When you think of ribs, the thought of succulent, bone-in slabs of meat generously slathered in tangy barbeque sauce might come to your mind.
Well, you’re not wrong there!
Ribs are incredibly delicious and can make any barbeque or cookout an outstanding hit when cooked right, but did you know that there are many different kinds of ribs, each with their own distinct texture and flavor?
Yep, there’s more to ribs than meets the eye, and I’m here to give you the complete rundown on the different rib cuts out there and teach you how to cook them to sweet, tender perfection, so stay tuned!
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How Many Types of Ribs Are There?
There are several different cuts of ribs that come from different parts of the pig. Some common types include:
Baby Back Ribs / Back Ribs
These are the meatiest and most tender ribs on the market! They come from the upper part of the pig’s ribcage and are often used for barbecue. You can cut them into individual ribs or leave them on a rack.
Spareribs are larger and less meaty than back ribs and come from the lower part of the pig’s ribcage. They are also frequently used for barbecue and can be cut similarly to baby back ribs.
Technically, country-style ribs aren’t true “ribs” as they’re cut from the shoulder blade of the pig. They’re meatier than spareribs and are often braised or slow-cooked until tender.
St. Louis Ribs
St. Louis ribs are a specific cut of spare ribs that have had the breastbone and cartilage removed, creating a more uniform shape. They’re meatier than baby back ribs and are often used for barbecue or slow-cooking.
Rib chops are cuts of pork that include a rib bone and a portion of the loin muscle. They are similar to a pork chop but with a rib bone. Rib chops are typically grilled or pan-seared and can be served bone-in or boneless.
What Is the Best Cut of Ribs?
Unfortunately, that’s a subjective question. Baby back ribs are the most popular cut of ribs and by far the most tender, so you could say that. Of course, some people like the slight chew and deeper flavor of spare ribs better, while others only eat hearty meals of country-style ribs.
Ultimately, it depends on your unique tastes and preferences.
Which Rib Cut Has the Most Meat?
Technically, country-style ribs have the most meat, although they’re not actually from the rib area.
If you’re looking for true ribs, then St. Louis ribs have the most meat on them.
And if you’re looking for the meatiest ribs when it comes to traditional barbeque ribs, back ribs are meatier than their spare rib counterparts.
Cooking the Best Ribs of Your Life
Now that you’ve got a general understanding of the different rib cuts out there, it’s time to get in the kitchen and get to cooking!
Of course, before you do that, you should probably make sure you’ve got yourself some high-quality meat.
Choosing High-quality Ribs
When you go to the butcher or your local supermarket, here are some key factors to watch out for if you want to get the most high-quality ribs possible:
Meatiness: Look for ribs that have a good amount of meat on them with minimal fat or gristle. Note: Back ribs and baby back ribs tend to have more meat than spare ribs.
Marbling: Marbling is the white veins of fat visible throughout the meat. Ribs with more marbling will be more flavorful and tender.
Color: Look for ribs that have a rich, reddish-pink color. Pale or gray ribs may be old or improperly stored and should be avoided.
Smell: Fresh ribs should have a mild, fresh smell. Avoid ribs that have a sour or spoiled smell.
Freshness: You can purchase fresh ribs or frozen ones. Fresh ribs should have a bright color and be flexible rather than hard. For frozen ribs, ensure that they’re free of freezer burn.
Type: If you know what type of ribs you want, it’ll be easier to pick them. Some types of ribs, such as St. Louis ribs, tend to be more meaty and uniform in shape, making them ideal for grilling or smoking. Other types, such as country-style ribs, are better suited for braising or slow cooking.
In general, it’s better to purchase your ribs from a reputable butcher or meat supplier, as they are more likely to carry high-quality, fresh meat. But I get it.
Sometimes grocery stores are cheaper and more accessible, which is completely fine. So keep an eye out for the things mentioned in this article, and you’ll pick excellent meat every time.
Prepping Your Ribs
There are several ways to prepare ribs for cooking, depending on the type of ribs and the cooking method you plan to use.
Let’s start with the basics:
Trimming: Before cooking, remove any thin, papery membrane from the back of the ribs. This can be done by using a small paring knife to loosen one end of the membrane and then pulling it off.
Seasoning: Ribs can be seasoned with a dry rub, marinade, or plain ol’ salt and pepper before cooking. To let the seasoning deeply penetrate the meat, it’s usually a good idea to let your ribs sit in your selected seasoning overnight.
Pre-cooking: Some recipes call for “pre-cooking” the ribs before grilling or smoking them. This can be achieved through boiling, steaming, or baking them in the oven. The purpose of this is to partially cook the ribs through to make them more tender and allow for a shorter cooking time on the grill/smoker.
Wrapping: While this is optional, wrapping the ribs in foil or butcher paper before cooking can help hold in moisture and prevent the ribs from drying out.
Overall, the preparation will depend on the recipe you’re following and what you’re trying to achieve. The most important thing to remember is to season them well so that the meat is as flavorful as possible.
Cooking Your Ribs to Perfection
Cooking ribs can be a bit tricky since there’s not a lot of room for error. How you cook them depends on the type of ribs, the cooking method, and the desired level of doneness. For best results, follow these general tips for cooking impossibly tender ribs:
- Slow and low: Cook ribs at a low temperature for extended periods. This helps to break down the connective tissue and collagen in the meat, making it more tender and flavorful.
- Indirect heat: When grilling or smoking ribs, cook them using indirect heat. This means that the ribs are not directly over the heat source and are cooked by the heat circulating the grill or smoker.
- Moisture: You can keep ribs moist during cooking by basting them with a marinade/sauce or wrapping them in foil/butcher paper.
- Temperature: Cook pork ribs until they reach an internal temperature of at least 195 degrees. This temperature ensures that your ribs are the right tenderness and juiciness.
- Resting: Once the ribs are cooked, let them rest for a few minutes before slicing and serving. Although the USDA suggests a temperature of 145 degrees, 195 will allow the juices to redistribute and make the meat more tender.
What Temperature Should I Cook My Ribs?
Once again, low and slow with indirect heat is king. While temperatures vary from recipe to recipe, expect to cook them at between 200 and 300 degrees.
How Long Should I Cook My Ribs?
The cooking duration of your ribs depends on how you cook them and what kind of rib cut you use.
In general, spare ribs take longer to cook than baby back. If you’re slow cooking them, your spare ribs will likely take between five and six hours while baby back will only be four to five. For grilling, they’ll fall between one and three hours.
Of course, time is arbitrary. The only tried n’ true way of knowing when your ribs are perfectly done is by testing their tenderness with your own hands.
Testing for Tenderness
Don’t be afraid to rip up your ribs a little to test tenderness. They’re messy finger food through and through, so there’s no point in keeping them “pretty” when they’re bound to be torn apart no matter how you present them.
One of the best ways to test tenderness is by holding two bones by their ends and splitting them down the middle. You know they’re done if there’s no resistance and the meat is completely soft.
You can also take a fork or toothpick and slide it down the ribs. Again, if there’s little resistance and the meat shreds effortlessly, you’ve got yourself some perfectly tender ribs.