Baby Back vs. St. Louis Ribs: Which Ones Come Out On Top? - BBQ Host (2022)

To a beginner, all pork ribs look about the same. To a seasoned grilling aficionado, meanwhile, the difference between them is obvious. In fact, the more you learn about the various types of pork ribs, the easier it is to choose between them. Our baby back vs St Louis ribs matchup will help you decide which one should star at your next barbecue.

Contents (Jump to Topic) show

Baby Back vs St Louis Ribs

Baby back ribs contain the meat that gets left behind after the butcher has removed the pork loin from the carcass. St. Louis style ribs, which are spare ribs that have been trimmed to give them a more uniform shape, come from the belly of the hog.

A Word About Pork Ribs

Before we begin, here’s a brief overview of the various types of pork ribs.

There are four basic types: baby back ribs, spare ribs, St. Louis ribs, and rib tips. Baby backs come from the top of the rib cage, while rib tips consist mostly of the fat and cartilage that hangs around the belly section. Spare ribs and St. Louis ribs–which are basically the same cut, as you’ll come to learn–take up residence somewhere in the middle.

About Baby Back Ribs

Baby Back vs. St. Louis Ribs: Which Ones Come Out On Top? - BBQ Host (1)

Even if you enjoy eating them, you still might not know that baby back ribs aren’t actually made from the bones of baby pigs. This is a common misconception. In fact, the ribs are called “baby backs” because of their small size, not because they come from piglets.

(Video) Fall-Off-The-Bone Ribs - Oven or Grill - Baby Back Bbq Ribs

As the name suggests, baby back ribs come from the upper section of the ribcage, where the ribs meet the spine. The butcher makes this cut after removing the loin, which is why the rib meat is so tender.

Baby back ribs might be labeled as “loin back ribs” or simply “back ribs.” In any case, they’re smaller than the spare ribs, which is the reason for the “baby” designation.

When you buy a rack of baby backs, you’ll usually get 10 to 13 ribs. Pigs have 15 to 16 ribs, depending on the breed. When the butcher is dividing up the carcass, however, a few of the bones get left behind. If the rack contains fewer than 10 ribs, it’s known as a “cheater rack.”

A slab of baby back ribs is wider on one side than the other, with the longer bones measuring about 6 inches and the shorter ones topping out at around 3 inches.

The bones on a rack of baby backs are curved, so it can be tricky to cook them over direct heat. That’s one of the reasons why we recommend indirect cooking methods–such as smoking–when it comes to preparing baby back ribs.

About St Louis Ribs

Baby Back vs. St. Louis Ribs: Which Ones Come Out On Top? - BBQ Host (2)

St. Louis ribs are spare ribs that have been trimmed to remove the triangular hank of cartilage that usually hangs off the end. Because the spare ribs come from the lower part of the ribcage, the meat is fattier and more flavorful than back ribs. The bones are also flatter, so the surface browns more easily.

Why do butchers bother to remove the cartilage? In a word: presentation. St. Louis ribs are much more appealing on a visual level, which makes them a popular choice for pitmasters on the competition circuit. It can also be daunting for beginners to deal with all that connective tissue, even if they prefer spare ribs to baby backs.

Baby Back vs St Louis Ribs: A Breakdown

Availability

Baby back ribs are a very popular cut of meat. As such, they’re easy to find in the meat section of most supermarkets. You can also ask your butcher to make a special order for you, especially if you’re hoping to support local farmers.

(Video) BEST Competition Rib??? Smithfield Extra Tender Test by BBQ Champion Harry Soo SlapYoDaddyBBQ.com

St. Louis ribs might not be as well-known as baby backs, but they’re not that difficult to find, either. If you have any trouble locating them on supermarket shelves, ask an associate if they’re available at the meat counter. As an alternative, you can go to a specialty butcher shop, where you’re bound to have more luck.

Cost

If cost is a major factor in your decision, you might want to seek out St. Louis style spare ribs. Because baby back ribs are so popular, they’re usually set at a higher price. If you opt for regular spare ribs over the trimmed version, you can expect to pay even less.

Texture

As we pointed out, the meat on baby back ribs tends to be leaner than you might expect from a bone-in cut. As such, it can dry out easily on the grill if you’re not careful.

Because St Louis ribs come from the belly of the hog, the meat contains a higher concentration of fat. As long as they’re prepared correctly, however, the meat will come out perfectly tender, pulling away from the bone at the slightest touch.

Flavor

Although lean meat has its strong points, flavor isn’t one of them. Back ribs don’t have the same strong pork flavor as spare ribs, owing to the fact that there’s less fat on the bone. That’s why they’re so often slathered with barbecue sauce when they crop up on restaurant menus.

It’s not necessary to over-season St. Louis ribs, because all that melting fat creates a rich taste that’s both savory and sweet at the same time. It’s fine to serve the meat with sauce on the side, but many grillers prefer to let the flavor of the pork shine through.

Note that if you do decide to add sauce to the ribs, don’t apply it until the last 10 to 15 minutes of the total cooking time. If you add it too soon, the sugar in the sauce will burn, giving the pork a bitter, acrid taste.

Size

As a general rule, you can expect a slab of baby back ribs to weigh between 2 and 3 pounds. About half of that weight is comprised of bone, but the other half is mostly meat. A full rack of baby backs can usually serve two people, unless one of them has an exceptionally hefty appetite.

(Video) True BBQ 101: The Rib Bend Test

Surprisingly, St. Louis style ribs have many similarities to baby backs in terms of size. The cuts also consist of 10 to 13 bones, and the racks weigh in at around 2 to 3 pounds. However, the bones are 5 to 6 inches long on average, with less of a distinction between one and the other. You can also expect more of the weight to be taken up by fat.

Preparation

Whether you choose baby back ribs or St. Louis ribs, one thing is clear: These cuts taste phenomenal when they’re prepared on a grill or smoker. We would recommend smoking the meat if you have the time, since the wood contributes a burst of flavor that complements the pork without overshadowing it.

Even if you opt to prepare the ribs indoors, it’s important to go low and slow. This means cooking the meat for a long time at low temperatures to allow the fat to render out slowly. When ribs are prepared this way, the meat has a chance to tenderize, so it will seem to melt in your mouth when you bite into it.

Although we prefer the low-and-slow method for all types of pork ribs (and beef ribs as well), you can cook baby back ribs at a higher temperature. If you need to get dinner on the table more quickly, baby backs are the way to go.

One final note: If your first step is to brown the ribs in a pan, buy St. Louis ribs instead. The rib rack is symmetrical and the bones are flat, so the majority of the surface area will come into contact with the heat. Meanwhile, back ribs are curved in a way that makes it impossible to brown the meat evenly.

Cooking Time

As you’ve probably guessed, St. Louis ribs take longer to cook on account of their larger size.

If you’re cooking the ribs at 300 degrees Fahrenheit, St. Louis ribs will take about 2-1/2 to 3 hours to finish cooking. The same amount of baby back ribs, on the other hand, should be finished cooking in 1-1/2 to 2 hours.

Should you decide to set the temperature to 250 or 275 degrees Fahrenheit the cooking process will take a bit longer. If you have the extra time, we would recommend taking this step, as the meat will come out even more succulent and tender.

(Video) Big Shoulders 2 lbs. Baby Back Ribs in Original BBQ Sauce

Group Size

Before deciding on baby backs vs St Louis ribs, consider the size of your group.

If there will be fewer people in attendance, then St. Louis ribs are the better choice. They offer better flavor and more meat per rib, and it’s easy enough to prepare a small batch on the grill or in the oven.

For larger gatherings, we would recommend baby back ribs. You can cook off a lot of these smaller ribs at once, and they work well as finger food. Each rib has a good meat-to-bone ratio, not to mention a lower percentage of fat.

Can You Substitute Baby Back Ribs For St. Louis Ribs?

It’s possible to substitute one type of rib for another, as long as you take their differences into account. In this case, size is the primary factor.

If you’re using a recipe that calls for St. Louis ribs and you’d prefer to use baby backs (or if you just can’t find the right kind), you’ll need to adjust the total yield accordingly. We would recommend using about 1-1/2 times the amount when substituting baby back ribs for spare ribs, including the St. Louis style version.

Conversely, you can use St. Louis ribs instead of baby backs if you want to give the recipe an extra boost of pork flavor. Just use the same formula by cutting the yield by 50 percent. For example, if the recipe calls for 3 pounds of baby back ribs, scale the total back to 2 pounds.

Final Thoughts

Baby back ribs have many fine qualities, and they’re easy enough for novices to make. However, although St. Louis ribs might require a bit more care when it comes to preparation, they’re a delicious and discerning choice.

Your decision comes down to a number of factors: how long you have to prepare the ribs, how many people you’ll be serving, and whether you prefer leaner meat or richer flavor. We would recommend trying both types of ribs beforehand. That way, you’ll have a better idea of which one you prefer, if any.

(Video) How to Smoke Baby Back Ribs with Melissa Cookston | Pit Boss Grills Recipes

Happy grilling!

FAQs

Which is better St Louis ribs or baby back ribs? ›

St. Louis-style ribs (cut from the spare ribs) may not be what you initially picture when thinking of barbecued ribs, but they'll get you salivating nonetheless. Compared with baby backs, these ribs have more meat between the bones and are fattier, making them a more flavorful choice.

What taste better baby back or spare ribs? ›

Spare ribs, or side ribs, come from under the babies and are larger, tastier, and meatier, with a lot of bone and more fat. Looking for a tender, lean rack of ribs and don't mind paying out a bit more? Go for baby backs. For a larger rack with more flavor, but more bone and fat, go for spare ribs.

What's the difference between back ribs and St Louis-style? ›

Louis-style spare ribs are the meatier ribs cut from the belly of thehog after the belly is removed. They are usually trimmed down by cutting away the hard breastbone and chewy cartilage, otherwise known as connective tissue. St. Louis-style ribs are flatter than baby back ribs, which makes them easier to brown.

What is the difference between St Louis Ribs and regular ribs? ›

Compared to spareribs, St. Louis-style ribs are uniform in shape (a beautiful rectangle!) and a little easier to work with. They've got less meat than baby back ribs (we'll get to those next) but that meat is fattier. And because they're thinner and flatter, they also brown more evenly.

What has more meat baby back ribs or St Louis? ›

Louis ribs, also known as St. Louis-style spareribs, are flat, meaty rib bones from the pig's belly under the breastbone. This cut has more meat than baby back ribs and more fat, which enhances their flavor.

Why are baby back ribs more expensive? ›

The Price. The price tag on a portion of baby back tends to be larger than for any spare rack. This is purely due to the high demand for this tender and lean option. Spare racks tend to have more flavor but can't match up when it comes to tenderness.

How many pounds of baby back ribs do I need per person? ›

Select baby back ribs that are 2 pounds or less for the most tender, juicy meat. Plan on 1-pound servings for two people, or half-pound servings for four people. If serving before a meal, cut up ahead of time, arrange on a large plate and serve with barbecue sauce and lots of napkins!

What are best ribs to buy at grocery store? ›

Spareribs are arguably the most popular type of ribs; they're the ones most commonly found in your local grocery store. They are cut from the bottom section of the ribs (with baby back ribs on top) and breastbone. They have straight, flat bones with more marbling throughout the meat than baby backs.

Which cut of ribs is best? ›

St. Louis-style ribs are the meatiest and most flavorful cut of ribs.

What is the difference between back ribs and baby back ribs? ›

Baby backs are smaller, but meatier than spare ribs

The meat is packed between the bones, with little meat on the top or bottom and they typically come with a tender rib tip attached to the end (via Texas Monthly).

Are St. Louis ribs good? ›

Louis ribs really are some of the best ribs we've ever experienced. Boasting a robust spice rub and a slathering of sweet barbecue sauce, they're meaty and tender. Toss them on a grill or in the smoker.

How many ribs do I need for 8 adults? ›

If you are planning on making the ribs the main part of your meal, here is a rough guide: Count on half a rack, or six ribs per person if you are serving baby back ribs. Aim for four or five ribs per guest if you are serving spare ribs. Plan for two or three ribs per guest if you are cooking up beef back ribs.

What kind of ribs are the meatiest? ›

Country-Style Ribs

Located in front of the baby back ribs, near the shoulder blade, this style of ribs is the meatiest variety.

Do side ribs or back ribs have more meat? ›

Back ribs are more tender and meaty than side ribs, and therefore also more expensive.

Are baby back ribs from baby pigs? ›

No. The upper ribs are called baby back ribs, but not because they come from a baby pig! They're only called baby because they are smaller in relation to the bigger spareribs.

How many ribs are in a rack of St Louis? ›

Each rack has 13 ribs and weigh approximately 2.5 pounds. Total weight: approximately 10 pounds.

Are St Louis style ribs pork or beef? ›

St. Louis-style spare ribs are cut in a particular way with the sternum bone, cartilage and rib tips removed so that a well-formed, rectangular-shaped rack is created for presentation. This cut of ribs, formalized by the USDA as "Pork Ribs, St.

How many people does a rack of St. Louis ribs feed? ›

Louis style rack will give you a little more than baby back ribs because the ribs are longer. An average full rack of baby back ribs can feed 2 people, while a full rack of St. Louis style ribs can feed 2-3 people.

How much does a slab of ribs cost? ›

Racks of ribs come at many different prices depending on what kind you are buying and how much you are buying. You can expect to spend between $1.50 to $6 per pound depending on if there are sales or not.

Are baby back ribs from baby cows? ›

Out of these two types of pork ribs, baby back ribs (or loin ribs) are the cuts of pork taken from the upper portion of the rib cage that connects to the spine. Baby backs tend to have shorter bones and leaner meat, while spare ribs are typically fattier and have juicier meat.

How many racks of ribs do I need for 10 people? ›

Because a typical full rack will have 11 to 13 individual ribs on it, this means that you should plan on buying four racks for a party of 10 people. This will give you a little bit of wiggle room for guests with larger appetites.

How much meat is on a rack of baby back ribs? ›

A typical rack of baby back ribs weighs 1.5 to 2 pounds.

How many people does a rack of baby back ribs feed? ›

Babybacks come from the loin area of pork and are less meaty than spare ribs. Expect a rack of baby back ribs to contain 10 to 13 ribs, enough to feed 1-2 people.

What is the best cut of baby back ribs? ›

Butchers make Baby Back Ribs by cutting them where the longest bone is, around 6″ from the spine. The meat on top of the bones is tender and delicious.

How do you pick the best baby back ribs? ›

Choose slabs with good meat coverage over the bones and no large areas of surface fat. Avoid “shiners”—slabs where the meat has been cut too close to the bone. These exposed bones may fall out during cooking. For best quality, avoid buying ribs that are frozen or have been previously frozen, if you can.

How do you pick St Louis Style Ribs? ›

How To Pick The Tastiest Ribs #BBQFAQ - YouTube

Which ribs are better pork or beef? ›

Beef ribs tend to be fattier and more flavorful than pork ribs, although pork spareribs, cut from the sternum, are also fattier and pretty darn tasty. One thing that differentiates the two is where the meat comes from. Beef back ribs are leftover from where the ribeye is cut away, which makes them less meaty.

What are the 4 types of ribs? ›

Which Ribs Are Which? Identifying the 4 Types of Pork Ribs.
  • Spareribs. Spareribs (aka side ribs) are the long cuts from the belly behind the shoulder. ...
  • St. Louis-Style Ribs. ...
  • Back Ribs. Also called loin ribs, baby back ribs or riblets, these tasty little guys are small and easy to hold.

Do you cook spare ribs and baby back ribs the same? ›

Since both styles are cooked the same way, you can substitute baby back ribs for spare ribs and vice versa. Just note that because they are smaller, if you substitute baby backs for spare ribs, you will need to almost double the amount to feed the same number of people.

What ribs are the most tender? ›

Baby back ribs are more tender and leaner than spare ribs, and are typically more expensive. Each rack is around 2 pounds, around half of which is bone, and one rack feeds around one hungry adult. Spare ribs are cut from the ends of baby back ribs and run along to the pig's breast bone.

What type of ribs are the best? ›

St. Louis-style ribs are the meatiest and most flavorful cut of ribs.

What is the best cut of pork ribs? ›

Baby Back Ribs: The most popular of all pork ribs, Baby Backs are the most lean and tender. These types of ribs are located at the top part of the rib bone that is connected to the spine (backbone), just below the loin muscle.

Which ribs have the most meat on them? ›

Country style ribs are found towards the upper shoulder end of the loin. These ribs have by far the highest meat to bone ratio and will generally need a knife and fork to eat them.

How many ribs should I buy per person? ›

If you are planning on making the ribs the main part of your meal, here is a rough guide: Count on half a rack, or six ribs per person if you are serving baby back ribs. Aim for four or five ribs per guest if you are serving spare ribs. Plan for two or three ribs per guest if you are cooking up beef back ribs.

What do you soak ribs in to make them tender? ›

Soak ribs in apple cider vinegar for two hours. Remove from vinegar, pat dry, and coat ribs with rub evenly on all sides. Place meat-side up in a shallow baking dish, add enough water to coat the bottom of the dish, and wrap tightly with foil.

Which is better pork or beef ribs? ›

Beef ribs tend to look more hefty and primal and often require two hands to eat. Pork ribs are smaller and easier to eat with one hand. 2. Fat content: Pork ribs are typically leaner than beef ribs, which have a higher fat content and plenty of marbling to give them extra beefy flavor.

What's the difference between back ribs and baby back ribs? ›

Baby backs are smaller, but meatier than spare ribs

The most obvious difference between pork rib cuts is that spare ribs are longer and flatter. According to Bon Appétit, they are cut from the end of the rib that is attached to the sternum.

Are pork back ribs the same as baby back ribs? ›

Pork back ribs (sometimes called baby back ribs) come from high on the back of the hog where they meet the backbone. They're the ribs that are found in bone-in pork rib loin chops, but the loin has been removed to make a boneless pork loin, leaving just the rack of ribs.

Are St Louis ribs good? ›

Louis ribs really are some of the best ribs we've ever experienced. Boasting a robust spice rub and a slathering of sweet barbecue sauce, they're meaty and tender. Toss them on a grill or in the smoker.

Which is better pork back or side ribs? ›

Back ribs are more tender and meaty than side ribs, and therefore also more expensive. When cooking, treat them the same way you would side ribs. Both back ribs and side ribs lend themselves well to a spice rub or a marinade, which helps to break down the connective tissue before cooking.

What are best ribs to buy at grocery store? ›

Spareribs are arguably the most popular type of ribs; they're the ones most commonly found in your local grocery store. They are cut from the bottom section of the ribs (with baby back ribs on top) and breastbone. They have straight, flat bones with more marbling throughout the meat than baby backs.

What are the three different types of ribs? ›

There are three types of ribs. Their characteristics are as follows:
  • There are seven pairs of true ribs. They are the most superior of the thoracic ribs. ...
  • There are three pairs of false ribs. ...
  • There are two pairs of floating ribs and they are the most inferior of the ribs.

How many pounds of ribs do I need for 4 people? ›

Select baby back ribs that are 2 pounds or less for the most tender, juicy meat. Plan on 1-pound servings for two people, or half-pound servings for four people.

Are St Louis style ribs pork or beef? ›

St. Louis-style spare ribs are cut in a particular way with the sternum bone, cartilage and rib tips removed so that a well-formed, rectangular-shaped rack is created for presentation. This cut of ribs, formalized by the USDA as "Pork Ribs, St.

Which ribs have more meat beef or pork? ›

Fat to Meat Ratio

Beef ribs are a lot bigger than pork, and have more meat on the bone, but also more fat. The fat to meat ratio in a beef rib is pretty even, but because the rib has a lot of meat, that means there is quite a bit of fat as well.

Videos

1. Competition style spare ribs smoked 3 ways : wrapped vs unwrapped foil vs butcher paper best recipe?
(Baby Back Maniac)
2. Best Smoked Baby Back Ribs in the World
(Vital Point)
3. Rib Rack Test On The Oklahoma Joe's Highland Offset Smoker
(Cooking With Ry)
4. How to make rotisserie baby back ribs
(Bad Beast Barbecue)
5. Baby Back Ribs VS Beef Ribs || BBQ on the Smoker
(Oh My Grill)
6. Sous Vide Baby Back Ribs on Dads That Cook with Jason Glover
(Dads That Cook)

Top Articles

Latest Posts

Article information

Author: Kimberely Baumbach CPA

Last Updated: 01/13/2023

Views: 5805

Rating: 4 / 5 (61 voted)

Reviews: 92% of readers found this page helpful

Author information

Name: Kimberely Baumbach CPA

Birthday: 1996-01-14

Address: 8381 Boyce Course, Imeldachester, ND 74681

Phone: +3571286597580

Job: Product Banking Analyst

Hobby: Cosplaying, Inline skating, Amateur radio, Baton twirling, Mountaineering, Flying, Archery

Introduction: My name is Kimberely Baumbach CPA, I am a gorgeous, bright, charming, encouraging, zealous, lively, good person who loves writing and wants to share my knowledge and understanding with you.