Why are short ribs so high in calories?

Short ribs are a cut of beef taken from the brisket, chuck, plate, or rib areas of a cow. They are a tough cut of meat consisting of a short length of rib bone, the meat surrounding it, and a thin layer of fat. Short ribs are popular in many cuisines and are favored for their rich, beefy flavor. However, they are also quite high in calories compared to other cuts of beef. In this article, we will explore why short ribs contain so many calories and what makes them such a calorie-dense food.

The high fat content of short ribs

One of the main reasons short ribs are so high in calories is their high fat content. Short ribs come well-marbled with fat both on the exterior and running through the interior of the meat. Fat contains 9 calories per gram, which is more than double the 4 calories per gram found in protein or carbs.

According to the USDA, a typical 3 oz serving of braised short ribs contains 14 g of fat, accounting for about 120 calories. In contrast, the same portion size of a leaner cut like eye of round contains only 5 g of fat and 60 calories. So the high total fat content certainly contributes to short ribs’ high calorie count.

Types of fat in short ribs

Not only do short ribs contain a lot of fat, but the types of fats are particularly calorie-dense as well. Short ribs are higher in saturated fat compared to other cuts of beef. Saturated fat has been associated with increases in LDL cholesterol levels.

A 3 oz serving of short ribs contains about 5 g of saturated fat, which provides around 45 calories or over one-third of the total fat calories. The monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats provide the rest of the fat calories. So the high saturated fat content specifically helps drive up the calorie count of short ribs.

High calorie marbling of short ribs

As mentioned previously, short ribs tend to be well-marbled with fat running through the meat. This marbling is part of what gives short ribs their renowned flavor and tenderness when cooked. However, the intramuscular marbling also greatly increases the fat and calorie content per ounce compared to a leaner, less marbled cut of beef.

For example, an eye of round roast contains only about 5 g of fat per 3 oz serving with minimal marbling. Short ribs can contain 2 to 3 times as much fat content thanks to the abundant marbling, which also translates into 2-3 times as many calories. So the generous intramuscular marbling is a key factor behind the high calories in short ribs.

Calories in bone vs. boneless short ribs

Short ribs can be purchased bone-in or boneless. In general, bone-in short ribs will be a bit higher in calories than boneless ribs.

Here is a calorie comparison of 3 oz cooked servings of bone-in vs boneless short ribs:

Cut Calories Fat (g)
Boneless short ribs 210 13
Bone-in short ribs 230 15

As you can see, bone-in short ribs contain about 9% more calories per 3 oz serving compared to boneless. The bones add additional fat and account for this small calorie difference.

However, in the end the high calorie counts of both versions can be attributed to the high fat content typical of short ribs in general. Going with a boneless cut just saves a few calories.

Cooking method affects calorie content

How short ribs are prepared also impacts their final calorie content. Short ribs are versatile and can be cooked many ways, including grilling, roasting, braising, and simmering in stews or soups.

The dry heat cooking methods like grilling generally result in fewer calories than high moisture methods like braising:

Cooking Method Calories in 3 oz Serving
Grilled 180
Braised 240

When braised, slow cooked, or simmered, short ribs have more opportunity to absorb additional fat and liquids, slightly boosting the calorie content.

Trimming excess external fat before cooking can also help reduce calories. But no matter what, short ribs are a high calorie cut compared to others due to their inherent marbling.

Nutritional profile of short ribs

Now that we have covered why short ribs are so high in calories, let’s take a look at their full nutritional profile.

Here are the macros per 3 oz (85g) braised short rib serving:

Calories Fat Protein Carbs
230 15g 16g 0g

As you can see, short ribs provide a robust 16g of protein per serving. But the majority of calories come from fat, totaling 15g.

Beyond macros, here are some other key nutritional aspects of short ribs:

  • High in zinc – 20% DV
  • Contains iron – 15% DV
  • Provides selenium – 14% DV
  • Source of choline – 18% DV
  • Minimal carbs and zero fiber

So while high in fat and calories, short ribs do provide minerals like zinc and iron, as well as some B vitamins. Of course, the high protein content is valuable as well.

Ways to make short ribs healthier

If you want to enjoy the savory taste of short ribs but avoid some of the high calorie pitfalls, here are some tips for lightening them up:

Trim external fat

Trimming as much visible fat off the exterior of the ribs before cooking is an easy way reduce some unwanted calories and fat. As much as 20-30% of the total fat can be trimmed off.

Use leaner cooking methods

Opt for cooking methods like grilling, broiling, or roasting short ribs rather than braising. Dry heat methods allow excess fat to drip away rather than being reabsorbed.

Boost nutrition with veggies

Serve short ribs with a generous portion of vegetables, such as roasted Brussels sprouts, mashed cauliflower, or a fresh salad. This increases fiber, vitamins, and minerals to balance the nutritional profile.

Avoid fatty sides

Skip calorie-dense side dishes like macaroni and cheese or mashed potatoes when eating short ribs. Choose lower calorie sides like rice, a baked potato, or farro instead.

Watch portion sizes

Stick to sensible 3-4 oz serving sizes of short ribs rather than oversized portions to keep calories under control. Measure portions to maintain proper sizes.

Swap in other cuts

On occasion, replace short ribs in recipes with leaner cuts like eye of round, sirloin, or 93% lean ground beef to save significant calories.

Healthiest ways to cook short ribs

Here are some of the best methods for cooking short ribs while optimizing their nutrition:

Oven Roasted

Roasting in the oven at high heat allows excess fat to render away. Coat ribs lightly in oil rather than submerging in butter or thick sauce to avoid absorbing extra calories. Roast until browned and tender.


Grilling over direct high heat lets fat drip off while adding delicious charred flavor. Choose a lean marinade like vinegar, mustard, or herbs rather than sugary barbecue sauce. Grill until nicely charred on both sides.

Braised in Broth

For moist braised ribs, opt for broth over cream or oil-based liquids. Braising in lower calorie chicken or beef broth imparts savory flavor while avoiding added calories. Supplement with aromatics like onions, garlic, and carrots.

Stewed in Tomato Sauce

For a Mediterranean twist, braise short ribs in a sauce of crushed tomatoes, white wine, olives, capers, and herbs. The fresh tomato-based sauce keeps things light.

Simmered in Chili

Incorporate short ribs into a pot of chili made with beans, tomatoes, peppers, onions, and Tex-Mex spices. The rich meatiness perfectly balances the veggie based chili.

Healthiest short rib recipes

Here are some delicious and nutritious recipes for short ribs:

Balsamic Glazed Short Ribs

Meaty short ribs oven roasted until fork tender and lacquered with a sweet-tangy balsamic glaze. Served over risotto and roasted carrots.

Korean Grilled Short Ribs (Kalbi)

Short ribs marinated in a blend of soy sauce, sesame oil, garlic, and ginger. Grilled and served with brown rice and kimchi.

Braised Short Ribs with Red Wine & Herbs

Short ribs slowly braised in an herbed red wine sauce until meltingly tender. Served with cauliflower mash and sautéed spinach.

Short Rib Ragu with Zucchini Noodles

Shredded short ribs and tomatoes simmered into a hearty ragu and served over spiralized zucchini noodles.

Moroccan Braised Short Ribs

Short ribs braised with warming spices like cumin, cinnamon, paprika, and cayenne. Served with couscous.

Potential downsides of eating short ribs

While delicious, some potential downsides of consuming short ribs regularly include:

High in saturated fat

The abundant saturated fat may negatively impact blood cholesterol levels.

Lots of calories

The high calorie count can contribute to weight gain if portions are not controlled.

Contains cholesterol

Short ribs have 85 mg cholesterol per serving, which could be concerning for some.

High sodium

Sodium content averages around 200 mg per serving, which can aggravate high blood pressure.

Tough on digestive system

The high fat content may cause indigestion issues like reflux, gas, bloating, etc.


Heavily marbled red meat is considered an inflammatory food that may worsen certain conditions for some people.

Can contain antibiotics

Non-organic short ribs may contain antibiotic residue if produced conventionally.


Short ribs are prized for their ultra-rich flavor, but that luxurious taste comes at a cost – they are quite high in calories and fat compared to other cuts of beef. The main reasons short ribs pack so many calories into each serving are:

– High overall fat content
– Abundant marbling flecked throughout the meat
– Higher amounts of saturated fat compared to other cuts
– Presence of bones adds even more fat
– Cooking methods that allow for absorption of additional fat and liquids

While short ribs can fit into a healthy diet in moderation, their calorie and fat content should be accounted for. Following healthy cooking methods, watching portions, and balancing with vegetables and grains are good strategies to implement. Incorporating this succulent cut of meat occasionally while opting for leaner proteins at other times is a great approach to enjoy short ribs without going overboard on calories or fat.

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