St. Louis Style Ribs vs. Baby Back Ribs
Let’s talk about ribs. They are meaty, delicious, and fun to cook and eat. Make no mistake, though. Some rib recipes require a specific kind of rib to make the most of it. St. Louis Style Spares are the traditional rack of long, meaty ribs dripping with rich, sweet sauce. These are the ribs you expect to get from a traditional BBQ joint. Baby Backs, or loin ribs, are the chain restaurants' favorites. Smaller in size, but extra tender to the bite, these ribs go great with a sweet and spicy rub. Now, you have a chance to learn how to make your own choice of ribs!
This tutorial will show you the differences between the two types of ribs that barbecue enthusiasts love to cook the most: St. Louis Style Ribs and Baby Back Ribs.
We will also guide you through the ingredients needed to make cook these ribs like a champ. Lastly, we will show you the best recipes you can use to start out your journey into becoming a rib master. We hope you enjoy!
St. Louis Style Ribs vs. Baby Back Ribs
A rack of ribs is a fascinating cut of meat to cook. They cook bone-in, so the meat always retains its juiciness (unless you brazenly overcook them). They also have a great meat-to-fat ratio, which lets them cook more evenly compared to other cuts of meat. St. Louis Ribs and Baby Back Ribs are the two cuts mostly seen in competitions. However, their differences are mainly their meat volume, cut, and fat content.
St. Louis Style Ribs
“St. Louis Ribs” or “St. Louis Spares” are the popular monikers for pork ribs, St. Louis Style, as they were officially named. What does St. Louis style ribs mean? The name refers to the cut of rib, which originated in the region of St. Louis, Missouri, a leader in the meat-packing industry back in the early 20th century.
All pork ribs are segmented into two sections: one is what we know as “spareribs.” The other section is made of the loin-back, which is what we call “baby back” ribs.
Traditional spareribs become “St. Louis Style Ribs” after the region of the rack that contains the most cartilage, the breastbone, is removed, or trimmed out, from the side.
The next step to making a St. Louis Style rib is to remove the end-flap of meat at the end of the rack. This flap of excess meat is usually attached to the last bone of the rack.
Just make a clean, horizontal cut and slice it off parallel to the bone.
“St. Louis Style” also means that the spare rib will have its rib tip removed. This transformation is what gives the rib its name.
Trimming off those pieces also makes the rack more uniform, rectangular, and perfect to grill or smoke. As you can see, it is very easy to just trim the ribs to acquire that cool shape. So, go ahead and add your very own St. Louis Style ribs to your recipe collection!
Fat and Meat Content
Spareribs are usually higher in fat than Baby Back ribs. This is because they are larger and meatier. St. Louis Style spares will lack the extra meat and fat from the rib tips, since they are removed. However, they will hold their meaty goodness because they still hold enough meat volume throughout the bone.
Baby Back Ribs
Baby Backs are named that way only because they are smaller in size, compared to regular spare ribs. They come from the top of the rib cage, below the loin muscle. They are also called “loin ribs” for this reason.
Baby Backs take a bit more work than St. Louis Style Ribs. Here is how you prepare a rack of baby backs before cooking it:
-Trim off any fat you see sticking to the bone side
-Trim off the sinew from the meaty side of the rack *extra, fatty skin*
-Peel off the membrane.
The ribs should look free of “silver skin” in order to get seasoned evenly and uniformly.
Fat and meat content
Some Baby Back racks can be meatier than regular spares, so go for the meatiest, fattiest choice. These ribs do not have as much fat content, but their meat is definitely more tender, at times. Notice that most restaurants offer baby back ribs, perhaps because they are smaller, and more fun to eat.
Section 2: Ingredients List: St. Louis Style Ribs vs. Baby Back Ribs
The ingredients that you will need for St. Louis Style Ribs and Baby Back Ribs are quite similar. You can actually use the same seasonings for both:
-Dry rub seasoning of choice - Preferably, a rub would include some spicy, sweet, and salty elements. Most rubs include hickory, salt, pepper, cayenne, paprika, and brown sugar all mixed in. You can make your own rubs at home.
-Plain Fruit Juice- Juices of choice are typically apple, orange, and cherry. The apple, however, gives it a sweet and sour finish that also adds a smoky fragrance to the ribs.
-Spray olive oil- to allow the dry rub to “stick” and to give the meat a bit of crunch in the edges.
Tomato-based barbecue sauce of choice to lather on and on.
Section 3: Recipe for St. Louis Style ribs: Kansas City Spares
Baby backs and Spare Ribs are cooked similarly. They both call for a rub of choice and a sweet, tomato-based sauce. They also cook for about 4 hours in 250 degree, indirect heat. However, certain recipes are more popular with one type of rib than another.
Start by selecting the meatiest rib choice you can get. The meatier the better. This recipe calls for the ribs to be trimmed St. Louis style.
Gather the list of ingredients from the previous list. For this recipe, you will focus on both the rub and the sauce. This will make the spareribs explode with flavor. They will also look pitmaster perfect with a nice, tangy, finishing glaze.
Note: If you are still not sure about which rub to get, just mix a combination of salt, pepper, paprika and brown sugar to start.
1. Massage your dry rub onto the ribs, taking care of all sides. Literally dig in the meat as deep as you can so everything gets very evenly covered.
2. After a nice rub, place the ribs back in the refrigerator for 2-4 hours so that the rub “breaks down” on the meat and penetrates further.
3. Remove from the refrigerator, and let the ribs “breathe” at room temperature for 30 minutes.
4. Whether you are smoking them or grilling them on indirect heat, be sure to set your grill to 250 degrees
5. Spray the ribs with fruit juice before closing the lid of the grill/smoker. It is recommended that you come back to spray the ribs with more juice every hour *unless you want a different interval, such as every ½ hour.*
6. Ribs typically smoke for 3-4 hours, depending on the thickness of the meat.
15-20 minutes before finishing is a good time to add the glaze. Mix the tomato-based sauce with 1 tbsp. olive oil. This will add a bit of crunch to the surface of the meat while the sauce caramelizes onto the meat.
7. Keep applying more sauce with a sauce mop for those last 15 minutes of cooking.
A simple “bone” check will tell you if the ribs are ready or not. Slice off one bone and, if it cuts easily, then the ribs are ready.
Baby Backs: Memphis Style
The process of rubbing and saucing ribs is the same for any type of rib. The cooking time is also the same and depends entirely on the meat volume. This recipe for Baby Back Ribs uses a dry rub, but also a liquid combination of red wine vinegar, olive oil, and apple juice.
1. Mix all the liquids together. Use ¼ cup of each. It will be used to keep the ribs from drying out.
2. Use your dry rub to massage your ribs. Remember to knead through the meat for the rub to penetrate.
3. Stick the ribs in the refrigerator for at least 1 hour before smoking/grilling.
4. When you take them out, let them out at room temperature for about 20-30 minutes.
5. Set the smoker to 250 degrees. Set up the ribs and moisten with the oil/vinegar mix.
6. Close the lid to let the ribs smoke, rubbing the oil/vinegar mix every half hour.
7. Do the same bone check method to test if they are ready by either cutting up a bone, or tugging at it. The ribs will also be ready when the bone becomes more visible.
Section 4: The Recipes
The Memphis Dry is a great choice for Baby Back ribs vs. St Louis Style because Baby Backs are tender enough to be enjoyed without added sauce. The vinegar/oil/juice combination keeps them even more moist and tender to eat.
The Kansas City Wet/Dry is an excellent choice for St. Louis Style spares because a meatier rib takes longer to eat and is bulkier to chew. A sweet, finishing glaze makes eating these ribs even more enjoyable to eat. It is the original “finger licking good.”
Section 5: Pick a Favorite!
St. Louis Style ribs are meaty, longer ribs without tips. The uniform, rectangular shape of the rack makes it a smokers’ favorite to enjoy with a delicious sweet sauce as glaze.
Baby Back ribs, which have inspired chain restaurant songs, can be enjoyed with or without sauce. When cooking, always make sure to keep them moist during the smoking process. Both are excellent and delicious. One has to pick a favorite, though: Which one is yours? Sound off in the comments section!
Frequently Asked Questions
What does St. Louis style ribs mean?
St. Louis style ribs are spare ribs that are cut in a specific way. The butcher removes the cartilage and the rib tips, squaring off the ribs so they are a nice, neat package. The result is a trimmed rectangle that cooks very evenly on the grill and on the smoker.
What is the difference between pork spare ribs and baby back ribs?
The spare ribs come off of the belly section of the pig whereas the baby back ribs come from the top of the rib cage, closer to the loin. The baby back ribs are meatier, but the spare ribs have more fat content, rendering out to create a juicier flavor in the meat. You can cook both types of ribs using the same cooking method, although spare ribs sometimes take longer to cook than baby back ribs.
What are the best ribs for smoking?
This answer is really a matter of personal preference. Spare ribs are fattier, so some people say they have more flavor. Baby back ribs, on the other hand, are meatier, which many people prefer. Since they both cook in relatively the same time frame and using the same technique, you should try them both and decide for yourself!
Can I substitute spare ribs for baby back ribs?
Yes, you can absolutely substitute one type of ribs for the other! They both cook using the same cooking method, although spare ribs sometimes take a touch longer due to their increased fat content. Spare ribs are often less expensive at the grocery store, making them a great swap when budget is a concern.
Do you have to remove the membrane on ribs?
There is a thin membrane on ribs called the silverskin. It is tough to remove, as it is slippery and hard to get a hold of, but it is worth removing. This membrane does not break down during the cooking process, creating a tough eating experience.