When it comes to barbecuing or grilling, pork ribs are a beloved and mouthwatering option that always seem to be a hit with any crowd. With their tender meat, rich flavor, and ability to be cooked in various ways, they have become a staple on menus and at backyard cookouts. However, not all pork ribs are created equal. From baby back ribs to spare ribs and St. Louis-style ribs, each type has its own unique qualities that make them stand out. Let’s break down the different types of ribs.
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Have you ever gone down the pork aisle of the grocery store only to be confronted with a wave of confusion as to which style of ribs is the best? Choosing the right type of ribs for the recipe you’re making can be challenging, as each rib type has its own distinct characteristics that set it apart.
For example, if you want to know how to smoke ribs, you need to pick the right type of ribs for smoking so you don’t end up with a tough and flavorless meal.
So, that’s why we will be breaking down the different types of pork ribs and the best way to cook the different types of ribs, so you can master your favorite pork recipes!
Types of Ribs
Here are the main types of pork ribs and what makes them different in taste, texture, and cooking methods.
Baby Back Ribs
Baby Back Pork Ribs are probably the most popular cuts of pork ribs and are also known as pork loin ribs or back ribs. This type of rib is cut along the spine and is smaller than other types of pork ribs, hence the name “baby.” They are more lean than other types of pork ribs, with meat on top of the short bones.
Although these ribs may be shorter, they don’t skimp on flavor, which is why they’re one of the most sought-after ribs. With their tender meat and savory flavor, baby back ribs are a fan favorite amongst pork lovers everywhere.
As for cooking these ribs, you have a few options: smoking, grilling, slow cooking, and baking at a low temperature for several hours. We love smoking our ribs like these Smoked Pork Ribs, but we’re not afraid to throw them in the oven every now and then like these Barbecue Ribs. If you want an even easier way to cook baby back ribs, toss them in a slow cooker like these Slow Cooker Pork Ribs when you don’t feel like grilling.
St. Louis Style Ribs
St. Louis Ribs are flat ribs that come from the belly of the pig and are surrounded by a lot of connective tissue, which is cut off by the butcher after they remove the breast bone. This type of rib has more meat between those bones but also a higher fat content than other types of pork ribs, providing tons of flavor. And, they’re less expensive than baby back ribs compared pound to pound, as a rack of St. Louis-style ribs tend to be twice the weight.
When cooking this type of ribs, you want to keep things low and slow to break down that tough connective tissue. The best way to do this is by smoking or grilling your rack of ribs for hours with indirect heat until you get that “fall-off-the-bone” goodness. We love all that smoky flavor, so we highly recommend smoking your ribs, like these Smoked St. Louis Ribs.
Pork Spare Ribs
Pork Spare Ribs are essentially the same as St. Louis Ribs, as they are untrimmed, so they are much longer, with a tapered edge from the first to last rib. Unlike baby back ribs, pork spare ribs come from the pig’s belly, not the back or tenderloin area. This type of rib is fattier and has a ton of flavor but not as much meat as baby back ribs, making them another affordable rib option.
If you want to try your hand at cooking these bad boys, fire up your smoker for indirect heat and make some Memphis Style Smoked Spare Ribs and Smoked Pork Spare Ribs. Some other great cooking methods are baking and grilling at low heat for several hours to break down the connective fatty tissue.
Country-style Pork Ribs
Country-style Pork Ribs are one of the cheapest types of ribs you can find. This rib type isn’t actually from the ribs; it’s from the pork shoulder, aka the pork butt. Since these ribs come from a more muscular area on the pig, they’re super meaty and have a lot of fat. Although these aren’t true ribs because they don’t have rib bones, they still have a similar flavor profile to ribs, so they make the cut.
You have a ton of options when it comes to cooking country-style ribs, but one of our favorite and most convenient ways is cooking them in an Instant Pot like these Instant Pot Country Style Ribs. In under 30 minutes, you can get tender, finger-licking goodness without skimping on flavor. What’s not to love?
How to Trim Ribs
Before cooking your ribs, you should trim them to get the best results. But, where do you start with how to trim spare ribs? The first step is to identify the various parts of the ribs: the skirt, rib tips, and the most obvious, the pork ribs.
The skirt is a little flap of meat on the back side of the ribs. Although you might not think to remove it, doing so can help your ribs cook more evenly, as the skirt can burn and cause uneven cooking.
The next part you need to remove before cooking your ribs is the rib tips. The rib tips are the very ends of the ribs containing cartilage and part of the sternum. Removing the rib tips allows for more even cooking and makes it easier to cut your ribs once they’re done cooking.
And then finally, the key to fall off the bone ribs is removing the membrane on the back. It’s the thin layer that runs the length of the ribs. To easily remove it, slice a butter knife under it along the bone and gently pull back. When you can grip the membrane with a paper towel and peel off, sometimes it comes off easily in one clean pull, and sometimes it needs a little work. Even the best pitmasters struggle from time to time on this step.
For a more in-depth guide to trimming ribs, check out our guide on How to Trim Ribs.
How to Smoke Ribs
Smoking ribs is a common way people like to prepare this delicious cut of meat. If you want to learn more about smoking ribs, keep reading.
The first thing you want to do is prep your ribs by patting them dry and trimming them up. Next, give your ribs a good rub down with a blend of your favorite spices or this GirlsCanGrill Pork Rub!
Then, it’s time to get your grill ready for smoking by prepping your wood chips, which will give us that nice, smoky flavor. Smoking wood is an art form that needs to be mastered before slapping the meat on the grill or smoker. From choosing the right type of wood to the best flavor for the type of meat you’re smoking, you want to make sure you’re on the right path.
Once your grill is prepped and you’ve selected your wood chips, it’s time to smoke your ribs. Lay the ribs on the smoker and smoke for 45 minutes.
Then, spritz with a light coating of vinegar every 3 hours. After the ribs are done cooking, baste them in sauce over high heat. We want that nice searing action for fall-off-the-bone perfection.
For a more in-depth, step-by-step guide and amazing pork rib recipe, check out our how to smoke ribs guide.
Now, you have everything you need to master the art of making pork ribs, whether smoking them or throwing them in an Instant Pot. From identifying the main types of pork ribs to choosing the best one for your pork recipes, we hope this guide helped you find your rib soulmate. Yes, that’s a thing.
While going to your local grocery store is the most convenient choice, we highly recommend you check out our favorite places to order meat online to find the best selection of pork ribs. Purchasing meat online allows for more variety from various butchers who raise specialty pork breeds. The meat from these specialty breeds tends to be more red than traditional pork found at the grocery store with a heartier flavor.
Baby backs, St. Louis ribs, and spare ribs are the most popular type of rib cuts people tend to purchase.
Pork isn’t the only type of ribs out there! You also have lamb ribs, beef short ribs, beef plate ribs, beef back ribs, and flanken short ribs. For a more in-depth look at types of ribs, check out this guide to beef ribs.
Baby back ribs and St. Louis Ribs are the best for smoking! We’re partial to St Louis when comparing dollar to dollar but love tender baby backs when they are on sale.
Our favorite smoking wood for pork ribs is hickory. There’s something about the flavor that reminds us of East Coast smokers that run whole hogs every day.