Skip to main content

A complete guide to the different types of ribs you should be cooking

Baby back? Sparerib? Short rib? There's no wrong choice, really.

Barbecue ribs with sauce
FoodAndPhoto / Shutterstock

Ah, ribs. The smokey, meaty, sticky, marvelously messy barbecue fare we all look forward to come summertime. Whether you like yours grilled, braised, smoked, roasted, or even sous vide, it’s important to know your ribs and what exactly you’re getting ready to prepare when it comes time to light up that grill. Are you a baby back fan? Perhaps spareribs are more your style? And what’s the best cooking method for each? What’s the difference between a plate short rib and a chuck short rib?

If these are questions you’re asking yourself before it comes time to pick up those tongs, we’ve got you covered.

Pork ribs

Ribs on a table
RitaE/Pixabay

When it comes to pork ribs, there are two basic cuts. From these two cuts can come other rib varieties, such as St. Louis-style (which comes from spareribs), but the two general cuts of pork ribs are baby back and sparerib. Both of these styles are unique in cut, flavor, and best cooking style. Whichever of these you most favor, though, there are a few things to keep in mind when shopping for pork ribs.

When selecting pork ribs from your butcher, look for meat that is richly pink in color and completely covers the rib bones. If the bones are too closely visible, the meat is cut too thin and will likely fall off in the cooking process. As with most meats, raw pork shouldn’t have any distinctive smells. Raw pork ribs should smell fresh and sometimes just slightly sweet, never sour or pungent in any way.

Baby back ribs

Babyback ribs cooking on a grill
Mat Hayward/Adobe Stock / Adobe Stock

Baby back ribs are carved from the small section of pork ribs that runs beneath the tenderloin and attaches to the backbone. The meat on these smaller ribs tends to be quite a bit leaner than other pork rib varieties, which are closer to the fattier belly of the pig.

Because of their smaller size, baby backs cook more quickly than spareribs and are delicious when grilled, smoked, or roasted at low temperatures.

Pork spareribs

Spareribs
Alexandru-Bogdan Ghita/Unsplash

Sparibs are carved from the lower section of the rib cage, which extends from the cutoff point to the rib tip.

Known for being far fattier—and therefore, arguably, more flavorful—than baby backs, spareribs require low and slow cooking to ensure all of their connective tissues are properly broken down and tenderized. With several hours of love and care, these delicious ribs are exceptional when baked at a low temperature.

Beef ribs

Beef ribs on cutting board
wong yu liang/Adobe Stock

When one takes a minute to consider the massive size of a steer, it shouldn’t come as a surprise to realize that the ribs take up a great deal of space on the animal. Covering about three linear feet from breastbone to backbone and another three to four feet from shoulder to the rib’s end, there’s a lot of territory to cover, and the locations from which these ribs derive make an immense difference in flavor, texture, and best cooking method.

Like pork ribs, beef ribs can be divided into two basic categories: short ribs and back ribs. These two cuts are very different, and it’s important to understand why.

Short Ribs

Short ribs
James Kern/Unsplash / Unsplash

Short ribs are prized for the generous amount of meat on their bones and are delicious when barbecued or braised. They are cut from both the steer’s lower front section from the first through fifth rib and the lower ventral section from the sixth through tenth rib. There are two main variations within the short rib category, depending on where the meat is cut – plate short ribs and chuck short ribs.

Plate short ribs

Also known as “loaded beef ribs,” plate short ribs are cut from the lower portion of the rib cage known as the short plate. While this cut isn’t as easy to find as chuck short ribs, checking with your butcher is always a great idea. Plate short ribs are fatty, so they should be cooked in a way that allows the fat to render at a low temperature.

Chuck short ribs

Chuck short ribs are cut from the front of the steer directly under the chuck. These run from the first through the fifth rib, and are just as meaty as plate ribs, but considerably shorter in length. Just as with plate short ribs, chucks are wonderful after a braise, a gentle oven-roasting, or a long stay in the smoker.

Beef back ribs

Raw beef back ribs
ahirao/Adobe Stock / Adobe Stock

Cut from the top dorsal area of the steer back ribs are essentially a prime rib (rib roast) with the bones. If you know anything about prime rib (and you should, because, yum), you’ll know that this meat is especially tender, juicy, and absolutely delicious.

Perfect for grilling, braising, smoking, or roasting, these exquisitely flavorful and meaty ribs are a perfect choice for your next backyard barbecue.

Editors' Recommendations

Lindsay Parrill
Lindsay is a graduate of California Culinary Academy, Le Cordon Bleu, San Francisco, from where she holds a degree in…
Are you drinking from the wrong wine glasses? A guide for every type
What's a universal wine glass, anyway?
Varied wine glasses

Wine drinking is a nuanced experience. Of course, simply pouring a glass and enjoying it on its own or paired with a delicious meal is certainly something we all love to do. But for those who wish to dive a bit deeper, there are endless ways to enjoy it, and there is a world of things to learn about wine. The glass from which wine is enjoyed may not seem like something that plays a major role in the wine-drinking experience, but if you stop to consider how much oxygen and circulation are affected by stemware, the perspective may shift a bit.

A traditional wine glass has four main parts: the base, the stem, the bowl, and the rim. The base - also called the foot - provides stability and holds up the stem, which is where the glass is to be held so that the wine is not affected by the temperature of the drinker's hands. The bowl is the most important part of the glass, holding the wine itself, and it varies in size depending on the type of wine it has been made for. The rim is the edge of the glass, which the taster feels with their mouth as they enjoy the wine, thus affecting the overall experience as well.

Read more
How to cook on a charcoal grill: A beginner’s guide
Everything just tastes better when cooked over charcoal
Man grilling

With grilling season now officially underway, you might be eyeballing that bag of charcoal at the grocery store. Perhaps you're remembering the irresistible flavor of those incredible barbecued ribs you had last summer. Maybe you saw a new charcoal grill model at the hardware store, you just couldn't resist, and now you have questions. Whatever situation you're in, charcoal grilling is always a good idea. If you're used to a gas grill, though, there are differences to know and keep in mind when it comes time to light that fire. This is everything you need to know about cooking on a charcoal grill.
Types of charcoal

The key difference between a gas grill and a charcoal grill is - clearly - the charcoal. Ingredients cooked on a charcoal grill are arguably far superior in taste due to their richer, smokier flavor. While gas grills have metal grates that cover the grill's flames and trap the drippings of the food inside, a charcoal grill captures and transforms those drippings into delicious smoke that works its way into your food. Of course, those drippings and that wonderful smoke come from the charcoal inside. So, which charcoal should you be using for your grill?

Read more
How to season steak: A complete guide
And one rule you must always follow
Raw steak on cutting board

There's a reason upscale steakhouses can get away with charging upwards of $100 for a great steak. No, it's not the ambiance, the overpriced apps or the impressive wine list - though these are all delicious reasons to dine out. It's because the chef in the kitchen knows how to do steak right. Of course, this includes the cooking process itself, but the arguably more important skill is knowing how to season that steak for which you're about to pay a pretty penny. So, how can you recreate this steakhouse flavor at home? It's easier than you think.
Benefits of seasoning steak
Of course, seasoning steak gives it flavor. This one is obvious. A good spice rub is comprised of the perfect blend of herbs and spices to flavor your steak and adapts it to any flavor profile you have in mind for your menu. Spices not only season a steak with their own unique flavors, but help the steak itself to shine in all its meaty glory. Salt particularly has the magical culinary ability to make food taste more like itself, allowing the diner to enjoy all of steak's meaty, juicy, natural flavors for what they were meant to be.

Seasoning properly doesn't just add flavor to steak, though. One of the hidden benefits of steak seasoning is its power to tenderize. Salt - the key ingredient in steak rub recipes - draws moisture from the meat, which is known as dry brining. A dry brine is designed to tenderize steak by drying out the surface of the meat, locking moisture inside and creating a tender, juicy center.
How to season steak

Read more