Beef Ribs vs. Pork Ribs: Everything You’ve Always Wanted to Know

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Tyson Fresh Meats glazed pork baby back ribs served with scallions and garnished with peppers and cilantro

For a menu differentiator that’s cost-efficient, versatile and underutilized, stick with ribs. And whether you’re considering adding beef or pork ribs to your menus, you’ll be choosing cuts that help you stand out from competitors.
Here’s why.

According to research from Technomic1:

  • 23.9% of operators have ribs on their menu1
  • 27% of beef-serving operators have beef ribs on
    their menu2
  • 45% of pork-serving operators have pork ribs on
    their menu2
Take a second look at those statistics. Even among operators that serve pork, more than half don’t serve rib cuts. That leaves plenty of room for innovation, creativity and experimentation to create fall-off-the-bone ribs your patrons will crave.

If that piques your interest, here’s what you need to know to select the best rib cuts for your menus.

Beef Ribs vs. Pork Ribs

It goes without saying that pork ribs and beef ribs have very different flavors, mouthfeels and meatiness. Here’s a high-level overview of the attributes offered by each.

BEEF RIBS

  • Need attention and slow cooking methods to render their fat
  • Only require simple seasoning because of their strong flavor
  • Some cuts more appropriate for fine dining

PORK RIBS

  • Better meat-to-fat ratio (more meat than fat) than beef ribs
  • Less connective tissue than beef ribs, making pork ribs easier and
    faster to cook
  • Usually more cost efficient than beef ribs
  • Easier to achieve bold flavors by using sauces and rubs

Chef’s Tip: Beef ribs benefit from marinating and smoking and require less intense spices to acquire flavor. Pork ribs offer a better profit margin because of their lower initial cost and are easier and faster to cook, requiring less labor as well.
– Chef Christophe Setin

Beef Ribs Cuts

There are two categories of beef ribs: back ribs and short ribs. Of the two, back ribs are used most often in barbecue.

Tyson Fresh Meats smoked beef back ribs on a wood cutting board

Beef Back Ribs vs. Short Ribs

The distinction between these ribs really matters. Back ribs come from the rib primal, while short ribs are a category of different cuts from different primals. Different primals mean different weights, meatiness and optimal cooking methods.

So what do back ribs and short ribs have in common? Great beefy flavor that requires only simple seasoning.

BEEF BACK RIBS

These ribs are created from the trimming process for boneless ribeye, which is cut from the rib primal. On average, a full rack weighs 2.5 lb to 4 lb and includes up to 12 bones. Low and slow cooking methods yield meat with a delicious flavor and mouthfeel.

Chef’s Tip on Back Ribs: Because of their strong beef flavor, beef back ribs do not require heavy seasoning, but can be complemented with a thin layer of mustard and your favorite meat rub. They can be cooked, cooled and reheated very easily, making them a low labor item with good profit margin.
– Chef Christophe Setin

A Trio of Short Ribs

Popular short ribs for foodservice include rib short ribs, chuck short ribs and dino short ribs. Any of these rib cuts can be cooked bone-in or boneless and tend to have more meat than back ribs.

So what do back ribs and short ribs have in common? Great beefy flavor that requires only simple seasoning.

Rib short ribs

Cut from the rib primal, rib short ribs respond best to grilling, braising or slow roasting. They can be served bone-in or boneless, and typically have more meat than back ribs. Their bones are shorter than back rib bones. Like chuck short ribs, they offer a great meat-to-fat ratio.

Chuck Short Ribs

Square cut from the chuck primal, chuck short ribs are best cooked using low and slow methods to keep them moist and tender. Like rib short ribs, they offer a great meat-to-fat ratio.

Dino Ribs

These massive short ribs come from the short plate primal. They can be cut flanken style and are popular in Korean and Hawaiian cuisine. Flanken-style ribs involve cutting dino ribs thinly across the rib bones, instead of between the bones. They yield a rich flavor when smoked or grilled.

Chef’s Tip on Short Ribs: Short ribs and chuck short ribs are usually found on menus in higher-end restaurants and served with starches and vegetables that complement their flavor. They require a fork and knife. Dino ribs are less common but make a great plate presentation. They are best eaten by hand.
– Chef Christophe Setin

Pork Rib Cuts

Spareribs are used in more than 40% of rib dishes, and almost 70% of pork rib dishes.1 But don’t forget about baby back and St. Louis style ribs. With their typical low initial cost, any of these pork ribs might make strong economic sense for your menu.

Tyson Fresh Meats Korean flanken-style short ribs served with greens

Baby Back Ribs vs. Spareribs

With an earworm of a jingle from a well-known restaurant chain, baby back ribs are a well-known cut. But what are baby back ribs, and how do they compare to spareribs? Here are a few answers

Spareribs

It’s no surprise that spareribs have more marbling than baby back ribs. That’s because spareribs, like bacon, are cut from the belly primal. They also are meatier than baby back ribs and their bones are wider and flatter. One rack equals two servings.

Chef’s Tip: Spareribs can yield a better profit margin. Baby back ribs enjoy a more marketable name. Both options benefit from heavy seasoning and smoking.
– Chef Christophe Setin

Spareribs vs St. Louis Style Ribs

For this pair, you’re going to get attributes that are very similar.

Spareribs

Spareribs are what remains after bacon is cut from the pork belly. They are meatier, less tender and more marbled than other pork ribs. Their rectangular shape makes them easy to cook on flat surfaces like grills.

St. Louis Style Ribs

These are actually cut from spareribs by removing the sternum bone, rib tip and cartilage. So what makes them different? St. Louis style ribs cook more evenly than spareribs once the brisket bones are removed.

Chef’s Tip: When preparing St. Louis style ribs, the membrane located on the belly side should be peeled and removed. Spareribs and St. Louis style ribs are both traditionally cooked with generous amounts of barbecue sauce or rub.
– Chef Christophe Setin

St. Louis Style Ribs vs. Baby Back Ribs

These ribs come from different primals, so expect differences in texture and meatiness.

St. Louis Style Ribs

This cut is meatier but less tender than baby back ribs. The shape and texture of St. Louis style ribs makes them a better choice for grilling and braising, but they also respond well to roasting and smoking.

Baby Back Ribs

Compared to St. Louis style ribs, baby back ribs are leaner. Like St. Louis style ribs, they respond well to roasting and smoking, but not as well to grilling and braising.

Chef’s Tip: Baby back ribs have a drier and leaner mouthfeel than a St. Louis style rib, which has a higher fat content.
– Chef Christophe Setin

What About Country Style Ribs?

Despite their name, country style ribs aren’t ribs at all. Beef country style ribs are cut from the chuck roast, while pork country style ribs are cut from the pork loin or shoulder. Both beef and pork country style ribs are meatier than traditional ribs and are typically boneless.

Chef’s Tip: This cut also benefits from slow cooking to release the connective tissue and can be prepared with a dry rub. They are as delicious as regular ribs but offer a meatier and softer mouthfeel.
– Chef Christophe Setin

Beef or Pork Ribs? We Can Help

The Tyson Fresh Meats Team is your source for all things ribs – beef or pork, back or baby back, short or St. Louis style. Contact us today to learn more about specific cuts and their availability by brand.

Want to Learn More on This Topic?
Check out this video: Turning Up the Heat with Chairman’s Reserve Baby Back Ribs
Sources:
1 Technomic Ignite Menu Data, Q1 2021-Q4 2022
2 Datassential: Meat, Poultry & Seafood 2022

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