SPARERIBS: Spareribs are the most traditional-style, long ribs just behind the shoulder from the belly of the pig. They remain after the majority of the meat is removed, most commonly used to produce bacon. There are on average 13 ribs that comprise a full slab or rack of ribs. Spareribs have part of the breastbone attached as well as a flap of meat called the skirt. There is a thin layer of full-flavored meat on and between the ribs. Spareribs are prized for their rich flavor thanks to a generous amount of marbling, a.k.a. fat. The average slab weighs anywhere from 3 to 5 pounds, feeding 3 to 4 people.
ST. LOUIS STYLE RIBS: No, these ribs aren’t so named because they are destined for the tangy-sweet, tomato-based BBQ sauce prevalent in one of the barbecue capitals of the Midwest. This cut was generated by the meatpacking plants that filled the St. Louis region in the early half of the 20th century. St. Louis style ribs are a special cut of spareribs prepared by removing the brisket bone approximately parallel to the rib side and trimming off the breastbone and cartilage, but leaving the skirt in tact. (St. Louis style ribs with the skirt removed are commonly referred to as Kansas City-style ribs.) These ribs are also more expensive than spareribs because much of the gristle and bone has been removed resulting in ribs that are slightly narrower, more uniform in appearance and easier to slice. The average slab of these ribs weigh anywhere from 2½ to 3 pounds, enough to feed 2 to 3 people.
BABY BACK RIBS: Also called loin ribs or loin back ribs, these ribs come from the upper portion of the ribs near the backbone. The rack appears longer and ribs are shorter than spareribs. They do not come from young pigs as the name may suggest. Because they come from the loin, baby back ribs are less meaty and less fatty, but also more tender and therefore, can withstand direct grilling over a shorter period of time. Typically a slab of baby back ribs weighs 2 pounds or less. Baby back ribs are perfect for serving appetizer-sized portions. Otherwise, a full slab feeds 1 to 2 people for a main course.
RIB TIPS: These long, narrow rib sections are generated after cutting off the breastbone and cartilage from the St. Louis-style ribs. They will vary in size and weight, and may contain a good amount of meat and cartilage. Rib tips are the least expensive rib option available.
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