Barbecue ribs are popular when you've got a group of people coming over and you want something simple, delicious, and fast to make that doesn't require a bunch of utensils. But buying enough (without getting too much or too little) can be a bit of a challenge. Purchasing ribs is even more complicated by the different cuts and types of meat you'll find available.
Ribs are one of our personal favorite things to make on the smoker because they come out tender, juicy, and packed with flavor. Plus, they are a great way for us to show off the Bearded Butcher Blend Barbecue Sauce and some of our best-selling seasoning blends. Often, we like to mix things up and smoke a rack of baby back ribs and barbecue beef ribs.
Types of Ribs
There are a surprising number of cuts that butchers can make from ribs. The way ribs are cut can even affect how they cook, how you serve them, and how much they cost. If you aren't sure what the difference between a short rib, baby back, or spare rib is, we will help you out.
Beef Ribs vs Pork Ribs
These are the two most common proteins you'll find, though we've certainly grilled our share of elk and deer ribs over the years. While there are differences in the size and cooking method, the names of the cuts are the same.
Beef ribs have a reputation for being tough and chewy. There are lots of ways to make beef ribs as tender and juicy as pork, but they do take a little more work. A full rack of beef ribs is an impressive cut of meat that will need to be trimmed down.
Pork ribs are one of the most popular cuts of pork because you'll get succulent and delicious results quite easily whether you use a grill, barbecue, or smoker. A full rack of pork ribs might be very large depending on the size of the animal.
Popular Types of Rib Cuts
Meaty ribs are a delicacy that is tender and succulent when cooked properly. However, over-cooked, ribs tend to be tough, chewy, and hard to eat. Knowing the right way to cook them depends on the cut you are working with.
Baby Back Ribs
Everyone's favorite TV jingle, and a popular cut, baby back ribs are cut from where the ribs meat the spine until they just turn down. They tend to have the largest bones and the least meat between each bone, but also have the most tender and flavorful meat. Prime rib roast is cut from the same area, which often means that store-bought baby back ribs have very little meat remaining.
Short ribs are cut from the rib tips that run from the sternum back. They are usually about three inches long and contain thin bones and cartilage. This cut has the most meatiness of any cut of ribs but is also the toughest and least flavorful.
Spare ribs are the sections of rib from the end of the baby back ribs to the short ribs. You'll frequently see these sold in cryovac packaging with the short ribs attached. These are meatier than baby back ribs and more flavorful than short ribs.
Beyond the Basics: Other Types of Ribs
While the above types of ribs cover most of the cuts you'll find, there are some specialty cuts that are made you might find occasionally.
Popular in Asian cuisine, flanken ribs are cut across the bones rather than between. You'll find these thin-cut and they are perfect when cooked quickly over moderately high heat or braised in an oven.
St. Louis Style Ribs
St. Louis style ribs are a manner of cutting the spare ribs to remove connective tissue and improve fattiness. The result is a squared-off rib cut that offers tender and flavorful meat and is simple to cook whole. This is most often associated with pork ribs.
Country-style ribs aren't cut from the ribs at all. Instead, these tender, meaty, and delicious pieces come from the loin along the upper shoulder. They have a similar taste and texture, along with similar cooking requirements to traditional ribs.
Another missed name with this one, as boneless ribs are also not cut from the ribs themselves, but from the chuck. The boneless meat is flavorful and cooks just like ribs, without the bone, making them perfect for sandwiches.
How Many Ribs in a Rack: Ribs Serving Guide
Pigs, cows, and even lambs have different numbers of rib bones. A full rack of pork ribs will include up to 13 ribs, while a full beef rack of ribs includes nine bones. A full rack of lamb is eight ribs.
If you are buying ribs to feed a group, you can count on two to three ribs per person as a minimum. Because ribs are mostly bone, you'll also want to make sure you've got a decent side dish assortment to make sure you've got enough food for everyone.
Many people will eat a half rack of baby back ribs or about a quarter rack of spare ribs. Plan on having one-and-a-half to two pounds of ribs for everyone to have a generous serving.
How Much Does a Rack of Ribs Weigh?
The weight of a rack of ribs varies by a lot of factors. First, the animal the ribs come from is a key factor. Beef cattle are large animals and have a large rib cage with large bones. This all adds up to a heavy rack of ribs. Lamb, on the other hand, are delicate animals and a whole rack typically weighs less than two pounds.
Different cuts can also affect the weight. Baby back pork ribs will weigh around two pounds as well, but also include 13 bones and will be a larger cut overall.
Spare ribs will be the heaviest of the rib cuts, with a full spare rib rack weighing somewhere around four or five pounds.
The entire rack, including the back ribs, spare ribs, and short ribs can weigh around 20 pounds or more depending on the size of the animal.
A Crowd Favorite
Ribs are a popular choice because they are often affordable. When cooked low and slow on a smoker, grill, or barbecue, they are tender and delicious. One of the most fun things about ribs is that they don't usually require utensils. A properly cooked rib rack will have a tender bite, but won't completely fall off the bone.
Pairing ribs with popular American barbecue side dishes like roasted corn on the cob, coleslaw, and baked beans helps to bring the entire dish together. Cooking pork ribs and beef ribs is a lot of fun because it gives you the opportunity to use lots of spices and seasonings, try out flavorful types of wood for the smoker, and use different cuts for different types of meals.
Buying ribs to feed a crowd can be deceptive because so much of the weight of the cut is bone. While it may seem like there is no way that two (or even one) people might eat an entire rack of ribs, it is possible. The tasty smoked rib rack is an iconic American staple at barbecues across the country because it is delicious, easy to cook, and looks impressive.