Everything About Pork Spareribs: How to Buy Them and Cook Them to Perfection

updated Jun 3, 2020
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Credit: Olive and Mango/Kitchn

If you’ve never cooked spareribs before, tackling this meaty slab can feel totally intimidating. But I assure you that you can do it and it’s far easier than it seems. From buying pork spareribs to cooking them at home, here’s what you need to know to get tender, succulent ribs every time. (Spoiler alert: There’s no grill necessary!)

What Are Spareribs, and Why Should You Cook Them?

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. Rib meat is fairly tough and can be fatty, but if given plenty of time to cook down they transform into tender, flavorful meat.

Buying and Storing Pork Spareribs

Here’s what you need to know about buying spareribs, and what to do with them when you get home.

Spareribs and baby back ribs are two different cuts.

These popular cuts are similar, although come from different areas of the animal. Baby back ribs aren’t from baby pigs — they are the upper ribs, cut from where the ribs meet the spine. The bones are shorter compared to spareribs, which are cut from just below the baby back ribs.

Spareribs are sold in a slab.

When browsing the meat case at the grocery store, you’ll notice the spareribs are sold in a single, large slab. Expect it to weigh between 2 1/2 and 3 1/2 pounds, with at least 11 bones per slab.

About half the weight of the slab is bone.

A full slab of ribs might seem like way more meat that you need for a couple of people, but remember that at least half of that (if not more) is bone.

One slab can feed about two people.

If it’s your first time buying ribs, figuring out just the right amount to buy can be confusing. One full slab is typically enough to feed two adults, although one very hungry person could polish off the whole thing!

You want pork spareribs with pinkish-red color.

To ensure you take home a good piece of meat, use visual cues to help you buy spareribs. Look for ribs that are pinkish-red in color with some marbling in the meat (remember that fat equals flavor!). Steer clear of meat that’s pale in color or has dark spots on the fat.

Spareribs can be stored in the fridge for up to 3 days.

It’s best to cook spareribs soon after buying them, although they will keep for two to three days in the fridge. Any longer than three days and it’s best to store them in the freezer, where they will keep for up to six months. Plan to give spare ribs roughly 12 to 14 hours to thaw in the refrigerator before cooking.

Credit: Olive and Mango/Kitchn

Cooking Pork Spareribs

Spareribs are super versatile and quite easy to cook. These are the essential things to know to get them right every time.

Start with a dry rub or marinade a day in advance.

From a flavor standpoint, spareribs benefit from being coated with a tasty dry rub or marinade, but when you add it makes a big difference in how they turn out. The more time the flavors of the rub have to seep into the meat, the deeper the flavor you can expect when they hit the table — especially since most rubs and marinades have enough salt to help tenderize the meat. We like to add the rub or marinade a day before cooking to give them some time to work their magic.

Don’t cook spareribs straight from the fridge.

Instead of cooking spareribs straight from the fridge, let them sit at room temperature for about 30 minutes before you get started. Giving the meat a chance to warm up will ensure more even cooking.

Add barbecue sauce at the end of cooking.

If you plan to slather barbecue sauce over the ribs, wait until the very end of cooking. Whether grilling or cooking ribs in the oven, adding the sauce late in the game will prevent flare-ups and burning.

Don’t be afraid of pink meat.

A little bit of pink is perfectly fine. For spareribs, as with all meat, internal temperature, not color, is the best indicator of doneness.

Cook pork spareribs to 145°F.

Measuring internal temperature with a probe thermometer is the best way to measure the doneness of pork spareribs. As with all cuts of pork, ribs should be cooked to a minimum 145°F, although due to the toughness of the meat and the long cook time, the temperature of the finished meat will likely be considerably higher.

The Easiest Way to Cook Pork Spareribs at Home

Spareribs benefit from low, slow cooking, and the easiest way to do that at home is in the oven.

This method starts with a few minutes under the broiler to brown the meat, then the ribs are baked at a low temperature for several hours until they become super tender.

For the very best results when cooking ribs in the oven, avoid setting the ribs directly on a baking sheet. Instead, set a wire rack over a baking sheet, then place the ribs on top in a single layer. Lifting the meat up allows heat to circulate on all sides.

Recipes for Cooking Spareribs in the Oven