BBQ ribs pork

A Guide to the Different Types of Ribs

Ribs are the heart and soul of BBQ culture. That finger-licking meaty goodness can have a different taste based on how you cook and season them. But one more thing can set your recipe apart: there are various types of ribs, and each brings something different to the table. Let’s talk ribs!

Many regions in the US have assimilated ribs into their local identity. You’ll find all sorts of twists on this classic dish from one city to another. Memphis is well-known for its dry-rubbed ribs, often smoked and served without sauce, while Texans prefer their beef ribs smoked over hickory or oak wood.

Let’s remember all those tasty sauces, too! From the Carolina vinegar-based sauces to Alabama’s unique white BBQ sauce, by the time you experience all these regional variations, you’ll be a permanent traveler on the rib train. First, let’s see all the main types of barbecue ribs, what they offer, the best ways to cook them, and more!

Types of Pork Ribs

Pork ribs are easy to find, affordable, and versatile due to their mild flavor that goes well with various dry rubs and seasonings. You have several options to choose from. The chances of getting bored are slim to none. Each type has a unique taste and texture.

Baby Back Ribs

Let’s start with the life of the barbecue party: baby back ribs. Cut from the top of the rib cage, between the spine and the spare ribs, they are a smaller type, about 3 to 6 inches wide. You won’t have trouble finding them; they are great for feeding a crowd.

For a no-fuss BBQ experience, baby back ribs are an excellent choice as they cook fast. They also are lean, tender, and very flavorful, so what’s not to love?

Spare Ribs

Spare ribs are all about that generous, succulent meat. Larger and meatier than baby backs, they come from the belly side of the pig’s rib cage.

They need a longer cooking time to become tender, but once they do, they become a melt-in-your-mouth feast. Spare ribs are the winner if you want more significant portions, a higher meat ratio, or that intense porky flavor.

Moreover, they are slightly cheaper than baby back ribs, making them an affordable treat.

Louis Style Ribs

If spare ribs seem attractive, you’ll probably love St. Louis-style ribs, too. They are spareribs with the sternum bone, cartilage, and rib tips removed to create a uniform rectangular shape.

This gives for a gorgeous presentation, although the consistent shape will also ensure more even cooking.

Country-Style Ribs 

The robust and flavorful country-style ribs are more substantial cuts taken from the shoulder blade end of the loin.

These will give you a meatier, more satisfying bite than baby back or spare ribs. Grill, braise, or slow-cook country-style pork to make their savory pork taste shine.

Budget-friendly and available in most grocery stores, country-style ribs are the best of both worlds: the meatiness of a pork chop and the traditional rib experience.

Rib Tips

Do you know those trimmings left after shaping spare ribs into St. Louis ribs? The rib tips are part of that category. These are the cheapest ways to enjoy rib meat, but they are often overlooked.

Rib tips include meat, small bones, and cartilage at the bottom of the spare ribs. If you are okay with the mixed, chewy texture, this is the right combination for a fantastic flavor. And yes, they cook lighting fast compared to a whole rack!

Types of Beef Ribs

Make the switch from pork to beef ribs, and you’re in for a whole new adventure. The heftier beef ribs need longer to cook and boast a different flavor, so let’s see what the fuss is about.

Back Ribs

It comes from the upper portion of the rib cage and is close to the spine; beef back ribs are known for their tenderness and juicy flavor. These are the same ribs in bone-in ribeye steaks and prime rib roasts.

Back ribs are easy to find and reasonably priced, offering a refined and affordable BBQ experience. These traits make them a popular choice for grill enthusiasts despite the fact they are not the meatiest ribs.

Short Ribs

Also known as chuck short ribs or braising ribs, these are generally cut from the cow’s lower rib area, specifically in the front quarter. They are meaty and have shorter rib bones than plate-short ribs.

Since they are cut in smaller portions, they will cook faster but still benefit from low and slow cooking methods such as braising and smoking. With a bit of patience, their meat will turn tender and delicious.

Flanken-style Ribs

Flanken-style ribs are also from the short rib section of the beef. While short ribs are cut between the bones, the flanken-style ribs are cut through the bone. This makes them thinner than other ribs, about half an inch thick. A quick marinade can infuse a lot of flavor!

Luckily, they are also high in fat, so if cooked properly, the meat will have a specific tenderness. Flanken-style ribs are great for fast cooking methods like grilling or broiling. They are trendy in Mexican and Asian cuisines.

They’re usually reasonably priced and easy to find, so give them a try for a different yet delightful rib experience.

Plate Short Ribs

From the cow’s belly, plate short ribs have a generous amount of meat and are very large. They’re usually around 12 inches long and taste best if smoked or cooked low and slow.

Plate short ribs are pricier, but if you try them once, you will keep buying them. The hearty texture and delicious taste are worth it.

If you know what a Tomahawk steak looks like, you’ve already seen plate ribs. Their bones are the “ax handle” of the Tomahawk steak cut. In this case, the meat is trimmed and used for ground beef. Tomahawk steaks are such a prized beef cut, making plate short ribs a bit scarcer and more expensive.

Types of Lamb Ribs

Lamb’s ribs offer a distinct and memorable flavor. However, the rack of lamb and lamb spare ribs have some unique characteristics.

The Rack of Lamb

This significant cut comes from the upper part of the lamb’s back. Often roasted whole, the rack of lamb is the perfect centerpiece when you’re looking to impress. The refined taste, often described as mild and sweet, and the tender, juicy meat make it a sought-after cut.

As an excellent example of its visual appeal, the rack of lamb is often served as a “lamb crown roast,” which is done by forming two racks into a circle. The impressive display is a great way to mark a special occasion or enjoy a gourmet dinner.

Lamb Spare Ribs

Lamb spare ribs have a more intense, richer taste profile from the belly area. These meaty ribs lend themselves well to marinades and get the best taste and texture with low and slow cooking.

Their generous fat content will slowly render during cooking, infusing the meat with a richness lean cuts don’t have.

You’ll get an indulgent meal from lamb spare ribs, which will be less costly than the lamb rack. The rack is often sold in fine dining establishments and has a premium status, contributing to its higher price.

Cooking Methods For Ribs

The wonderful world of ribs is full of possibilities. Grilling and smoking offer the traditional BBQ experience. Braising and slow cooking produce a cozy, soul-warming meal. Air frying is a quick and healthy way to achieve crispiness with little to no oil. 

Let’s see how these work for ribs and when to use each. Most ribs will come with connective tissue you must cut away before cooking

Grilling

Lean meat types of ribs like baby backs and Louis style turn out beautifully when grilled. Depending on size, they usually take 1-2 hours over medium heat (300 to 350°F).

The exact temperature works well for lamb spare ribs; you can even crank it up to 375°F. It’s worth noting they will cook pretty fast, usually around 30 minutes.

Flanken-style ribs also grill nicely, thanks to their high-fat content. Since they are thinner, grill them over high heat (around 375°F to 400°F) for 5-7 minutes per side. It is that easy!

Smoking

Each rib variety can benefit from smoking. The secret is to smoke your racks or portions at the ideal temperature.

A lower smoking temperature of 225°F to 250°F is suitable for leaner cuts like smoked baby back ribs and portioned but meaty country-style ribs. There’s not a lot of fat to render, so cooking them at higher temperatures could quickly dry them out.

The exact temperature works well for beef ribs, especially more significant cuts like plate short ribs. These will need to cook slowly for several hours (4-6 hours) so most of the fat melts and the connective tissues have time to break down.

Lamb spare ribs are meaty and fattier than the rack of lamb, similar to beef ribs in that way. The 225 to 250°F temperature range is suitable for these too. The meat will take several hours to achieve the perfect texture and smokiness, so be sure to keep an eye on the smoker’s temperature and refuel as needed.

For smoked St. Louis-style ribs, a higher temperature range of 250 to 275°F is recommended. They are thicker and fattier, so they remain naturally tender while the smoker does its magic.

The best wood for smoking ribs differs for everyone, depending on their preferences. You can use a mild fruit wood or a classic medium smoke with oak or achieve an intense smoky flavor with mesquite or hickory. Feel free to play around with your wood choices and try unique blends!

Braising

Beef short ribs are perfect for braising. Cook them in a flavorful liquid at low heat in the oven (around 300°F) for 2-3 hours. This method tenderizes the meat and infuses it with the braising liquid’s flavors.

This method also benefits lamb spare ribs. The low, moist heat will make the succulent and delicious.

Baking/Oven Roasting

Finally, a universal method for cooking all types of ribs! The baking temperature, like grilling and smoking, is the most critical factor here.

Pork and lamb spare ribs do well at a moderate oven temperature (around 275°F to 350°F) for 1-2 hours. To keep them moist, wrap them in foil and remove it 10-15 minutes before they are done.

Beef ribs will need a longer cooking time for the meat to tenderize, up to 3-4 hours.

To roast a rack of lamb, a higher temperature would be better for this mild-flavored, juicy meat. At 400°F, it will take around 20-30 minutes to get cooked but moist meat and a nice crust, depending on the size of the rack and your preferred doneness.

Slow Cooking

You can’t go wrong with low-temperature, slow-cooking ribs. The tougher cuts, or meaty ones like country-style ribs, come out tender and juicy with barbecue sauce slathered on top. 

After 6-8 hours on a low setting (around 200°F to 250°F), you get the perfect, tender, fall-off-the-bone meat!

Air Frying

This fantastic appliance can produce delectable crispy meals in a fast and convenient way. If you like a bit of crispiness on your ribs, this is the easiest way to achieve it without any added oils.

Baby back and St. Louis style ribs are done in about 25-30 minutes, air fried at 380 to 400°F. Flip halfway, though. This is needed to ensure even cooking.

Air fryer country-style ribs will cook a bit faster. At 380°F, air fry these perfectly, which takes around 20-25 minutes. However, lengthen the cooking time if needed: the various air fryers work differently.

Flanken-style ribs become an unforgettable treat in the air fryer. They only need 10-15 minutes at 400°F since they are thin. Not surprisingly, it’s a favorite quick meal in my house.

Internal Temperature Guidelines For Ribs

USDA’s safe minimum internal temperature chart shows that all ribs should be cooked to at least 145°F (63°C) with a 3-minute rest time.

This is the minimum internal temperature as far as food safety goes. The various rib varieties have different doneness requirements to get the best texture.

Pork Ribs

  • Baby Back Ribs – 190°F to 200°F (well done, tender and pulling away from the bone)
  • Pork Spare Ribs – 190°F to 205°F (well done, easy to pull)
  • St. Louis Style Ribs – 190°F to 205°F (well-done, tender, and juicy, similar to spare ribs)
  • Country-Style Ribs – 190°F to 200°F (well-done, tender, and falling off the bone)
  • Rib Tips – 190°F to 200°F (well-done, tender)
  • For a slight chew factor, cook pork ribs only to 160-170°F

Beef Ribs

  • Beef Back Ribs – 200°F to 205°F (well done, very tender)
  • Short Ribs – 200°F to 205°F (well done, fork-tender)
  • Plate Short Ribs – 200°F to 205°F (well done, easy to pull from the bone)
  • Flanken-Style Ribs – 190°F to 200°F (well done, tender with a slight chew)

Lamb Ribs

  • Rack of Lamb – 130°F to 145°F (medium-rare to medium, pink the center with a seared exterior)
  • Lamb Spare Ribs – 145°F to 150°F (medium, tender and juicy)

What To Serve With Ribs

Ribs are an indulgent meal that goes well with so many side dishes! From quick options to reinvented classics, here are some excellent side pairings for ribs:

Vegetable Sides

Veggie sides are perfect for balancing the rich, meaty bones. Oven-roasted corn on the cob is lovely for summer days, as are grilled zucchini and other low-carb vegetables. 

For a delicious flavor contrast, try ribs next to grilled bacon-wrapped asparagus.

Starchy Sides

Classic BBQ sides will add a homey, rustic touch to your meal. A comforting skillet cornbread, a tangy KFC coleslaw, or a refreshing summer pasta salad are always crowd-pleasers.

Other popular side dishes you can serve with ribs include homemade baked beans, easy-baked mac and cheese, or a hearty loaded baked potato salad.

Pasta and Grains

Add a satisfying complement to ribs with a grain or pasta side. Creative recipes such as the garlicky and slightly chewy Israeli Couscous, the luxurious cream cheese polenta, or a healthy quinoa grain bowl provide exciting ways to enjoy ribs.

Pilaf is another versatile dish that comes in many forms and would nicely complement ribs. Try a wild rice pilaf for a unique texture and a mild nutty flavor that goes well with most BBQ meats.

Pickled or Fermented Sides

The zesty, tangy twist of pickles and fermented sides cuts through the richness of the ribs, and making them at home will give you the best kind there is!

Easy recipes such as bread and butter pickles and pickled red onions are universal sides for meat, and you can’t go wrong with having some in the fridge.

BBQ Sauces

Serving a BBQ sauce next to ribs is a tradition deeply rooted in the American BBQ culture. There’s an endless number of recipes, from the sweet and tangy Kansas-style BBQ sauce to the creamy and unique Alabama white sauce, and all of them will make each bite of rib taste even better.

FAQ

What are the most tender ribs?

Baby back ribs are considered to be the most tender ribs. They come from the top section of the pig, where the backbone meets the ribcage.

 

They are small and lean, so they will cook fast, whether you roast, grill, or smoke them.

Which pork ribs are the meatiest?

Country-style ribs will give you the highest meat-to-bone ratio, and they are pretty lean. These ribs come from the shoulder end of the loin and are perfect for grilling, braising, and slow-cooking.

Which ribs have the most flavor?

Spareribs (and the more evenly cut St. Louis-style ribs) are the most flavorful pork ribs. They are fattier than other pork ribs, significantly contributing to their flavor. Also, they take on an impressive variety of seasonings, and cooking methods like smoking and grilling further improve their taste.

 

Plate short ribs are often cited as the most flavorful beef ribs. They have an intense beefy flavor and are very meaty and large. Cooked low and slow, they will produce incredibly juicy and tender meat.

Discover the Different Types of Ribs

Reflecting on the great selection of rib varieties, it’s clear there is a rib type for every BBQ enthusiast.

From the smoky depths of Texas-style beef ribs to the delicate and sophisticated rack of lamb, there’s a lot to explore in the world of ribs.

Trying different rubs, sauces, and woods offers even more variety for your taste buds. Let’s fire up the grill or smoker and celebrate the fantastic tradition of cooking ribs!

This article originally appeared on Pink When.

Ginny Collins
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