The rib cut is used to describe meat that’s found in several animal species. Ribs can be grilled, oven baked, smoked, fried, and even made in a crock pot. As a result, they are one of the most popular cuts of meat.
Pork varieties are the most popular but beef is also a fan favorite too (especially in my house). Both pork and beef contain large amounts of connective tissue and different rib cuts can affect your cook method and preparation. There are also regional variations of dry and wet rubs to account for.
To better understand the rib cut, here are the seven most common types and ways to prepare them.
Different Types of Ribs:
1. Baby Back Ribs
Baby back ribs don’t come from baby pigs. Traditional back ribs or loin back ribs refer to a specific part where the spine and rib meet. With “baby” back ribs, the emphasis is on the upper ribs.
The actual name comes from the meat’s size in comparison to spareribs. They contain loin meat and are less fatty and smaller resulting in a tender piece of meat.
These ribs come as a rack, which includes 10+ curved ribs that are uniform in length ranging from 3-6 inches.
The preparation involves removing the membrane and using a dry or wet rub for flavoring. It’s a meticulous process but one that results in one of the most popular barbecue meals a person can have.
Spare ribs are the lower ribs from the underbelly of the pig. They extend around the belly and connect to the sternum.
These ribs are regarded as one of the thicker varieties coming from what’s left after the bacon is removed. A traditional slab of spareribs is comprised of 11+ ribs including additional cartilage. They are noted for having excess fat which adds to the flavor profile.
The preparation includes removing the membrane, trimming excess fat, and ensuring the ribs are fully seasoned for a low and slow cook. This cook style is necessary to ensure the meat is can become tender and the fat can be rendered through the meat.
3. St. Louis Style Ribs
St. Louis style doesn’t refer to the way the ribs are cooked. They get their name from the way meat packing plants in St. Louis would cut the ribs.
While spareribs are a thicker, meatier variation, St.Louis style ribs are trimmed down alternatives with the brisket bone removed.
In terms of sizing, these are described as being flat, filled with bones and large. The weight is referred to as “3 1/2 and down.” This means the trimmed rack has the ends removed, the bone off the side, and rarely has a flap. This results in a rack of ribs weighing 3 1/2 lbs or less.
Preparation is similar to regular spareribs with additional emphasis placed on trimming the cartilage and removing membrane so the rendered fat can get away from the meat better.
4. Short Ribs
There’s a strict description used while handling a beef animal and this includes eight distinct prime cuts. One of those cuts is the “chuck” which is where these ribs are sourced from.
Preparation will vary based on what a person is going for. Short ribs can be prepared using a traditional English-style method where the ribs are cut into smaller pieces making them simpler to braise or slow cook in a crock pot.
Another option is to go with a flanken or flanked cut detailed below.
5. Flanked Style Ribs
With flanked style ribs, the emphasis is on a thin cut (1/2″) which is wrapped around bone. Due to this unique pattern, a professional butcher is often sought after to cut the ribs in a cross section rather than between each rib like the English style.
These ribs are described as being high in fat, beefy, and not as tender as other alternatives.
To prepare these ribs, it’s best to use high heat while grilling. There’s a balancing act to preparing flanked style ribs because they can dry out quickly making them tough.
6. Country-Style Ribs
Country-style ribs or pork loin country-style ribs are an intriguing variation and have a unique appearance. These strips of meat are boneless and cut from the blade end of the loin.
They are also more like pork chops in that they are better for grilling rather than low and slow like a rib. However, they have more fat layers than a pork chop; Behind the layers is more lean meat than most other ribs though.
It’s important to note that country-style ribs aren’t associated with actual ribs. It’s just a name that’s given to them because of their natural flavor, texture, and overall profile.
So, where do these ribs come from then?
Country-style ribs are located close to the shoulder blade or behind the upper portion of the pork shoulder.
The taste can vary depending on how they’re prepared. Some keep the meat moist while others dry it out for kebabs. It is possible to slow cook them, you’ll just need to pay close attention and take them out of the smoker when they’re done.
7. Lamb Riblets
Lamb riblets are sourced from a lamb’s spareribs. These riblets are comprised of a small layer of fat and are noted for being meaty.
Most people enjoy preparing these ribs because they respond well to a variety of cooking techniques. Some prefer drying the meat while others apply additional moisture to increase the flavor profile and overall tenderness.
It’s recommended that you marinate the lamb riblets because the process enhances different flavors and the various ingredients being used such as garlic, red wine, salt, pepper, vinegar, and even olive oil.