Spare Ribs and Baby Back Ribs

Spare Ribs and Baby Back RibsMemorial Day is the official kick-off to summer and the backyard grilling season. Though steaks and burgers seem like the obvious choice for something hot off the grill, we thought we’d go a different route and talk about spare ribs and baby back ribs.

Pork ribs are tasty whether you cook them indoors or outside on the grill. There are two basic types of pork ribs—spare ribs and baby back ribs. And, which style you choose is totally up to personal preference. To help you make the choice, here are the differences between the two.

Baby Back Ribs
Baby back ribs can also be sold as pork loin back ribs, back ribs or loin ribs. Pork ribs are cut from where the ribs meet the spine of the pig after the loin is removed. The upper ribs are the ribs called baby back ribs because they are shorter in relation to the bigger spare ribs. (Baby Back ribs have nothing to do with baby pigs.)

Each baby back rib rack can have anywhere from 10 to 13 ribs that are 3 to 6 inches long. The average weight of a rack is 1-1/2 to 2 pounds and will feed up to two people. Baby Back ribs are very tender and lean. But, because they are higher in demand, the price can be higher as well.

Pork Spare Ribs
Spare ribs can also be sold as St. Louis Style Spare Ribs. They are the meatier ribs that are cut from the belly of the pig. They are flatter than baby back ribs, which makes them easier to brown on the grill.

Spare ribs have more bone in them but they also contain a higher amount of fat, which gives the ribs more flavor when properly cooked. A slab of spare ribs will weigh 2-1/2 or more pounds and can feed three to four people. And they tend to be less expensive than baby backs.

No matter which style you choose, both spare ribs and baby back ribs require low heat and a long cooking time to result in tender fall-off-the-bone ribs. They are great for smoking, grilling, braising, and even roasting. To make things a little easier, you can roast the ribs in a low oven for a couple of hours and finish them on the grill.

Since both styles are cooked the same way, you can substitute baby back ribs for spare ribs and vice versa. Just note that because they are smaller, if you substitute baby backs for spare ribs, you will need to almost double the amount to feed the same number of people.

Conversely, if you substitute spare ribs for baby backs, you will need to be aware that they will take longer to cook and plan accordingly. Baby Backs take about  1-1/2 hours to 2 hours to cook at 300º F. Spare ribs can take 2-1/2 to 3 hours.

Both sauces and spice rubs will work well with your pork ribs, and they are great marinated, too. We recommend Oakland Dust’s Rub for Pork and Sweet Baby Ray’s BBQ Sauce for a classic flavor.

And if you are looking for a great marinade recipe, try one of our all-time favorites—Oriental Barbecued Ribs from Bon Appetit Magazine in 1968. (Yes the dark ages, hence the embarrassing name).

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