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If you like pork, you probably like ribs! Whether you’ve prepared them yourself or ordered them in a restaurant, baby back or spare ribs are a delicious main course or barbecue delight. But although many Americans eat baby back ribs and spare ribs all the time, very few people actually know the difference between these rib types.
Furthermore, lots of people don’t know that you’re supposed to cook spare ribs and baby back ribs differently because of differences in their sizes, textures, and more.
Today, let’s break down spare ribs vs. baby back ribs by comparing them against one another and exploring where they come from on a pig.
What Are Spare Ribs?
Spare ribs – also called “St. Louis cut” or “Kansas City cut” ribs – are larger racks of ribs prized by restaurants and BBQers alike. They are called spare ribs since they are usually cooked by turning the meat on a spit, not because they are “extra” or anything similar.
If you get St. Louis style spare ribs, the cartilage and rib tips will typically be removed. This type of spare rib is common for most cooking, and spare ribs are usually a little less expensive than baby back ribs.
What Are Baby Back Ribs?
Baby back ribs don’t get their name because they are harvested from baby pigs (so don’t worry about that!). Instead, they get their name because they are smaller than spare ribs. Anyone who has ordered baby back ribs at a restaurant like Longhorn Steakhouse will notice this just from the fact that the ribs can fit on their plate!
Naturally, baby back ribs take less time to cook since the ribs are curvier and shorter. You can also find baby back ribs listed as loin ribs, back ribs, or Canadian back ribs. In fact, Canadian bacon is taken from the same cut of meat as baby back rib racks!
Rib Location Differences
Obviously, the biggest difference between baby back and spare ribs is where they are harvested from on a pig. Indeed, although they are both types of rib, baby back and spare ribs are actually different cuts of pork, granting them different textures, flavor profiles, and cooking requirements.
Baby back ribs, as mentioned, are taken from the loin and back of the pig. Anatomically, baby back ribs have meat that connects to the backbone underneath the loin muscle. On the other hand, spare ribs come from a pig’s underside. The meat from these ribs comes from where the baby back ribs end; the ribs themselves extend along the pig’s broad breastbone.
Rib Size and Appearance Differences
Once again, spare ribs are usually significantly larger than baby back ribs. For instance, a regular rack of baby back ribs can contain 11 to 13 ribs. Meanwhile, a rack of spare ribs is usually double that size. Even the individual rib lengths are different. Baby back ribs are usually about 6 inches long, and spare ribs can be up to 9 inches long in some cases.
Furthermore, these ribs can differ in terms of their weight. Baby back racks are usually about 2 pounds. Spare ribs can range from 2 pounds all the way up to 3 ½ pounds depending on their size and the size of the pig from which they are harvested.
Interestingly, about half the weight of both rib types comes from the bone and cartilage, not the meat!
Rib Flavor Differences
Now let’s get into the meat of the matter: flavor and texture.
Baby back ribs are typically more expensive than spare ribs primarily because of the texture they offer when they are properly cooked. Spare ribs, you see, have more of their meat located in between their bones as opposed to on top of their bones.
This is an advantage for spare ribs in terms of flavor. When you cook spare ribs, the meat is less directly exposed to the flame or heating source, which results in additional marbling. In simpler terms, the fat inside the lean red meat adds juice and tenderness to the ribs and gives spare ribs more flavor than baby back racks.
However, baby back racks are prized for their tenderness and texture. Since baby back ribs meat is exposed to the flame more directly, it tenderizes more quickly.
Therefore, both baby back and spare ribs can be delicious choices for your backyard barbecue or for your upcoming dinner party. But you need to decide which of the two attributes you want to focus on.
Rib Price Differences
As we touched on earlier, prices can vary between both types of ribs because of the above-mentioned flavor and texture differences.
However, baby back ribs tend to be more expensive than spare ribs, even though spare ribs will give you more meat per dollar spent. That’s just because people usually prioritize tenderness and lean meat over pure flavor when buying pork. This is no surprise since improperly cooked pork can taste chewy or rubbery, easily ruining a meal.
It’s also a little easier for people to cook baby back ribs effectively. Spare ribs take more space, more preparation, and are easier to mess up. Because of this, spare ribs are the budget-friendly choice; consider buying them if you need to get ribs for a large party of people for an upcoming cookout and don’t want to totally break the bank.
Ultimately, baby back and spare ribs can both be delicious main courses for lunch or dinner or a great addition to a backyard barbecue party. Or you might consider ordering either of them the next time you go to a restaurant that offers them!
Still, it’s good to know the differences between these ribs so you know what you’re eating and can consciously appreciate the differences between both types of meat.
Want to know more food trivia or check out some at-home recipes you can use to create delicious meals for yourself and your family? Check out Cook Gem’s cooking resources today!