Spare ribs vs. Baby back ribs. What is the difference between the two?
The biggest difference is the size of each rib. The bones found in the spare ribs are flatter and longer. The spare ribs also have more fat, which makes them more flavorful when they are cooked slowly. Baby back ribs have leaner meat. Ribs, in general, are popular cuts of pork and are great for low, slow smoking. Baby back ribs are also called back ribs, loin ribs, or pork loin back ribs. Spare ribs are also called breastbone-off pork spare ribs.
Baby Back Ribs
You will find baby back ribs on the rib of the pig where it meets the spine. They are called baby back ribs because the bones are cut shorter, and are located closer to the back of the pig. It is not because they come from piglets. These ribs come from a grown pig.
Each rack of baby back ribs average 1 ½ to 2 pounds and have 10-13 ribs that are three to six inches long. A rack will generally feed two people. They are very lean and tender. If you smoking ribs for a small group of people you should opt to use baby back ribs.
These ribs are more expensive than spare ribs and are smaller so it would take more of them to feed a larger crowd making the expense more to use baby back ribs. Baby back ribs are lean with less fat so they are healthier. Look for an evenly thick rack. This means that the bones will be uniform and the same size on each end.
The spare ribs are from the section of the ribs around the belly. Since these types of ribs are flatter, they are easier to brown. There is a higher amount of fat plus a lot of bone, making them very flavorful if smoked correctly. Most racks weigh about 2 ½ pounds or more.
They can feed three to four people and are the less expensive of the two types of ribs. The right spare ribs to buy to smoke should have visible fat throughout the rack of ribs. Make sure that the fat is evenly spaced out. You do not want to see any big deposits of fat in one spot.
The evenly marbled fat is what is going to flavor your meat evenly. If you find a large deposit of fat, it will need to be cut out. It will render down, but you will be missing a big chunk of meat and have nothing but the bone where the meat was. Spare ribs are what are left after the bacon has been cut off from that piece of meat. There are generally eleven ribs on a rack, and consist of the cartilage that connects the breastbone and ribs, and the belly ends.
Both of these ribs require slow, low smoking time so they are tender. Spice rubs and sauces adhere to the ribs great. With spare ribs it will take 2 ½ to 3 hours to smoke at 300° F. Baby back ribs will take 1 ½ to 2 hours to smoke at the same temperature. Baby back ribs—the ones best for smoking should have a lot of meat and be about an inch thick. Make sure the membrane is removed, along with any meat that is dangling from the bone side.
Rubs and Sauces for Smoking
When smoking you can use the same rubs and sauces for either type.
- Plain fruit juice—typically they use apple, cherry, and orange juices to spritz on the ribs. When using apple juice, it adds a smoky fragrance with a sour and sweet finish.
- Dry rub seasoning—if you are making your rub, it should some salty, sweet, and spicy ingredients such as salt, cayenne, hickory, brown sugar, and paprika all mixed.
- To get the rub to stick, spray it with olive oil. The olive oil will also give your meat a bit of crunch
- You can also use tomato-based barbeque sauces.
Baby back ribs and spare ribs both are similarly smoked, but just at different times. Both of them, when smoked, call for a good run and some type of sweet sauce that is tomato-based.
This recipe can be used with baby back ribs or spare ribs. The only difference is how long you will need to smoke the ribs. It is for six pounds of ribs so if you have more ribs you will have to adjust the amount of ingredients.
The rub has the following ingredients.
- ¼ cup of light brown sugar, packed
- 2 tablespoons of kosher salt
- 1 tablespoon of chili powder
- 1 teaspoon of mustard powder
- 1 tablespoon of paprika
- 2 teaspoons of ground cumin
Before you put the rub on your slabs of ribs, rub each one with a half of a lemon. Once this is done, add the rub, making sure that you have covered all areas of the ribs. Put them in a zip-lock back if the ribs will fit. You can cut them in half if you want. You can also put them in a pan and cover the pan with plastic wrap or aluminum foil. Refrigerate overnight or at least two hours. Before you put your ribs on in the smoker, let them get to room temperature. If you want to, you can mix 2 tablespoons of Worcestershire sauce with 1 tablespoon of apple cider vinegar and put in a spray bottle. When you place the slabs of ribs in the smoker, spray them with this mixture and again when you turn them over.
In today’s world of smoked meats, the baby back ribs are the more popular of the two ribs. This is because of their meaty texture and their flavorful aroma and taste. They are the ones that you would cook for a family barbeque. With the spare ribs, they are more for a large crowd, like a neighborhood block party.
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