Summertime barbeques are a great time to enjoy pork ribs. There are four main types of pork ribs: spareribs, St. Louis-style ribs, baby back ribs, and country-style ribs. The kind of rib will depend on it has been trimmed, and the section of the rib cage from which it has been cut. Here is a quick rundown on ribs.
Spareribs, also called side ribs, come from the underbelly of the swine after the remaining belly meat is removed, it is often used to make bacon, pancetta, or other cured pork products. The spareribs retain a fair amount of porky, succulent meat. The racks have 11-13 rib bones and the least amount of meat.
St. Louis-Style Ribs
St. Louis-style ribs are spareribs with the rib tips cut off where a lot of cartilage and gristle exist with very little meat. St. Louis-style ribs are shorter than spareribs and longer than baby backs.
Unlike baby back ribs, St. Louis-style ribs are flatter and straighter. This makes it easier to brown evenly. St. Louis-style ribs have a lot of bone and more fat, which gives the ribs more flavor if correctly cooked. Each section of spareribs usually weighs 2 1/2 pounds or more and feeds around three to four people. The more meat, the better the ribs will taste. St. Louis-style spareribs are usually less expensive than baby back ribs.
Baby Back Ribs
Baby back ribs are cut from around the loin of the pig. They are the muscle that runs along the pig’s back along each side of its spine. Baby back ribs can also be called pork loin back ribs, back ribs, or loin ribs.
Baby back ribs have more curve and are smaller than spareribs. They get their name ‘baby’ because they’re smaller/shorter than spareribs and are near the top or “back” of the pig. They usually range between 3 to 6 inches in length from long end to short end and should be around 1-inch thick. On average, each baby back rib will contain 10 to 13 curved ribs and weigh approximately two pounds. They also contain generous amounts of lean mean between and on top of the bones.
Due to the smaller size than spareribs, they take less time to cook. When comparing St. Louis-style spareribs to baby back ribs, the baby back ribs are more tender and lean, which is why they are more expensive.
Country-style ribs are from the front end of the baby backs, near the shoulder end of the loin. In truth, they are not actually ribs, but bone-in chops. With these, you’ll find the most meat per bone and the least amount of fat. If you don’t want to eat them with your fingers, they have enough meat to knife-and-fork them.
Before cooking, add a spice rub and sauce to your ribs to acquire your preferred flavor. To have juicy, tender ribs, the rack needs to be cooked at a low temperature with a slow cooking time.
Baby back ribs can be substituted for St. Louis-style spareribs, but since they are smaller, you will need more to feed the same amount of people. St. Louis-style ribs are larger than baby back ribs, and although they are both cooked around 300°F, the St. Louis-style ribs will need more time to reach the desired level of doneness.
Tender finger-lickin’ ribs are easy to make! There are many ways to cook ribs. I usually slow cook them on the smoker grill over low heat. Another popular method is to begin by baking the ribs in the oven and finish them on the grill. You can also save prep time by cooking the ribs the day before and refrigerating them until you are ready to grill.
Twenty minutes before the ribs are done is the best time to add the sauce. It gives the sauce time to carmelize onto the meat. More than 20 minutes may cause the sauce to burn. According to the USDA, pork ribs must reach a minimum internal temperature of 145°F degrees. At this temp, the meat will be tough. At around 190°F, the fat and collagen start to melt, producing a better tasting rib.
Properly cooked ribs will not fall off the bone! Ribs should pull cleanly off the bone with your teeth with some resilience and chew. Here are some guidelines and techniques for telling when the ribs are done.
- Blend or U Shape Test: Hold the ribs in the middle with tongs. When they are ready, the rack will sag in a reversed U shape and start to crack. A small crack means the ribs need a little more cook time. It should be close to breaking when you lift the slab.
- Rib Twist Test: Grab an exposed bone tip in the middle of the rack with tongs and gently twist. If the bone breaks free of the meat and turns easily, the ribs are done.
- Toothpick Test: The meat is tender when a toothpick effortlessly penetrates the meat between the ribs with little or no resistance.
Serve the ribs with corn on the cob, big glasses of lemonade, and a handful of napkins for everyone. Whether prepared in an oven, grill, or smoker, pork ribs are a mouth-watering and satisfying meal for any festive occasion.
Written by Vicki Hayman, MS, University of Wyoming Extension Nutrition and Food Safety Educator
- Bon appetit, www.bonappetit.com
- Kansas Pork Association, www.eatpork.org
- The Kitchn, www.thekitchn.com
- Pork Checkoff, www.pork.org