Ribs are just one of those types of foods that go down a treat for virtually any occasion.
While they can often be seen making an appearance at family BBQ’s, they can just as easily be enjoyed as part of a solo dinner or even to share a rack around the table for a family dinner.
Their sweet, succulent and smoky flavor has kept so many of us wanting more as soon as we take that first bite of the juicy taste we all know and love.
Another reason ribs get such a positive rep however is because of just how many options you can choose from depending on how big you want the rack to be along with its taste and texture, with spare and baby back ribs being among some of the most popular.
Despite both being fan favorites among rib enthusiasts, there are actually quite a number of differences between spare ribs and baby rack ribs that can set them apart quite a bit once they’re piping hot and ready to serve.
Why Are Spare And Baby Back Ribs Usually Compared?
The simple reason for this is because both these types of ribs are the most commonly sold.
Other variants like flanked ribs are still delicious and will contain a lot of that juicy and tender flavor and texture that you’re looking for, however they come with their own downsides such as having too many bones in a single rack.
Short ribs are exactly the same, while they are definitely a favorite among cooking and BBQ enthusiasts.
Because they won’t come out as tender as some other types of ribs and since they can sometimes take a little longer to heat up, they are often exchanged for either baby back or spare ribs.
This leaves both of these types of ribs standing tall as the most popular rib choices.
But what exactly makes baby back ribs and spare ribs so sought after? And how do you identify them? Keep reading to find out.
Spare ribs are found near the belly of the pig which makes them very large since the rib can extend all the way to the front of the animal in some cases.
Spare ribs are unique for having a good amount of meat between the bones themselves, but less meat actually resting on the top, while also containing a decent amount of fat.
This fact has not turned home chefs away from still taking a popular interest in these delightfully tender and delicious treats.
In fact the fat content helps make spare ribs some of the most flavorful when compared to its peers.
These straight, long and fairly flat ribs are often perfect when you want to feed a few people at once with just one rack as a single one on average will usually satisfy 2 or 3 adults.
Baby Back Ribs
In contrast to the spare ribs, baby back ribs are cut from where the rib meets the spine after the loin is removed.
They are considered the ‘upper ribs’ because they are smaller in relation to spare ribs which are a little lower on the pig’s body.
Baby backs are noticeable for being small, long and being fairly tender and lean, however this isn’t to say they are not packed full of delicious meaty flavors.
Unlike spare ribs, baby back ribs will often still have around half an inch of loin meat resting on the top, giving you a juicy and tender taste each time you take a bite.
While they can be a little more expensive and will feed less people with a single rack.
Baby racks are considered by many to be a luxury with how meaty, tasty and satisfying they are compared to their competition.
Key Differences Between Spare And Baby Back Ribs
While both are variants of pork ribs and contain a fairly similar smoky and meaty taste that we all expect when picking up a juicy rack.
The similarities essentially end there as spare ribs and baby back ribs actually differ in many ways.
These differences always need to be taken into account by home cooks or those deciding what type of ribs to use for a small BBQ or as part of a family meal since they can change up the taste and texture drastically along with how many people will get their fair share, so it’s vital to make an informed decisions when picking between these two.
In terms of overall taste, while you will still get that smoky barbeque taste that so many of us love, the major difference between both types of ribs is in how prominent these flavors are.
Because spare ribs have most of their meat located between the bones instead of directly on top.
They tend to have much more marbling than baby racks, which refers to the amount of fat within the lean red meat that helps make it juicy and flavorful.
Because of this, in terms of pure taste, the spare ribs often come out on top, however if you’re looking for purely tender ribs which are soft and a delight to bite into.
Baby back ribs are better in this area since they have a lot more meat on top to actually heat up, making it as soft and delicious as possible when prepared.
Therefore, while you will be sacrificing some of the flavor for a bit more tenderness when choosing baby backs, they do come with the added benefit of being healthier and having more meat one each individual bone
Probably the easiest way to tell a rack of spare ribs and baby back ribs apart, and what makes them so unique for different situations is their appearance and size.
Spare ribs are known for being straight and flat, with the marbling being very prominent in between each bone and showing itself as thick and juicy pieces of pork.
Baby backs on the other hand are curved, with the slab often tapering off at the one end with a much more pronounced curvature where it meets the spine.
Both have a very distinct fleshy pink color before they are cooked, however baby back ribs do tend to be a little lighter in their appearance.
This is also true when the ribs are cooked and piping hot, while they will both take on a very familiar deep red or brown color, the spare ribs tend to have a much deeper and richer appearance that stands out a lot more.
In terms of the actual size of each rack and how many tasty ribs you’re going to be able to serve at once, both ribs are actually fairly similar as the average rack will usually contain anywhere between 10 to 13 ribs.
While this may seem to imply that both types of ribs can be switched out without any worry about feeding more or less people.
The reality is that while they contain a similar amount of individual ribs, the sizes of ribs can differ drastically.
Baby back ribs on average are usually between 3 to 6 inches long, however spare ribs on their own are often around 8 inches or higher, not including the bones that stick out from the edges.
Because of these size differences, on average a single rack of spare ribs will be able to feed around 3 to 4 adults while a baby back rack can feed up to 2 since.
While it is definitely more tender and easier to eat around the bone, it’s smaller stature does make it a little harder to use if you have a big gathering to prepare for.
If you’re only expecting a few guests however and want everyone to enjoy a delicious full rack to themselves, then the baby backs are definitely the more optimal option.
Because of the difference in size with spare ribs being a little larger and longer than baby backs, this inevitably also carries over to their differences in weight with the spare ribs weighing just a little more.
On average, a full rack of baby ribs will weigh around 2 pounds while the larger spare ribs will range from 2 1/4 to 3 pounds.
The reason spare ribs are quite a bit heavier is not only because of where they come from in the pig.
It is also because of their much higher fat content that helps to weigh them down, this is what makes other fatty foods such as sausages a bit heavier than food of a similar size.
Despite being smaller and feeding less people with a single rack, baby back ribs will always have a higher price tag than spare ribs.
The simple reason for this is that they are just in higher demand than spare ribs, being much more tender and leaner.
Making them far more ideal when you want everyone to have their fair share rather than having to split one rack between multiple people.
How To Cook Spare Ribs And Baby Back Ribs
Baby back ribs can be cooked up quite a bit faster than spare ribs and are usually best prepared when grilled or boiled and will take a little less time to prepare because of their smaller stature.
When sizzling up some baby back ribs on the grill at 350 degrees fahrenheit, they will usually be ready between 1 ½ to 2 hours.
This will be enough time to ensure that they are as tender and flavorful as possible and is the fastest way to prepare them.
For spare ribs however, this method can usually take a bit longer as they require a long exposure to heat in order to be as juicy and delicious as possible
The best method for preparing some spare ribs is either smoking, braising or grilling them.
However, they can also be placed in the oven if you want a bit more of a hands-off approach and just want to keep an eye on them while they cook.
They will usually be ready between the 2 ½ and 4 hours mark. The key to checking if spare ribs are done is all in the texture.
You want to get them to a point where the ribs are not falling away from each other but that the meat in between the bones is still much softer and juicier than when you put them in.
How To Trim Spare Ribs
While spare ribs may contain high levels of fat, you can luckily trim this down quite easily to make them as lean and healthy as possible which is always worth doing if you don’t mind sacrificing a bit of flavor.
Step 1: Trim Off The Skirt
The back of a spare rib rack contains all the parts that will need trimming, so this is where you will be doing the most work.
This is where you will see the skirt, a thin strip of meat that runs along the membrane which makes the entire rack around twice as thick which is part of the reason it needs to be cooked for so long.
Use a sharp kitchen knife to slowly remove the skirt from the back.
Step 2: Remove The Membrane
The membrane is the long white film that covers the entirety of the back of the ribs, and removing it can help make the mean as lean and nutritious as possible.
Look for a long triangular section and lift it up with a knife and begin gradually pulling off the rest of the membrane, just make sure that it doesn’t start to separate which can make it even more annoying to remove.
Step 3: Trim Off The Rib Tips
Rib tips essentially refer to excess meat that can often be found dangling off the edges of the rack which is better to cut off in order to save on cooking time and to make the food in general more healthy.
To find these sections, simply remember that bones do not bend, and if you feel around and find any large chunks that are wrapping around, these are rib tips and should be cut off before you start cooking.
How To Trim Baby Back Ribs
You often won’t need to trim down baby back ribs because they are already fairly healthy and don’t contain high amounts of fat.
However if you or one of your guests want the meat to be as healthy and nutritious as possible, trimming a baby back is far easier than spare ribs.
Step 1: Flip Over The Rack
Just the same as spare ribs, the back of the rack will be where the sections are located that need to be trimmed down or removed.
Step 2: Remove Membrane
Removing the membrane really is all that you have to do to trim down a baby back rack of ribs, and can be done easily with a dull knife.
This is because the meat on baby backs is much more even, so you won’t be getting large amounts of excess meat hanging over the sides that needs to be cut.
Simply shave off the membrane and you will have a nutritious and tasty baby rack of ribs ready to serve in no time.
How To Tell When Both Types Of Ribs Are Done
In terms of how to tell when a rack of ribs is done and has been thoroughly cooked, this is largely the same for both baby backs and spare ribs.
Not only should there be a very deep and rich brown or red color to the meat between, and on top of the bone, but they should also be flexible rather than stiff or sloppy.
The best way to check for yourself is the ‘Bend test’. Take a pair of tongs and hold the rack from its end.
If cooked for long enough, the other end should bend slightly towards the ground and cracks may even begin to form in the crust.
However, if the rack is bending much more to where the bones are almost falling away or if the rack is completely stiff with no bend at all, this signifies that the ribs are either undercooked or overcooked respectively.
Why Would You Choose Spare Ribs?
There are a few key advantages to choosing spare ribs over baby back ribs, especially when it comes to taste.
If you’re looking for as much of that meaty pork flavor as possible, you will definitely want to go with spare ribs.
Because spare ribs are considered to be the fattiest of the rib cuts, this does also mean that they have an incredible flavor that you and your guests will love sinking your teeth into.
While many people do trim off a lot of the fat, and while this is a good option for when you want the meat to be as healthy as possible, this will leave behind a lot of the flavor and meatiness spare ribs are known for.
Alongside having a very prominent juicy pork flavor that goes perfectly with some thick barbecue sauce, because you are able to buy them in bulk for a much cheaper overall price.
Spare ribs are also much more suited for occasions when you have a large amount of mouths to feed at once.
Because of the decent amount of meat you get on each bone, you can be sure that each guest will feel fully satisfied after enjoying just a few pieces of meat from each rack.
Making them great for big occasions, or if you don’t want to break the bank, they work just as well to share as part of a family dinner.
Why Would You Choose Baby Back Ribs?
It can seem quite confusing at first why the more expensive and smaller rib option would have any benefits over spare ribs.
However there are actually quite a few reasons why baby backs are so feverishly sought after and considered somewhat of a luxury.
For one, because of the smaller bones and meat that rests on top rather than just in between the gaps in the rack.
Each individual baby back rib bone contains much more meat, giving you a lot more to chew on despite being smaller in appearance.
Spare ribs tend to have their bones sticking out from the meat itself which means sometimes the pork itself can come out a little uneven so you only have a small part to tear off the bone.
This is never the case with baby backs where the meat will always cover at least the majority of the bone with just a little bit sticking out for you to hold while eating.
Because baby back ribs are also a lot smaller, this makes them much easier to handle and nowhere near as messy as regular sized ribs, making for a quick cleanup.
If you want a type of rib that’s also fairly healthy while still tasting delicious, baby back ribs are the definite go-to having a much lower concentration of fat.
Additionally, they also contain a high amount of protein with each rack while also containing 10% of our daily value for six of the eight B vitamins, especially vitamins B-6 and B-12 which help to protect our arteries.
Baby back ribs also contain high amounts of zinc which encourage the development of specialized immune cells along with moderate levels of selenium which are a vitally important group of antioxidants that help to produce thyroid hormones.
Are Baby Back Ribs Healthier Than Spare Ribs?
While baby back ribs are definitely the better option to choose if you want a rack that’s as healthy as possible and you don’t mind spending a little more for the nutritional benefits.
This is not to suggest that spare ribs have absolutely no benefits to speak of.
They actually contain quite a few, specifically because of the high amount of menaquinones they contain, also known as Vitamin K2.
This is an essential vitamin for keeping our bones strong while also keeping our heart healthy and helping to boost our immune system, providing some incredible nutritional benefits simply from enjoying a tasty rack of spare ribs every now and again.
Despite containing high levels of fat, spare ribs also contain some essential vitamins, specifically B-12 and Vitamin D which both help to keep our nervous system healthy.
While also playing a huge role in keeping our cells metabolically active.
Each 3-ounce serving of spare ribs contains around a third of our daily required Vitamin B-12.
So while the fat content does unfortunately make spare ribs a lot less healthy than baby back ribs and all other ribs for that matter.
There are still a few nutritional benefits, especially when you trim the fat off while preparing them.
While both types of ribs are delicious both as parts of a BBQ and as the occasional treat for you and the family, if you want a more nutritious option that’s a bit pricier.
Go for baby back ribs while if you want that maximum taste that you can buy in bulk, spare ribs will be the much better choice.