What types of pork ribs are there and which one should I buy? This question was asked to me by a friend the other day so I gave him a bit of an explanation and decided to write an article all about ribs.
There are four main types of ribs that you will find in pork and everyone of them is delicious. They can be called different names in different countries but once you see a few pictures you will get the idea and understand each cut easily when you decide to go and find some for your next Pork Rib BBQ session.
The Four Types Of Pork Ribs…
- Baby back ribs
- St. Louis cut ribs
- Rib tips
Each pork has 13 to14 rib bones on each side and it will depend on how the shoulders are removed by the butcher to determine how many ribs will be on a rib set. These will range from the whole rib size of 13/14 but generally the ribs number can be 12 or 8.
Baby Back Ribs…
Baby back ribs are cut from the highest part of the pigs back along the rib cage. The whole rib is directly connected to the backbone vertebrae spine of the animal.
The word “Baby” name refers to the fact that the ribs are the smaller part that is cut from the whole rib set. The “Back” part of the name refers to the fact that they are attached to the backbone spine of the pork.
They are also sometimes referred to as “loin back ribs” and in Australia they can be called “American style ribs”. They can have between 10-13 rib bones per rack depending on how they are butchered. Baby back ribs can be grilled, barbecued, roasted and smoked.
- Baby back ribs tend to be leaner than other ribs.
- They usually range between 3 to 6 inches in length from long end to short end
- They have a distinctive curved shape at the top were the rib was connected to the spine.
Spare ribs start from the were the end of Baby back ribs were cut and extend to the end of the rib bones including the soft cartilage bones or the breast bone belly. Spare Ribs are wider across with more meat between the rib bones (because of the rib cage expansion) than the top of the bones nearer to the back bone spine. The meat here tends to be a little tougher and fatter, but can have a much richer flavor. Spare ribs average 10-13 bones per rack, again depending on how they are butchered. These can also be grilled, barbecued, roasted and smoked.
- Spare ribs are flatter and the ribs tend to be straighter than baby back ribs
- The ribs shape taper away towards the breast bone end of the loin. The breast bone is soft cartilage bone that can be cut with a knife and has some gristle.
- Spare ribs can have a richer, more flavorful taste than baby backs b in reality that will all depend on how they are cooked and seasoned. It’s really a matter of personal taste for each and every cook.
St Louis Cut Ribs…
St Louis cut ribs are basically spare ribs that have been trimmed or, as we say in butchering terms, squared up or straightened up a little more. This is done by starting at the top were the widest part of the ribs are and cutting straight down through were the cartilage and gristle join to the rib hard bone and them cutting parallel to the cut ribs. Forming a nice rectangle shaped slab of flat ribs.
The name became common after the mid 20th century when people wanted a better cut from meat packers in St Louis without the breast bone section. These can also be grilled, barbecued, roasted and smoked.
- St Louis cut ribs are longer than baby backs and shorter than the full spare rib set.
- While the meat is the same as the spare rib, they are trimmed up into a rectangular shape for a better presentation.
Rib Tips are exactly what the name says. The tips of the ribs from the rib cage. They are the ends cut off from the Spare rib when preparing the St. Louis Ribs. These bones are soft cartilage and gristle and with a little meat left on are rich in flavor due to the presence of bone and higher fat content.
My mum cuts these into bigger sized chunks and adds them to her spaghetti sauce cooking for a long time. With a long cooking process the flavor enriches the sauce and them the meat falls easily off the bones. We all used to get a piece of bone for a great hands on chewing experience. Ah memories. People generally either love them or hate them.
- Rib tips are about 8 – 12″ long and 1 – 3″ wide.
- The cartilage is chewy, and are often served chopped into chunks
- They are flavorsome and great in a slow cooked stew.
Choosing The Right Ribs…
Well here there are only a few things to look out for and it all depends on how you want to cook your ribs.
- When you are at your butchers or supermarket asking or looking for spareribs or baby backs, something that has a bit of marbling of fat through the meat but not large clumps of fat on the outside of the ribs is better than super lean. These will make sure they will be juicy and tender.
- Look for ribs that have an even meat thickness across the entire slab for a better even cooking result.
- If you are buying ribs that are cryovaced them check the tightness of the packing and scrutinize the thickness even more and also the shape of rectangular size conformity.
Wrapping it up…
Smoking and cooking delicious ribs can be a classic skill in the world of barbecue. For this very reason there is plenty of information and recipes out there about how to prepare and cook the perfect pork ribs.
You can check out my recommended excellent book called Meathead: The Science of Great Barbecue and Grilling with tips, tricks and great recipes. You will learn how to make super star ribs for all to enjoy.
I hope you have found my article helpful and feel free to send my comment if you have further questions.
Enjoy your meat and regards