What's the Difference Between Baby Back Ribs and Spareribs?

What's the Difference Between Baby Back Ribs and Spareribs?

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Christine Gallary
May 22, 2015
Left: Baby Back Ribs. Right: St. Louis-Style Spareribs
(Image credit: Christine Gallary)

With the summer grilling season fast approaching, it's fun to go beyond hot dogs and hamburgers and explore some other tasty cuts of meat! Pork ribs are always a treat, whether cooked indoors or outdoors, but what kinds of ribs should you buy? Let's take a look at the two most commonly sold types of ribs: baby back ribs and St. Louis-style spareribs.

Baby back ribs
(Image credit: Christine Gallary)

Baby Back Ribs

Other names: pork loin back ribs, back ribs, or loin ribs

Back ribs are cut from where the rib meets the spine after the loin is removed. 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 shorter in relation to the bigger spareribs.

(Image credit: Christine Gallary)

Each baby back rib rack averages 10 to 13 curved ribs that are 3 to 6 inches long and weigh about 1 1/2 to 2 pounds, which feeds about 2 people.

Baby back ribs are very tender and lean but are in higher demand than St. Louis-style spareribs, so they have a higher price tag.

St. Louis-Style Spareribs
(Image credit: Christine Gallary)

St. Louis-Style Spareribs

Other names: breastbone-off pork spareribs

Spareribs are the meaty ribs cut from the belly of the animal after the belly is removed. They are usually trimmed down into the popular St. Louis-style spareribs by cutting away the hard breastbone and chewy cartilage, so the slab is more rectangular in shape.

(Image credit: Christine Gallary)

St. Louis-style spareribs are flatter than baby back ribs, which makes them easier to brown. There is a lot of bone but also a higher amount of fat, making them very flavorful if cooked properly. Each slab usually weighs 2 1/2 pounds or more and feeds about three to four people, although the meatier, the better. St. Louis-style spareribs are cheaper than baby backs ribs.

Cooking Pork Ribs

Both baby back ribs and St. Louis-style spareribs require low, slow cooking time to become nice and tender. They are great for smoking, braising, grilling, or can be cooked in the oven. The ribs also take well to spice rubs and sauces.

Underside of the ribs
(Image credit: Christine Gallary)

Can You Substitute One Type of Rib for the Other?

Baby back ribs can be substituted for St. Louis-style spareribs, but since they are smaller, you will need about 1 1/2 times the amount of baby backs as St. Louis-style ribs.

The larger size of the St. Louis-style ribs means that they take longer to cook, so note that baby back ribs take about 1 1/2 to 2 hours to cook at 300°F, but St. Louis ribs will take 2 1/2 to 3 hours.

(Image credit: Emma Christensen)

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