When it comes to BBQ, nothing matches the rich flavor and meaty texture of a properly cooked rack of ribs.
These tasty packages come in a variety of cuts perfect for grilling or slow-cooking on your smoker. Whether you prefer to season your ribs with a dry rub or slather on a rich barbeque sauce, there is a rib ideal for every occasion.
In this article, we’re going to break down the different cuts of ribs and explain how to prepare them like a champion pitmaster. You’ll never be stuck in the meat department wondering what the heck a country style rib is again!
Different Types of Ribs
Ribs are a popular treat in the US, and each region has a signature way of preparing them. You might prefer the tangy sweetness of Southern Carolina mustard-glazed pork ribs or the brash flavor of mesquite-smoked Texas beef ribs.
However you like your meat bones served, shopping for rib racks can be a confusing proposition. You’ll typically find a variety of cuts from several types of animals in your grocery store. How do you know which types of ribs you should buy for your next barbecue?
While pig ribs reign supreme in popularity, beef ribs are catching on more and more. Each of these animals produce several cuts of ribs suitable for grilling and smoking. If you’re looking for something a bit off the beaten path for your next BBQ, then a rack of lamb ribs might do the trick.
Here is our guide to all things rib!
Pork ribs are among the most popular types of BBQ throughout the United States. Cooking hogs goes way back in some regions, but even in beefier parts of the country, you’ll find pork ribs on many menus.
A big reason for their popularity is their juicy, tender texture and their mild porky flavor. Pork ribs are ideal for both sweet and savory recipes and can be easily cooked in a smoker, on a grill or in your oven.
Modern pork is lean – much leaner than it was 20 years ago. But not all cuts of pork qualify as “the other white meat.” Pork ribs are typically lower in fat than beef ribs and have more protein per serving. But they still pack a hefty wallop of fat compared to other cuts of pork.
This varies widely depending on your method of cooking, however. If you’re concerned about the fat content of your pork ribs, you should check your recipe for more details.
Overall, pork ribs are usually the easiest type to prepare for novice pitmasters. You can find them year-round in the meat department of your grocery store too.
Spareribs are famous for their deep, porky flavor and a nice marbling of fat. They may be a bit tougher and fattier than other pork-based cuts, but many experts think they have the most outstanding flavor.
Spareribs have less meat on top of the rib bones than the baby back cut but have more meat between each rib. So they are usually bigger and meatier than baby backs. Their longer, flatter bones make them easier to eat too.
A full rack usually weighs between 2.5 and 3.5 pounds and has about 10-13 ribs each. Your spareribs should be juicy and tender but have a bit of chew to them when properly prepared.
Spareribs are also one of the easiest cuts to prepare for novice pitmasters. Their higher fat content keeps the meat from drying out on the grill or smoker.
If you’ve never made a rack of ribs before, then spareribs are a great cut to start practicing on!
Where Do Spareribs Come From?
Spareribs are cut from the belly of the pig, close to the sternum (breast bone).
They come with the rib tips and cartilage still attached to the rib bones. Most racks will have the rib membrane intact too, so you’ll have to deal with it before you cook your meat.
If you trim off the rib tips and cartilage, you’ll turn spareribs into a St. Louis style rack of ribs (see below).
What is the Fat Content of Spareribs?
A typical serving of spareribs is approximately 3 ribs (120 grams) or a quarter of a rack.
A serving contains about 380 total calories, not including any marinades, dry rubs, braising liquids or barbecue sauces. Spareribs have 28.5 grams of fat per serving, including 8.5 grams of saturated fat and about 13 grams of unsaturated fat.
While 74% of the calories in spareribs come from the fat, only 43% is the bad kind our doctors want us to avoid. You can see why these rich ribs have so much flavor!
In addition to fat, spareribs also contain about 19.5 grams of protein per serving.
How Do You Prepare Spareribs?
Spareribs are a very versatile cut, and their marbling of fat makes them perfect for low-and-slow cooking methods. They are ideal for slow smoking over a wood fire, and you can also grill or roast them in your oven.
Best Way to Cook Spareribs?
I think the best way to prepare spareribs is to smoke them for a few hours over a flavorful wood such as hickory or mesquite. These ribs are fattier than other pork cuts, so they coordinate really well with a sweet and spicy rub and/or a rich BBQ sauce.
Baby Back Pork Ribs
If you’re like me, you can’t help but sing along to the old Chili’s commercial every time you hear someone say “baby back ribs.” This cut has become ever-so-trendy since that commercial first landed, and they’re now the most popular style of ribs in the country.
These ribs are leaner than beef or pork spareribs and have less fat marbled throughout the meat. They are also shorter in length but have more meat on top of the rib bones than spareribs.
This makes baby back ribs a healthier option for backyard barbecues. But they are also easier to overcook.
A full rack of baby backs usually weighs between 1.75 and 2.5 pounds and has between 10 and 13 rib bones per rack.
Where Do Baby Back Ribs Come From?
Baby back ribs are cut from the upper part of the rib cage, between the spine and the spareribs. The pork loin is cut from the rack during processing, leaving the rack with a nice amount of loin meat along the top of each rib bone.
Baby back ribs are usually smaller than spareribs, and the bones are not as regular in size and shape. Depending on how the rack is trimmed, your baby backs may be meatier than a similar-sized rack of spareribs.
What is the Fat Content of Baby Back Ribs?
A serving of baby back ribs is usually about 3-4 ribs (140 grams), or about a third to a quarter of a rack.
They have about 400 calories per serving before you add in your rubs, marinades, and sauces. Baby backs have about 30 grams of fat, including 11 grams of the saturated stuff. So they get about 66% of their calories from the tasty pork fat.
Baby back ribs also have about 22 grams of protein per serving.
How Do You Prepare Baby Back Ribs?
Baby Backs are perfect for grilling and smoking outdoors, and you can roast them in your oven as well. Some folks like to braise baby backs in a flavorful liquid, which can help prevent them from drying out during the cooking process.
Best Way to Cook Baby Back Ribs?
The best way to prepare baby backs is to slow-smoke them. This allows you to add a lot of extra flavor to your meat since these ribs are not as rich as spareribs.
The key to cooking a rack of tasty baby backs is to avoid drying out the loin meat along the top of the rib bones. Since this meat is very lean, you can easily overcook it if you’re not paying close attention to your rib’s temperature.
If you’re new to making baby back ribs, you might want to try using the 1-2-3 method to prepare your first rack. This method helps keep the meat moist, while still allowing the rack to pick up a lot of flavor from the wood smoke.
St. Louis Style Ribs
If you like the rich flavor of spareribs but prefer a more regular-shaped rack for cooking, then you should check out St. Louis style pork ribs.
These racks are nearly rectangular in shape, which makes them easy to cook evenly. They have less fat than spareribs but have the same rich pork flavor.
Where Do St. Louis Style Ribs Come From?
St, Louis style ribs are part of the pig’s spareribs. The butcher removes the sternum, cartilage and rib tips, leaving a regular-shaped rack that is easy to cook and divide into portions.
What is the Fat Content of St. Louis Style Ribs?
A serving of St. Louis ribs is usually about 4 ounces or 3 ribs (113.3 grams), or about a quarter of a full rack.
They have approximately 230 calories per serving before you add in your rubs and sauces. St. Louis style ribs have about 14 grams of fat per serving, including 4 grams of saturated fat. So they get about 55% of their calories from fat, but only 20% of that fat is the bad kind.
St. Louis ribs also have about 21 grams of protein per serving.
How Do You Prepare St. Louis Style Ribs?
Just like baby backs and spareribs, St. Louis style ribs are ideal for slow-smoking, grilling and oven baking.
Since the racks are regular in size and shape, you can also sear them in a pan. Then you can finish the ribs in a braising liquid in your oven, crockpot or pressure cooker.
Best Way to Cook St. Louis Style Ribs?
If I had the choice, I would always opt to slow-smoke my racks of St. Louis style ribs. They have plenty of tasty fat marbled throughout the meat and usually come off the smoker juicy and tender.
These ribs are also a great option for cooking on a BBQ grill, as long as you grill them on a 2-Zone set-up or over indirect heat. A rich tomato or vinegar-based sauce can help cut through the fat and adds a nice touch of flavor to your meat.
Country Style Ribs
Country style pork ribs are the red-headed stepchild of the BBQ world. While they are a frequent visitor to grocery store shelves, these ribs are rarely seen on restaurant menus or in BBQ competitions.
I love country style ribs for their mild flavor and bargain-basement price. These ribs are usually very inexpensive and lend themselves to many styles of preparation.
Depending on how you cook them, country style ribs can be very tender and juicy, since they have a nice amount of fat marbled through the meat. The biggest challenge with these ribs is that they come in a wide variety of sizes and shapes.
A package of country style ribs often has both bone-in and boneless pieces unless otherwise noted on the label. Some ribs may weigh as much as 1.5 pounds while others may be smaller. You’ve got to be a bit flexible when making a batch of these pig ribs.
Where Do Country Style Ribs Come From?
Here’s the funny thing about country style ribs; they are not actually ribs at all.
Instead, country style ribs come from the blade end of the pork loin, near the pork shoulder. They are the meatiest of the pork “ribs” and have a nice amount of fat and flavor.
These ribs are usually cut about 1.5 to 2 inches thick and vary from 4 to 8 inches in length. Any bones you find in your meat are actually part of the pig’s scapula (shoulder blade) and do not come from the rib cage.
What is the Fat Content of Country Style Ribs?
It is a lot harder, to sum up the nutritional information on country style ribs because this cut varies so much from pack-to-pack. These ribs probably have the widest range in calorie count and fat content of any of the other types of ribs.
A serving of country style ribs is about 4 ounces (113.3 grams), which could be about half of a large rib or a whole small one, minus any bones. They have about 270 calories per serving and 21 grams of fat. 71% of the calories in country style ribs come from fat, and about 37% is the saturated kind.
These ribs have about 19.3 grams of protein per serving.
How Do You Prepare Country Style Ribs?
Country style ribs taste great when cooked quickly over high heat. But they also have enough connective tissue to stand up to braising if you prefer that method.
You can grill your country style ribs whole, or even cut them into pieces to skewer over a hot grill. Another option is to cook them in a flavorful liquid inside your crockpot, pressure cooker or Dutch oven.
Best Way to Cook Country Style Ribs?
If you want the simplest preparation method and the best-flavored country style ribs, then grill them over a hot fire.
I prefer to use a spicy rub on these bad boys, skipping the sugar so it doesn’t burn on the grill. Cook until they reach an internal temperature of at least 145°F (if you like your pork rare) but no higher than 160°F. Then glaze with a rich tomato-based or a sweet Asian-style BBQ sauce and serve.
Ribs of beef have a deep, meaty flavor and a chewy texture that balances out the rich fattiness of the meat. Beef ribs work with both sweet and savory flavors and taste especially good when seasoned with wood smoke or smoky-flavored spices.
Since beef ribs contain more fat than pork ribs, they tend to stay juicer on the grill or smoker. But they are less-forgiving than pork ribs and can end up dry and hard to chew if you overcook them. Beef ribs are versatile, but some cuts can be more challenging to prepare than others.
Beef Back Ribs
I remember eating my first “dinosaur” beef rib at the age of 4. My tiny hands had to double-fist the rib bone so I could nibble off the meat. I managed to get more BBQ sauce on my face than in my stomach. It instantly became one of my favorite foods.
Beef back ribs come in a wide variety of sizes and trims. They are not as commonly seen in grocery stores outside the grilling season, but this varies depending on where you live. These ribs are typically meaty, chewy and have a rich beef flavor.
When shopping for beef ribs, look for racks that have a nice amount of meat covering the tops of the rib bones. I’ve seen a lot of racks trimmed so closely to the bone that there was barely any meat left on them. These lean racks are a waste of your time, so skip them in favor of a meaty rack if you can find one.
Where Do Beef Back Ribs Come From?
Beef back ribs are cut from the upper part of the cow’s rib cage near the spine. The prime rib is trimmed from this part of the rib cage as well.
Since prime rib is an expensive and highly-desirable cut, many racks of beef ribs have nearly all the meat removed from the top of the rib bones.
Unless you are ordering directly from a butcher, you may not have the choice of buying a really beautiful, meaty rack of beef back ribs. Grocery store racks are often hit-or-miss.
I think the difficulty in finding good racks outside a butcher shop is one reason this cut is less-popular than pork ribs.
What is the Fat Content of Beef Back Ribs?
A serving of beef ribs is about 4 ounces of meat, minus the bone (113.3 grams).
A beef rib has about 400 calories per serving. Each serving contains 33 grams of fat, including 15 grams of saturated fat. So beef back ribs get close to 73% of their calories from fat, and most of it is the saturated type.
Beef back ribs also have more protein than pork ribs. A serving has about 28 grams of protein, which is about 8 to 10 grams more than a similar portion of pork ribs.
How do You Prepare Beef Back Ribs?
Beef back ribs are perfect for grilling or smoking, and you can roast them in your oven as well. Some folks like to braise them, but I prefer other cuts for that method.
Whatever you do, don’t overcook your beef back ribs. These ribs are naturally chewy in texture. If you cook them for too long they will have the texture of beef jerky instead of the chewy richness I fell in love with as a kid.
Best Way to Cook Beef Back Ribs?
It’s a toss-up for me whether the best cooking method is to smoke or grill your beef ribs.
I love the deep flavor of beef and wood smoke, but it can also be tricky to identify the perfect moment to pull your ribs from the smoker. They are pretty easy to overcook.
You may want to consider wrapping your ribs in foil or butcher paper if you’re going to smoke them. This will reduce moisture loss and speed up your cooking times as well.
On the other hand, grilling your beef ribs over indirect heat is easy to do, and most racks will cook in under an hour. If you want to add a touch of smoke to your ribs, you can always toss some wood chips on your fire as you grill. This method is straightforward and simple to master.
Beef Short Ribs
Of all the styles and cuts, short ribs may well be the most versatile. Also known as the short plate ribs, this cut is popular around the globe due to its rich, meaty flavor.
There are two styles of beef short ribs typically sold in grocery stores. The “English” style of short ribs contain three to four 6-inch long sections of rib bone and are sold as a rack or “plate” of ribs. English-style short ribs may also come separated and cut into smaller, 3-inch long individual pieces.
Alternatively, you can find packs of short ribs sliced into thin pieces across the rib bones. You can read more about this flanken-style of beef ribs below.
Short ribs lend themselves to low-and-slow cooking and have a rich beefy flavor. These ribs are ideally served when they are fall-off-the-bone tender. They also develop a deeper flavor once they have cooled, and are ideal for make-ahead dishes.
Where Do Short Ribs Come From?
Short ribs only contain a small portion of the rib cage and surrounding meat. They can be cut from the brisket, chuck, plate or rib part of the carcass.
Depending on exactly where the section is cut from, short ribs may contain meat from the brisket or chuck and can vary in thickness from 1 to 2.5 inches.
Most grocery stores labels don’t identify which part of the cow your short ribs come from. If you prefer a specific type of short ribs, your best bet is to order it from a butcher shop.
What is the Fat Content of Short Ribs?
Since short ribs come from such a wide variety of cuts, it can be challenging to compare their fat content to other styles of ribs. On average, a serving of short ribs is about 4 ounces of meat without the bones (113.3 grams).
A 4-ounce serving of short ribs has about 440 calories depending on your method of preparation. They contain 41 grams of fat and have about 18 grams of saturated fat. Short ribs get about 85% of their calories from fat, making this one of the fattiest ribs on our list.
They also have about 16 grams of protein per serving.
How Do You Prepare Short Ribs?
Short plate ribs are best cooked low-and-slow in a smoker or grill or braised in a flavorful liquid until fork-tender. They are especially common in Chinese, Korean and Jewish cuisines, but there are also many French recipes for short ribs.
Best Way to Cook Short Ribs?
I prefer braised short ribs to any other style of preparation. You just can’t beat the flavor of red wine braised short ribs served with a rich demi-glace.
Flanken Style Ribs
If you’re looking for ribs you can prepare in a hurry, then allow me to introduce you to flanken style beef ribs. These thin slices of meat pack a lot of beef flavor and have a tender yet chewy texture when properly prepared.
Unlike short ribs, you won’t have to slow-cook flanken style ribs to make them tasty. These ribs cook quickly on your grill and you can marinate them to add extra moisture and flavor. Since a lot of the fat is trimmed away, flanken style ribs are the leanest and healthiest option for beef ribs.
Where Do Flanken Style Ribs Come From?
Although they come from the same part of the animal as short plate ribs, flanken style ribs have a different texture and flavor.
These ribs are cut into thin sections across the rib cage. Each slice contains several small sections of rib bone and is about 1 to 2 inches thick. The fat is marbled throughout the meat, and the bones help keep the meat moist and add flavor as it cooks.
What is the Fat Content of Flanken Style Ribs?
A serving of flanken style ribs is about 4 ounces (113.3 grams), or 1 to 2 slices minus the rib bones.
A serving has about 250 calories and 19 grams of fat. Only 9 grams or 45% of the fat is saturated. So flanken style ribs get about 68% of their calories from fat, making this one of the leanest types of ribs.
These ribs also have approximately 20 grams of protein per serving.
How Do You Prepare Flanken Style Ribs?
These ribs are ideal for quick cooking over high heat, so grilling or pan-frying are your best options for preparing them. Some people prefer to bake them in a hot oven, but this method makes it really easy to overcook them.
Best Way to Cook Flanken Style Ribs?
If I’m making flanken style ribs, I prefer to marinate the batch overnight and then grill them over a hot fire.
They work very well with a marinade since the slices are thin enough to absorb the flavor. There are a ton of Asian, Hawaiian and Eastern European-style recipes online if you need some ideas.
Grill each side for a few minutes or until the ribs are medium-rare (or more, if you prefer a well-done rib) and you will think you’re taking a bite of heaven.
You are probably familiar with a leg of lamb and lamb chops, but have you ever had a rack of lamb ribs?
Tender and juicy, lamb ribs are not something you see on every backyard smoker. This specialty cut can be the center of a truly epic meal when done correctly.
The challenge with buying lamb in the US is that it isn’t always lamb. The USDA allows all sheep products to be labeled as lamb, even when the meat comes from an adult animal. Meat from animals under 12 to 14 months old may be labeled as “prime” or “choice” lamb, but not always.
Unless you are buying directly from a butcher, it may be difficult to find true lamb ribs. While you can certainly cook mutton ribs as well, the meat may have a stronger flavor and it won’t be as tender as real lamb.
You can find racks of lamb ribs sold in intact racks, or you may find them individually cut into pieces. They are often labeled as riblets since they are much smaller than pork or beef ribs.
Where Do Lamb Riblets Come From?
Riblets are cut from the area close to the shoulder and the upper part of a rack of lamb.
The small bones don’t have a lot of meat, but the fat and connective tissue pack a ton of flavor into these riblets. You can often substitute spareribs in recipes for lamb ribs if you can’t find them since they have a similar amount of fat.
What is the Fat Content of Lamb Riblets?
A serving of lamb riblets is about 2 to 3 ribs or a 4-ounce portion of meat with the bones removed.
Lamb riblets have about 380 calories per serving and 30.4 grams of fat. 67% of the fat is the bad kind, so each serving has approximately 12.9 grams of saturated fat. These riblets get about 72% of their calories from fat.
Lamb riblets also have about 26 grams of protein per serving. So lamb ribs are similar, nutritionally, to pork ribs but offer more protein in each serving.
How Do You Prepare Lamb Riblets?
Lamb riblets are ideally prepared low-and-slow in a smoker, grill or oven. This gives the fat time to render out and turns the connective tissue into delicious gelatin.
Best Way to Cook Lamb Riblets?
I think the best way to make lamb ribs is to rub them with a lot of salt, pepper, and crushed rosemary. Then slowly smoke them over an applewood fire. You may also see recipes that call for braising, but I find the flavor of the lamb is usually lost when the meat is cooked this way.
However you decide to make your lamb ribs, the key is to render out the fat slowly as the meat cooks. This way, your fat will flavor the meat but won’t overwhelm the entire dish with greasiness.