Baby Back Ribs vs Spare Ribs
You've heard pork ribs called baby back ribs, spare ribs, and even St. Louis ribs, and you're left wondering whether there is actually any difference between any of them? Let the butcher explain...
First of all, in the butchery world, spare ribs is actually a term used to refer to ribs in general, all ribs are spare ribs, whether they come from the loin or the belly. I guess due to the rise in popularity of baby back ribs, spare ribs has become a term used for 'the other' ribs, which now means that, almost every time a customer asks us for spare ribs, what they're actually looking for are belly ribs. So, to clarify, there are 2 types of pork ribs; baby back ribs and belly ribs, which are often called spare ribs, although, they're belly ribs. Are you with me?
Baby Back Ribs
As outlined in our article What Are Baby Back Ribs?, baby back ribs are cut from the loin of the animal. They are cut short, usually around 10cm wide, and are usually around 12-13 ribs in length. A rack of baby back ribs will resemble a strip of ribs as they are the same width all the way along. Baby back ribs have thicker bones, when compared to belly ribs, but they are also much meatier, lender and are more tender.
Belly ribs, aka spare ribs, are cut from the belly of the animal. They are cut much longer than back ribs, and are usually around 12-13 ribs in length. A rack of belly ribs will be much wider at one end than the other, they taper down in a kind of triangle shape. Belly ribs have long thin bones, and, as they aren't as tender, and contain a bit more fat, need to be cooked with a bit more care. It has to be said that belly ribs can be absolutely delicious when cooked properly, I'm sure everyone reading this has heard of St. Louis ribs. St. Louis ribs are always made using belly ribs, and are so good that they usually have their own class entry in BBQ competitions.
So, back ribs or belly ribs, what's the difference? A rack of back ribs resembles a strip, they are cut shorter than belly ribs, are leaner, and more tender, but they're going to cost you more than belly ribs. A rack of belly ribs looks more like a triangle, and, as they're not as tender, and contain a bit more fat, are going to take a bit more cooking. On the upside, you aren't going to pay as much for them.
Really, in terms of taste, there's not going to be much difference, but if you haven't got much experience of cooking ribs, I'd suggest you start off with back ribs, they're just going to be easier to get right. On the other hand, if you're set on making some delicious St. Louis style ribs, then you have no choice, you have to use belly ribs. It's basically the law.