Different types of ribs & how best to cook

I thought ribs, were ribs, were ribs, right?

But no, there are many different types of ribs.

And then there is pork, beef, lamb ribs.

And different ways to cook them.

So here is a quick guide to help you get the best type of ribs, cooked in the best way.

Whether they are for a quick BBQ or settling in for a low and slow cook.

Yum. Carolina-style spare ribs

Pork ribs

Let’s start with a basic overview of our all-time favourite, pork ribs.

The rib cage sits between the pig’s spine and belly.

The entire rib cage consists of three cuts – the baby backs, the spares and the rib tips (– but these aren’t technically ribs as they don’t have bones in them).

  • At the top near the spine, are baby back ribs or loin-back ribs. 
  • Next, further down along the rib cage are spare ribs (or St Louis style, we’ll come to that). 
  • And at the bottom of the spare ribs, there are the rib tips.

Types of pork ribs

Baby back ribs (aka loin ribs or back rib)

  • First of all, this has nothing to do with the age of the pig i.e. ‘baby’ is just referencing the size.
  • Baby backs are more curved than spare ribs. A typical rack would have from 11 to 13 ribs in length, from side to side
  • The ribs are close together so most of the meat is on top of them.
  • They’re more tender and leaner than the rest of the rib cage.

Cooking baby back ribs

  • Baby back ribs are great for smoking, braising, grilling, or cooked in the oven.
  • They are good with spice rubs and sauces.

Spare ribs aka St. Louis style ribs or side ribs

It’s easy to tell the spares apart from the baby backs as they’re always larger and have an additional slab of meat on one end of it.

  • St Louis-style spareribs:
    • They’re spare ribs that have had the hard breastbone cut away so the slab is more rectangular.
    • Larger than baby back ribs but smaller than spare ribs
  • Spare ribs:
    • Begin where the baby backs end and continue all the way down to the underside of the pig.
    • The bones are wider apart with a lot more meat and fat in between them.
    • Bake or grill them. Nice and quick on the grill or “Low-and-Slow” in the oven.

Can you substitute one type of rib for another?

  • Baby back ribs can be substituted for St. Louis-style spareribs, but since they are smaller, you will need about 1 1/2 times the amount of baby backs as St. Louis-style ribs.

Different types of beef ribs

Baby back beef ribs

  • Baby back beef ribs come as an off-cut from the rib eye fillet.
  • They don’t have a lot of meat on them.
  • Good for smoking.

Beef short ribs or Jacob’s Ladder

  • The best ribs to go for.
  • Rectangular shaped rack of ribs.
  • Loads more meat that’s succulent and divided with a layer of fat.

How to cook the beef short ribs

Best way to cook them is “low-and-slow” a bit like brisket.

You can add flavour through smoking keeping all of the juices and fattiness inside.

Lamb ribs

Lamb Riblets

  • Lamb riblets come from the breast of the lamb.
  • These ribs are thinner and longer with a good amount of meat on them.

How to cook the lamb riblets

  • Use more middle-Eastern and Asian rubs – Nigella has a great lamb ribs recipe.
  • Best for roasting and crock pots, not so much for grilling.

4 delicious ways to cook ribs

1. Barbecued

This method takes love, patience and time.

But it’s worth it.

  • For ribs the best smoky flavoured ribs you need to cook them low and slow on the grill adding more charcoal and wood chips every so often to keep the temperature steady.
  • To create a great crust, rub them in advance with spices and then finish them off with a glaze.

2. Roast, then grill

If you can’t be bothered spending hours preparing your ribs then just use your oven to cook low and slow until they’re lovely and tender.

Then just grill them over your BBQ grill on direct heat and brush with a glaze until they’re nicely caramelized.

Or if you don’t have a BBQ or it’s winter and wet, just put under the oven grill.

3. Braise

For one pot ribs, braise them in an Asian-style liquid until they’re tender, then reduce the sauce and serve.

4. Braise, then fry

For super tender ribs with extra crispy bits, you can cook them slowly in a tasty liquid like an Asian-style sauce, then deep-fry them and toss with a glaze.