What Are Ribs as Food? A Guide to Different Types and Cuts

by Joost Nusselder | Last Updated:  May 27, 2022

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Ribs of pork, beef, lamb, and venison are a cut of meat. The term ribs usually refers to the less meaty part of the chops, often cooked as a slab (not cut into separate ribs). Ribs of bison, goat, ostrich, crocodile, alligator, llama, alpaca, beefalo, African buffalo, water buffalo, kangaroo, and other animals are also consumed in various parts of the world. They can be roasted, grilled, fried, baked, braised, or smoked. A set of ribs served together (5 or more), is known as a rack (as in a rack of ribs).

Ribs are a popular food enjoyed worldwide, available in various types. They are a cut of meat taken from the rib cage of a mammal, including pork, beef, and lamb. Pork ribs are the most commonly consumed.

This guide will cover what ribs are, their different types, and how to cook them correctly. With these tips, you can impress your friends with your culinary skills.

What are ribs

The Many Varieties of Ribs

Pork ribs are undoubtedly the most popular type of ribs and are typically referred to as barbecue ribs. They come in three different cuts:

  • Back ribs: These are the most common and are taken from the upper part of the ribcage. They are fairly lean and have a delicate flavor.
  • Spare ribs: These are taken from the lower part of the ribcage and contain a mixture of fat and meat. They are bigger and tougher than back ribs, but also have a richer flavor.
  • St. Louis-style ribs: These are a rectangular version of spare ribs with the sternum bone, cartilage, and rib tips removed. They are a bit smaller and easier to handle than spare ribs.

Beef Ribs

Beef ribs are less common than pork ribs but are a great choice for people who love a smoky, meaty flavor. They come in two different cuts:

  • Short ribs: These are taken from the lower section of the shoulder and contain a lot of connective tissue. They are fairly tough but can be made tender with slow cooking.
  • Back ribs: These are similar to pork back ribs but are much bigger and have a thicker layer of fat. They are sold less often than short ribs but are a welcome addition to any barbecue.

Additional Varieties

There are a few additional types of ribs that are less common but still worth considering:

  • Country-style ribs: These are taken from the upper part of the shoulder and are a bit cheaper than other cuts. They contain a lot of meat but also have a fair amount of fat.
  • Baby back ribs: These are a smaller, more delicate version of back ribs. They are placed higher up on the hog and cook faster than regular back ribs.
  • Wet ribs: These are ribs that are served with a sauce already applied. They are a standard in some areas and are loved by many.
  • Dry ribs: These are ribs that are served without sauce. They are a great way to taste the actual meat and are popular with fans of pure smoky flavor.

Preparation and Cooking

No matter which type of ribs you choose, preparation and cooking involves trimming any additional fat, running a dry rub (here are the best ones) over the meat, and then cooking low and slow until the meat is tender and falling off the bone. Some people prefer to use a wet rub or marinade, while others like to serve their ribs with a sauce on the side. Whatever your preference, there are plenty of sides that go great with ribs, including apple sauce, bacon-wrapped corn, and potato salad.

What’s in a Rib? Understanding the Different Cuts of Meat

When it comes to ribs, there’s a lot more to consider than just the type of meat and how to cook it. Understanding the different cuts of meat that come from the rib section is crucial to creating the perfect dish. In this section, we’ll explore the various cuts of pork and beef ribs, their relative sizes and shapes, and the best methods for preparing them.

Trimming and Cooking

No matter which type of rib you choose, it’s important to properly trim and cook the meat to get the best flavor and texture. Here are some tips to keep in mind:

  • Trim excess fat: Removing excess fat from the meat will prevent flare-ups and ensure that the meat cooks evenly.
  • Use a low and slow cooking method: Ribs are best cooked over a low heat for a long period of time. This allows the meat to become tender and juicy without drying out.
  • Consider the type of product: Different types of ribs require different cooking methods. For example, baby back ribs are best cooked using the 3-2-1 method, while spare ribs are best cooked using the Texas Crutch method.
  • Slice the meat properly: When it’s time to serve the ribs, make sure to slice the meat against the grain. This allows the meat to be more tender and easier to chew.

Get Your Hands Dirty: The Art of Cutting Ribs

Before we dive into the nitty-gritty of cutting ribs, let’s talk about the tools you’ll need. Here are the essentials:

  • A sharp knife
  • Cutting board
  • Paper towels

The Technique

Now that you’ve got your tools ready, it’s time to get down to business. Here’s how to cut ribs like a pro:

  1. Remove the membrane: The first step is to remove the tough membrane on the back of the ribs. Use a sharp knife to loosen one end of the membrane, then grab it with a paper towel and peel it off.
  2. Find the sweet spot: Look for the sweet spot where the bones are close together and the meat is the thickest. This is where you’ll make your cut.
  3. Cut between the bones: Using a sharp knife, cut between the bones to separate the ribs. Make sure to cut close to the bone to get as much meat as possible.
  4. Trim the excess fat: Trim any excess fat from the ribs to prevent flare-ups on the grill.

Practice Makes Perfect

Cutting ribs takes practice, so don’t be discouraged if your first attempt isn’t perfect. Keep practicing, and soon you’ll be cutting ribs like a pro. Here are a few tips to keep in mind:

  • Take your time: Don’t rush the process. Cutting ribs takes time and patience.
  • Use a sharp knife: A dull knife will make the process more difficult and can be dangerous.
  • Watch your fingers: Be careful not to cut yourself while handling the knife.

Now that you know how to cut ribs, it’s time to get cooking! Whether you prefer them grilled, smoked, or baked, a perfectly cut rack of ribs is sure to impress your guests. So grab your knife, get your hands dirty, and let’s get cutting!

Mastering the Art of Rib Cooking: Tips and Tricks

When it comes to cooking ribs, the type of meat you choose is crucial. Pork ribs are the most commonly used, but beef ribs are also an excellent option if you want a beefy flavor. Here are some things to consider when shopping for ribs:

  • Baby back ribs are leaner and smaller compared to spare ribs, which are fattier and yield more meat.
  • Spare ribs come from the lower section of the rib cage, while baby back ribs come from the upper section, connected to the spine.
  • St. Louis-style ribs are a rectangular shape cut from spare ribs, and they are cheaper compared to baby back ribs.
  • Beef ribs come from the shoulder area and are considerably larger than pork ribs.

Preparing the Ribs

Once you’ve decided on the type of ribs you want, it’s time to prepare them for cooking. Here are some basic steps to follow:

  • Remove the membrane on the back of the ribs. This will make them more tender and allow the rub and sauce to penetrate better.
  • Season the ribs with a dry rub or marinade. A basic rub can consist of a tablespoon of salt, a tablespoon of brown sugar, a tablespoon of paprika, and a teaspoon of black pepper. For a punchy flavor, add a teaspoon of mustard powder. Rub the mixture all over the ribs, making sure to cover every inch of the meat.
  • Let the ribs marinate for at least an hour, or overnight if possible. This will allow the flavors to penetrate the meat.
  • If you’re opting for a wet rub, mix a cup of your favorite barbecue sauce with a tablespoon of liquid smoke. Brush the mixture onto the ribs, making sure to coat them evenly.

Checking for Doneness

To make sure your ribs are cooked to perfection, here are some things to look out for:

  • The internal temperature of the ribs (try these wood types for smoking) should be 145°F for pork and 160°F for beef.
  • The meat should be tender and easily come off the bone.
  • If you cut into the meat, the juices should run clear, not pink or red.

Are Ribs Actually Good for You?

Contrary to popular belief, eating ribs can actually be good for your body. Here are some reasons why:

  • Ribs, whether pork or beef, are an excellent source of protein. This means that they supply your body with the essential building blocks it needs to maintain and improve its structure and function.
  • Ribs are also rich in essential vitamins and minerals, including zinc, iron, and B vitamins. These nutrients are important for maintaining a strong and healthy body, and can help boost your energy levels and improve your physical performance.
  • Certain cuts of ribs, such as beef ribs, contain lower amounts of fat than other types of meat. This means that they can be a good choice for people looking to maintain a balanced diet or improve their overall health.
  • Ribs are also extremely versatile and can be cooked in a variety of different ways, from traditional barbecue to quick and easy methods like grilling or broiling. This means that they can be a perfect dish for any time of year, and can be easily incorporated into your everyday meals.


Ribs are a type of meat taken from the rib section of a pig or cow. They’re popular for their smoky meaty flavor and can be prepared in many ways. 

Ribs are a great choice for people who love pork and beef ribs, which are both delicious. I hope this guide has helped you learn more about them and their history.

Joost Nusselder, the founder of Lakeside Smokers is a content marketer, dad and loves trying out new food with BBQ Smoking (& Japanese food!) at the heart of his passion, and together with his team he's been creating in-depth blog articles since 2016 to help loyal readers with recipes and cooking tips.