Those of you who have been fortunate enough to discover the wonderful world of beef ribs might already know how to distinguish between the various types. However, even seasoned pitmasters sometimes have trouble with the distinction.
In this guide, we’ll clue you in on the difference between plate ribs vs chuck ribs. Both are excellent when cooked on the grill, but each type has certain characteristics that might affect your choice.
Plate Ribs vs Chuck Ribs vs Short Ribs
Plate ribs and chuck ribs are two different types of beef short ribs. Both are taken from the lower section of the rib cage—plate ribs from the area between the brisket and the flank, and chuck ribs from around the chuck. These shouldn’t be confused with beef back ribs, which are longer and have less meat on top of the bone.
Plate Ribs vs Short Ribs: Is There A Difference?
You might hear people talk about plate ribs and short ribs and wonder what the differences are. In fact, plate ribs are a subcategory of short ribs, as we’ll explore in greater detail later on.
What does this mean? Short ribs can be broken up into two basic subcategories: plate ribs and chuck ribs. Therefore, all plate ribs are short ribs, but not all short ribs are plate ribs.
As beef ribs go, short ribs are the easiest to find. They have a great deal of meat on top of the bone, which gives diners the impression that they’re getting plenty of bang for their buck.
This type of rib is cut from the front section of the animal. The bones themselves have a flat and narrow appearance, though it can be difficult to see them underneath the generous cap of meat that sits on top.
Short ribs can measure up to a foot long. There’s generally at least an inch of meat on top of the bones, and they should have plenty of marbling throughout. When shopping, try to select thick, meaty ribs with minimal surface fat.
Plate Ribs vs Chuck Ribs
As we pointed out, there are two main types of beef short rib on the market. Let’s explore the differences that set them apart.
Plate ribs are taken from an area that’s lower down on the rib cage. This section is called the short plate, hence the name. Since this portion is located between the flank and the brisket, some butchers refer to them as “brisket on a stick.”
Between plate ribs and chuck ribs, the former are more difficult to find. You might have to ask your butcher to make a special order if you want to sample these.
Chuck short ribs, meanwhile, are taken from the chuck region of the steer. At 3 to 6 inches apiece, they’re shorter than plate ribs, but they have a great deal of meat on the bone.
When you look for beef short ribs in the supermarket, the chuck ribs are the ones you’re more likely to find. With their high meat-to-bone ratio, they’re a popular choice.
Back Ribs vs Short Ribs
Back ribs are the other type of beef rib, and are something of an unsung treasure. Unlike the short ribs, which come from the underside of the steer, these are cut from the top of the rib cage.
A typical beef back rib will measure about 6 inches long and have a slight curve to the bone. Because there’s less meat on these than on short ribs, they don’t take as long to cook, but they have a tender, juicy texture that makes them a great fit for the grill.
When the butcher removes the prime rib from the carcass, they’re left with the back ribs. Since prime rib is such a prized cut of beef, there usually isn’t much meat left on top of the bones after butchering. Most of the meat on these ribs will be between the bones.
How Beef Ribs Are Cut
The trimming style can affect the quality of your beef ribs. In this section, we’ll go over the various labels that you might encounter.
This trimming style is commonly used on short ribs. The butcher cuts between the ribs to make smaller portions—either of individual bones, or a rack of 3 to 4 ribs. There should be a hearty portion of meat on top of the bones, as well as a layer of fat and muscle.
Sometimes, the butcher will remove the fat and sell the English cut short ribs as “trimmed” or “lean.” This can save you a great deal of time in the kitchen. If the ribs aren’t trimmed, feel free to ask the butcher to do it before you take them home.
To make flanken cut ribs, butchers slice clean across the bone to make cuts that measure about 1/2 inch thick. As a result, they look like strips of beef studded with smaller segments of bone.
It’s common to find chuck short ribs trimmed in the flanken style, so if you prefer this cut to plate ribs, you might appreciate this presentation. The style is popular in Asian cuisine—many recipes call for flanken-cut short ribs specifically.
Boneless Beef Ribs
As you probably guessed, these ribs come about as a result of the butcher cutting the meat clean away from the bone. Though they can be easier to deal with, boneless beef ribs might not have the same flavor and juiciness as the bone-in variety.
These are an abbreviated version of English cut ribs. Essentially, after dividing the short ribs into individual bones, the butcher will cut the bones into smaller pieces.
Beef riblets usually measure about 2 inches long. Their flavor is excellent, and their smaller size allows them to fit easily in a slow cooker. Remember that you’ll still need to cook the beef for a long time in order to tenderize the meat.
Is It Hard To Find Beef Short Ribs?
Although beef ribs are delectable when they’re done right, this seems to be a fairly well-kept secret—at least as far as retailers are concerned.
You might have a hard time procuring beef ribs if you limit your search to your local supermarket. While chuck short ribs are generally easiest to find, even these can be elusive outside of the Midwest.
If you’re having trouble finding the cut you’re looking for, ask your butcher if they can make a special order. As an alternative, you can check online retailers like Kroger and Costco, but we prefer to take a look at what we’re buying beforehand if possible.
Smoked Plate Ribs
- 4 portions beef plate short ribs (3 to 4 bones each)
- 2 tablespoons kosher salt
- 2 tablespoons coarsely ground black pepper
- 1 teaspoon smoked paprika
- 1 teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes
- 1 cup homemade beef stock
1. Trim the membrane off the beef ribs, along with any excess fat. Pat the meat dry with paper towels and set the ribs in a disposable aluminum pan.
2. In a small bowl, mix together the salt, pepper, paprika, and crushed red pepper. Use the mixture to apply a generous layer of seasoning to the beef ribs.
3. Set the prepared ribs in the refrigerator, covered with a sheet of plastic wrap. Let them sit overnight to allow the flavors to penetrate the beef.
Tip: If you’re short on time, you can skip to the next step as soon as you season the ribs, but the flavor will be superior if you prepare them in advance.
4. Set the smoker to 225 degrees. For this recipe, we like to use a water pan to keep the beef moist throughout the long smoke. If your unit doesn’t have one, fill an aluminum pan with about 2 inches of water and position it beneath the rack where you’ll put the ribs.
5. Place the prepared ribs on the cooking grate with the meatier side facing up. There should be at least 2 inches between each slab of ribs to ensure even cooking.
6. Smoke the ribs until the exteriors are dark mahogany and the insides are very tender. The internal temperature should be between 195 and 200 degrees. At 225 degrees, this may take up to 10 hours.
Tip: When beef plate ribs have reached the ideal level of doneness, the meat should shrink back 1/2 to 1 inch away from the ends of the bones.
7. Remove the ribs from the heat and set them in a disposable aluminum pan. Add the beef stock and cover the pan loosely with foil.
8. Preheat the oven to 140 degrees. Place the ribs inside and let them sit for about an hour before serving. Alternatively, you can rest them in an insulated cooler until you’re ready to serve them.
9. Remove the ribs from the oven or cooler. Let them rest at room temperature for about 5 minutes.
10. Sprinkle each rib with a few grains of coarse sea salt and serve.
Like pork ribs, beef ribs come in a variety of sizes and styles. Once you’ve learned how to distinguish between the types, it will be easier for you to choose the ones to suit your recipe.