We’ve all heard of pork ribs, and beef ribs are fairly ubiquitous as well. But what is rib meat in chicken, and what can you use it for? We used to wonder about these things too, which is why we put together this guide.
What is Rib Meat in Chicken?
Rib meat comes from the scapula of the chicken and is often included in chicken breasts that are packaged for sale. It’s difficult for the butcher to carve the breast away from the carcass without including any of the rib meat. As a result, chicken breasts that are sold without it tend to be pricier.
White Meat vs. Dark Meat
When it comes to chickens, the white meat is located primarily in the breast region. The wings are also considered white meat, but they don’t offer as much of it.
The legs, which consist of the thighs and drumsticks, are considered dark meat. Because these areas get more exercise, they have higher levels of myoglobin, which is a protein that delivers oxygen to the muscles. That’s what gives meat its red color.
While the white meat is more tender, the dark meat offers more flavor and a richer texture. Both have their benefits and drawbacks, which is why it can be difficult to choose one over the other.
What is Rib Meat in Chicken?
Most of the time, the term rib refers to the part of the animal that the meat is cut from. Pork ribs, for example, are bones from the actual rib cage of a pig.
But what is rib meat in chicken? You won’t find chicken ribs packaged for sale at the grocery store, but the meat does turn up in processed products like chicken nuggets. Toward the ribs, the meat turns a darker color, similar to the thighs.
In this respect, chicken rib meat is different from pork and beef ribs. The meat isn’t really from the rib—it’s cut from the scapula, which is basically the shoulder of the chicken.
Why is Rib Meat Included?
When you buy chicken breasts at the supermarket or butcher counter, there may be some rib meat included. There are several reasons why this might be the case.
First of all, the person who was processing the chicken could have cut too close to the rib cage. It could have been an accident, but there’s also a chance that they did it deliberately. Some people enjoy the rib meat, and the breast is easier to cut this way.
When the birds are cut by hand—say, from a local butcher—the rib meat often turns up in the breast portion by accident. You can always specify whether you’d like the rib meat included or not. They should be able to trim it off for you, in any case.
Is Chicken Rib Meat Better Than Breast Meat?
We wouldn’t say that it’s better, but it’s not necessarily inferior, either. While the breast is a popular cut—and with good reason—the rib meat offers more authentic chicken flavor.
Often, consumers balk when they see the words “with rib meat” included on a label. That’s usually because they aren’t familiar with the rib meat, and are therefore unsure whether they’ll like it.
Visually, you should be able to tell when there’s rib meat attached. The meat will be noticeably darker in key areas. That will make it easier to remove the rib meat if you choose to do so (see section below).
To be honest, though, once you’ve cooked the chicken, you probably won’t notice the rib meat at all. And if you do, you may be pleasantly surprised.
On the other hand, if you’ve tried the rib meat and found it unappetizing, you can always trim it off yourself. It can be used to make stock or soup, or you can simply discard it.
Chicken rib meat offers the same nutritional benefits as chicken breast. It’s an excellent source of protein, as well as vitamins B6 and B12. It also contains niacin, magnesium, and essential amino acids.
Since the meat contains more hemoglobin, the rib portion might be slightly higher in fat and calories than the actual breast. But since there won’t be that much rib meat included to begin with, this shouldn’t be a cause for concern.
How To Prepare Chicken Rib Meat
When cooking chicken breasts that have the rib meat attached, there’s no need to alter your preparation technique. Just cook the breasts as you normally would.
Ordinarily, we advocate cooking dark meat to 180 degrees, while taking chicken breasts off the heat at 160. But there’s no need to make that distinction in this case. There isn’t enough of the rib meat included to make a noticeable difference in the texture.
Chicken is technically safe to eat when it’s cooked to 165 degrees Fahrenheit. If the breast meat cooks too far past this point, it will become tough and dry. It’s not worth leaving it on the heat any longer just to get the rib meat to 180.
Is Chicken Rib Meat Considered An Additive?
On the subject of processed chicken, like strips and nuggets: These packages will often say “Chicken breast meat with rib meat included,” or something to that effect. Does this mean that the rib meat is an additive?
Shoppers are often wary when a product contains an ingredient they aren’t expecting. This is true especially when it comes to processed meat products, because the meat industry tends to use filler ingredients in an effort to bulk things up.
In this case, though, you shouldn’t worry. Rib meat isn’t something that’s been added to the chicken—it’s a legitimate part of the chicken. Though its presence does mean that you aren’t getting 100 percent breast meat, the rib meat isn’t added as filler.
The Price Difference
You’re likely to find that when chicken breast is sold with the rib meat attached, it’s cheaper. If there’s no noticeable difference, why is this the case?
The answer comes down to mere convenience. It’s easier for the butcher to cut the chicken that way—they don’t have to be as careful when removing the breast meat from the bone. This translates into fewer labor hours, which allows producers to reduce the cost of the meat.
When butchers sell the chicken breast with the rib meat attached, they’ll be able to do more cutting and process more meat overall. That’s great for the company’s bottom line, even if they pass some of the savings on to the customer.
The bottom line? If you want to buy chicken breasts without any rib meat attached, be prepared to pay for the convenience.
How To Remove Chicken Rib Meat
Want to carve the rib meat away from those chicken breasts yourself before you cook them? Fortunately, it isn’t hard to do.
Use a well-sharpened paring knife with a blade about 3 to 4 inches long. You don’t want the knife to be too big, or you might end up wasting a lot of chicken. On the other hand, if the blade is too small, it won’t do the job properly.
Position the chicken breast on a cutting board so that the rib meat is facing down. Carefully trim it away using the tip of the paring knife. You might end up taking some of the white meat with it. If this is the case, don’t worry—you’ll get better with practice.
At this point, you can either discard the rib meat or save it for another recipe. Season and cook the breasts as you originally planned.
Although the rib meat makes chicken breasts appear irregular, it doesn’t do any harm. If it bothers you, ask the butcher if they can remove it. You can also cut the rib meat away yourself, but we think it’s easier just to leave it where it is.