Grilling Guide

What Cut of Pork Ribs is Best?

Pork ribs continue to be a staple item for the backyard pitmaster and the competition barbecue world and it’s easy to see why.  They do have some unique characteristics compared to beef ribs, causing many people to have a hard time choosing which they prefer. With so many different cuts and variations of pork ribs available, you may be left a little confused. In this article, our friends at BBQGuys break down the different types of pork ribs available and the variations of each cut.

Pork Baby Back Ribs

We’re stating the obvious here, but baby back ribs aren’t taken from literal piglets — these are the upper ribs, wrapping around the loin. Ever had a bone-in pork rib chop? That bone was one of these. Baby back ribs pack less cartilage, and they make wise use of that extra breathing room with meatier yet leaner flesh. They also taper toward the front for a more distinctive look.

  • Overall, a better meat-to-bone ratio
  • Thinner bones, usually 3-6 inches wide
  • Fairly lean with comparatively less fat
  • Full rack is typically 8-13 ribs

Pork Spareribs

Spoiled by the girth of beef ribs? Welcome to the compromise. Spareribs are usually the longest pork ribs in length, featuring more tender fat and juicier meat than the other options. Cut from the lowest set of bones in the ribcage, this the closest to the pig’s belly as you can harvest before, well, you run out of ribs. For more of everything — fat, meat, bone, and general pork decadence — “spare” just says it all.

  • Extra fat, straighter curve, tougher meat
  • Bigger bones, usually 6%8 inches wide
  • Less trimming, straight to the flavor
  • Full rack is usually 11-13 ribs

St. Louis Cut Pork Ribs

The name St. Louis style ribs allegedly originated from numerous meat-packing plants located in the St. Louis area in the mid-20th century and although it was against the norm to use geographical terms to name a specific cut of meat, a diehard fan of the St. Louis Cardinal baseball team with the U.S. Department of Agriculture put the policy into place regardless. Take a regular set of spareribs, lop off the tips (congratulations: now you know where “rib tips” come from), trim off the sternum and 3-4 inches of cartilage, and what do you get? A flatter, rectangular slab that costs a little extra, but browns easier with reliable visual appeal.

  • Greater uniformity and appeal
  • More bone and higher amount of fat
  • Very popular with grillers and smokers
  • Requires more effort (or higher cost)

Country Style Pork Ribs

Who needs consistency when you could have thrilling mystery instead? Country style ribs prefer to play fast and loose with the rules. Legitimate cuts are split down the loin (near the shoulder), featuring such cameos as feather bones or rib bones. In reality, counterfeit sections also make the cut. You could be buying meat from a Boston butt — or even the sirloin end of the pig!

  • Similar texture, but not actually ribs
  • Generally minimal bones (or boneless)
  • Highly marbled and fatty meat
  • Versatile but inconsistent in cut

Now that we’ve covered the different cuts and variations of pork ribs, it’s time to incorporate these into your tailgate or backyard grilling routine.