Buying good ribs can make you break a sweat, especially if you’re a beginner. After all, the right pork ribs can make or break your Sunday barbeques with friends.
Now every grilling newb is confused about the best ribs to pick. To a beginner and a worshipper of pork meat’s tenderness, the butcher will always suggest pork loin back ribs or baby back ribs.
So, pork loin back ribs vs. baby back ribs: what’s the difference between the two? Let’s first put your panicky mind to rest and make one thing clear – there are no baby pigs involved in the scene.
You’ll notice that the two terms, “pork loin ribs” and “baby back ribs” are often used interchangeably. That’s because they both refer to the same cut of pork meat.
We also refer to them as loin ribs or back ribs. Let’s find out a little more about this piece of deliciousness!
Pork loin back ribs & baby back ribs: Are they the same thing?
Delicious, sticky, fall-off-the-bones meat, held by sauce-covered fingers – you’re almost at a barbeque, right? You see, the “fall-off-the-bones” tenderness is an exceptional quality of loin back ribs.
So what are loin back ribs – and what are pork back ribs? The answers to both are the same.
Baby back ribs or loin ribs are a cut of pork extracted from the top portion of the animal’s rib cage. It is the section where the ribs and the backbone meet, right beneath the loin muscle.
Now you know why the name “loin back ribs” or “loin ribs” is also used for this cut. But then, why is it called baby back?
That’s simply because these ribs are usually short in size and not because they come from baby pigs. The longest bones of the rib are about 11-13 inches, while the shortest ones are only 3-6 inches!
A full rack of baby back ribs is about 1.5-2 pounds and should feed about two people unless you’re really hungry! The loin back meat is lean, tender, and light.
You must note that when we specifically say baby back ribs, we mean the back ribs of pork. But the beef equivalent of baby back ribs is called beef back ribs, which are a lot less tender.
What are other Rib Cuts?
In pork lingo, many cuts are referred to as ‘ribs’. But technically, most of them don’t even come from ribs.
The only other popular slab of meat that actually comes from ribs is the spare rib cut. Spare ribs, also known as the side ribs, are another popular cut of ribs.
This variety of pork ribs comes from the lower part of the animal, i.e., the belly, from the section below the back ribs. The sections between the ribs are chunkier than the top, and there are more fat and flavors.
Spare ribs are long pieces of meat, weighing about 2.5-3.5 pounds a slab. When you ask the butcher to remove the sternum, cartilage, and tips from this piece, you get a shapelier slab of St. Louis ribs.
Now comes the big question – which is better: baby back or spare ribs?
There’s no one way to answer this because the answer depends on how you like your pork.
If you like leaner, more tender meat which cooks fast, a slab of back ribs is your guy. But if the caveman inside you wants to sink his teeth into a fatty, meaty rib, go for spareribs.
The higher price tag on back ribs is due to the high demand, and not necessarily because they are better. The meat’s nature is such that it’s faster and easier to cook and simply melts in your mouth. Naturally, everyone, especially the beginners, wants to take home the baby back ribs. So if you’re planning to buy back ribs, be prepared for it to burn a hole in your pocket!
What is the best way to cook baby back ribs?
Cooking baby back ribs is one of the greatest joys in the life of a griller. The soft meat can put a smile on the face of every carnivore you feed.
But if you cook your ribs wrong, they can become tough and unpleasant. So, you need to know how to get your ribs just right!
Prepping the Baby Back Ribs
It all begins with prepping. Every slab of ribs has a membrane, and if your butcher hasn’t already removed it, use a knife to separate it from the meat and pull it away.
Pick a spicy, sugary rub to cover the slab and let it rest for a while. Just remember that leaving an acidic rub on the meat overnight can break down the fibers too much and make it mushy.
Cooking Tips of Baby Back Ribs
Back ribs can turn out great, whether they are cooked in the oven, smoker, gas grill, or charcoal grill. You just need to keep the temperature and the timing right.
Oven: After preheating at 250 F, it should take the ribs around 3 hours to cook, with the first 2.5 hours of being baked inside a foil. Follow it up by raising the temperature to 350 F and cook it, uncovered, for another half an hour.
Smoker: In a preheated smoker, cooking ribs takes around 5 hours at 225-250 F, following the 2-2-1 method. The first two hours of direct grilling on the grate are followed by two hours inside the foil, and another hour on the grate again.
Gas Grill: Start by preheating the grill at 300 F before turning off one burner and reducing the heat on the other to medium. Then cook the rack for 3 hours with the lid closed.
Charcoal Grill: After preheating the grill at 300 degrees, replace the top grate after moving some coal or removing some wood chips. Then, place the rack on it and cook for 3 hours.
You can also go for slow cooking at 160 F, which is a safe temperature for pork ribs. You can also follow kitchen queen Martha Steward’s advice and slay the slab in 1.5 hours at 400 F. It’s a good idea to brush the ribs with some BBQ sauce while cooking. But, don’t make the mistake of starting before the 30-45 minutes of cooking – or you’ll end up with burnt sauce bits.
For a newbie in the world of grilling, hearing so many cut names can be confusing. You’ll naturally ask many questions. Are pork back ribs the same as baby back ribs? Are baby back ribs the same as loin back ribs?
Now that you know that they are one and the same, it’s safe to say that you’re equipped to settle the “pork loin back ribs vs baby back ribs” debate. And just like that, you’re no newb anymore!
So, for your next Sunday barbeque, impress your butcher with some confidence – and your friends with juicy ribs to dig into!