If you enjoy eating at BBQ-style restaurants or even grilling and smoking your meat, then you are probably a fan of ribs.
Two of the most popular styles of ribs are baby back ribs and St Louis ribs. You can serve them together or separately, and they both taste amazing. But which one is better?
We have put together this useful guide to help you understand the similarities and differences between baby back ribs and St Louis ribs, and ultimately decide which ones are the best. Keep reading to find out more.
Baby Back Ribs
After the pork loin has been removed from the pig carcass during the butchering process, the meat that is left behind is the baby back ribs.
They come from the top end of the rib cage where it joins the spine, which is why they are smaller than other types of ribs.
They are not called ‘baby back’ ribs because they are ribs that come from piglets- it is because of their small size due to the placement of the ribs in the body.
The meat on baby back ribs is incredibly tender. A rack of baby back ribs should have at least 10 ribs.
Any less than this and you have been served a ‘cheater rack’- this means you have either been shortchanged and some ribs are missing, or normal ribs have been cut down to look like baby back ribs.
When it comes to the shape of a rack of baby back ribs, the bones tend to be very curved. This can make it challenging to cook them evenly if you put them directly on a grill.
It is best to smoke them, so the heat can circulate all around the ribs and cook the meat evenly. The rack of ribs will be wider on one side than the other.
The longest bones in the rack are around 6 inches long whereas the shorter ones are around 3 inches.
St Louis Ribs
St Louis-style ribs are spare ribs- ribs that are cut from the lower section of the pig. They tend to be cut from the belly, but they are then trimmed to give them a more uniform shape.
This makes them ideal for direct-contact cooking styles like grilling or barbecuing, as the meat will cook evenly.
Whilst baby back ribs are known for being the most tender, the fat content of St Louis-style ribs makes them incredibly flavorsome.
They also have a lot of meat on them, which makes them good value for money and ideal for feeding large groups of people.
St Louis style ribs get their name from the meatpacking businesses in that area in the 1930s who first started selling ribs with the rib tips trimmed off, which created the signature rectangle shape of a slab of St Louis style ribs.
A rack of St Louis-style ribs will have between 10 to 13 bones and the bones tend to be 5 to 6 inches long.
Where To Buy Baby Back Ribs
Baby back ribs are very popular so you should be able to find them in most grocery stores. You can also get them from your local butcher. Some stores will even sell pre-marinated baby back ribs to save you some time.
St Louis ribs are not always available from grocery stores, (remember to check the meat counter as well) but you should be able to get hold of them at the butcher’s.
You can also ask your butcher to put in a special order for you.
How Much Do Baby Back Ribs Cost?
Baby back ribs are more expensive than St Louis-style ribs. This is because demand is higher as they are such a popular cut of meat. They also have a lower fat content, which means there is more meat per pound.
St Louis ribs will be cheaper than baby back ribs, but spare ribs will be even cheaper again. This is because they still have the rib tips attached, and the butcher has had to do less work to prepare the ribs before selling them.
Texture And Flavor
Baby back ribs are very tender, but they have a low-fat content. This means that if you cook them at a high heat or grill them, they can easily become dry.
It also means that they don’t have a very rich or powerful meat flavor. The best way to cook baby back ribs is to smoke them, and then coat them in a sweet and smoky BBQ sauce.
Remember to cook them low and slow to make sure that the meat is soft. You can season the meat with a dry rub before smoking to get even more flavor.
St Louis ribs come from the belly area of the pig, which means they have plenty of fat on them as well as meat. As the ribs cook, the fat melts into the meat making it very juicy and giving it an intense flavor.
If you cook the ribs right, the meal will fall right off the bone as you pull it.
You don’t need to add too much seasoning to St Louis-style ribs as the meat has so much flavor, but it depends on the type of meal you are creating.
You could use a dry rub on the ribs, or add a sauce after cooking them. You can smoke St Louis ribs, grill them, or even brown them off in a flat pan.
If you are going to coat your ribs in the sauce then don’t do this until the cooking process is almost complete – perhaps 10 or 15 minutes before the ribs are fully cooked.
If you add the sauce too early then it could burn and ruin the flavor of the meat. This is especially important if you are using BBQ sauce, as it has a very high sugar content which will burn easily.
A rack of baby back ribs will be smaller and lighter than a rack of St Louis-style ribs. They tend to weigh between 2 and 3 pounds, but half of the weight is bone and the other half is meat.
You can expect to get between 1 and 1 and a half pounds of meat off a rack of baby back ribs, which should feed one to two people depending on the size of your appetite.
St Louis-style ribs weigh around 2 and a half to 4 pounds per rack which includes the bone, the meat, and the fat. This will feed 2 to 3 people depending on appetite size.
It takes around 2 and a half to three hours to cook a full rack of St Louis ribs, but baby back ribs take around 1 and a half to 2 hours.
This can vary depending on what temperature you cook the ribs at, as low and slow will produce the best results.
What Should You Serve Ribs With?
Both baby back ribs and St Louis-style ribs are popular menu items at BBQ and grill-style restaurants. You can eat them on their own as a starter, or enjoy them as part of the main meal.
They are also included in mixed grill meals with other cuts of meat, or even as part of a surf and turf style meal with grilled shrimp.
If you are cooking ribs at home, consider serving them with any of these side dishes:
- Creamed Corn
- Baked Beans
- Mac N Cheese
- Corn on the cob
- Baked Potato
- Fried green tomatoes
- Fried Pickles
- Grits/Cheese grits
- Corn Fritters
Can You Substitute Baby Back Ribs For St Louis Ribs And Vice Versa?
Baby back ribs are much easier to get hold of than St Louis-style ribs. But what happens if you are following a recipe that calls for St Louis ribs and you can only get hold of baby back ribs?
Can you use them instead? The simple answer is yes, but there are a few things you will need to consider.
First of all, you will need to adjust the cooking time of the recipe. Baby back ribs take less time to cook than St Louis-style ribs.
If you follow the cooking time in the recipe but use baby back ribs then the meat will be overcooked and dry.
The next thing you will need to consider is the cooking method. If the recipe tells you to grill the ribs, this will be more challenging with baby back ribs due to the curved shape of the bone.
It is still possible, but you will need to turn the ribs more often to make sure that they cook evenly.
Baby back ribs have less flavor than St Louis-style ribs because they have a much lower fat content. This means that you may want to add extra seasoning to the meat before you cook it.
The final thing you will need to consider is how many people the recipe is meant to serve. Baby back ribs have more meat on them, but they are smaller than St Louis ribs.
You might need to cook two racks instead of one depending on how hungry your guests will be.
If you have St Louis ribs but the recipe calls for baby back ribs, it is very similar. You can still follow the recipe, but you will need to cook the ribs for longer, and the higher fat content will make the ribs tastier.
St Louis ribs are versatile, so they can be grilled or smoked, or even browned in a pan. Anything you can do with baby back ribs should be just as easy with St Louis-style ribs.
Which Ribs Are Best?
Now that you understand more about the different types of ribs, it is time to decide which is best – baby back ribs or St Louis style ribs.
If you are looking for larger ribs with an intense and rich flavor then St Louis ribs are the best choice. They are more versatile when it comes to cooking methods due to their flat shape, and they are cheaper.
They are not as readily available from grocery stores, but you should always be able to get hold of them from your local butcher. These ribs are ideal if you love to grill your meat.
If you enjoy smoking meat then you will probably prefer baby back ribs. They are extremely tender and are less fatty than St Louis ribs.
They can be cooked low and slow with a dry rub seasoning to give them more flavor, and then be finished off with a sticky saucy coating. Baby back ribs are very popular which means that they are easy to get hold of.
Their smaller size means it is easier to cook large batches of baby back ribs, which is ideal if you are catering for large groups.
They are also small enough to be enjoyed as finger food. They cost a little more than St Louis ribs but they are considered to be more premium.
Whichever type of ribs you choose, make sure you cook them properly to make the most of the juicy, tasty meat. If ribs are cooked well then the meat will fall right off the bone with ease.
You can use lots of different types of seasoning on ribs, but sweet and smoky BBQ flavors work especially well.