Beef Ribs vs Pork Ribs: Differences Explained

By Dylan Clay
Last Updated 
September 15, 2022

The most basic difference between beef ribs and pork ribs is that beef ribs come from a steer where-as pork ribs come from a pig.

Extending beyond that, if you've never smoked one or the other, you may not know the more nuanced information to be aware of; Factors like price, smoke time, or preparation.

Personally, beef ribs are my favorite. However, pork ribs are cheaper and make for a relatively easy smoke for backyard barbecue.

Types or Pork Ribs

There are two main types of pork ribs: baby back ribs and spare ribs.

There are also ribs from the shoulder or loin that are called "country style ribs." These can be sold bone-in or boneless.

Note: This article sort of scratches the surface of pork ribs. If you're after a more in-depth guide, read my article on the different types of pork ribs here.

Baby Back Ribs

baby back ribs

Baby back ribs come from the upper portion of the rib cage where the rib and the spine meat - the meat comes from the loin - hence "loin" back ribs.

"Baby back" both refers to their smaller size and their location on the pig.

Spare Ribs

st louis cut spare ribs
St. Louis cut Spare Ribs

Spare ribs are taken from the bottom of the ribs or the underbelly of the pig (where the bacon comes from). They extend around the belly and connect to the sternum.

In general, spare ribs are considered more meaty and less tender. They due have added fat content due to where they're sourced from and fat is flavor.

Types of Beef Ribs

There are three main types of beef ribs: plate short ribs, chuck short ribs, and beef back ribs.

Note: Similar to the pork rib section, this article only scratches the surface of beef ribs. If you're after a more in-depth guide, read my article on the different types of beef ribs here.

Plate Short Ribs

short plate ribs

The ribs that come from the short plate primal are either called plate short ribs or are colloquially called "Brontosaurus ribs."

Plate short ribs come from ribs 6, 7, and 8 and are cut just below the ribeye as 3 bone slabs.

When plate short ribs are trimmed they're cut into ribs that are 4-5" in length and they often have the "lifter" muscle removed from the serratus ventralis muscle.

The serratus ventralis muscle is heavily marbled meat and is the reason plate short ribs are called "brisket on a stick."

Chuck Short Ribs

braised chuck short ribs

Ribs that are found in the chuck primal are called chuck short ribs and are colloquially called "Dino" beef ribs.

Chuck short ribs come from ribs 1 to 5 and are cut just above the brisket.

Chuck ribs get great marbling that's common with Ribeye steaks as well as super forward beefy flavors that are common with chuck roasts.

In a grocery store, you're not apt to see these ribs sold as 4 bone slabs, rather, they're typically sliced into singular bones with an "English cut."

In some parts of the United States - in places like California - they're sold "flanken-style." Which simply means they're cut across the bone as apposed to between the bone.

Beef Back Ribs

beef back ribs servings

Beef back ribs come from the rib primal after the ribeye muscle or prime rib have been removed.

Unlike plate short ribs, and chuck short ribs, the meat that's found on Beef back ribs is between the bone as apposed to on-top of the bone.

You also get very little meat.

However, beef back ribs tend to be rather inexpensive especially when compared to plate short ribs or even ribeye steaks.

Cost Differences Between Pork and Beef Ribs

One of the biggest factors that separates pork and beef ribs is price. In every single case beef ribs are more expensive than pork ribs.

Personally, I can't even source plate short ribs where I live. English cut chuck short ribs and beef back ribs are usually on offer though.

beef chuck short ribs
Chuck short ribs from my grocery store

To give a quick comparison, we can look at the prices on Wild Fork Foods - which offers USDA choice and Prime Beef for reasonable prices - especially for online meat suppliers.

  • USDA Prime Short Plate Ribs: $11.78/lb
  • USDA Choice Chuck Short Ribs: $6.98/lb
  • Whole Spare Ribs: $2.48/lb
  • St. Louis Cut Spare Ribs: $3.48/lb
  • Baby Back Ribs: $4.48/lb

Beef ribs are roughly 1.55 - 4.75x more per lb.

Size Differences and Serving Sizes Between Pork and Beef Ribs

Beef ribs are bigger than pork ribs. This isn't really surprising though as a cow/steer is much bigger than a pig.

There's a reason folks use colloquial names like "Dinosaur" or "Brontosaurus" to refer to Chuck short ribs and Short plate ribs respectively.

However, something that not many articles touch on is rib serving sizes. Even though beef ribs are huge, I wouldn't say their serving size is better than pork ribs - if anything it's the same.

Beef Rib Serving Size Estimations:

  • Short plate ribs are 3-bone slabs, meaning 3 servings. Granted, the middle rib will usually have more meat than the outer two.
  • Beef back ribs will usually have 6-8 bones. Meaning 1-2 servings per person - assuming a half/partial rack is a serving size.
  • Where I'm from, chuck short ribs are typically English cut and are sold in overwrap trays with 3 bones - Meaning 1-3 servings per person.

Pork Rib Serving Size Estimations:

  • Spare ribs are bigger than baby back ribs and typically 3-4 ribs is a serving size - this is even true with a St. Louis Cut.
  • Baby Back Ribs offer 1-2 servings assuming a half rack per person.

As I hope is readily apparent, you can feed the same amount of people for far less money when using pork ribs.

Preparation Differences Between Beef and Pork Ribs

In my opinion, beef ribs are easier to prepare than pork ribs.

However, this really comes down to personal preference for trimming, membrane removal, rub choices, etc.

In terms of trimming beef ribs:

Most people who smoke beef ribs will tend to do minimal, if any trimming. In most cases the membrane on the bone side of the ribs is left on.

The reason for this is because beef ribs tend to shrink a lot when smoked and the membrane helps to physically hold the meat on the bone.

beef rib membrane
Beef Short Plate Ribs Membrane

Aside from that, some folks also opt to remove the fat cap/silver skin from the top of short plate ribs - you can learn more about it here. Personally, I don't find it super necessary. The fat cap on short plate ribs tends to render quite well.

In terms of trimming pork ribs:

With pork ribs, it's best to remove the membrane from the bone side as it's essentially inedible and doesn't improve the eating experience - this is done on both spare ribs and baby back ribs.

membrane removed
Membrane removed from baby back ribs

With baby backs, it's usually as simple as removing any smaller bones and the flappy meat from the bone side.

trimming flappy meat

With spare ribs, you can do what's called a St. Louis Cut - which essentially removes the rib tip (sternum), the flap (diaphragm), the false lean (on the top of the rack) and any smaller bones; Usually I count 10 bones (from the false lean side) and then trim.

In terms of dry rub:

Beef ribs - or beef in general - really works well with something as simple as kosher salt, pepper, and garlic powder. These spices are more than enough to further enhance the "beefy" flavors.

In the world of barbecue, seasoning salt like Lawry's is also popular with beef.

With pork ribs, people tend to be more adventurous. In dry rubs you'll see different types of sugar used, chilis, paprika, etc. Personally, I still stick to kosher salt, cracked pepper, and garlic powder.

Smoking Differences Between Beef and Pork Ribs

In terms of beef ribs, short plate ribs and beef back ribs are usually smoked where-as chuck short ribs are usually braised.

  • Beef back ribs usually take me 4-5 hours to finish.
  • Short plate ribs usually take me 7-9 hours depending on the size of the meat.

These days, most of my pork ribs are smoked on my Pit Barrel Cooker (learn more here) and they finish rather quick with no noticeable difference in quality. Baby back ribs take roughly 2 hours and spares take roughly 3 hours.

On a Weber kettle at 250F, baby backs take 4-5 hours and spares take around 6 hours.

In terms of wood - I personally love cherry with pork and post oak with beef; If I don't have either on hand, I'll use Pecan for both.

Typically when smoking pork ribs I mix cherry and pecan; Cherry for the color and pecan for the forward smoky flavor.

Which Tastes Better, Beef or Pork Ribs?

Taste is something that's really hard to express over the internet and really boils down to personal preference.

Meaning, do YOU like beef or pork more?

For example:

  • My Dad prefers pork ribs over beef ribs - truth be told, he actually hates beef ribs.
  • My Mom likes both but would rather have beef ribs if they're on offer.
  • I prefer beef ribs but also quite like pork ribs.

For me, It's honestly more or less if I'm in the mood for one or the other; The same could be said for smoking one vs the other.

As outlined above, pork ribs finish faster. So if I'm in the mood for ribs but not in the mood to smoke meat for 7-9 hours, I'll default to smoking pork ribs.

Dylan Clay
I've grilled and smoked meat for roughly half my life. While i'm not a professional Pitmaster, I've worked with nearly every cut of meat. Not everyone has a hands on guide to teach them BBQ. It's my hope that Barbecue FAQ can be that helping hand.

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