Ribs, ribs, ribs. Don’t you love a delicious, tender, juicy slab of ribs? I know I do.
However, do you know which type of pork ribs is the best? Is it baby back ribs or spare ribs?
Now the average individual will not care about what type of ribs. The only thing that matters to the average individual is that the ribs are delicious.
However, to the BBQ expert or seasoned griller, the type of pork ribs matters a lot. In fact, it matters that it spawned a debate about baby back ribs vs. spare ribs.
What Are Baby Back Ribs?
Baby back ribs or back ribs are from the portion of the ribs that are attached to the backbone just beneath the loin muscle. Therefore, they are called back ribs.
Back ribs are most commonly called baby back ribs. This refers to their size compared to spare ribs. They are much smaller and leaner than other types of pork ribs.
The average rack of baby back ribs weighs 1-2 pounds and consists of 11-13 ribs. The backbone is carved away from the back ribs.
Therefore, it’s much easier to cut the ribs into individual pieces.
What Are Spare Ribs?
Spare ribs are probably the most popular type of rib sold in grocery stores. These ribs are fabricated from the belly of the animal and are dense and meatier.
Basically, it’s the leftover meat after the bacon is removed from the abdomen, hence the name ‘spare’ ribs.
An entire rack of spare ribs consists of 11 ribs and the cartilage that fastens the ribs to the breastbone.
Untrimmed rack spare ribs contain a section of the breastbone, rib cartilage, a flap, and a skirt that sits on the side of the back side of the ribs.
Most butchers remove the sternum from the rib and shave away most of the cartilage.
The end result is a slimmer square-like rack of ribs called St. Louis ribs. A rack of St. Louis ribs is about 2-3 pounds, which will feed 2-3 people.
How To Choose Pork Ribs
Ideally, the perfect slab of ribs is uniform in size. The bones should all be the same length, and the rack should also be the same length with little to no bone curvature.
However, in the real world, it may be difficult to find a rack of ribs that fits this description.
In general, you should choose ribs that are free of shiners. Shiners are pieces that will fall off during the smoking process because they were cut too close to the bone.
If the ribs look discolored or the meat around the edges is dried out, do not buy them.
This indicates that the ribs are old and have probably been sitting in the display case for some time.
Each rack should have a healthy portion of meat to fat when purchasing spare ribs. The fat will render and baste the meat as the ribs cook in the electric smoker.
Do not purchase ribs that have large globs of fat. The chunks of fat will melt as the spare ribs smoke in your propane smoker, leaving large pockets in the meat.
This rule also applies to baby ribs.
Even though baby back ribs are curved, they are relatively even in length and can range between 3 and 6-inches. Therefore, the rack of ribs should have an even thickness.
Baby Back Ribs vs. Spare Ribs
Baby back ribs and spare ribs both come from pigs. However, there are drastic differences that set these two cuts of pork apart.
The location is the primary element that decides whether or not the ribs will be baby back ribs or spare ribs.
It is a common assumption to think that ribs’ location is unimportant. However, the location of the meat determines its flavor and texture.
For example, some parts of the pig will get used more than creating both tender and tough cuts of meat.
Baby back ribs are carved from the back and loin ribs. This is why they are called back or loin ribs.
The loin sits above the back ribs, and the meat is attached to the backbone.
In contrast, spare ribs are carved from the belly, below the back ribs, and above the breastbone.
Size & Weight
The most visible difference between baby back ribs and spare ribs is their size. A rack of baby back ribs can contain 11-13 individual ribs. This is about enough to feed 1 person.
The length of each individual baby back rib can range up to 6-inches. However, the ribs taper off at the smaller portion of the rack and are about 3-inches in length.
As a result, baby back ribs weigh 1-2 pounds in weight, which is con miserably smaller than their counterparts.
In contrast, spare ribs range from 2 1/2-3 1/2 pounds in weight.
Spare ribs are much meatier than baby back ribs because they are much larger. However, this does not mean you are getting more meat.
Half of the spare rib’s weight consists of bone and cartilage.
Fat And Flavor
Again, it goes back to the rib’s precise location. As I mentioned above, the location impacts the meat’s flavor and texture.
Spare ribs have more intramuscular fat or marbling. If you ever looked at a rack of spare ribs, you would see the meat is between the bones and loaded with intramuscular fat.
They are much tougher than their counterparts. In addition, intramuscular marbling is beneficial because it makes the meat more tender and juicier.
Therefore, spare ribs knock baby back ribs out of the park when it comes to flavor and fat.
In contrast, the meat is located on top of the rack of baby back ribs with patches of white fat.
Therefore, baby’s back ribs are much leaner and slightly drier than their counterparts. Nevertheless, baby back ribs are still more flavorful.
Another major visual factor you will notice when looking at pork ribs is their shape. Baby back ribs have a noticeably curved shape.
In contrast, spare ribs have flat bones that give the rack a flat, even, rectangular shape.
This category is up to personal preference. I think spare ribs are better because they have a flat surface that makes them easier to brown.
So, if I wanted to finish a rack of ribs by searing them on my portable pellet grill, they would sear evenly.
If I tried to do the same with baby back ribs because the bones are curved, it would be much harder to get an even sear since the ribs are not flat.
Baby back ribs are much easier to cook than their counterparts.
You can easily fire up your kamado grill or offset smoker and cook them as soon as you get home. You can even boil baby back ribs.
In contrast, spare ribs are a different ball game. They require low and slow cooking because they are denser and meatier than their counterparts.
With slow cooking, the tough meat will soften up, creating a tender, juicy rib.
I know what you’re thinking. However, spare ribs are considerably larger than baby back ribs. So how come the latter is more expensive than the former?
Yes, spare ribs have more flavor than baby back ribs, but they just can’t compare to the tender bite of baby back ribs.
Baby back ribs are lean and more tender than their counterparts which means there in demand. This is the reason for their hefty price tag.
Which is Better: Baby Back Ribs Or Spare Ribs
Whether baby back ribs or spare ribs are better depends on your preference. On the one hand, baby back ribs are leaner and more tender than spare ribs. However, they are also more expensive.
Therefore, if you are searching for a cheaper pork rib, spare ribs may be best. In addition to this, they are also meaty and easier to cook than their counterparts.
Can I Substitute Spare Ribs For Baby Back Ribs
Yes, you can use spare ribs in place of baby back ribs and vice versa. However, when substituting baby back ribs for spare ribs and vice versa, there are a few adjustments you need to make.
First, you will have to adjust the cooking time. You may also have to change the cooking method as well as the temperature.
Spare ribs are much larger and have more bones. Therefore, they will take longer to cook, so you must increase the cooking time.
In contrast, baby back ribs are smaller, so they will cook faster. It’s best to shave a few minutes off the cooking time so the back ribs do not dry out.
In addition to this, you will have to check the back ribs a few times to ensure they are not overcooking.
We’ve come to the end of the baby back ribs vs. spare ribs debate. Whether you are a lover of ribs or an avid griller knowing the differences between these two cuts of pork is essential.
As for which pork type of rib is best, the decision is up to you.
So, fire up your smoker and cook some ribs, or head to your favorite BBQ joint to purchase a rack of baby back ribs and a rack of spare ribs.
You might also be interested in:
- Pork Shoulder Vs. Pork Butt
- Pork Belly Vs. Bacon
- Pork Loin Vs. Pork Shoulder
- St Louis Ribs Vs. Baby Back Ribs
- Pork Loin Vs. Pork Tenderloin
- Beef Ribs Vs. Pork Ribs
I have been smoking and grilling meat from an early age and enjoy sharing my knowledge and expertise through the hundreds of articles I have written about BBQ. I hope to make everyone’s BBQ journey that little bit easier.