Smoked beef ribs offer an incredible amount of meat, fat, and bone marrow, making them the perfect choice for your next barbecue. From plate to chuck, here’s everything you need to know about the best types of beef ribs.
Say ‘BBQ ribs and you’d be forgiven for thinking of pork, but beef ribs deserve as much of a place at the table as their pig counterparts do. Particularly when it comes to barbecue smoking. They are rich in marbling and connective tissue, which makes them perfect for smoking over low heat, as well as other long form cooking methods like sous vide.
Beef ribs come in lots of different varieties, which can make choosing the right ones a difficult task. In this guide we’re going to break down the different types of beef ribs, and which ones are best for your next barbecue session.
The different types of beef ribs
Unlike pork ribs, beef ribs are almost never sold as an entire rack. Instead, they are often broken down into either back ribs or short ribs, and then there are subcategories within those.
The back ribs come from close to the spine towards the front of the animal, overlapping the ribeye and prime rib areas. In contrast, the short ribs come from the lower sections. They are not called short ribs because of their length, but rather because they come from the short plate of the cow. This section is close to the chewy flank steak, and also the ever-popular brisket.
Butchers can vary wildly in approach to cutting meat, and this is no different when it comes to beef ribs. Some will leave the fat cap on, some will cut the ribs a little shorter. This can mean that the same rack of ribs can look different, despite being technically the same exact cut of beef.
There are three main types of beef ribs: Chuck Short Ribs, Plate Short Ribs, and Back Ribs. Let’s take a deeper look at each of them, and the best uses for each.
Chuck Short Ribs
These ribs come from underneath the chuck of the cow, and are usually made up of the first four or five ribs on the rib cage.
These are often the most common types of beef ribs you can buy, and for good reason: They contain a good amount of meat and fat on them, making them delicious to eat off the bone.
If you’ve ever had smoked chuck roast, you’ll be familiar with the unique flavor of the beef cut. You’ll be glad to know that chuck ribs are no different.
Both the chuck and the plate have straight bones, and usually at least 1-2 inches of meat on them.
What also makes them popular is that their bones are short, making the meat appear even bigger and easier to get to when eating.
Their high meat content makes them great for marinating prior to grilling or smoking. Similarly, their rich beef flavor makes them very popular in Korean cooking, as it matches well with the deep flavors of gochujang sauce.
Plate Short Ribs
Plate short ribs are perhaps the daddy of all beef ribs. They are big, meaty, and beautifully tender when fresh off the smoker.
They contain even more meat than chuck ribs, and for this reason are ideal for smoking. This is why they’re no stranger to Texas barbecue, so if you ever rock up to a smokehouse in the region and see short ribs on the menu, this is what you’re likely to get.
Plate ribs are often comprised of just three ribs, but each of these ribs can weight at least a pound each. These are big beats of a cut, and are taken from the middle ribs of the cow rib cage, although it’s not uncommon to see them sold as single ribs.
It isn’t just the meat content that makes this cut so popular. The fat content in the ribs makes their flavor rich (source), while boasting a beautifully tender mouthfeel that’s unlike any other type of rib.
In fact, their fat content is so rich that the approach to smoking these is not too dissimilar to brisket. They require hours on the smoker to allow the fat content to slowly break down while keeping the meat moist.
The downside is that they can be difficult to buy at a regular sore or supermarket, but you should be able to find it at some butchers.
Flanken is not an area of the cow, but rather a cutting style. They are short ribs cut across the bone instead of across (source), making the bone length only about half an inch wide. Flanken ribs tend to contain a lot of hard fat, but can absorb marinades well and are great for grilling.
The most common cut of beef ribs, and are sold as a short rack of about 4 bones, or individually. They are cut parallel to the bone instead of across (source), and can be applied to both chuck short ribs or plate. They often have a good layer of fat on top, as well as a membrane that you can remove prior to cooking.
The often forgotten cut of ribs, riblets are small individual chunks of single ribs that are only a couple of inches long.
Despite their small size, these mini chunks of short rib are great for slow cooking and braising.
Last but not least is the often forgotten back ribs. Hailing from the rear portion of the ribs, towards the spine, this cut of beef still has plenty to offer for barbecue fans.
Back ribs come from close to where the prime rib and ribeye both reside, which in itself can be an expensive cut of meat. If you’ve ever had either of these cuts, you’ll know just how tender and juicy they are.
Ribeye in particular is often sold boneless, which is good news for us: The discarded back rib bones are up for grabs.
These bones are usually slightly curved and about 8 inches in length, but don’t carry a lot of meat on them. This is because most of the meat is used for ribeye or prime rib when cut.
Back ribs tend to have less meat than either chuck or plate, but the quality of the meat is not to be sniffed at. There is some seriously good stuff on these ribs, which means the back ribs – when cooked right – are often more tender than other beef rib cuts.
The lower meat content means that they don’t take as long to cook as chuck or plate cuts, and be cooked indirectly on the grill.
Pro tip: Back ribs are rich in marrow content, making them a great addition to stews or soups for added beef flavor. They are also great for braising.
What are the best beef ribs for barbecue?
Plate short ribs are the best for barbecue because of their high fat, and connective tissue content. They also contain a lot of meat, and can in extremely large cuts.
Plate ribs can be difficult to find without the help of a specialist butcher however, so chuck ribs are a perfectly good backup. They are also rich in meat and fat, and easier to get to grips with for smoking beginners. Just be sure that when picking your chuck ribs, you go for the one with the most meat on! There’s no crime in trying to get the most bang for your buck.