Short Ribs vs Spare Ribs

When it comes to indulging in delicious, tender ribs, the choice often boils down to short ribs and spare ribs. In the world of barbecue and slow cooking, understanding the differences between these two types of ribs is essential. Not only do they come from distinct parts of the cow or pig, but their flavors, textures, and cooking methods also vary.

Short ribs come from the beef’s rib and plate primal cuts, while spare ribs are pork ribs, taken from the belly of the pig. As a meat lover, you might be curious about the distinguishing factors between these two all-time favorite rib cuts. In this article, we’ll provide insights into their unique characteristics, as well as the best cooking methods and dishes to showcase their rich flavors.

Key Takeaways

  • Short ribs are beef, while spare ribs are pork, and they come from different parts of the animals.
  • Various cooking methods can be used to bring out the best in short ribs and spare ribs.
  • Nutritional aspects, textures, and flavors of these ribs vary, making them suitable for different recipes and preferences.

Defining Short Ribs and Spare Ribs

When it comes to different cuts of meat, it’s essential to understand the distinctions between short ribs and spare ribs. Both cuts come from different parts of the animal and provide unique flavors and textures to your dishes.

Short ribs are beef ribs taken from the cow’s lower chest or rib plate. They are generously marbled with fat, providing a rich, tender, and flavorful result when cooked. Typically, you will find short ribs cut into 2 to 4-inch pieces, making them perfect for braising, slow roasting, or grilling.

On the other hand, spare ribs are sourced from pork and originate from the lower section of the ribcage, near the belly of the pig. This cut is characterized by its long, curved bones and significant amount of meat between the bones. Unlike short ribs, spare ribs may have a layer of fat on top that requires trimming before cooking. Spare ribs are ideal for barbecuing, smoking, or slow cooking in the oven.

To help you better understand the differences between short ribs and spare ribs, here are some key points:

  • Short ribs come from the cow (beef), while spare ribs are from the pig (pork).
  • Short ribs are found in the lower chest region; spare ribs are near the pork belly.
  • Short ribs have more marbled fat, resulting in richer, tender meat.
  • Spare ribs have a distinct layer of fat on top that needs to be trimmed.
  • Cooking methods for short ribs include braising, slow roasting, and grilling, whereas spare ribs are excellent for barbecuing, smoking, or oven cooking.

In summary, knowing the differences between short ribs and spare ribs will enable you to choose the right cut for your recipes and ensure a delicious and satisfying meal.

Different Cuts of Meat

Beef Ribs vs Pork Ribs

When it comes to ribs, you have two main options: beef ribs and pork ribs. Beef ribs are larger and come from the cow’s rib section and plate, while pork ribs come from the pig’s rib cage. Both types of ribs can be tender and delicious, but beef ribs tend to be meatier and more robust in flavor, while pork ribs have a milder taste and a more delicate texture. To get the best cooking results, be sure to understand and choose the appropriate cut of meat for your desired dish.

Flanken and English Cuts

In short ribs, there are two common cuts: Flanken and English cuts. The Flanken cut is a thin, cross-cut section where you will find short sections of bones with a generous amount of meat on top. This cut is perfect for grilling or fast cooking methods like broiling. On the other hand, the English cut consists of a thicker piece of meat cut parallel to the bone. This cut is better suited for slow cooking methods like braising, to break down the connective tissues and allow the meat to become tender and flavorful.

Brisket and Rib Cage

The brisket, which comes from the beef chuck primal cut, is found in the lower chest portion of the cow. It is a large, tough cut of meat that requires long and slow cooking methods to achieve tenderness. In contrast, the rib cage refers to the area where both short ribs and spare ribs are cut. Spare ribs, usually from pork, are cut from the lower portion of the rib cage, closer to the belly, resulting in a fattier and meatier cut. Both the brisket and the rib cage cuts can provide delightful dining experiences when prepared properly.

Remember to consider your dish’s desired outcome when choosing between various cuts of meat, such as beef or pork ribs, Flanken, or English cuts, and brisket or rib cage cuts. By understanding these different cuts and their unique characteristics, you can ensure a dish that is both delicious and satisfying.

Cooking Methods

Braising and Slow-Cooking

When it comes to cooking short ribs, braising and slow-cooking methods are popular choices. These methods involve cooking the ribs for an extended period at a low temperature to achieve a tender, fall-off-the-bone result. For braising, you’ll first sear the short ribs on high heat to create a crust and lock in flavor. Then, you’ll simmer them in liquid (e.g., wine, broth) in a covered pot or Dutch oven. Typically, short ribs will braise for around 2-3 hours at temperatures between 300-350°F (150-175°C). Slow-cooking, on the other hand, uses a slow cooker or a low oven temperature (200-250°F or 90-120°C), and requires a longer cooking time ranging from 6-8 hours.

Spare ribs can also benefit from braising and slow-cooking methods as they too can become tender and flavorful. However, cooking times may vary slightly due to their different thickness and structure.

Grilling and Roasting

For a quicker cooking method, both short ribs and spare ribs can be grilled or roasted. For grilling, you’ll need to know the difference between direct and indirect heat.

  • Direct heat means grilling the ribs directly over the heat source, which is ideal for thin, quick-cooking cuts. Short ribs can be grilled over direct heat for about 3-4 minutes per side, ensuring they’re nicely browned.
  • Indirect heat is when you grill the ribs away from the direct flame, allowing them to cook more slowly and evenly. Spare ribs, being thicker, benefit from indirect cooking. To achieve this, set your grill up with a two-zone heat system, placing the ribs on the side without direct flame, and cooking for 1.5 to 2 hours at 300-350°F (150-175°C).

To roast your ribs, preheat your oven to 375-400°F (190-205°C) and cook short ribs for about 30 to 45 minutes, while spare ribs may take around 1.5 to 2 hours, depending on their thickness. Basting or applying a glaze during cooking can help add flavor and keep the ribs moist.


Smoking is another suitable cooking method for both short and spare ribs. This technique imparts a distinct smoky flavor to the meat while also allowing it to cook low and slow for maximum tenderness. Smoke your ribs at around 225°F (105°C) for optimal results:

  • Short ribs: Smoke for approximately 5-6 hours.
  • Spare ribs: Smoke for about 6-7 hours.

Nutritional Aspects

Calories and Protein

When comparing short ribs and spare ribs, it’s essential to consider their nutritional aspects. Short ribs tend to be slightly higher in calories compared to spare ribs due to their higher fat content. Based on a serving size of 100g, short ribs contain about 277 calories, while spare ribs have around 251 calories. The protein content of both cuts is quite similar, with short ribs providing roughly 20g of protein and spare ribs supplying approximately 19.3g of protein per 100g serving.

Vitamins and Minerals

Regarding vitamins and minerals, both short ribs and spare ribs offer essential nutrients that contribute to your daily value (DV). They both contain significant amounts of iron and zinc, which are crucial for maintaining a healthy immune system and energy production. Here’s a comparison of their mineral content in a 100g serving:

Short RibsSpare Ribs
Iron (%DV)10%9%
Zinc (%DV)37%34%

Aside from these differences, it’s essential to consider the fat content when choosing between short ribs and spare ribs. Both cuts contain saturated fat, but short ribs typically have a higher fat content. In a 100g serving of short ribs, you’ll find about 8.8g of saturated fat compared to 4.3g of saturated fat in spare ribs.

Remember to weigh these nutritional aspects when deciding between short ribs and spare ribs for your next meal, as they each have their own unique contributions to your overall health and well-being.


Texture and Flavor Profiles

Tenderness and Juiciness

When comparing short ribs and spare ribs, the texture is notably different. Short ribs are more tender due to the presence of high amounts of connective tissue that break down during the cooking process, turning into gelatin and providing a tender, juicy texture. Meanwhile, spare ribs tend to be less tender, primarily because they come from a part of the pig that has more muscle and less connective tissue.

To achieve a juicy, tender texture in spare ribs, you can use methods like braising or smoking, which allow you to cook the ribs low and slow. This helps break down the tougher connective tissues, resulting in a juicy and tender end product.

Marbling and Taste

The flavor and taste profiles of short ribs and spare ribs depend largely on their fat marbling. Short ribs have a more intense flavor due to their generous amounts of intramuscular fat, also known as marbling. This fat renders down during cooking and infuses the meat with a rich, savory taste.

Spare ribs have a slightly milder flavor in comparison to short ribs. They still possess a delicious taste, but the amount of marbling is generally less than that of short ribs. To enhance the flavor of spare ribs, you can apply a marinade or dry rub before cooking. This will not only add extra taste but also help tenderize the meat.

In conclusion, the texture and flavor profiles of both short ribs and spare ribs depend on factors like fat marbling, connective tissues, and juiciness. By knowing these differences and using suitable cooking methods, you can enjoy the best of both types of ribs.

Dishes and Preparation Methods

Sauces and Seasonings

When preparing short ribs or spare ribs, you can use a variety of sauces and seasonings to enhance their flavor. For both types of ribs, a dry rub made from salt, pepper, and other spices can provide a savory and flavorful crust. Apply the dry rub to the ribs before cooking for best results.

For short ribs, braising in a mixture of red wine and beef broth is a popular cooking method. This liquid, combined with the natural juices from the ribs, can be reduced into a rich and delicious sauce. To incorporate additional flavors, consider adding herbs, garlic, and other aromatics to the braising liquid.

On the other hand, spare ribs often pair well with barbecue sauce. Numerous regional and store-bought variations are available, or you can make your own by combining tomato-based sauce, vinegar, sugar, and spices. Brush the sauce on the ribs during the final stages of cooking to achieve a flavorful, sticky coating.

Barbecue and Stews

Slow-cooking methods, such as barbecuing or stewing, are ideal for tenderizing the tough collagen in both short and spare ribs. This process allows the meat to become tender and succulent.

For barbecuing, spare ribs can be cooked using indirect heat on a grill or smoker. The cooking time varies depending on the thickness of the ribs, but a general guideline is to allow 4-6 hours for a low-temperature (225°F to 250°F) barbecue. Basting the ribs with additional barbecue sauce or a flavorful liquid during the cooking process can further enhance their flavor and tenderness.

Short ribs, on the other hand, are more commonly prepared as a stew or by braising. To braise, first sear the ribs on all sides in a hot pan, then transfer them to a lidded casserole dish or slow cooker with the braising liquid of your choice, typically a combination of red wine and beef broth. Cook the ribs at a low temperature (around 300°F) for 2-3 hours, depending on thickness, until tender.

In summary, whether you choose to make short ribs or spare ribs, there are numerous dishes, sauces, seasonings, and cooking methods at your disposal. Just remember to use slow-cooking methods for maximum tenderness, and don’t be afraid to experiment with different flavor combinations to find the perfect dish to suit your taste.

Comparisons and Recommendations

Differences and Similarities

When comparing short ribs and spare ribs, it is essential to understand their differences and similarities. Short ribs come from the rib area of the cow, while spare ribs are taken from the lower portion of a pig’s ribcage. In terms of taste, short ribs tend to have a richer, beefier flavor, while spare ribs offer a milder, pork taste.

In terms of texture, short ribs are usually more tender and easier to chew. They have a nice marbling of fat, which contributes to a juicy and flavorful bite. Spare ribs, on the other hand, are meatier and have a denser texture. Both types of ribs can be cooked in various ways, such as grilling, braising, or smoking.

Short RibsSpare Ribs
SourceCow (beef)Pig (pork)
FlavorRich, beefyMilder, pork
TextureTender, juicyMeaty, denser
CookingGrilling, braisingGrilling, smoking

Choosing Based on Personal Preference

When deciding between short ribs and spare ribs, consider your personal preferences. If you prefer a rich, beefy taste with a tender and juicy texture, then short ribs may be the better option for you. Alternatively, if you like a milder pork flavor with a meatier, denser texture, spare ribs could be the choice for you.

The cooking method may also influence your decision. If you enjoy grilling, both types of ribs are suitable, but keep in mind that spare ribs may take longer to cook due to their meatier nature. If you prefer braising, short ribs are ideal, as their marbling of fat helps them remain tender and juicy during the cooking process. Smoked spare ribs are popular, and their denseness can handle the longer cooking time smoking requires.

In summary, choose between short ribs and spare ribs based on your taste preferences, cooking method, and desired texture. Enjoy experimenting with different recipes to find your favorite way of preparing these delicious cuts of meat.

Frequently Asked Questions

What is the main difference between short and spare ribs?

The main difference between short ribs and spare ribs lies in their anatomy. Short ribs come from the beef chuck or plate section, while spare ribs are cut from the pork rib area. This difference brings variations in meatiness, fat content, and texture. Short ribs are typically meatier and have more marbling than spare ribs, while spare ribs tend to have a more uniform meat-to-fat ratio.

Which type of ribs are better for slow cooking?

Both short ribs and spare ribs can benefit from slow cooking methods, such as braising or smoking. Slow cooking is ideal for tenderizing these cuts, which can be tough if cooked quickly. However, if you’re looking for a melt-in-your-mouth texture and rich flavor, short ribs may be the better option, as their higher fat content can withstand extended cooking times without drying out.

Are spare ribs and back ribs the same?

No, spare ribs and back ribs are not the same. Spare ribs are cut from the lower, fattier section of the ribcage near the belly, while back ribs (also known as baby back ribs) are taken from the upper, leaner portion of the ribcage closer to the spine. Back ribs tend to have less meat and cook more quickly than spare ribs.

Which ribs are commonly found at grocery stores?

At most grocery stores, you will find a variety of pork ribs, including spare ribs and baby back ribs. These cuts are usually more affordable and available in greater quantities than beef ribs. Beef ribs, such as short ribs, can sometimes be found at local butchers or specialty stores.

What are the common names for beef ribs?

Beef ribs go by many names, depending on their specific cut and preparation. Short ribs are the most common type of beef rib, available as English style (cut parallel to the bone) or Flanken style (cut across the bone). Other beef rib cuts include back ribs, chuck short ribs, Kalbi, and plate short ribs.

Are Chinese spare ribs made with beef or pork?

Chinese spare ribs are typically made with pork. One popular preparation is Char Siu spare ribs, which are marinated in a sweet and savory sauce before being roasted or grilled. The recipe highlights the natural sweetness of pork, while the cooking method ensures tender and succulent results.

Short Ribs vs Spare Ribs + Recipe

Here's a simple recipe for short ribs:
5 from 1 vote
Prep Time 20 minutes
Cook Time 2 hours 30 minutes
Total Time 2 hours 50 minutes
Course Main Course
Cuisine Barbeque
Servings 4
Calories 310 kcal


  • 4 lbs beef short ribs
  • 2 tbsp olive oil
  • 1 onion chopped
  • 3 garlic cloves minced
  • 1 cup beef broth
  • 1 cup red wine
  • 2 tbsp tomato paste
  • 2 tbsp brown sugar
  • 2 tbsp soy sauce
  • Salt and pepper to taste


  • Preheat your oven to 350°F.
  • Heat the olive oil in a large Dutch oven over medium-high heat.
  • Season the short ribs with salt and pepper and brown them on all sides in the Dutch oven. This should take about 10 minutes.
  • Remove the short ribs from the Dutch oven and set them aside.
  • Add the chopped onion and minced garlic to the Dutch oven and sauté for 3-4 minutes, until the onion is translucent.
  • Add the beef broth, red wine, tomato paste, brown sugar, and soy sauce to the Dutch oven and stir to combine.
  • Return the short ribs to the Dutch oven and spoon the sauce over them.
  • Cover the Dutch oven with a lid and transfer it to the preheated oven.
  • Bake the short ribs for 2-2.5 hours, until they are tender and falling off the bone.
  • Remove the Dutch oven from the oven and let it cool for a few minutes before serving.
  • Serve the short ribs with the sauce and your favorite sides, such as mashed potatoes or roasted vegetables. Enjoy!


Calories: 310kcal
Keyword short ribs vs spare ribs
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Cassie brings decades of experience to the Kitchen Community. She is a noted chef and avid gardener. Her new book "Healthy Eating Through the Garden" will be released shortly. When not writing or speaking about food and gardens Cassie can be found puttering around farmer's markets and greenhouses looking for the next great idea.
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