Summer is almost over, but it’s not like you have to pack up the grill immediately after Labor Day. There’s still tailgating season to come (and you can cook ribs in the oven all winter), so there’s still time to finally figure out the difference between baby back and spare ribs.
Pork ribs go by many names, depending on the region, but two of the most common in American BBQ are baby back ribs and spare ribs.
Baby back ribs, also known as back ribs, loin ribs, or Canadian back ribs, are shorter than spare ribs and a full slab has between 11 and 13 bones. Baby back ribs are connected to the backbone and nestled beneath the loin muscle—they get their name from the fact that they’re the most tender and leanest ribs. They’re sometimes called Canadian ribs because Canadian bacon is made from the same loin mean that’s connected to the ribs. (If you want to learn more than you bargained for about different cuts of pork, check out this very detailed and informative diagram.)
Spare ribs, also known as St. Louis cut ribs or Kansas City cut, are a flatter, rectangular slab that aren’t as curved as baby back ribs. Spare ribs can be less expensive because they contain more bone and aren’t always in as high demand as baby back ribs. Spare ribs are about three pounds and usually a rack will feed about two people (much of the weight is from the heavy bones). The meat is very flavorful; spare ribs are cut from the end of the baby back ribs, and they’re often meatier than baby back ribs. St. Louis cut ribs are simply spare ribs with the rib tips cut off so that the whole package is a neat rectangular slab.
If you want to dive deeper, read more about spare ribs vs baby back ribs—and how best to cook them both—or hop to some specific recipes below:
Hungry yet? Check out these recipes for flavor-packed baby back and spare ribs. If you’re in a pinch, you can always substitute one cut for the other. Just be sure to adjust the cooking times. (And don’t forget the barbecue sauce. Or the BBQ rib sides, for that matter.)
Sweet, spicy, and superb, these ribs have a tropical kick from mango, ginger, pineapple, and fresh lime juice. They pick up a little smoky flavor too—so basically everything you could ever want. Get the Glazed St. Louis Pork Ribs with Mango Jalapeño BBQ Sauce recipe.
The spice mix includes kosher salt, dark brown sugar, chili powder, paprika, black pepper, cayenne pepper, cumin, garlic powder, and ground mustard for a perfect smoky-sweet mix. Get our Smoked Barbecue Baby Back Ribs recipe.
This is just one way to make baby back ribs in the oven—great if you don’t have a grill, but so delicious you might make it even if you do. Chef Isaac Toups uses a simple smoky rub and a spicy-sweet mix of honey, hot sauce, and beer to braise the ribs, and throws in an easy double dill pickle recipe to serve alongside them too. Get the Cajun Hot Sauce Honey Ribs recipe.
The Asian glaze separates these ribs from the rest. The glaze is heavily seasoned with ketchup, soy sauce, rice vinegar, corn syrup, light brown sugar, honey, Dijon mustard, garlic powder, Five Spice mix, and hot sauce. The quantities are also easy to adjust according to your tastes. Get the Barbecue Asian Glazed Spare Ribs recipe.
The rib seasonings combined with the homemade barbecue sauce are what take this recipe to the next level—you can use your favorite store-bought brand if you’re running short on time, but the homemade sauce really makes a difference. But what really makes these easy is the fact that they’re cooked in the oven before being finished on the grill for more flavor. Get our Easy Barbecue Baby Back Pork Ribs recipe.
The sticky sauce is a combination of hoisin sauce, soy sauce, garlic, honey, Chinese five spice powder, ginger, and some other flavorful ingredients. Made in the slow cooker, they’re super easy. You can garnish the ribs with sesame seeds and freshly chopped scallions for an added touch. Get the Slow Cooker Chinese Spare Ribs recipe.
A Korean take on baby back ribs, this recipe has a sweet and savory mix of onion, garlic, ginger, honey, brown sugar, soy sauce, sesame seeds, green onion, rice vinegar, and dark sesame oil. Get the Korean Kalbi Baby Back Ribs recipe.
This simple recipe can easily be adjusted to your liking. Utilizing the always-reliable pressure cooker, standard cooking times can be shaved off a few hours for tender, fall-off-the-bone ribs in around 45 minutes. A real winner! Get the Pressure Cooker Spare Ribs recipe.
If you have more time, a spell in the slow cooker makes tender ribs too; these have a bold, homemade bacon bourbon BBQ sauce slathered all over them to boot. Get our Crock Pot Rib recipe.