Barbecue lovers across the world agree on many things. All meat is better grilled, slow-cooked is better than quick and rubs are better than marinades. There are some contentious issues in the world of barbecue and perhaps none is more contentious than the debate between what is better between beef ribs and pork ribs. The correct answer is of course “I’ll have both, thank you”. If for some reason you had to choose we can go through the differences and similarities between these two barbecue champions.
Beef ribs do very well on the barbecue. They are very meaty and some cuts contain a lot of fatty tissue. In a cow, ribs only make up 9% of the meat output compared to chuck which makes up 25% and round steak which makes up 20%. This explains why ribs are both coveted and priced fairly high. There are 3 cuts of beef ribs.
Plate short ribs
The plate is the part of a cow that stretches from the back of the foreleg to the middle of the stomach on the lower side. These ribs generally come as three being the tenth, eleventh and twelfth ribs of the thirteen on the cow. The thirteenth rib is in the loin section while the first nine ribs do not extend into the plate and the first five of them are located in the chuck. Plate short ribs are thick, meaty and tender so they are definitely a barbecue favourite. They contain a lot of connective tissue and fat which cooks perfectly on the barbecue.
These ribs come from a little higher up the beast, towards the spine. This is the area that the prime rib roast hails from. The prime rib roast is one of the priciest cuts, so in most cases, the butcher will take most of the meat from this area to sell as part of the roast. So back ribs are characterised by being less meaty than plate ribs. To their credit, they do cook quicker than other rib varieties. The meat they do have is more tender and accepting to flavours and many like to experiment with more flavours when preparing back ribs.
Chuck Short Ribs
These come from under the chuck and are generally comprised of the first to the fifth rib. They are probably the easiest rib to buy from the supermarket. They are nice and meaty, although they don’t quite compare to the plate short rib. They will have a smaller bone than the plate short rib and generally will have a block of meat at one end of the bone. These ribs tend to contain a fair amount of hard fat which leads to the health-conscious shunning them.
Pork ribs are a competent contender in their own right. Pork ribs do have meaty cuts but not quite as meaty as beef ribs such as plate ribs. What pork ribs lack in meat they make up for in fat which cooks very well on the barbecue. Pork being a lighter flavoured red meat than beef makes pork ribs much more receptive to different flavours than beef ribs. There are four types of pork ribs.
Baby Back Ribs
The most popular of all pork ribs, Baby Backs are the leanest and tender. These types of ribs are located at the top part of the rib cage that is connected to the backbone and just under the loin muscle. The name “Baby” is derived from the fact they are shorter than spare ribs, often about 10 to 12 centimetres in length. “Back” because they are nearest the backbone. They are not harvested from baby pigs. The meat on top of the bones is tender and delicious. Baby Back Rib racks weigh about 700 grams to 1.2 kilograms. They normally have between 10-13 bones per rack. Baby Backs can be grilled, barbecued, roasted and smoked.
The Spare Rib starts from the end of Baby Back Ribs and extends to the end of the rib bone, just above the belly. Spare Ribs are bigger with more meat between the bones than on top of the bones and are a little tougher and fattier, but much richer in flavour. Spare Ribs average 10-13 bones per rack weighing between 1.2 and 1.6 kilograms per rack. They can also be grilled, barbecued, roasted and smoked.
St. Louis Ribs
St. Louis style ribs are a cut that emerged in the United States of America and was officially classified in the 1980s. St. Louis Ribs, or St. Louis Style Ribs are Spare Ribs with the rib tips cut off where a lot of cartilage exists with very little meat. They remove the bottom 8 to 10 centimetres of spare ribs to achieve this cut. St. Louis Style Spare Ribs are popular with grillers and smokers. The tips that are cut off in making St Louis style ribs are sold separately as rib tips which are still favoured in spite of their lower meat content.
Country-style Ribs are not cut from the rib cage. They are cut from the neck or shoulder of the pig where the baby back ribs are close to the shoulder blade. They are however sold as ribs. They are the meatiest variety of ribs and are perfect for those who prefer to use a knife and fork rather than eating with their hands. With meat similar to baby back ribs they take on flavour very well.
Differences: Beef Ribs vs Pork Ribs
With beef ribs and pork ribs defined in great detail, we can breeze through the differences between them. Firstly, pork ribs are cut horizontally save for country-style ribs which are cut from the neck and shoulder. Beef ribs are cut vertically from the chuck and rib with plate short ribs cut horizontally from the stomach area under the rib cage. The fat content of pork ribs means they tend to cook softer than beef ribs do. Fatty varieties of beef ribs like chuck ribs contain hard fat which doesn’t aid their cause. Braising is recommended for beef ribs. Beef back ribs do cook in a similar time to pork ribs on a barbecue of 1-2 hours when slow-cooked. Finally, pork ribs are acknowledged by many as taking in flavour better than beef ribs.