Close up of some smoked beef short ribs on a wooden chopping board

In 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.

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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?

What is the Big Deal With Beef Ribs?

Close up of smoked and sliced beef ribs
The big deal with beef ribs is…well, just look at them! Wow! lol.

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

Smoked beef ribs and smoked pork ribs in two photos side by side

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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.

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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!

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