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Fatty Ribs: Is This Normal, and How Should I Handle It?

Some rib types are fattier than others. This is true of beef and pork ribs alike. What’s more, the fat content can vary even within the same type, since every animal is different. Our ultimate guide to fatty ribs will help you navigate this terrain.

Fatty Ribs

When you’re talking about pork ribs, spare ribs are fattier than their counterparts. If you select beef ribs, they’ll all have a decent amount of fat, but this is more of an issue with short ribs than it is with beef ribs. You can offset the issue by trimming the surface fat and cooking the meat at a low temperature.

Which Ribs are Fatty Ribs?

You can expect certain rib types to have a lot of fat on them. While you can ask your butcher to trim some of the fat—or do the job yourself—some fat is necessary to give the ribs their succulent flavor.

The following rib types are fattier than most of their counterparts. If you want leaner pork ribs, try a rack of loin backs (more commonly referred to as baby backs). Similarly, beef back ribs typically contain less fat than short ribs.

Spare Ribs

Pork spare ribs come from the underside of the hog. The meat around this belly region is often used to make bacon, which should give you some idea of how fatty these ribs can be.

Spare ribs are larger and meatier than baby backs. The extra fat gives them plenty of flavor, although it may also translate into a longer cooking time.

When you trim the sternum, cartilage, and rib tips off a rack of spare ribs, it’s transformed into a St. Louis-style rack. This doesn’t have much effect on the fat content of the ribs themselves, but it does give them more eye appeal.

Beef Short Ribs

When you buy beef short ribs for the first time, you might be surprised at how fatty they are. Even the ones that are marketed as “lean” will have a great deal of marbling, which is just a fancier term for intramuscular fat.

You can offset this issue somewhat by purchasing short ribs with very little surface fat. Ask the butcher to trim them down for you if necessary. Alternatively, you can trim the excess fat yourself when you’re ready to prepare the ribs.

Thanks to the marbling, these short ribs will still contain high levels of fat. That’s a good thing—it will imbue the meat with plenty of beef flavor. However, you’ll need to cook them for a long time over low heat in order to allow the fat to render.

Even when they’re prepared correctly, the finished beef ribs will be incredibly rich. There may even be a slight sheen to the meat, giving it a borderline greasy texture. While the beef tastes delicious, this effect can be off-putting for some people.

How To Prepare Fatty Ribs

Spare Ribs

You can eliminate some of the fat from pork spare ribs by parboiling the rack beforehand. This step also makes it easier to remove all the meat from the bone once the ribs are cooked, in addition to promoting tenderness.

That said, the process has its drawbacks. If you simmer the meat for too long, it will lose some of its flavor. You’ll also be drawing some of the natural juices out of the pork, which could lead to dry ribs.

As an alternative, you can steam the ribs in the oven before adding them to the smoker. Set the racks in a large baking pan along with 1 inch of water or apple juice. Cover the pan with aluminum foil, set in a 350-degree oven, and bake for about 45 minutes.

Beef Short Ribs

One way to make short ribs less fatty is to braise them. After the ribs have reached their target temperature, you should be able to skim some of the fat off the surface of the cooking liquid.

This technique will cut down on fat, but it also may thin out the braising liquid. You can offset this issue by boiling the liquid for about 5 minutes, so that it reduces slightly.

If you would prefer to put your beef ribs on the smoker—and who could blame you?—try the oven-steaming method beforehand. For the steaming liquid, we would suggest either water or low-sodium beef broth. Use a 350-degree oven, and steam them for about 45 minutes.

About Internal Temperature

When pork ribs are cooked to about 200 degrees Fahrenheit, most of the fat should have rendered, leaving the meat nice and tender. Be careful not to overcook them—if they go past 210 degrees, the ribs will begin to cross the line into mushy territory.

Similar rules apply when it comes to beef short ribs. In order to achieve the right texture, these should be cooked to an internal temperature of 203 degrees Fahrenheit. At this point, the ribs should be rich and buttery, with superior beef flavor.

At What Temperature Does Fat Render?

The fat on the ribs will start to liquefy at around the 130-degree mark. Be aware that this process takes time—you can’t just heat the meat to 130 degrees and expect the fat to be gone. That’s one reason why so many fatty meats require the low and slow treatment.

At high temperatures, the fat will burn instead of melting into the surrounding meat. If you cook the ribs too quickly, the meat will be tough and the fat will be chewy and slippery.

What’s The Best Temperature For Cooking Ribs?

Pork Ribs

Pork ribs should be smoked at 225 degrees Fahrenheit for 5 to 6 hours, depending on which type you buy. If you opt to leave the meat unwrapped for the duration of the cooking time, add another hour or two to the estimated cooking time.

For spare ribs, we like the 3-2-1 method. This gives the meat 3 hours to develop a bark, then 2 hours inside the wrapper to tenderize the meat. During the final hour, the wrapper is removed so the bark has a chance to firm up again. This last hour is also the best time to apply a sauce.

Baby back ribs don’t need as long on the smoker. Try the 2-2-1 technique, or the 3-1-1 formula if you prefer a stronger smoke flavor. As we mentioned, baby back ribs aren’t particularly fatty, so these methods should be sufficient for moist and tender meat.

Beef Ribs

When smoking beef ribs, set the smoker to 250 degrees. Remember to trim as much exterior fat as you can. While the marbling should imbue the meat with flavor, the bigger chunks of surface fat won’t break down completely, so they should be removed.

Smoke the meat for 5 to 6 hours, or until it reaches the target temperature. If you’d like, you can wrap the ribs at around the 3-hour mark, or whenever the meat takes on a rich mahogany color. This will help to speed the cooking process along.

To give the meat additional flavor, try adding it to an aluminum pan along with a mixture of red wine and beef broth instead. The meat will simmer gently in the liquid, and you’ll be able to skim off some of the fat when it’s done.

The short ribs should be tender enough to melt in your mouth, with a silky texture. If the meat is spongy, it didn’t cook long enough to allow the connective tissue to break down.

The Bottom Line

The high fat content of pork and beef ribs is what gives the meat its unforgettable combination of flavor and juiciness. However, if the meat is too fatty, it can interfere with your enjoyment of the feast.

Trimming the exterior fat is the best way to work around this issue. You can always remove the larger chunks of fat once the meat is cooked, but since they don’t contribute much to the end result, it’s easier to do so ahead of time.

Best of luck, and happy grilling!