What is a good barbeque day without ribs? Americans, in particular, have made it a culture to invite friends and family over for the weekend for barbeque. Most of the time, it will be delicious, slow-cooked ribs.
Although Americans have claimed Barbeque pork ribs as their own, history has it that Barbados is their place of origin.
In 1493 Queen Isabella instructed Christopher Columbus include pigs in his manifest on his way back to Cuba.
However, fifty years later, Hernando de Soto arrived with 13 pigs at Tampa Bay in Florida.
From there on, Barbeque pork spread throughout the South.
The introduction of baby back ribs and spare ribs, however, is more recent. There is no significant difference between baby back ribs and spare ribs because they are all cut from one ribcage.
The difference comes in from the palace that they are cut from the body of the pig.
You might be forgiven for thinking that baby back ribs come from the ribs of baby pigs: a hilarious thought but a possible one.
Main Differences Between Spare Ribs and Baby Back Ribs
What are baby back ribs (where does baby back ribs come from)
Baby back ribs are removed from the upper part of the pigs. To be precise, the rib cage attaches to the spine at the top of the back around the loin area.
On the other hand, spare ribs are removed from the lower part of the pig’s ribs.
A butcher will run a band saw between the curve of the ribs.
Anything on the lower part of that cut to the sternum is considered as spare back ribs.
Although they are cut from the same ribcage, it is best to note that baby back ribs and spare ribs do not taste the same.
Baby back ribs are smaller and more curved than spare ribs. It is expected to be so since they are cut from the upper part of the body.
They are also leaner and more tender compared to spare ribs.
You will most of the time find that the ribs served in restaurants are the baby back ribs unless it is a barbeque restaurant.
Barbeque needs a little more bone to the meat.
Baby back ribs are more expensive than spare ribs. The expense doesn’t necessarily mean that baby back ribs are better, just because they are high in demand.
Spare ribs tend to be meatier and contain more fat than baby back ribs. For me, that describes delicious.
In terms of looks, spare back ribs look prettier and more appealing to the eye than baby back ribs.
How To Trim Ribs For Smoking or Grilling
The Items you will need to trim your ribs are
- Paper Towel
- Cutting/Chopping board
- Sharp knife
Trimming Spare Ribs
Place the rack on your chopping board facing back up. The backside of the rib is the one with all the places you are going to cut.
On one end of the ribs, you have the actual spare ribs, while on the other end, you have the rib tip side, which is composed of meat and cartilage. There is also a skinny piece of meat, also known as the ‘skirt.’
The skirt runs along the membrane that is at the back of the rack. The skirt is the part that you should remove first.
The skirt usually makes the meat thicker, resulting in it cooking slower.
For easy cutting, ensure that you pull it up and cut as close as possible to the bone.
You also want your knife to lay flat as you cut. The more ribs you cut, the easier it gets.
Once you have removed the skirt, you get to the challenging part, removing the rib tips from the rest of the rib.
If you want to have pretty-looking barbequed ribs, you want to stick with the section with the bones.
Since the actual ribs have bones, they do not bend. Therefore to know where the ribs end and the rib tips start, you can bend the rack a little.
You can then proceed to cut along the top of the bones. Just close to the section where the ribs and the rib tips are joined.
The most challenging part about this section is that the point of separation between the two sections is not on a straight line.
Therefore getting the shape right becomes a little bit of a problem.
I recently learned that the best way to do it is to locate the most extended rib. You can locate the extended rib by feeling the rack with your hands.
You can as well bend the rack to see the longest bone. From this point, I cut my ribs in a shape that is close to a rectangle.
Uniformity is everything; therefore, I trim the edges so that the ribs can look as uniform as possible.
After cutting off the rib tips, do not toss them away. You can put the meat in the freezer and make delicious meals with it later on.
Sometimes you will find that you have excess fat on the ribs. It is your call, but I tend to remove the fat almost wholly.
But you can leave it in a sizable amount or don’t cut it at all if you like fat.
The final step in trimming spare ribs is removing the membrane. The membrane is the waterproof thin white film that covers the back end of the ribs. Its purpose is to separate the cavity area from the muscle area.
If you marinate or cook your ribs with the membrane still intact, it will prevent the seasoning from soaking into the meant.
The prevention will beat the reason why you are adding seasoning in the first place. It will also hold in the fat, which needs to be removed.
Just like removing the skirt, it can be challenging initially, but once you get familiar with it, it becomes a piece of cake.
One can remove the membrane before or after grilling.
If you want to remove it after grilling, you will have to make a few incisions into the rib on the part with the membrane.
Once you do this, the membrane will curl up while cooking, and it is going to be easier to remove.
Places like restaurants use this technique a lot of times since it saves time.
The other way to do it is to remove the membrane before cooking. To do this, you will use a dull kitchen knife and a paper towel.
We do not use a sharp knife because we removing want to cut the membrane before we can remove it.
Take the knife and stick it in between the bones and lift it a little. Then proceed to pull it off using the paper towel to not slip through your fingers, making it hard for you.
It might take you a minute to do this the first time, but it becomes easier when you get used to it.
Trimming Baby Back Ribs
Prepping baby back ribs for smoking is a lot easier than the spare ribs. The only thing you to do is to decide whether you want to keep the membrane or not.
Most of the time, people remove the membrane, which is very easy to peel off using a dull knife and a paper towel.
Just one pull is enough to separate it from the ribs completely. That is unlike the spare ribs, in which you will have to put a little more effort into it.
I prefer to keep the membrane intact. Keeping the membrane intact helps keep the meat together when you cook the ribs, and the meat becomes very soft.
After removing the membrane, you will realize that one end of the meat is very thick while the other is skinny. You want to even out the meat so that when you cook, it cooks evenly.
Cooking The Ribs
There are many ways that you can prepare your ribs. You can put them in an oven, grill them or smoke them.
My personal favorite is smoking them. So I will give you an easy way to cook delicious baby back ribs and spare ribs.
The basics of preparing ribs dictate that you should state your preference and choose a cooking method that will bring you those results.
Some like their ribs very soft and falling from the bones. Others like their meat very compact and chewy.
Either way, you need to ensure that it is well cooked.
I do not think for ribs; you should go for medium-rare. Some people will disagree with that, and I agree to disagree.
The whole point of having ribs is to have them falling from the bone, and to do that, and they have to be well cooked.
Cooking Baby Back Ribs
The first step of preparing baby back ribs is to trim and season. As we have seen already, trimming baby back ribs is very easy.
When preparing the Baby back ribs, I tend to leave the membrane on, as earlier stated, to hold the meat together when cooked.
The downside to this is that it might become papery while smoking, which will be off-putting to some people.
You can smear some yellow mustered on the sides of your ribs. The yellow mustard will help the seasoning stick to the meat.
Adding the mustard is an optional step to skip if you do not like yellow mustard.
For seasoning, you can use any brand that you like. I usually o for one with a salty-sweet taste.
It brings a nice flavor to it. An example of this is the Honey Hog Barbeque rub from Texas.
Another exciting tip that I was taught by my grandpa when making ribs is that you can use a mixture of seasoning moderately to bring out a unique taste. Just ensure that the seasoning does not have anything you do not like.
I stay away from anything with excessive chili. I also like to put a layer of brown sugar on the meat to enhance its sweetness.
After seasoning, you will allow the meat to sit at room temperature for about 30 minutes before you proceed to cook.
When it comes to smoking the ribs, you can choose any grill that fits your liking. There are very many of them in the market that you will be spoilt for choice.
However, it is good to note that one should choose a grill that will give you a good amount of consistent heat and a suitable amount of smoke.
The size of the grill also matters. You do not want a small grill that will not fit the amount of meat you usually grill.
For me, anything that fits six racks of medium-sized ribs is okay. Of course, the larger the grill, the better since you do not have to worry about refilling.
The best way to cook the ribs is to smoke it for three hours, braise it for two hours and finally smoke it for an additional one hour with the sauce on the ribs. Through this method, you will achieve the fall of the bone texture of the ribs.
I believe that slightly overcooking the Baby back ribs makes them taste a lot better. That is just a personal preference.
Suppose you want to chew your ribs a little more the cook them for a shorter time.
Let us say you can do an hour on the braising and one hour or less on the second smoking. If you do lesser time ensue that you allow it to cook.
Cooking Spare back Ribs
Preparing the spare back ribs is just the same as the baby back ribs, with differences in the trimming and cooking time.
Spare ribs take a longer time to cook than baby back ribs. Unlike the baby back ribs, the spare ribs have pieces of cartilage and more bones.
The average time required to prepare an off the bone texture of the spare back ribs is three hours of smoking, three hours of braising, and an hour of the second smoking.
Methods of Cooking
Low and Slow Cooking
Americans most commonly use the low and slow cooking approach. The approach is a simple no-hustle method.
After seasoning your ribs, you put them on a smoker without wrapping or braising in this method.
You will then spritz your meat as it is cooking. People usually use just water, apple cider vinegar, or beer, but you can choose any liquid of your choice.
This cooking method will give you meat that you can chew nicely but will not fall off the bone.
Hot and Fast Cooking.
Just as the name suggests, the hot and fast cooking method involves higher smoking temp[eratures. Since there is a high temperature, the meat will require constant mopping not to burn.
The meat will also be wrapped in aluminum foil o ensure that it is evenly tenderized.
There will not be much smoke in your meat in this method since it is covered with foil. I prefer it that way.
This method also ensures that your meat is cooked quickly, unlike other methods. Usually, within four to five hours, the meat will be ready to be served. Like the low and slow method, The texture of the meat will be firm and not falling from the bone.
Can you Substitute Spare Ribs With Baby Back Ribs?
It might seem like a question with an obvious answer, but ill go ahead and answer it for those who do not know.
Yes, you can substitute baby back ribs for spare ribs. The taste of the ribs might not be the same, but they are interchangeable.
Therefore, if you follow a recipe that requires you to have spare ribs and have baby back ribs, go right ahead and use what you have.
Keeping in mind that you have changed the type of meat, you will need to also to change the cooking time and maybe even some of the spices you will use.
The following are key points to note when using baby back ribs instead of spare ribs and vice versa.
- Since spare ribs are more extensive and contain more bones than the baby back ribs, they will take more time to cook. So you will have to increase or decrease the amount of time cooking depending on what you are substituting.
- Baby back ribs have less bone and more fat to keep them from drying out. Therefore they will not require as much moping as the spare back ribs.
- The best way to cook spare ribs is low and slow since they take longer to cook. However, the Baby back ribs will need a regular check not to overcook or dry off.
- If you want a solid and meaty flavor and do not have spare ribs at your home, you should consider spicing up some baby back ribs containing less flavor. You can use different kinds of rubs that you like.
Ribs are best served during dinner or brunch. It might not be customary for most people to serve them during breakfast, but if it is your thing, you still can.
Since we have seen that you can substitute spare ribs for baby back ribs are vice versa, let us see what you can serve with them.
- Collard greens: Although they are often cooked with smoked ham hocks, you can pair collard greens with smoked ribs. I find the taste to be even better than the one that contains smoked ham hocks.
- Marinated tomato and cucumber salad: Nothing beats a good combination of meat and veggies. Therefore marinated and cucumber salad with ribs is terrific.
- Potato Salad: Any potato salad goes well with ribs. Whether herbed or not, you are surely going to enjoy this meal.
- .Macaroni and Cheese: The smooth texture of macaroni and cheese will blend well with the soft fall of the bone ribs. Macaroni cheese and ribs are a dish that is easy to make and highly enjoyable.
- .Green beans salad: A bowl of blanched beans dressed in mustard and vinegar and some chewy ribs is very delicious.
- Corn and tomato coleslaw.: The perfect recipe for this salad is a mixture of fresh corn, cherry tomatoes, green cabbage, and tart tomatillos. It will be a plus for you if some of the veggies you use are in season.
- Baked Cheese Grits: Baked cheese grits are a fast and easy-to-cook side dish for ribs. To make this side dish, you combine cheddar cheese, eggs, milk, and hot sauce. After that, you will bake it in a casserole container.
- .Pasta salad: A pasta salad with many vegetables and a good dressing is a perfect side dish for ribs. It is a good option because you can play with several vegetables which are in season.
- Corn on the cob: during summer, corn on the cob is the go-to side dish for many meals. There are many options for its preparation. You can boil them, grill them, or use an instant pot for cooking them. Corn on the cob is mostly a dry option compared to others on this list.
- Baked Beans: This list would not be complete without baked beans. They are a classic side dish in many recipes. Due to their tomato flavor, they go well with most dishes. When you accompany ribs with baked beans, you can have your meal for breakfast, lunch, or dinner.
Wrapping it up
So that’s it, folks. You can use Spare ribs and baby back ribs interchangeably, but there are a few things that you do have to take into consideration.
Baby back ribs are tender, have fewer bones, and take lesser time to cook. However, spare ribs have more bones, more cartilage, and more prolonged cooking.
If you like a more meaty flavor with bones and fat and you like to save up a little, then go for the spare ribs. They are my favorite.
If you like fleshy, tender meat and have no problem paying more than an average amount for meat, go for the Baby back ribs.