.

They can also be cooked on a smoker similar to how you would cook plate ribs – just obviously for much less time.

Beef Back Ribs

Back ribs are much different than chuck and plate short ribs. They come from up higher on the cow and are essentially the ribs you would find in a prime rib roast.

Given the fact that prime rib is a very expensive cut of meat, it is no surprise that the butcher will typically try to keep as much meat on the roast as possible.

This means it’s common to find racks of beef back ribs with very little meat on the bones, but with all the meat being only that between the bones.

How to Cook Them

Given their much smaller size, they do well with being cooked indirect on the grill. A little wood smoke can be added but is not necessary.

They will not need to be cooked near as long as plate or chuck ribs, and they do well with a sweet BBQ sauce.

Conclusion

This article was a little short and sweet, but we feel it covers all you could want to know about the more popular cuts of beef ribs.

Do you think we’ve made any glaring omissions? Let us know in the comments and tell us all about how you prepare beef ribs!

Happy grilling!

Mark Jenner

Hi. I'm Mark Jenner, owner and creator of FoodFireFriends.com.I grill and smoke food outdoors at least three days a week on a wide range of equipment, have done so for years, and love nothing more than cooking good food, over live fire, enjoying it with friends. The aim of this site is to educate and help others to do the same.

16 thoughts on “Types of Beef Ribs – Their Differences and What to Tell Your Butcher”

  1. Since I grew up on pork ribs, I have always been a bit hesitant to work with beef ribs. But, after reading the words, “brisket on a stick”, I literally felt my cheeks pucker and saliva fill my mouth. Too bad I just bought a 14 lb brisket from Costco! I am adding them to the list and will be sure to give them an honest try.

    Fantastic site, and thanks for all of this information!

    • Hi will,

      Thanks for the kind word,s glad you enjoy the site 🙂

      Honestly, I prefer to do beef ribs to brisket a lot of the time. They cook A LOT quicker, tie in with a more predictable cook time, are a good bit more forgiving to any mistakea made during the cook, and have a huge ‘wow factor’ to any guests who when you say ‘ribs’, don’t quite expect to see THAT, haha. Also, they are seriously beefy, unctious, gelatinous in places, full of moisture, and their strong beefy flavor stands up well to and shines through any seriously strong flavors you may decide to use in rubs or sauces, you can really go to town with layering up flavor profiles, and still be able to taste the beef through it all.

      Definitely give them a go, then let us know what you think after? Best of luck!

  2. Been dying to try them myself but the price per pound for something that is half bone makes my lower cheeks pucker. Brisket on a stick at 3 times the price.

    • Hi Suomynona,

      The chuck ribs come from closer to the shoulder end, have more connective tissue and hence when cooked low n slow and those tissues dissolve into collagens, can appear to be more gelatinous, unctuous and moist.

      Plate short ribs also tend to have more meat on them and are larger than the chuck ribs.

      However, when it comes to taste, the difference isn’t that great and may even be indiscernible after they’ve taken on smoke, perhaps a rub is used, etc. I hope that helps!

    • Hi Tom,

      I’ve never been able to determine exactly what ‘beef spare ribs’ are, with different butchers and people calling them different things.

      Many people tend to say they are ‘back ribs’, which will mean they are mostly bone with just the meat between the bones, as described in the article above (and at livestrong for example: The Differences in Beef Spare Ribs & Short Ribs

      Then we have others who say they are a subset cut from the short rib plate, so they are in fact short ribs. This article from Fischer Bros Butchers: Flanken, Short Ribs & Beef Spare Ribs, has ‘beef spare ribs’ described this way.

      So it depends which definition we accept, and I’ve yet to find a definitive answer for what they actually are.

    • Hi Daniel,

      I’ve seen that a few times, and actually mentioned it just last week in my write up of ‘smoked beef ribs’. If you scroll down to the section ‘preparing the ribs’ at this URL: Smoked beef rib recipe

      To quote myself from that write up:

      “This extra layer of meat is either (commonly believed to be) a piece of brisket – OR – it is the muscle that forms the ‘cap’ on a fore rib of beef. I’m not 100% sure which it is, but either way it cooks differently to the rib meat and must be removed, along with the silverskin between this meat and the rib meat.”

  3. Thanks Mark, I’ve only just stumbled upon your great website – I’ll be spending some time on here having a good read!
    Keep up the great work, cheers from the UK.

    • Thanks Daniel! Hopefully you find some useful info. I’ll be organising things a better in a few weeks time, everything’s buried away right now on pages 2…3…9 etc. and hard to find, so I need to build some category page listings of what’s on here. I’t’s on my to do list (item number 134, haha.)

  4. I’m just wondering if plate ribs are almost exclusively used by restaurants or can they be found from the supermarket butcher? I’ve never thought about smoking it myself, but if easily available…. I’m drooling!
    Thank you for explaining the different types of beef ribs. Your explanation made it so clear. Now I’ve got to dig out the ribs I’ve got in the freezer to see what type I bought. Beef ribs are on the menu this weekend!

    • Hi Kim,

      Plate ribs are hard to find on supermarket shelves, but give your local butcher a few days notice and they will definitely be able to get them for you. Good luck with the cook, let us know how you get on!

  5. I am glad I came across your site explaining the difference. I recently bought some beef ribs from a local market and the butchers swore they were beef after I kept asking if they were.

    See…I’ve seen beef ribs at Costco (years ago) and they were huge. This is here in Los Angeles. I haven’t seen plain beef ribs there in a long while to be hones. Now it’s just short ribs.

    So having that memory of how big they were I was surprised to be given these ribs that somewhat resembled spare ribs in their size, but there is something different. They’re a little longer on some parts. It’s hard to tell because they’re frozen and there’s some ice on them. I am trying to convince myself I wasn’t taken.

    The color does look more beef-like but some parts still look like pork spares. They’re not thick at all. I was expecting those super thick meaty ones which are strangely hard to find here in Los Angeles. We’ll see once these get cooked.

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