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Baby back ribs, pork loin ribs, spareribs, St Louis style cut ribs. Head into your local grocery store to buy some ribs and you will come across all of those names. But are they all the same?
When I first started smoking meat, I didn’t realize there were different types of ribs. I just grabbed a rack of ribs and started smoking. But I couldn’t figure out why some ribs had these tough, white, chewy tubes and others didn’t.
Many ribs later, I finally figured out the difference between the different types of ribs were and what those white, chewy tubes were. In this article, we will go over the 3 types of pork ribs you can find in the store, what the differences between them are, and which ones you should choose to smoke!
What Are The 3 Main Types Of Pork Ribs?
When it comes to smoking pork ribs, there are 3 main types: Spareribs, St Louis style cut ribs, and probably the most well-known, baby back ribs. But what are they and why are they different? The answer has to do with where on the rib cage they come from!
Baby Back Ribs
Baby back ribs are the portion of the rib cage at the top closest to the spine. As the name suggests, baby back ribs are not from baby pigs. Instead, they get their name baby backs because they are much smaller in size than the rest of the rib cage.
Because baby back ribs are situated at the top of the rib cage, they are also much curvier and tend to be much leaner and tender than other portions of the rib cage.
Are Pork Loin Ribs The Same As Baby Back Ribs?
Pork loin ribs are the same thing as baby back ribs. Often times, grocery stores will label baby back ribs as pork loin or pork loin back ribs. This is because baby back ribs are situated at the top of the rib cage near the pork loin muscle which runs on either side of the spine.
Moving further down on the rib cage, you have spareribs also known as untrimmed spareribs. Spareribs are the bottom portion of the rib cage and come from the belly area. Spareribs are much larger in size, flatter, and contain more meat and fat.
At the very tip of the spareribs, you can also find the rib tips. This is the very bottom section of the ribs that contains the cartilage, those thick, white, chewy tubes. The rib tips tend to be one of the most prized and tasty parts of the ribs.
St Louis Style Cut Spareribs:
As the name suggests, St Louis Style cut spareribs are actually spareribs. What makes them different is how they are cut by the butcher. Remember the rib tips I talked about above? St Louis style cut ribs are spareribs with the rib tips cut off. For this reason, they are often called trimmed spareribs.
Here is a great video showing you the difference between the 3 different types of pork ribs.
What Kind Of Ribs Are Best To Smoke?
Baby back ribs are by far the most popular type of rib to smoke. They are much leaner and don’t have cartilage attached making them a popular choice for your average weekend smoker; however, for those looking for a meatier rib with more flavor, the best types of ribs to smoke are spareribs.
Here is the quick rundown of the 3 types of ribs and their differences.
|Attribute||Baby Back Ribs||Spareribs||St Louis Style Cut|
|Meat||Less meat||Most meat||In Between|
|Flavor||Less flavor||More flavor||More flavor|
|Fat Content||Leaner and more tender||More fat content||More fat content|
|Presentation||Curvier and shorter||Flat and longer||Flat and longer|
|Price||Most expensive||Least expensive||In Between|
As with most things smoking meat related, the best type of rib to smoke all comes down to personal preference. What I like best might vary from what you like best. With that said, lets take a look at the differences between the 3 ribs to help you decide what type of rib to smoke.
Which Ribs Have The Most Meat?
If you are looking for the ribs with the most meat, you should opt for spareribs or St Louis style cut spareribs. Both of these ribs come from lower on the ribs cage and have more meat than baby back ribs.
What Ribs Have The Best Flavor?
Spareribs or St louis style ribs have the best flavor. Spareribs come from the belly area, and not only do they have more meat, but more they have more fat than baby back ribs as well. This extra fat when rendered down allows spareribs to have more flavor than baby back ribs.
Which Ribs Have The Most Cartilage?
When it comes to cartilage, spareribs are going to have the cartilage. Cartilage is the thick, chewy, white tubes you see at the end of the rib that are part of the riblets. If you are looking for a rib without cartilage, you should stick to baby back ribs or St louis style cut ribs.
If you pick up St louis style ribs at the store, it is possible that you can still have some cartilage left over. When the butchers cut the riblets off, sometimes they don’t cut down low enough to remove all the cartilage. If that’s the case, you can always further trim your ribs before smoking.
Can You Eat The Cartilage On Ribs?
The cartilage on ribs is edible. In fact, a lot of people see the riblets as one of the best tasting parts of the ribs. The cartilage has a strange and chewy texture, one that I can not stand, but if the texture doesn’t phase you, the meat at the riblets is quite good.
How to Remove Cartilage From Spareribs?
If your anything like me and don’t like the cartilage but still want to have the meatier and fattier ribs that spareribs offer, you can opt for the St louis style cut spareribs. As mentioned above, St Louis style cur ribs are cut in a way which removes the riblets, thus removing those pesky tubes of cartilage.
Here is a great video from none other than Malcom Reed of How To BBQ Right showing you how to trim your spareribs and make St Louis Style ribs.
Which Ribs Do Not Have Cartilage?
If you don’t want to worry about cartilage at all, you can just opt for baby back ribs. Baby back ribs are completely free of cartilage. Probably why they are so popular.
Spareribs vs Baby Back Cooking Time:
On average, you can expect baby back ribs to take an hour less to cook than spare ribs or St Louis style cut ribs. Baby back ribs have less meat and are much leaner than spareribs allowing them to cook faster.
What Ribs Do Pitmasters Use At Competitions?
When it comes to competition and cook offs, pitmasters use spareribs. This is because they have more meat, lie flatter, and have more flavor. This makes spareribs better for not only presentation, but for flavor and juiciness.
What Is The Difference In Price?
Baby back ribs are going to be the most expensive of the three options followed by St Louis Style Cut and lastly spareribs. If you are looking for the best bang for you buck, you should opt for spareribs. Spareribs are not only cheaper per pound than baby backs ribs, but also provides more meat than baby back ribs.
St louis style cut while still a spare ribs, tend to be more expensive than untrimmed spareribs because it takes some amount of labor to trim the spareribs into the St Louis style cut; however, both of these options are cheaper than baby back ribs.
Best Type Of Ribs To Smoke Poll
I ran a poll within the meat smoking community to get an idea of what people’s favorite type of ribs to cook were. As you can see, an overwhelming majority of people prefer baby back ribs fat 56% followed by St Louis Style cut at 25%, and lastly spareribs at 18%.