Pork ribs are a classic barbecue staple enjoyed by many. Ribs can be cooked using a variety of methods, from smoked and grilled to braised and roasted. With so many cuts to choose from, it can be difficult to determine which type of rib is the best for your preferred cooking method and taste.
What are the different cuts of pork ribs?
There are four main cuts of pork ribs:
- Back ribs
- St. Louis-style ribs
- Spare ribs
- Country-style ribs
Back ribs, also known as baby back ribs, are cut from the upper rib cage close to the spine. They have the meatiest muscle with the least amount of fat. Back ribs tend to be shorter, curved, and have bones that are pretty close together.
St. Louis-style Ribs
St. Louis-style ribs are trimmed spare ribs. To make St. Louis-style ribs, the sternum bone, cartilage and skirt meat are removed from the underside of spare ribs. This makes for a nice rectangular slab. Since the bones are fairly straight, St. Louis-style ribs make for easy eating.
Spare ribs come from the belly or side of the pig. They contain more bone than meat and also more fat than loin or back ribs. Spare ribs tend to be longer than back ribs.
Country-style ribs are cut from the upper rib cage close to the pork loin. They contain less bone and more meat than other rib cuts. Many butchers trim away the bone, leaving just a slab of meat that looks similar to pork chops.
How are the different rib cuts used?
Each rib cut lends itself to different cooking methods based on the ratio of meat, fat and bone:
|Back Ribs||Grilling, smoking, baking|
|St. Louis-style Ribs||Grilling, smoking|
|Spare Ribs||Smoking, braising, stewing|
|Country-style Ribs||Grilling, pan frying|
Back ribs or baby back ribs work very well for quicker cooking methods like grilling and smoking since they have a higher ratio of meat to bone. The tender meat also makes them ideal for roasting or baking in the oven.
St. Louis-style Ribs
With the cartilage removed, St. Louis ribs cook up nice and tender when grilled or smoked. The rectangular shape makes them easy to work with as well.
The high fat content and plentiful connective tissue in spare ribs requires longer, slower cooking methods. Spare ribs are well-suited to barbecuing, smoking, or braising until meltingly tender.
Since country-style ribs contain a good amount of meat without too much bone, they can be prepared like pork chops. Quick cooking over high heat works well, whether pan-frying, broiling or grilling.
Key differences between the cuts
Here’s a quick overview of the characteristics of each rib cut:
|Back Ribs||More bone||Lean meat||Less fat||Curved, shorter|
|St. Louis-style Ribs||Straight bone||Good meat ratio||Moderate fat||Rectangular|
|Spare Ribs||Lots of bone||Less meat||Higher fat||Longer|
|Country-style Ribs||May be bone-in or boneless||Mostly meat||Marbling||Like pork chops|
How to choose the best ribs
When selecting ribs, you’ll want to consider a few factors:
- Cooking method – Choose ribs that work with how you want to cook them. Leaner back ribs for grilling or fattier spare ribs for braising.
- Bone-in or boneless – Bone-in ribs have more flavor but boneless ribs are easier to eat.
- Portion size – Narrower back ribs work well for single servings while wider spare ribs are better for sharing.
- Meat to bone ratio – More meaty ribs will yield more edible portions.
- Amount of fat – The appropriate amount of fat keeps ribs tender and moist.
You’ll also want to look for ribs that are red in color without dried or discolored edges. Choose ribs that are cold, firm and moist but not slimy or sticky. Avoid ribs that have an off-putting odor.
For grillers, back ribs are likely the best option. The higher ratio of meat to bone means more edible rib meat. Back ribs tend to be pricier than other cuts but their tenderness and flavor make them worth it.
St. Louis-style Ribs
With the cartilage removed, St. Louis-style ribs are easy to cook consistently since the flat shape allows the meat to cook evenly. The rectangular cut also makes portioning simple.
For slow cooking or smoking, spare ribs shine. Their high fat content keeps them moist through lengthy cooking times. Just be prepared to put in more time removing membranes and trimming fat.
Country-style ribs offer the quick cooking of pork chops with the flavor of ribs. Opt for bone-in for maximum flavor or boneless for fast weeknight meals.
Prices of different rib cuts
Pricing for ribs can vary quite a bit depending on the specific cut. Here are average price ranges per pound:
|Back Ribs||$6 – $12 per lb|
|St. Louis-style Ribs||$5 – $9 per lb|
|Spare Ribs||$3 – $5 per lb|
|Country-style Ribs||$4 – $6 per lb|
As you can see, back ribs fetch the highest price per pound due to high demand. Spare ribs are the most affordable since they contain a lower meat to bone ratio.
Here is how the rib cuts compare nutritionally in a 3 oz cooked serving:
|Cut||Calories||Fat (g)||Protein (g)|
|St. Louis-style Ribs||245||18||16|
Nutritionally, back ribs tend to be leaner and pack in more protein than the other cuts. Spare ribs contain the most fat and calories due to their higher fat content. Country-style and St. Louis ribs fall somewhere in the middle.
When it comes to pork ribs, it’s hard to declare one clear winner. Each cut shines in different scenarios based on cooking method, flavor, texture and price. For barbecue purists, meaty back ribs and St. Louis ribs are classic choices that never disappoint. For braises, stews and smoking, spare ribs can’t be beat. And country-style ribs offer a quick and convenient middle ground. The most important factors are matching the cut to your cooking method and personal taste preferences. With so many excellent options, you really can’t go wrong when cooking up a rack of delicious pork ribs.