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

January 4, 2021
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Well-made pork ribs are every meat-lover's dream. They are 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, these types will deliver a unique dining experience.
There are various rib types, but today we will focus on two - the spare rib and baby back rib. Read on to learn the similarities and, more importantly, the differences between these cuts.

What are Spare Ribs?

These monstrous racks are also referred to as the St. Louis cut or the Kansas City cut. The word 'spare' comes from its Middle English use and refers to the act of cooking meat on a turning spit. The St. Louis style involves the removal of significant elements, including cartilage and rib tips. This type is more common for everyday cooking and a less expensive cooking option than other types of racks.

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 pork is taken from as well as 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.

Know Your Ribs: The Main Differences

Suppose you want to get the most out of these foods as a chef, whether casual or professional, knowing the differences between types can be the key to unlocking the meat’s potential. Use these differences to help you choose the right style for you and thrive in the kitchen.

Where Are They From?

The major defining factor that determines which racks are baby back ribs and which are spare ribs is where they are taken from on the animal. Baby back and spare ribs don’t just refer to different sizes. They are specific cuts of pork with different flavor profiles and textures. This is because they come from different locations on the body of the pig.
So, where are they from? Baby back ribs are taken from the back and loin of the pig (hence the nicknames of “loin” and “back” ribs.) They are made of the meat connected to the backbone beneath loin muscle.
Spare ribs, on the other hand, are from the underside of the pig. They are taken from where the baby back ribs end and along the pig’s breast bone. They are 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.

The Size

One major 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 up when it comes to tenderness.

The Meat

If spare ribs are so much larger, then 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.
For spare ribs, the meat is located more between the bones instead of on top like it is for baby back. It tends to have more marbling than baby back racks do. This is a gamechanger 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.
The reason baby back ribs manage to keep such an impressive price tag is the tenderness of the pork. It is lean, tender, and flavorful.

Appearance

The major defining factor of the appearance of baby back ribs is the curved racks. Spare pork ribs tend to be more of a flat rectangle as opposed to a curvy, short rack. They also have flatter bones that are longer, and marbling in the pork. These are a few ways to identify the cut of spare ribs as opposed to baby back.

Method of Cooking

Grill, boil, or barbecue your baby back rack as soon as you get it home from the store. The thicker and meatier spare rack is best treated to a low and slow cooking process. Because of the location on the pig, the slab is tougher and will require braising and slow cooking to soften up.

Conclusion

No matter what type of rack you’re chowing down on, it’s bound to be delicious. Spare ribs and baby back ribs are two global favorites that continue to show up on luxury high end dining menus as well as backyard barbecue shopping lists. Pork ribs are an excellent nutrient source for your body, providing zinc and iron in abundance 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. Consequently, so you know which you aren’t too worried about missing out on. The beauty is that with so much variety, you can continue to try and cook new types of pork ribs until you find your favorite.

Susan Johnson

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