Pork Ribs VS Beef Ribs
Succulent, marbled ribeye steaks. Mouthwatering piles of brisket. Jam-packed, double-fisted burgers. Safe to say, the BBQ lifestyle is about as spoiled for choice as they come. But when it comes to the real iconic heavy-hitters, few things can take a swing at a hungry gathering like a killer rack of the best barbecue ribs around. Loaded with superb, tender meat and flavored to perfection, there's just something satisfyingly primitive about eating them. It’s a tradition as old as mankind itself — clutching a substantial rib in both hands and toothily tearing meat straight off the bone.
Pork ribs have hogged the spotlight since the start of modern BBQ, but recent years have stopped putting beef ribs out to pasture. It’s not hard to see why, either: with the fattier, meatier returns on beef ribs, you wind up with an impactful rack of bones that offers plenty to love. But pitmasters aren’t done with pork ribs anytime soon! With all the flavoring options, decades of rib trends, and sheer staying power of barbecued pig, there’s just no stopping the pork juggernaut from muscling in on competitions.
But what distinguishes beef ribs from pork ribs? What different kinds of rib cuts should you expect from your butcher? How do they behave separately on the smoker or the grill? We got in touch with New Orleans native Chef Kenneth Temple, local Chopped Champion and professional caterer, to get the lowdown on the delicious, juicy ribs of everything bovine and swine.
What are the Main Differences Between Beef and Pork Ribs?
Want a simple comparison between both sets of ribs? We hear you. Covering everything from the fat-to-meat ratio to the relative cost difference, read below to see for yourself how these two dominant slabs of meat stack up. (Spoiler alert: there are definite key distinctions but, when it comes to juicy BBQ ribs, everybody’s a winner. Well, maybe not the livestock.)
Eating pork ribs is often a one-handed affair. Meanwhile, if “beef ribs take up a lot of room” raises eyebrows, you’ll want to brush up on your cattle anatomy.
Savor the Flavor
The bigger, fattier animal always boasts the stronger natural taste. With that said, the milder taste of pork ribs will take your seasonings much further.
The Price Tag
Typically, pork ribs are friendlier to the backyard bonanza on a budget. Pigs are uniformly easier to raise, cheaper to feed, and their ribs are often sold in bulk.
More Meat, More Eat
Bigger animal, bigger rewards. Beef ribs don’t just hold more meat, they’re heftier and tougher to devour — something your inner caveman will no doubt appreciate.
All That Marbled Fat
The ample gelatinous fat of beef ribs runs through the meat during the cook for that smoky brisket flavor. Want leaner and healthier cuts? Choose pork ribs.
Ah, dependable physics. While there’s a negligible time difference in cooking back ribs, it should surprise nobody that larger bone-in meat asks for greater patience.
Types of Beef Ribs
Beef Plate Short Ribs
AKA: "Plate Ribs," "Loaded Beef Ribs"
Not always the easiest to come by for the backyard grill master, but let’s be frank: it doesn’t get bigger or badder than this. One beefy plate short rib typically weighs in at 1–2 pounds, proudly serving 2–3 by itself. Pulled from the lower ribcage, the “brisket on a stick” boasts ample fat for maximum moisture. Did we mention they often sell in full stacks of three? Have fun!
- Tougher to source, but well worth it
- Huge bones with plenty of meat
- Full of flavorful fat and collagen
- Often sold in 3-bone slabs
Beef Back Ribs
AKA: "Dinosaur Ribs"
Often forgotten by all but pioneering pit masters, beef back ribs are pulled from the rear portion of the rib cage near the spine. Surprisingly, they can be limited on meat; you can thank prime rib for that, as it's cut from the adjacent space. Back rib meat is mostly found between the bones themselves, but boy is it delicious! (We'll cut prime rib some slack, just this once.)
- Located close to ribeye and prime rib
- Thicker bones, usually 8 inches wide
- Generally less meat (but less prep)
- Under-appreciated by comparison
Bonus: Beef Chuck Short Ribs
AKA: "Flanken," "Korean-Style Ribs"
...And here's the crowdpleaser! Cut into 1/2-inch thick slices so that each slice contains a few bones, and you get the Flanken cut popular in Asian cooking — specifically, the Korean kalbi style. Divide between the ribs for a thick slab of beef on one bone for your English cut. Meatier (but tougher) than plate short ribs, chuck short ribs are about as versatile as it gets.
- Highly popular for its wealth of uses
- Variant of regular plate short ribs
- Tougher meat, due to more collagen
- Beloved in Asian and Mexican styles
Bonus: Beef Riblets
What was once a casualty of presentation has gained appreciation on its own merit. Increasingly common and popular in local grocery stores, beef riblets are often what’s left over when butchers prepare boneless chuck short ribs. Frequently sold in 2—3 pound packs, the result is a delicious variant with less meat but a faster cook time — and who doesn’t love that?
- Fairly recent beef development
- Based off of beef chuck short ribs
- Less meat, meaning faster cook time
- For that daring "exposed ribs" look
Types of Pork Ribs
Pork Baby Back Ribs
We’re stating the obvious here, but baby back ribs aren’t taken from literal piglets — these are the upper ribs, wrapping around the loin. Ever had a bone-in pork rib chop? That bone was one of these. Baby back ribs pack less cartilage, and they make wise use of that extra breathing room with meatier yet leaner flesh. They also taper toward the front for a more distinctive look.
- Overall, a better meat-to-bone ratio
- Thinner bones, usually 3-6 inches wide
- Fairly lean with comparatively less fat
- Full rack is typically 8-13 ribs
Country-Style Pork Ribs
Who needs consistency when you could have thrilling mystery instead? Countrystyle ribs prefer to play fast and loose with the rules. Legitimate cuts are split down the loin (near the shoulder), featuring such cameos as feather bones or rib bones. In actuality, counterfeit sections make the cut. You could be buying meat from a Boston butt — or even the sirloin end of the pig!
- Similar texture, but not actually ribs
- Generally minimal bones (or boneless)
- Highly marbled and fatty meat
- Versatile but inconsistent in cut
Pork Spare Ribs
Spoiled by the girth of beef ribs? Welcome to the compromise. Spare ribs are usually the longest pork ribs in length, featuring more tender fat and juicier meat than the other options. Cut from the lowest set of bones in the ribcage, this the closest to the pig’s belly as you can harvest before, well, you run out of ribs. For more of everything — fat, meat, bone, and general pork decadence — “spare” really just says it all.
- Extra fat, straighter curve, tougher meat
- Bigger bones, usually 6%8 inches wide
- Less trimming, straight to the flavor
- Full rack is usually 11-13 ribs
St Louis Cut Pork Ribs
If spare ribs wear a polo and shorts to your family gathering, then St. Louis-style ribs arrive in a snappy dress shirt and tie. Take a regular set of spare ribs, lop off the tips (congratulations: now you know where "rib tips" come from), trim off the sternum and 3-4 inches of cartilage, and what do you get? A flatter, rectangular slab that costs a little extra, but browns easier with reliable visual appeal.
- Greater uniformity and appeal
- More bone and higher amount of fat
- Very popular with grillers and smokers
- Requires more effort (or higher cost)
How Should Beef and Pork Ribs Be Stored?
Storing Covered Beef Ribs
Beef ribs hold their ambient quality a little longer than pork ribs; the faster you cook them, the better. Under best conditions, expect no more than 48 hours of safety.
Storing Covered Pork Ribs
Whether you unseal them or purchase them loose (such as in butcher paper), plan to cook your pork ribs within about a day of exposure.
Storing Vacuum-Sealed Beef Ribs
If sealed properly, beef ribs last 3-5 days in refrigeration. Frozen beef ribs will hold near their peak quality right up to about the 6-month mark.
Storing Vacuum-Sealed Pork Ribs
Pork ribs still in their original packaging will keep in the refrigerator for 3-4 days. In the freezer, you can reasonably expect a quality longevity upward of 6 months.
Storing Leftover Beef Ribs
In most scenarios, beef rib leftovers retain freshness for 3-4 days of refrigeration, or 10-12 weeks in the freezer.
Storing Leftover Pork Ribs
Cooked pork ribs usually hold reasonable quality in the refrigerator for 2-3 days; if you freeze them, expect 8-12 weeks.
How Does Seasoning Impact Beef and Pork Ribs?
How to Season Beef Ribs
Dripping with that raw and meaty flavor, beef ribs tend to benefit from seasonings that complement them. Generous salt and pepper really goes a long way here. For something more exotic, you can't go wrong turning up the sweetened heat.
- Fewer spices often give better results
- Classic salt and pepper works wonders
- Bored? Try sweet, spicy, or both!
How to Season Pork Ribs
The nature of pork's milder taste is that it tends to sponge up any present sauce or spice rub. This calls for interesting flavor profiles in your spice choices, and it can reward the adventurous grill master. Try savory rubs, Carolina blends, and more!
- Be generous in spices and volume
- Seasonings will do the heavy lifting
- Different BBQ blends go a long way
Tips for Cooking Beef and Pork Ribs
Now that you know how to pick the greatest grub for your gathering, how do you use this power? How important is the trimming? Which woods will work for your needs? It’s simple: scour the pointers below! Learn how to get the maximum payoff for whichever meat you’ve chosen, and you’ll easily satisfy those hungry guests with the best BBQ ribs you can cook with your bare hands. (But, you know, please don’t use your bare hands. We have grilling gloves and tongs for that.)
Trimming Pork Ribs
An important early step in preparing pork ribs is to slice away the membrane (also known as the “silver skin”). Reason being? While smoke and rubs will pass right on through, it won’t break down and forces a tasteless chewiness layer that’s just plain unappetizing to eat around.
Trimming Beef Ribs
This is a little more open to interpretation. On beef ribs, removing the silver skin isn’t quite as mandatory as you might think. In fact, leaving it on your beef ribs will help to guarantee that the meat stays stuck to the bones. But it’s certainly not going to hurt anything if you remove it.
How to Smoke Pork and Beef Ribs
For pork ribs, preheat that smoker to about 225–250°F to hit that perfect low and slow point. As they’re always larger and fattier than pork, beef ribs can (and should) take slightly higher heats. Preheat those meatier cuts instead to 275–300°F. The precise length of time needed for your cook will vary greatly, depending on the physical characteristics of your ribs. Look to the individual recipe, but 4–6 hours sets a reasonable expectation that covers many basic-level entrées.
How to Grill Pork and Beef Ribs
Similar results can be had on a gas grill! All it takes is indirect heat and investing in a smoker box. Follow the same rules for temperature, and remove the smoke box after the first hour. For best results, keep larger bones closer to the heat source. For this style, grilling the ribs doesn’t differ all that much to smoking them — after all, we’re basically doing the same thing with different gear. But the heat itself will be more volatile, so you should pay higher attention to it over the hours.
Wood Flavors for Pork Ribs
As covered extensively already, the milder taste of pork leaves a lot of leeway for your more exotic flavors. Wood chips and chunks are no exception to the rule. Thus, your lightweight offerings still get plenty of representation in the final result! Feel free to experiment with a wider palette than usual, and to greater effect.
- Full-bodied: hickory
- Lighter: apple, cherry, or maple
- Lighter woods still have taste impact
Wood Flavors For Beef Ribs
In beef ribs, the inherently meatier taste enjoys being the center of attention — and it’s very good at it. Carrying on the pattern from your seasoning selections, choose woods that enhance the existing flavor, rather than competing with it. The resulting ribs will reward your confidence with very satisfied tastebuds.
- Full-bodied: hickory
- Richer: pecan, oak, cherry
- Lighter woods will be overwhelmed
The Texas Crutch Method
This shortcut calls for wrapping the ribs in aluminum foil or food-grade “pink” butcher paper, which does capture moisture and cuts through the temperature stall later in the session. This will speed things along, but will always minimizes bark and can leave your ribs mushier than wanted. We see the appeal, but firmly believe you’ll see much better results overall without relying on the quick fix.
Best Beef and Pork Ribs Recipes
By now, you should have a strong sense of the culinary contrast between pork ribs and beef ribs. It just so happens we’ve made them ourselves a few times over the decades! (You ARE a subscriber to our BBQGuys YouTube channel, right?) For a few examples of how we’ve turned raw ribs into powerful platters, check out our recipes below!
Beef Ribs Recipes
Pork Ribs Recipes
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