With summer finally here, you’ve most likely got barbecue — and ribs in particular — in mind. But not all pork ribs are created equal. While they’re all taken from the same part of the pig — the ribcage — the part of the ribs they’re taken from and the way they’re cut can have a major effect on the final product and how it’s named. You’ve likely seen baby back ribs, St. Louis ribs, spareribs and other rib types at your grocery store.
Just to clear up any confusion, here’s a quick primer on the different types of pork ribs out there.
Baby Back Ribs
These can also be referred to as back ribs, loin ribs or riblets. Baby back ribs get their name because they’re smaller and come from the section closer to the back of the hog. They are not from baby pigs! So you can rest easy. These tend to be rather small but full of lean meat and relatively low in fat.
Spareribs are from the section closer to the belly. These are what’s left when other parts of the belly meat are cut away for pork belly and cured pork belly products (think: bacon). They’re larger and longer than baby backs, and they’re also much fattier and are packed with flavor. They take very well to cooking that’s extremely low and slow.
St. Louis Style Ribs
St. Louis ribs start off as spareribs, but they’re trimmed down (the sternum, cartilage, and rib tips are removed) to a rectangular shape and more uniform appearance that’s easier to cook and eat, making them a great rib for beginners. Most of the spareribs you see are St. Louis-cut.
Kansas City Style Ribs
Kansas City style ribs also hail from the great state of Missouri and are spareribs that are trimmed less closely than St. Louis ribs, with only bone removed and not cartilage.
This is actually a bit of a misnomer. Country-style ribs are cut from the end of the loin closest to the shoulder, and are very meaty and contain no rib bones, just parts of the shoulder blade (which is sometimes cut away).
Rib tips are found at the very bottom of the rib cage, where the spare ribs meet the sternum. There’s no bone in them, just cartilage, so while there’s still plenty of meat to be had, they’re trimmed away when preparing St. Louis ribs.
Let’s not even go there. Though, if you’re a fan of fast food copycat recipes, we’ve got you covered.
By Dan Myers
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