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Country Ribs vs Western Ribs

Country Ribs vs Western Ribs | DadCooksDinner.com

Country Ribs vs Western Ribs

Elwood: What kind of music do you usually have here?
Claire: Oh, we have both kinds – Country *and* Western.

I get the question all the time in my Pork Western Shoulder recipes – I can’t find pork western shoulder ribs at my store…can I use country ribs?

Well, yes, you can…but I have a preference for western ribs. Or at least I thought I did. Turns out, it’s complicated. Here’s why:

What’s the difference between country ribs and western ribs?

Country-style loin ribs are cut from the pig’s ribcage, right before it meets the shoulder – they are the first few rib bones before we get to the back ribs.
Western shoulder ribs aren’t really ribs at all – they’re pieces of pork shoulder, cut across the shoulder blade so it looks like a rib.

Country rib bone vs Western rib bone with markup showing the bones | DadCooksDinner.com

Country rib bone vs Western rib bone

You can see this in the picture above; the country style loin rib actually has a rib bone, curving down on the left side; the western rib has a piece of the shoulder blade – not really a rib. (I think I got the tip of the shoulder blade roast in my western ribs; the other ribs in the pack were boneless.)

They cook a little different. Use country ribs for grilling or roasting; western ribs for barbecue or pressure cooking. But you don’t have to be militant about it.

They are both tougher cuts of meat, that take well to longer roasting or braising recipes. But…the country-style ribs, because they are cut from the loin, are leaner, with less collagen – the connective tissue that breaks down into lip-smacking gelatin with long cooking. The hard-working shoulder muscle has lots more collagen. For grilling or roasting, I prefer the leaner country ribs. For pressure cooking or low-and-slow barbecue, I prefer the western shoulder ribs, because the extra collagen stands up to the longer (or higher pressure) cooking, keeping western ribs from drying out.

But what about finding Western shoulder ribs?

How far west can you find Western?

And I thought the “Boston butt is actually a pork shoulder” thing was confusing…
Here in Ohio, my grocery store carries western shoulder ribs all the time. I actually have to seek out Country-style loin ribs. But, I have readers out west who swear that they cannot get “Western” ribs – they have country-style ribs or nothing. That’s what inspired this post – I wanted to show them the difference between the two.

I went to the one store I know carries country ribs – my local organic grocery. In the meat case, there was a big sign: “Country style ribs”. I bought them to take pictures for this post, then swung by my regular grocery store for a pack of Western shoulder ribs for the other side of the picture. I set them up, took my pictures, then wrapped them back up for later in the week. And then…as I balled up the butcher paper from the organic grocery store, I noticed the price sticker. Right above the barcode was printed the name – “Western ribs.”

Country ribs in the case...Western ribs on the label

Country ribs in the case…Western ribs on the label

What?

OK, I know these are country style ribs. I can see the whole rib bone in two of the three ribs, and I’ve eaten enough racks of ribs in my day to consider myself an expert. (Also, you can see the curve of pork loin meat on each rib – that’s part of how I identify them, even when they’re wrapped in packaging.)

I went to PorkBeInspired.com, the National Pork Board’s official site, to see if I can figure out what’s going on.

(Footnote: my friends at the National Pork Board have sponsored this blog a number of times in the past, but not today. I’m on my own for this one.)

The National Pork Board doesn’t list a cut called Western ribs, but they do have Country-style ribs. And then, in marketing materials for butchers, I find loin country-style ribs…and shoulder country-style ribs, which are obviously my “Western” ribs, cut across the shoulder blade.

Ugh.

So, as I understand it – my beloved Western ribs are all marketing speak for Midwesterners. I knew that going in – I was buying them because they’re from the shoulder, after all – but I still feel like I’m being fooled somehow. Those genius marketers got me again! (Shakes fist.) I’m going to have to change the text in my recipes to Western shoulder ribs “or shoulder country-style ribs”.

Don’t sweat it too much

In the end, both “country-style” loin ribs and “western” shoulder ribs are pretty similar cuts of meat. Most of my recipes call for western shoulder ribs, because I want that extra collagen to break down. If all you can get are loin country ribs, go ahead and use them in my western ribs recipes. The loin ribs might be a little dry, but it won’t matter much – they do have enough connective tissue to stand up to pressure cooking.

If you live out west, and you want to make sure your country ribs come from the shoulder, and not the loin, pay attention to the sticker on the package – you want to see the word “shoulder” somewhere. Or, go with the DIY approach and buy a (boneless) pork shoulder roast and cut it into strips – voilà, boneless western shoulder ribs.

(Or, even better, talk with your butcher and ask for a pork shoulder blade roast cut into 1.5-inch thick strips…they have a bandsaw back there, which makes short work of cutting through the bone.)

What do you think?

Questions? Other ideas? Leave them in the comments section below.

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