Here’s The Difference Between Ribs, Baby Back Ribs, And Spareribs

Know which is which and which is the best for that recipe.

IMAGE Riell Santos

Did you know that there are three different kinds of pork ribs? There are and each one has different characteristics that make it so delicious and succulent in its own way. One thing you should know is that whatever cut your recipe calls for, if you can't find it at your butcher, you can easily swap out any of these three for the other. Just mind the cooking times for the larger cuts and you'll be on your way to eating a heavenly pork rib meal.    

Here are the three different kinds of pork ribs and how each is used in recipes: 

Illustrator Bianca Laxamana

1 Pork Ribs

Best for: pork barbecue ribs, grilled and smoked ribs

Also known as the American-style ribs or St. Louis-style ribs, it's said that someone in St. Louis, Missouri in the US wanted better cuts of meat than what they were receiving. The butchers at the time heard the complaint, and the result was this beautifully trimmed and evenly shaped meat cut.  

These ribs are cut from the underside of the belly of the pig where the rib cage is widest. These are characterized by the almost perfect rectangular shape that butchers shaped and trimmed. It's the most common style of ribs on the market, and you'll find these racks easily by its uniform shape, the distinctive bones, and the lack of meat other than in the spaces between the rib bones. 

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If you're planning a barbecue and barbecued pork ribs is on the menu, this is the cut that you're looking for. A whole slab of this cut can take up to 3 hours of cooking time to get these tender. The upside is that these are easy to slice into serving pieces since you can simply slice between each rib for easy eating or every other rib for a meatier serving. 



2 Spareribs  

Best For: pork barbecue ribs, chopped for soups and stews, steamed for dimsum

This is cut from the same part of the pork belly. In fact, the big difference between the pork ribs and the spareribs or rib tips is that the rectangular-shaped pork ribs are cut from a whole slab of the spareribs. In short, the whole slab of spareribs is the real pork ribs. Visualize the pork ribs at the upper part of the ribs area where the bones are larger and leaner. The spareribs are located on the bottom half of this meat cut that's closer to the soft underbelly of the pork where the softer cartilage rib tips are found. 

What's interesting about this cut is that this is the meatier cut of the whole ribs pork cut. Since this is the pork cut that connects it to the brisket part of the pork, it's also more flavorful than the pork ribs.     


These are fantastic cooked as is like pork ribs or chopped up and cooked until fall-off-the-bone-tender in a soup. Since these ribs have part of the meatier brisket of the pork, these need about as much time as the pork ribs do, at around 3 hours of cooking time, to get fork-tender.

3 Baby Back Ribs  

Best For: pork barbecue ribs  

If the pork ribs are located at the upper part of the ribs where it's widest and the spareribs are located closer to the underbelly where the cartilage are found, the baby back ribs are found just above the pork ribs cut, closer to the spine, where the curve of the ribs start.

These are literally the back ribs since this is where the rib bones meet the spinal column but are cut much smaller in size than the pork ribs, hence the term "baby". These ribs are also the most tender as well as the meatiest part of the ribs. You can tell these are the baby back ribs since these ribs will have a distinctive curve to its bones, telling you that these are indeed from the back area and not lower on the pork cut. 


These are delicious cooked like pork ribs but since these are decidedly smaller, these take as few as 1 to 2 hours only of cooking time to become tender. Remember to baste! 



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