What Is a Slab of Ribs Exactly? Everything You Need to Know

what is a slab of ribs

Grillmasters take pride in their ribs, meticulously choosing and preparing them with preferred dry rubs or sauces. Debates often arise about the superiority of mustard-based sauces and the definition of a rack versus a slab of ribs. Discussions can also delve into the appropriate number of ribs in a full or half-slab.

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Picking a Bone over Definitions 

To answer basic questions such as how many ribs are in a slab or a half-slab, one must first define the animal that provided the cut of meat under consideration:

Meat Cut Definitions Vary by the Source

Rather than butcher the definitions, one must realize that the names applied for meat cuts depend on the animal, as well as sometimes the country or region where they are butchered. For pork ribs, a slab is the same as a rack.

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With lamb ribs, however, loin meat is also considered part of the rack and is generally identical to a rib roast. Pork spare ribs are similar to beef short ribs.

For our purposes, we will focus on pork rather than lamb or beef. A slab or rack of pork ribs describes the entire section of ribs taken from the side of the butchered hog. 

Some barbeque purists still make the distinction. They usually refer to untrimmed ribs with cartilage, fat, and muscle meat as a slab, while identifying those that have had cartilage and fat removed as a rack. 

What Is a Slab of Ribs?

The exact number of ribs in a whole slab varies. A full rack can have up to 13 bones, though some racks may have fewer due to bones being removed during preparation or damage to the bones during processing.

In most cases, a whole slab available from a commercial butcher or grocery store will have between 10 and 13 bones.

During processing, the butcher cuts back ribs in the area close to the spinal column. These meaty ribs do taper off on one side, with the greatest amount of curvature on the part of the bone that was once closest to the spine.

Although a full rack may include fewer than 10 bones, if the number drops below that, it generally is no longer a full slab.

Is a half-slab defined as the name implies?

Yes. A half-slab of ribs usually contains 5 to 7 bones, though sometimes the half-rack will have fewer than that number. The perfect half rack of pork ribs should have either 6 or 7 clearly visible boans.

Racking up the Ribs

The meat and bones that make up pork ribs come from very tasty portions of the pig. Each of these cuts has distinct characteristics based upon the area of the rib cage where it originated and how the butcher cut and trimmed the meat and bone. They generally fall into four types of cuts:

Baby Back Ribs

These cuts originate from the highest area of the rib cage between the spare ribs and the spine. They have a noticeable curve and receive the ‘baby’ identification since they are shorter in length. Lean and tender, baby backs are sometimes called riblets, back ribs, or loin ribs.

Spareribs

With 11 to 13 bones usually in a full slab, these bones have less of a curve. They also have greater amounts of fat that give them more of a tender taste than baby back ribs.

They come from a section of the hog adjacent to where the bacon was removed, “sparing” the ribs for use separate from the bacon. Sometimes known as side ribs, spareribs may require some trimming during their preparation for cooking. 

St. Louis Cut / St. Louis Style Ribs

These fancier cuts originate from the area near the breastbone. With an almost rectangular shape, St. Louis ribs offer better presentation for competitions because of the way the meat holds onto the bones.

Cartilage in this area is tough. Some barbeque fans refer to these types of ribs as Kansas City cut or style ribs when the butcher removes more of the bones. 

Rib Tips

Most of the hard structure surrounding the meat on rib tips comes from dense cartilage rather than bone. These rib tips are enjoyable to chew while nibbling on the small areas of cartilage. 

Buying a Rack or Half-Rack of Pork Ribs

Purchasing the Ribs

Spareribs and baby back ribs are the two most common racks of ribs available in supermarkets and butcher shops.

Spareribs are a better option for recipes that call for slow cooking. Smaller and leaner than spareribs, baby back ribs originate from the hog’s back, top, or loin side.

When selecting your slab of ribs, ensure that they have a fair amount of meat on the bone. Rib slabs cut by factory machines frequently have shiny bones visible because these mechanical cutters have removed more of the meat than they should have done.

If you prefer to shop at grocery stores rather than a butcher shop, choose a supermarket that has more customers and therefore has a crew that rotates meat offerings more frequently.

Butcher’s Perspective

While portion size certainly varies based upon tastes and diet, usually butchers will suggest somewhere between three-quarters of a pound to one pound of pork ribs for each person at dinner. 

Butchers sell spareribs by size, from “3 and down” for three or fewer pounds, to “3 and up” for larger groups of anticipated diners. Generally speaking, “3 and down” spareribs get the most recommendations since they tend to be more tender. 

Other Meaty Questions (FAQs)

Here are a few common questions about a slab of ribs.

What is a cheater rack?

What type of ribs are country-style?

Country-style “ribs” come from the pig’s shoulder area. The bone in these ribs is the shoulder blade, so they are not actually ribs.

Does pork receive grades like beef in the United States?

The USDA does not grade pork the way it grades beef (Prime, Select, etc.) based upon the marbling of fat. The gender and size of the animal determine the grade for pork.

How many ribs are in a slab?

A slab typically contains 10-13 ribs when ordering ribs from a restaurant.

How many bones in a slab of St Louis ribs?

The slab of St Louis ribs typically contains approximately 12 bones per slab.

What is the difference between half slab and full slab ribs?

The difference between half slab and full slab ribs is that a full rack typically consists of 13 ribs, while half racks usually have 6 or 7 ribs. These ribs are known for being tender and meaty, making them generally more costly.

How many ribs is half a slab?

The number of ribs in half a slab typically ranges from 5 to 7, whereas a full slab can have anywhere between 10 to 14 ribs.

How big is a full slab ribs?

The size of a full slab of ribs is typically enough to feed two adults, although one very hungry person could finish the entire portion. Instead, you can enhance the flavor of the slab by using a dry rub or your favorite marinade. Our slab of pork ribs is guaranteed to make a significant impact at your upcoming barbecue or tailgate party.

How many ribs is a full rack?

A full rack typically consists of 10 to 13 ribs for pork ribs, 9 to 12 ribs for beef ribs, and 7 or 8 ribs for lamb racks.

How heavy is a full slab of ribs?

A full slab of ribs typically weighs 2 1/2 pounds or more and can serve approximately three to four people.

Why are ribs so expensive?

Ribs are expensive due to their scarcity. There are only 2 racks of spareribs on a pig, and the demand for spare ribs is high enough to keep their price high.

Which ribs are more expensive?

The more expensive ribs are typically baby back ribs, which are known for being more tender and leaner than spare ribs. Each rack of baby back ribs weighs around 2 pounds, with about half of that weight being bone. One rack of baby back ribs is usually enough to feed one hungry adult. Spare ribs, on the other hand, are cut from the ends of baby back ribs and extend along the pig’s breast bone.

How many beef ribs in a slab?

There are typically 7-8 beef ribs in one slab, which can serve 2-3 people. A half slab weighs around 2-2.5 lbs, while a full slab weighs approximately 4-5 lbs. It is important to note that beef ribs are cut in half for packaging purposes during shipment and are always frozen.

Is a slab of ribs pork or beef?

A slab of ribs can be either pork or beef. However, it is worth noting that beef ribs are typically more flavorful and fatty compared to pork ribs. Pork spareribs, which are cut from the sternum, are also quite fatty and delicious. One key distinction between the two types of ribs is the source of the meat. Beef back ribs are leftovers from the ribeye cut, resulting in them being less meaty.

How much does two slabs of ribs feed?

Two slabs of ribs can feed either an average family of four or a couple of adults with a big appetite. Each box contains 2 slabs of ribs, with each slab having 12-14 bones.

How many slabs of ribs do I need to feed 20 people?

You will need approximately 10 racks of ribs to feed 20 people. It is possible that some individuals may desire more or less, but I believe this estimation is reasonable. To ensure you have enough, it might be advisable to prepare 12 racks.

What is the difference between a slab and a rack?

The difference between a slab and a rack is that while the term “rack” can sometimes be used to refer to a portion of ribs, the general consensus is that there is no distinction between a “slab” and a “rack” of ribs. Both terms denote a whole section of ribs that are cut from one side. This applies to pork and beef, although lamb has a different definition for “rack” compared to “slab”.

How many ribs is a half slab?

A half slab of ribs typically contains 5 or 6 individual rib bones, as a typical full rack of pork ribs consists of 10-13 ribs.

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