Back ribs, spare ribs, rib tips, country-style ribs and St. Louis ribs are just a few of the names you’ll encounter when buying pork ribs. With so many types of pork ribs to choose from, what exactly is the difference? Which is better?
Basically, there are two types of pork ribs. They are spare ribs and back ribs. Another type of rib you may run into is the country-style rib, which is not really a rib at all, yet if the pork industry chooses to call them a rib, who’s to argue? Country-style ribs will be discussed later in this article.
Also called baby back ribs, loin ribs, back ribs, loin back ribs or Canadian back ribs. This cut of rib comes from the blade and center section of the pork loin. The nick name, baby backs is derived because the rib is shorter than the next section of ribs, the spare ribs. The loin back rib is meatier than the other cuts, with meat between the bones, or “finger meat”, as well as on top of the bones.
Loin back ribs are tapered and more curved than other cuts. A typical rack of back ribs weighs between 1 ½ and 1 ¾ pounds with 10-13 bones, depending on how the butcher cuts it.
Loin back ribs are generally a good choice for outdoor cooking. They cook well and offer plenty of meat. An average serving would be half a slab, yet plan for a slab per person if you’re expecting hearty eaters.
As we travel down the side of the rib cage from the back ribs, the next section of ribs are the spare ribs. Also known as side ribs, spare ribs are straighter and more flat than baby back ribs. Spare ribs contain more bone than meat, yet because this cut has a higher fat content, many argue that they are more moist and flavorful than the back ribs.
On the top of a typical rack of spare ribs is a clean cut across the rib bones. This is where it was cut away from the back, or loin ribs. At the bottom, the rib meets the sternum, Here you’ll find a section of small cartilage, known as rib tips and a flap of meat.
There is nothing “spare” about spare ribs. They are a good and tasty cut of meat. With the recent hype of baby back ribs, we have seen their price climb. The bargain at the check out counter might be a slab of spare ribs. One rack will generally feed one person.
St. Louis Cut Ribs
St. Louis style ribs are spare ribs. They’re just trimmed. The rib tips, sternum bone and the flap of meat have been removed, rendering a more square slab. What’s the advantage? Good question. There isn’t any. Many restaurants prefer these as they make for a better presentation with no trimming by the chef needed. Often times, they are more expensive than a regular slab of spare ribs due to the added labor of trimming. Why not just buy spare ribs and trim them yourself. The rib tips and flap meat offers an additional meal, just on their own.
You may also see Kansas City style ribs. These are basically the same thing as St. Louis cut ribs, they’re just cut more precise.
They are sold either as “slabs” or in individual servings. Individual pieces seem to be more prevalent. Two of these will usually satisfy the average appetite. If you’re following a crock pot recipe, country-style ribs would be an excellent choice to use.
Other Pork Cuts Worth Mentioning
The small section at the bottom of the spare rib that is cut away when trimming for a St. Louis or Kansas City style rib. There is no bone at this part of the rib, but rather cartilage. Regarded as worthless by many, these tips are quite tasty. Rib tips are a bit more tedious to eat, yet many excellent crock pot recipes can be used to make them every bit worth the extra effort.
Pork Rib Roast
Also called a rack of pork or a center-cut pork loin, this cut originates in the rib area of the loin, so it contains a bit more fat which makes it flavorful. The pork rib roast is the pork equivalent of a standing beef rib roast or a rack of lamb. You may have seen this cut of pork as a pork crown roast, which is a pork rib roast turned into a circle and tied.
This cut makes a show-stopping, elegant dinner. Although, not always available at your local grocer, it can be ordered ahead of time. Before roasting or grilling the pork rib roast, it should be “Frenched.” Simply cut the meat away from the end of each rib, so that part of each bone is exposed. A butcher also can do this for you.
Although this article is about pork ribs, I thought a little clarification was needed. Short ribs are beef. It’s a tougher meat that needs to be cooked slow. Although flavorful, most people prefer the pork ribs.
As far as recommendations go, either cut of rib is going to be good. Experiment with the various cuts to see if you really prefer one over the other. Other than that, price considerations may be the criteria to follow.
Enjoy your ribs and always remember…admire the fire!