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There are several different types of ribs available, depending on the section of rib cage from which they are cut. Variation in the thickness of the meat and bone as well as levels of fat in each cut can alter the flavor and texture of the prepared dish.

Baby back ribs are taken from the top of the rib cage between the spine and the spare ribs, below the loin muscle. The designation "baby" indicates the cuts are from market weight hogs, rather than sows. They have meat between the bones and on top of the bones, and are shorter, curved, and sometimes meatier than spare ribs. The rack is shorter at one end, due to the natural tapering of a pig's rib cage. The shortest bones are typically only about 3 inches and the longest is usually about 6 inches, depending on the size of the hog. A pig side has 15 to 16 ribs (depending on the breed), but usually two or three are left on the shoulder when it is separated from the loin. So, a rack of back ribs contains a minimum of 8 ribs, but can include up to 13 ribs, depending on how it has been prepared by the butcher. A typical commercial rack is 10-13 bones. If there are fewer than 10 bones, butchers call them "cheater racks".

Spare ribs are taken from the belly side of the rib cage, below the section of back ribs and above the sternum (breast bone). Spare ribs are flatter and contain more bone than meat. There is also quite a bit of fat which can make the ribs more tender than back ribs. The origin of the name "spare ribs" is not certain, but could be related to the spare amount of meat after the belly is removed.

Rib tips are short, meaty sections of rib that are attached to the lower end of the spare ribs, between the ribs and the sternum. Unlike back ribs or spare ribs, the structure of the rib is provided by dense costal cartilage, not bone. Rib tips are cut away from the spare ribs when preparing St. Louis Style spare ribs.

Other cuts and preparation

* Button Ribs - Button ribs are flat, circular shaped bones located at the sirloin end of the loin. They are not actually ribs, as they are not taken from the rib cage. The button ribs consist of the last 4 to 6 bones on the backbone that do not have actual ribs connected to them. The meat on the button ribs consists of meat that covers each button and connects them together.

* Country-style ribs - Country-style ribs are cut from the blade end of the loin close to the pork shoulder. They are meatier than other rib cuts. They contain no rib bones, therefore are not technically ribs.

* Rib roasts - Rib roasts is a whole pork loin with the back ribs attached. They can be up to 2' long and 6" thick. They are sold whole or in sections.

* Rib chops - Rib chops are pork steaks or chops that include a back rib bone and the loin meat attached. They are lean and tender.

* Riblets - Riblets are prepared by butchers by cutting a full set of spare ribs approximately in half. This produces a set of short, flat ribs where the curved part of the rib is removed.

* Rib patties - The meat from the ribs are taken off the bone and ground to make rib patties. The popular McRib patties contain pork meat mostly from non-rib sections of the hog.