Ingredient Intelligence

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

updated Mar 7, 2024
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Left: St Louis Style Spareribs; Right: Babyback Ribs
Credit: Left: Photo: Joe Lingeman; Food Styling: Cyd McDowell; Right: Olive and Mango

When summer grilling season approaches, it’s fun to explore all sorts of tasty cuts of meat. Though grilled hot dogs and grilled burgers will always be great go-tos, pork ribs are always a treat. Low and slow cooked pork ribs are great for a backyard BBQ, especially when served with fun sides like bacon BBQ baked beans and classic potato salad.

Let’s take a look at the two most commonly sold types of ribs: baby back ribs and St. Louis-style spareribs.

Quick Overview

What Are the Main Differences between Baby Back Ribs and Spareribs?

Once you make the trip to the store, what kinds of ribs should you buy? To understand better, here are the main differences:

  • Baby back ribs: Baby back ribs are cut from around the loin. They’re leaner than spareribs and typically have a higher price tag due to their popularity.
  • Spareribs: Spareribs come from the belly area. They’re larger than baby back ribs and take longer to cook, but they’re very flavorful when cooked low and slow.
Top of a rack of baby back ribs.

What Are Baby Back 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 because they are shorter in relation to the bigger spareribs — not because they come from a baby pig. Baby back ribs are also sometimes called pork loin back ribs, back ribs, or loin ribs.

Underside of a rack of baby back ribs.

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.

Top of a rack of spareribs.

What Are 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. Spareribs are also sometimes just called St. Louis-style spareribs or breastbone-off pork spareribs.

Underside of a rack of spareribs.

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 than baby back ribs, making them very flavorful if cooked properly. Each slab usually weighs 2 1/2 pounds or more and feeds about three to four people. St. Louis-style spareribs are typically cheaper than baby backs ribs.

Credit: Kristina Vanni

How to Cook 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. For some inspiration, look to these 4 famous oven-baked ribs recipes we tested, tasty Instant-Pot ribs, or smoked ribs.

Credit: Olive and Mango/Kitchn

Can You Substitute One Type of Rib for the Other?

Yes, you can substitute baby back ribs 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. Since St. Louis-style ribs are larger, 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.