Beef Ribs vs Pork Ribs: Comparing the Favorites

From size to taste to cooking methods, there are plenty of differences between beef ribs and pork ribs.

I come from a big barbecue family so I learned all about ribs well before I entered culinary school. Of course, my professional experience also helped me to differentiate between beef ribs vs. pork ribs even more!

In this post I will breakdown how beef and pork ribs are different from one another and you can also get a better idea on how to prepare them. Let's begin!

What are Beef and Pork Ribs?

Before going any further, I would actually like to go into a little bit of detail about what beef ribs and pork ribs are individually. If you have been barbecuing your whole life, you may think that you know quite a bit about ribs, but you will be surprised by how much there is left to learn.

Beef Ribs

As you are well aware, beef ribs come from cows. Due to the size of the animal, though, there are more beef rib cuts to choose from. There are three types to choose from - these different types are discussed in detail below...

Types of Beef Ribs

  • Beef Back Ribs: this meat is trimmed off the outside of the prime rib. This makes them premium meat, but they aren't always easy to find. They are around 6 to 8 inches long and are sold as racks. Beef back ribs are often referred to as dinosaur ribs.
smoked beef ribs
  • Plate Short Ribs: these ribs are known for being big and meaty, with a single rib weighing anywhere from 1 to 2.5lbs. These ribs are taken from the plate primal which is near the belly of the animal. They are sold in three part portions.
  • Chuck Short Ribs: these are smaller than the plate short ribs, but still have plenty of meat on the bone. These are the first five ribs of the animal and can be 3 to 4 inches long. These ribs contain plenty of marbling.

Which is Better Beef Ribs or Beef Short Ribs?

It isn't a case of one cut of beef ribs being better than the other. Instead, it is about choosing the right type of rib for your style of cooking. For instance, short ribs have higher levels of fat which makes them better suited to slow cooking. Beef back ribs, on the other hand, work best for braising.

Pork Ribs

Pork ribs tend to be more popular than beef ribs - certainly, more people are familiar with them. There are three types of pork rib cuts as well:

Types of Pork Ribs

  • Spareribs: these are some of the most well-known types of ribs. They come from the belly of the pig, ensuring that there is a good amount of tender and delicious meat on the bones. Riblets and rib tips also come from spare ribs.
  • St. Louis Style Ribs: they are essentially spare ribs with the breastbone and cartilage removed. As a result, St. Louis ribs have a more uniform shape, making them easier to cook and brown. They aren't very meaty, but the meat on the ribs do tend to have a considerable amount of fat.
  • Baby Back Ribs: these are pretty famous too. They are taken from loin meat, on top of the rib cage, making them curvier and shorter than spare ribs. This is where they get their name from as well. These ribs have a lot of leaner meat. Due to their smaller size, baby back ribs cook up rather quickly.

Breaking Down the Differences

Now, let's take a closer look at how pork and beef ribs differ from one another.

The Size

This is a fairly obvious one given that cows tend to be a great deal bigger than pigs. Beef ribs can be up to 12 inches long and are almost always weighed in pounds. Pork ribs, on the other hand, are unlikely to be larger than 6 inches and are weighed in ounces.

It isn't just about size, though. On average, beef ribs tend to have greater amounts of meat on their bones so they do make for a more filling meal. The amount of meat on the bones can vary from one butcher to another as well as from one restaurant to another.

There are lot of producers and butchers who will try to keep as little meat on the bone as possible in order to save money.

Meat to Fat Ratio

You may be surprised to learn this but pork ribs often have less fat than beef ribs. This has to do with the fact that beef ribs have more meat on the bone. Much of this meat consists of marbling which is essentially fat.

It is due to this discrepancy that you will find that pork ribs and beef ribs will taste quite different to one another. The fat adds a bit more succulence to the beef ribs.

This doesn't mean that pork ribs are completely out of the game, though. Pork spare ribs have a much higher fat content which explains why they are such a favorite. This results in a moister, juicier, and more delicious rib.

If you are trying to keep things healthy, though, back ribs are the way to go. They have the least amount of fat on them.

The Taste

grilled pork ribs

I often find this the most difficult comparison to make. After all, how are you supposed to really describe the flavor?

The best way that I would be able to depict the differences in flavor would be like this:

Pork ribs have minimal amounts of fat which means that they dont have too much of natural flavor, on their own. In some cases, they can taste like pork chops but the flavor is still pretty mild.

Spare ribs are an exception to this rule, but the flavors aren't as noticeable as with beef. This is why they are often paired with barbecue sauces.

Beef ribs tend to have a strong flavor, one that is certainly more distinct. I would go so far as to say that it can even taste like steak at times.

Whenever I prepare beef ribs I like to keep the seasonings and sauces to a bare minimum. The whole point of these ribs is to let the flavor stand on its own and shine through.

Cooking Method

When most people think of pork ribs, they immediately think of barbecue and wood chips. This is because it is the most common way to prepare spare ribs and baby back ribs. If it isn't grilling season, tough, you can achieve a similar effect in the oven. I also know many people who like smoking ribs with charcoal.

In my experience, people are just as likely to make beef short ribs on the grill as they are in the oven. Of course, with its flavor and meaty texture, more people prefer making it in a slow cooker.

Cooking Time

The cooking times for beef ribs vs. pork can vary quite a bit. This all has to do with size. Not only are beef ribs bigger, they are meatier which takes it longer to cook beef ribs.

The cooking method can also determine how long it will to cook pork ribs or beef ribs. For instance, grilling the meat can be quicker than roasting it in an oven. Ribs n a slow cooker will often take several hours.

Cost

Cost is pretty important when comparing between pork and beef ribs. This is especially true when you are cooking for a large groups.

Generally, pork ribs - St. Louis ribs, baby back ribs, and spare ribs - are the cheaper option. You can also buy them in bulk for less. However, even a large stack of pork ribs isn't always going to be as filling as you would like and you usually have to eat quite a bit to feel full.

Beef ribs have more meat and you will need to eat less. Therefore, this isn't such an easy comparison to make.

Are Beef Ribs Better Than Pork Ribs? What Type of Ribs are the Best?

I'm often asked this question when I am at a barbecue restaurants with friends. While a lot of people are familiar with pork ribs, they don't know as much about beef ribs and are always curious about which one is better.

Well, comparing beef ribs with pork ribs, I wouldn't say that say that one is better than the other. It is all down to preference. What flavors do you enjoy and which ribs satisfy those the most?

There is also the fact that pork ribs are often barbecued and beef ribs are more likely to be braised or slow cooked. These very different cooking techniques mean that the ribs come out quite different from another making it even more difficult to compare them.

If you want my advice I would tell you to try both beef ribs and pork spare ribs - choosing all kinds of dishes. Then, you can come to your own conclusion.

Are BBQ Ribs Pork or Beef?

To make things even more confusing, both types of ribs can be barbecued. Technically, you can cook them any way that you like.

That being said, it is more common to barbecue pork ribs than beef. Of course, this can differ from one region to another, so it isn't a rule that is set in stone.

If you do see ribs on a menu and aren't sure about what you are getting, then chances are it is pork, especially if it is titled country style ribs. This is because are more common in most areas. Of course if you are in Texas, then there is a good chance that it is beef. With all the ranches out there, beef is more popular.

I find it tricky to compare beef ribs vs. pork ribs to be honest. This is because they are so different from one another. I feel like you aren't doing each type of rib justice simply by pointing out the differences.

This is why I would always advise you to experiment with cooking with both of them at least once. Give it a shot and see which one you prefer. This is the best way to come to a conclusion.

By Kristy J. Norton
I'm Kristy – a chef and connoisseur of all things BBQ! You can find me either in my kitchen (or someone else's) or at a big outdoor barbecue surrounded by friends and family. In both my professional and personal life I’ve picked up more than a few tips and tricks for turning out delicious food. I consider it a privilege to share it with others!
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