A steer has 13 ribs on each side. The first five ribs are found in the beef chuck primal, the next seven are in the beef rib primal and extend down into the short plate primal, and the last rib is in the loin.
Personally, I'm a huge fan of beef ribs and I like them more than pork.
However, when talking about ribs, beef varieties often lead to the most confusion. The issue lies in the fact that they've been given so many different names for the various ways in which they're divided.
As a generalization, there are two main variations of beef ribs, short ribs and back ribs.
Extending beyond that, there are different standards of the butcher as well as well as regional differences and expectations.
To illustrate, we'll look at short plate ribs:
An entire plate rib section is made up of ribs 6 - 12. Ribs 9 - 12 (which are closer to the back) are not sold in a butcher case as there is very little lean meat and mostly fat.
Meaning you're left with ribs 6 - 8 for the short plate.
Short plate ribs can then be cut differently - for example, between the bones is English cut.
If the ribs are cut across the bones, it's called a Flanken cut.
There are also the ribs that remain in the chuck (ribs 1 - 5) that are also referred to as short ribs - often these are labeled as "chuck" short ribs. If the ribs are left untrimmed, these ribs are referred to as "Dino ribs." If the plate short ribs are left in-tact, they're called "Brontosaurus ribs."
You get the gist, there are a number of different methods of preparation as well as different names given to these cuts.
Short ribs can come from two different places on the steer - the short plate and the beef chuck.
Depending on where you're from and the standards of the butcher, the forequarter of the steer is separated between the 4th and 5th rib or the 5th and 6th rib.
After which, you're left with a rib plate which can be divided into the rib primal and short plate.
The rib primal is where you get ribeye steak and beef back ribs.
The short plate is the extension of the brisket. From the short plate we get sub-primal cuts like skirt steak as well as plate short ribs.
You also have the arm chuck which contains ribs 1-5 to make beef chuck short ribs.
The ribs that come from the short plate are called either plate short ribs or simply short ribs; You may also see them called "loaded" beef ribs.
Plate short ribs come from ribs 6, 7, and 8 and are cut just below the rib-eye as 3 bone slabs.
Again, the reason ribs 9 - 12 aren't used is because there is very little lean meat and mostly fat; This meat is typically turned into ground beef.
When plate short ribs are trimmed, they are cut into ribs that are 4-5" in length and often have the "lifter" or latissimus dorsi muscle removed from the serratus ventralis muscle.
The serratus ventralis is the heavily marbled meat that sits below the fat seam and is the reason why beef plate short ribs are super tasty.
When untrimmed and left in-tact, the whole rib is referred to as a "Brontosaurus rib." Meaning, you get the entire short plate section with both the lifter muscle on top as well as the serratus ventralis.
Plate short ribs are great for smoking low and slow for barbecue.
Chuck short ribs run from rib 1 to 5 and are cut just above the brisket.
The reason these bones are left in the chuck is because the bones are short and do not work well for steaks. Meaning, the name chuck "short" ribs, are just that, short rib bones.
Chuck short ribs are typically sold as 4 bone slabs, however, at a grocery store you're more apt to see them sliced up into singular bones, called an "English Cut" (pictured above).
It's also not uncommon to see these sold flanken-style. All this means is that the chuck ribs are sliced across the bone as apposed to between the bones (English cut).
When chuck short ribs are left in-tact and untrimmed, they're referred to as "Dino" beef ribs.
For some reason a lot of folks prefer plate short ribs as apposed to chuck short ribs - however, I couldn't disagree more. Chuck short ribs are sourced between the chuck and rib primals meaning they get characteristics from both areas.
You get great marbling that's often associated with rib steaks (like ribeye) as well as the forward beefy flavors associated with chuck roast.
Chuck short ribs are often braised rather than smoked. Where-as short plate ribs work well for smoking; Maybe that's the reason people prefer them?
Beef back ribs are sourced from the dorsal area of the steer. They come from the rib primal after the ribeye muscle or rib roast (prime rib) has been removed.
Beef ribs are different from short ribs in that the meat is found between the bones (intercostal) as apposed to on top of the bones.
Beef back ribs don't really offer much in terms of meat but they make for a quick, easy smoke for beginners. Not to mention, they're usually fairly cheap, even for ribeye meat.
Be sure to check out my recipe for beef back ribs on a pellet grill.
There are two main ways that beef ribs are cut - they are either cut English style (between the bones) or Flanken (across the bone).
English cut simply means the ribs are cut into singular bones. The above is a rough estimation of where the cuts would be made post-smoking.
As pictured below, the chuck short ribs are sold English Cut and marketed as "Braising Beef."
Flanken-cut, implies that the ribs were cut across the bone. If the above short plate ribs were cut flanken, they would have 3, one inch rib bones.
However, short plate ribs are not often used for Flanken-style ribs. You're more likely to see beef chuck ribs (ribs 1-5) used - in which case they feature 4, one inch rib bones.
Most people associate "beef ribs" with low and slow smoking temperatures (225 - 275F). Flanken-style ribs are meant to be cooked the opposite - hot and fast (ideally 500F+).
Flanken-cut ribs are popular in Korean barbecue where they're called Beef galbi or "Kalbi" which translates to ribs in Korean.
On the West Coast of the USA, you may also see these ribs called "LA style" as they were popularized by Korean immigrants in Los Angeles.