All about Ribs: Cuts, Styles, Best Recipes, and Guides (Slideshow)
Basics of Pork Ribs
Pork ribs have two main sections: baby back ribs and spareribs.
Pork Baby Back Ribs
Baby back ribs are also known as loin ribs or back ribs. This cut of rib comes from the blade and center section of the pork loin. It gets its nick name from being shorter than the next section of ribs, the spareribs. Baby back ribs are great smoked, grilled, roasted, or braised.
Spareribs always refer to ribs from pigs and never from cow or lamb. They are the cut from the side or underbelly. Kansas-city style and St. Louis style are just different ways of cutting spareribs. There is a flap of meat that extends partway across the side of the ribs called the skirt. When the skirt is removed from the ribs, you have St. Louis style. Ribs with skirts left on are Kansas City.
To sport a skirt or not is your personal preference. St. Louis style spareribs tend to be pricier because your butcher has removed the skirt but aside from that, the texture is the same.
Country-style spareribs are a misnomer as they really aren’t ribs at all as much as they’re meaty pieces from the rib end of the pork loin with a small bone. There are also boneless country-style spareribs cut from the pork butt.
Basics of Beef Ribs
There are two types of beef ribs: back ribs and short ribs. The basic breakdown is as follows: 13 ribs on each side of the steer; the first 5 ribs are in the chuck cut, the next 7 ribs are part of the rib section and extend down into the short plate, and the remaining rib is in the loin cut. Beef ribs cuts vary in texture, flavor, and size.
Beef Back Ribs
Ribs cut from closer to the rib roast are often trimmed close to the bone. These tend to have less meat than ribs cut from the loin section which are often meatier. Talk to your butcher and ask what section your ribs come from to get a bang for your buck. Examine before purchasing. Things to look out for are meaty slabs which have meat over and between the bones.
Beef back ribs can be cut in a variety of lengths. Dinosaur ribs are back ribs which are about 18 inches (46 cm) and though impressive to look at, they can be cumbersome to make at home. You can also buy more manageable 6 to 8 inches (15 to 20 cm) back ribs. Single portion ribs are available, too, but remember, the more butchering your butcher has to do, the more expensive the rib. Ribs that come from the rib roast may also be more expensive than those cut from the loin.
Short ribs are the meaty ends of the beef ribs that come from the chest and front shoulders of cattle. When buying short ribs, look for labels that say beef chuck short ribs or arm short ribs because these are the meatiest and have the best fat to bone ratio. Before purchasing, make sure your short ribs are well-marbled with meaty ribs attached firmly to the bones.
Grilling and oven roasting are not reccommended. You want to smoke or braise short ribs over very low heat; Approximate times are 4 to 5 hours for smoking and 2 hours for braising.
Styles of Beef Short Ribs
Short ribs come in two styles: English style, which are 2- to 4-inch segments with one section of rib bone and flanken style, which is approximately 1-1/2- to 2-inch strips containing multiple bone segments. You may use these interchangeably. English style tends to give a meatier mouth feel.
Basics of Lamb Ribs
Lamb ribs are referred to as riblets. They are extremely fatty and require careful trimming. The best way to cook these are to oven roast or grill them for 40 minutes either way.
Oven roasting ribs means slow cooking and low temperatures. Slow roasting your ribs takes a lot of time but I think well worth the wait!
A tip: Don’t put refrigerated ribs immediately in the the oven; let your ribs stand 30 minutes before roasting to ensure flavorful ribs.
Approximate roasting times: pork baby back ribs and country style ribs, 75 minutes; spareribs and beef ribs, 90 minutes; lamb ribs, 40 minutes.
Approximate times for smoking directions: pork baby back ribs, spareribs, beef ribs, 3 hours; country style spareribs, 3 to 4 hours; beef short ribs, 4 to 5 hours.
Robert Briggs from The Culinary Institute of America’s published Low & Slow: The Art and Technique of Braising, BBQ, and Slow Roasting offers tips and insights into how to handle your ribs before you even put it on a grill.
Briggs recommends when barbecuing ribs, “to pull the membrane, known as silverskin, off the back of the ribs to make them less chewy and to absorb more seasonings.” To do this, Brigg recommends that you cut a slit along the membrane at one end to loosen the membrane, grip it firmly, and peel it off in one go.
Approximate grilling times: pork baby back ribs and country style spareribs, 75 minutes; spareribs and beef ribs, 90 minutes; lamb ribs, 40 minutes.
You’ll want to use a Dutch oven or heavy pot with a bottom for braising ribs. Make sure you don’t stack ribs on top of one another; pieces will not cook consistently. Thoroughly dry ribs before browning. Moist ribs do not brown evenly. Finally, value proper temperature control when braising ribs. If you brown it over high heat, you run the risk of scorching your ribs. Brown on low heat, and you’ll dry out your ribs. It’s best to brown ribs over medium heat for about 3 to 4 minutes per side.
We don't stop at just pork, beef, or lamb!
Ribs Marinades and Spice Rubs
You may want to play around with your own marinades and spice rubs as you grill, braise, and roast your way to ribs nirvana! Although we encourage you to be creative, we've provided you with recipes to draw inspiration from if you need.
Other Guides to Help You Speak Ribs
Click here to read A Buyer's Guide to Ribs for invaluable tips that will come in handy at the meat counter.
Once you have your ribs at home, now what? Click here to read How to Make a Great Rack of Ribs.
We have a wealth of information for how to handle your ribs but its just as important to know what not to do. Do NOT par boil or blanch your ribs before cooking them. No, they do not help tenderize the meat. If anything, it'll make your ribs touger and chewy.
Also, never cut ribs into smaller, individual ribs before you smoke, grill, or roast them. This will dry out the ribs during the cooking process.