Types of Pork Ribs Explained (4 Most Popular Cuts & More) (2022)

Types of Pork Ribs Explained (4 Most Popular Cuts & More) (1)

Published by Timothy Woods

Last Updated On: March 23, 2022

Everyone has to start somewhere - pitmasters included. When I began my barbecue journey, I had no idea about the different types of pork ribs or what to do with them.

I made the mistake of grilling them all the same until I realized that not all pork ribs are made equal.

Learning about the different types of pork ribs and how they are butchered and cooked seriously upped my grilling game.

If you’re just a beginner, don’t worry. I’m here to tell you everything you need to know about rib styles and mastering barbecue ribs.

Summary of the Key Findings

  • While spare and baby ribs are prepared similarly, they have distinct flavors.
  • The best pork ribs are 1 inch thick with plenty of meat.
  • You can get two types of ribs from the full spare rib cut.

The 4 Main Types of Ribs and How to Prepare Them

Types of Pork Ribs Explained (4 Most Popular Cuts & More) (2)

There are quite a few different ribs out there, especially when it comes to styles and how people prepare them.

(Video) What are the Different Types of Pork Ribs? | The Bearded Butchers

However, I’m going to tell you about the 4 types of ribs you’re most likely to come across at your local butcher or in a supermarket.

If you look at a pig and its anatomy, you’ll notice pigs have 14 rib bones attached to the spine of the pig.

Today, we will cover the four most popular cuts:

  • Spare ribs
  • Baby back ribs/loin ribs
  • St Louis ribs
  • Rib tips

Different types of ribs can be distinguished based on how they are trimmed and which specific section they have been cut from. As I mentioned, no rib is made equal; therefore, the way of preparing and cooking them varies.

Read More:

  • Main Differences Between Beef Ribs and Pork Ribs
  • Pork Ribs Internal Temperature Chart
  • The 3-2-1 Barbecue Method
  • What Is the Best Meat to Smoke for Beginners?

1. Spare Ribs

Types of Pork Ribs Explained (4 Most Popular Cuts & More) (3)

When we think of “ribs,” what’s the first thing that comes to mind?

Well, for me and many others, ribs tend to refer to spares. Spares come from the side of the pig, right after the baby back ribs.

They reach down to the breastbone of the pig, often referred to as “spares” or “side ribs”.

You can distinguish spare ribs by:

  1. Bones - Compared to the baby back ribs, spares are a lot flatter and straighter.
  2. Marrow - When separating the ribs, spare ribs are cut away from the baby backs near the marrow of the bone. So, spare ribs will have visible marrow at one end.
  3. Cartilage - On the opposite end of the rib, you will see some cartilage and gristle. This is where the ribs taper as they reach the chest of the pig.
  4. Flavor - Many people attest (myself included) that spare ribs are a lot richer and flavorful compared to others. Of course, this all depends on your taste.

“When the going gets tough, the tough eat ribs.” - Nora Roberts, Author

How to prepare pork spare ribs:

There are tons of ways and recipes when it comes to pork spares. You’ll know you’ve found a good recipe when it includes these basic preparation steps:

  1. The best ribs are around 1 inch thick with plenty of meat on the bones.
  2. If there is any meat dangling on the side of the bone, make sure to trim it off.
  3. Grab your knife and slide it under the membrane and over the bone.
  4. Using a paper towel, carefully pick off the membrane [1].
  5. Using your favorite rib rub, season both sides of the cut.
(Video) How to Know the Difference in Pork Rib Types

2. Baby Back Ribs

Types of Pork Ribs Explained (4 Most Popular Cuts & More) (4)

Despite the name, baby back ribs do not come from baby pigs.

They get this name simply because they're smaller than the other cuts.

They come from the very front of the rib cage.

They’re also referred to as “back pork ribs'' or “loin back ribs,” connected to the pig’s backbone.

You can distinguish a baby back rib by:

  1. Length - The length of baby backs is usually 3 - 6 inches, bending where the rib meets the spine.
  2. Tenderness - Many people consider baby backs to be a lot more tender than spares.

How to prepare baby back ribs:

You can use the same technique to prepare the back ribs that you use for the spares.

The biggest difference between the two is cooking time. While the spares take around 5 - 6 hours, the baby backs will take only 4 - 5 hours.

Baby back ribs also cook great with a slow cooker but can take for 6 to 7 hours.

Also Read: How to Prepare Dr. Pepper Baby Back Ribs Recipe?

3. St Louis Style Ribs

Types of Pork Ribs Explained (4 Most Popular Cuts & More) (5)

St Louis cut ribs are basically spare ribs - just trimmed a little more.

This specific cut is used for the competition circuit since it’s known for being neat and tidy.

(Video) Ribs 101: All About Pork Ribs

St Louis cut ribs have more meat and less cartilage than the spares since it is trimmed off.

You can distinguish St Louis ribs by:

  1. Length - St Louis cut is longer than baby backs and shorter than the full spares.
  2. Availability - You won’t just stumble on this cut by chance; it’s considered a “specialty” item.

How to prepare St Louis style ribs:

Since these ribs are actually spares that are trimmed more, you should prepare them the same way as spare ribs.

Read More: St. Louis Ribs vs Spare Ribs

4. Rib Tips

Types of Pork Ribs Explained (4 Most Popular Cuts & More) (6)

Rib tips are the small bones and cartilage you will find connecting the front ribs to the breast bone.

When St. Louis ribs are butchered, the tips are cut from the lower ends. While they’re usually called rib tips, they can also be called the brisket of the pork.

Many people confuse them with riblets - but riblets aren’t even ribs at all.

Usually, the tips are considered waste. But they’re slowly making a comeback in the rib world.

You can distinguish a rib tip by:

  1. Length - They are only 8 - 12 inches long and around 3 inches wide.
  2. Texture - The tips are often extra chewy due to the cartilage.

How to prepare rib tips:

Unless you buy full spare ribs and perform your own meat trim, you’ll need to ask your butcher for some tips or cut them yourself.

My favorite way to use the tips is in Asian-style recipes. Smoked rib tips also make a great starter, only taking 2 - 3 hours to cook [2].

What are Country-Style Ribs?

Country-style ribs, despite their name, aren’t ribs at all.

(Video) Pork Ribs - What's the difference between Babyback, Spare Ribs and St. Louis Style Ribs?

They’re more like a pork chop with the bone still attached (the bone is a lot thicker than normal ribs), cut from near the pig’s shoulder.

Country-style pork ribs are often served with a lot of pork loin meat attached.

They can be brined in simple sugar and water mix overnight to create a great chop.

Read More: Country Style Ribs Explained

Other Types of Ribs

Since this is a “pork ribs explained” type of guide, I’ll also mention some other types of ribs you should consider trying.

  • Kansas city ribs - Similar to the St Louis ribs but not trimmed as much.
  • Riblets - Delicious appetizers or ‘ribs for kids’ since they’re cut half the size of a full slab.

Which Type of Pork Rib is Better?

Since there are a few different types of pork ribs, the answer depends on your taste.

The spares are great if you enjoy more flavorful meat, and the baby backs are perfect if you enjoy a more tender rib.

While many people tend to avoid the rib tip, it makes a perfect starter for any barbecue summer.

Next time you go to the butchers, be sure to ask for a specific cut of pork rib to make some killer ribs.

References:

  1. https://www.thespruceeats.com/remove-membrane-from-pork-ribs-995303
  2. https://amazingribs.com/tested-recipes/pork-ribs-recipes/smoked-pork-rib-tips-recipe/

(Video) Spare Ribs vs Baby Back RIBS | What's the difference?!?

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FAQs

What are the four types of pork ribs? ›

Pork ribs come in three basic cuts – back ribs, spare ribs, and country-style ribs – depending on the section of the hog where they originated. A special cut of spare ribs, formalized by the USDA as “Pork Ribs, St.

What cut of pork ribs are best? ›

Baby Back Ribs: The most popular of all pork ribs, Baby Backs are the most lean and tender. These types of ribs are located at the top part of the rib bone that is connected to the spine (backbone), just below the loin muscle.

What is the most popular type of ribs? ›

Pork ribs are certainly the most popular, although beef ribs also have their fair share of enthusiasts. One thing they have in common is that since both pork and beef ribs contain so much connective tissue, they require long, slow cooking.

What is the difference in rib cuts? ›

Spare ribs are larger, meatier, and contain more bone and fat than baby back ribs. Many people also consider spare ribs to be the most flavorsome. Baby back ribs, on the other hand, are smaller, more curved, and the leanest and most tender of ribs.

What are the 3 different types of ribs? ›

There are three types of ribs. Their characteristics are as follows:
  • There are seven pairs of true ribs. They are the most superior of the thoracic ribs. ...
  • There are three pairs of false ribs. ...
  • There are two pairs of floating ribs and they are the most inferior of the ribs.
Jan 8, 2022

How many types of ribs are there? ›

There are three types of ribs:

Seven ribs which connect directly to the sternum (1-7) Three ribs which connect to the costal cartilages of the rib above (8-10) Two "floating" ribs which connect only at the back (11&12)

Which ribs are better St Louis or baby back? ›

Louis-Style Ribs. St. Louis-style ribs (cut from the spare ribs) may not be what you initially picture when thinking of barbecued ribs, but they'll get you salivating nonetheless. Compared with baby backs, these ribs have more meat between the bones and are fattier, making them a more flavorful choice.

Which ribs are Meatiest? ›

6. Country-Style Pork Ribs These, the meatiest of ribs, come either from the loin, in which case they cook quickly, or, more often, from near the shoulder, which means they're tougher and benefit from low, slow cooking.

What's the difference between baby back ribs and St Louis style ribs? ›

Baby back ribs contain the meat that gets left behind after the butcher has removed the pork loin from the carcass. St. Louis style ribs, which are spare ribs that have been trimmed to give them a more uniform shape, come from the belly of the hog.

What type of pork ribs have the most meat? ›

Compared to baby backs, spare ribs have more meat between the bones and less meat on top, and that meat generally has more marbling (and more flavor).

What are the names of the ribs? ›

As such, ribs can be allocated to one of three distinct types; true (vertebrosternal) ribs, false (vertebrochondral) ribs and floating (vertebral, free) ribs. Ribs one to seven are considered true ribs and attach directly to the sternum via their own costal cartilage.

What are pork ribs called? ›

Pork ribs come in three different cuts – back ribs (also called “baby back ribs”), spare ribs, and St. Louis ribs. The back ribs come from the “loin” section of the pig. The back ribs are what is left when the loin meat is cut away (the loin meat can be used as a loin roast, tenderloin, or pork chops).

What are big pork ribs called? ›

Pork Spareribs. Spare ribs are found much lower in the pig, nearer to the belly. These are also quite large ribs and can extend all the way to the front of the animal.

How do I choose pork ribs? ›

Look for ribs that have good fat marbling, but not too much fat. Stay away from slabs that have “shiners”, where the meat cutter cut too close to the bone so that the bone shows through the meat.

What is the difference between pork spare ribs and country style ribs? ›

How to Know the Difference in Pork Rib Types - YouTube

What are the 12 pairs of ribs called? ›

In humans there are normally 12 pairs of ribs. The first seven pairs are attached directly to the sternum by costal cartilages and are called true ribs. The 8th, 9th, and 10th pairs—false ribs—do not join the sternum directly but are connected to the 7th rib by cartilage.

Which is better St Louis or baby back ribs? ›

Louis-Style Ribs. St. Louis-style ribs (cut from the spare ribs) may not be what you initially picture when thinking of barbecued ribs, but they'll get you salivating nonetheless. Compared with baby backs, these ribs have more meat between the bones and are fattier, making them a more flavorful choice.

What's the difference between baby back ribs and St. Louis-style ribs? ›

Baby back ribs contain the meat that gets left behind after the butcher has removed the pork loin from the carcass. St. Louis style ribs, which are spare ribs that have been trimmed to give them a more uniform shape, come from the belly of the hog.

What are the names of the ribs? ›

As such, ribs can be allocated to one of three distinct types; true (vertebrosternal) ribs, false (vertebrochondral) ribs and floating (vertebral, free) ribs. Ribs one to seven are considered true ribs and attach directly to the sternum via their own costal cartilage.

What kind of ribs are the meatiest? ›

Country-Style Pork Ribs These, the meatiest of ribs, come either from the loin, in which case they cook quickly, or, more often, from near the shoulder, which means they're tougher and benefit from low, slow cooking.

Videos

1. Pork Spare Ribs VS Baby Back Ribs Comparison
(Low n Slow Basics)
2. Ribs (What's the Difference?) Pork Ribs vs Beef Ribs Cut and Cook | The Bearded Butcher
(The Bearded Butchers)
3. Spare Ribs vs Baby Back Ribs | How to Trim Ribs for Smoking
(Baby Back Maniac)
4. Secrets to Big Meaty Pork Ribs for BBQ
(Bully BBQ)
5. How to Butcher an Entire Pig: Every Cut of Pork Explained | Handcrafted | Bon Appetit
(Bon Appétit)
6. What are Beef Ribs and What are the Different Styles | The Bearded Butchers
(The Bearded Butchers)

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