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Spare Ribs vs Baby Back Ribs: What's The Difference?

posted on

September 21, 2023

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Well-made pork ribs are every meat lover's dream. They’re a gourmet dish engulfed in your favorite homemade barbecue sauce.

However, did you know that different ribs offer different flavors, textures, and tenderness? Even with the same sauce and preparation, different types of ribs will deliver a unique dining experience.

There are various rib types, but today, we’ll focus on two – the spare rib and the baby back rib. 

Read on to learn the similarities and, more importantly, the differences between these pork cuts.

Originally published on January 4th, 2021, this article was updated and republished on September 21st, 2023.

What Are Spare Ribs?

These monstrous racks are also called the St. Louis or Kansas City cut.

The word “spare” comes from its Middle English use and refers to the process of cooking meat on a turning spit.

Although you can sometimes find beef spare ribs and pork spare ribs, it’s more common to find them cut up into short ribs.

Beef short ribs usually get braised or slow-cooked in liquid rather than smoked, but low and slow cooking methods work well for this cut.

Try our 100% grass-fed, pasture-raised beef short ribs for the best possible results – they’re fall-off-the-bone delicious and taste even better reheated the next day.

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What Are St. Louis Style Ribs?

Although many people use the names interchangeably, St. Louis-style pork ribs are more like a subcategory of spare ribs.

St. Louis-style ribs start as the same cut as spare ribs. But instead of leaving the rib section the same size and shape as it normally is, the butcher cuts off the irregular rib tips and cleans up the shape a bit more.

The result is a flatter, straighter rectangle and a rack of ribs a bit shorter than standard spare ribs, but longer than baby back ribs.

If you’re looking for ethically-sourced pork, try our St. Louis-style pork ribs, raised on the regenerative pastures of our family farm.

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What Are Baby Back Ribs?

Baby back is a timeless BBQ classic, but what exactly are they, and how are they different from other racks?

Baby back ribs are also known as loin, back, or Canadian back ribs. This refers to the part of the pig the cut comes from and the fact that Canadian bacon is taken from the same cut as these racks.

The “baby” in the baby back name comes from the rack’s small size, not from the animal’s age. Unlike veal or other meats that come from a more youthful animal, “baby” back is a portion taken from an adult pig.

When comparing this type of pork to others – like spare ribs – it takes less time to cook because it’s curvier and shorter.

Can They Substitute for Each Other?

Depending on how many people you’re serving, there’s no problem switching out spare ribs for baby back or vice versa.

Both rib racks offer a delicious eating experience, and both cook in the same way. The big difference between the two is how long you cook them.

Baby back ribs don’t need to cook as long because the cut is smaller, and the section the rack comes from features more tender meat.

Spare ribs need a longer cooking time because of where the cut comes from and how large it is.

Remember that you’ll need more baby back ribs than spare ribs to get the same amount of meat.

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Know Your Ribs: The Main Differences

If you want to get the most out of these foods as a casual or professional chef, knowing the differences between types is the key to unlocking the meat’s potential. 

Use these differences to help you choose the right style and thrive in the kitchen.

Where Are They From?

The primary defining factor that determines which racks are baby back ribs and which are spare ribs is where they’re taken from on the animal.

Baby back and spare ribs don’t just refer to different sizes. They’re specific cuts of pork with unique flavor profiles and textures. This is because they come from different locations on the pig.

So, where are they from? Baby back ribs come from the back and loin of the pig (hence the nicknames “loin” and “back” ribs). They’re made of the meat connected to the backbone beneath the loin muscle.

Spare ribs, on the other hand, are from the underside of the pig. They’re taken from where the baby back ribs end and along the pig’s breast bone.

They’re made up of exposed bone on one end near the baby back, and rib tips near the breast bone on the other side of the rack.

No matter which cut of meat you choose, getting the best quality meat is the most important thing. Humanely raised and ethically-sourced, heritage pastured pork will always taste better than anything you can buy in the grocery store!

The Size

One glaring difference between these two delectable racks is the size.

For instance, while a rack of baby back is 11-13 individual ribs, the perfect size to satisfy one hungry person, a rack of spare ribs could satiate the hunger of two people.

At one end of the baby back rack, the rib length can be up to 6 inches, and they usually taper off to a smaller 3-inch rib at the shorter end.

A baby back rack is a consistent and precise 2 pounds compared to spare ribs, which tend to range from two and a half to three and a half pounds.

Did you know that about half of the weight of both can be attributed to bone and cartilage?

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 when it comes to tenderness.

The Meat

If spare ribs are so much larger, why are baby back ribs so much more expensive?

The answer lies in this key difference: the meat. Where the meat is taken from on the body of the pig determines the flavor, the texture, and where on the bone the meat sits.

The meat for spare ribs is located more between the bones, while for baby back ribs, the meat tends to be more on top.

Spare ribs also tend to have more marbling than baby back racks do. This is a game-changer for the flavor and the quality.

Marbling refers to fat within the lean, red meat that makes it juicier and more tender.

For this reason, spare ribs tend to have more flavor than baby back ribs.

Baby back ribs are more expensive due to the tenderness of the pork. It’s lean, tender, and flavorful.

Appearance

The primary defining factor of the appearance of baby back ribs is the curved racks.

Spare pork ribs tend to be more of a flat rectangle, whereas baby back ribs are typically a curvy, short rack.

Spare ribs also have flatter, longer bones compared to baby back ribs.

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Method of Cooking

Grill, boil, or barbecue your baby back rack as soon as you get home from the store. 

The thicker and meatier spare rack is best when cooked using a low and slow process. Because of where the rack comes from on the pig, the slab is tougher and requires braising and slow cooking to soften up.

Conclusion

No matter what type of rack you’re enjoying, it’s bound to be delicious. Spare ribs and baby back ribs are two global favorites that continue to appear on luxury, high-end dining menus as well as backyard barbecue shopping lists.

Pork ribs are an excellent nutrient source for your body, providing abundant zinc and iron to help with immunity and other essential processes.

Learn the key differences in location, size, price, meat texture, flavor, method of cooking, and appearance so that you know which type is your favorite.

The beauty is that with so much variety, you can continue trying to cook new types of pork ribs until you find your favorite.

Try any of our humanely raised heritage pastured pork cuts and taste the difference!

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Next, cook your sausage patties for five minutes on each side or until the middle of the patties has reached 160°F. Don’t forget to let them rest for a few minutes after cooking, so they’re extra juicy and tender.  Should I add any seasonings to the sausage patties? Seven Son’s breakfast and Italian pork sausages are already perfectly seasoned with a delicate blend of herbs and spices, meaning all you need to do is cook them!  Can I store leftover cooked pork sausage? Yes, it’s easy to store leftover pork sausage. First, let the meat cool completely. Then, transfer it to an airtight container. You can refrigerate it for up to 4 days.  Ready to Cook?  Try Seven Sons’ delicious, sugar-free pork sausage range today. As always, we’d love to know what you think! So, let us know if you tried our recipes and how it turned out!