Baby Back vs Spare Ribs: The Differences You Should Know

TheGrillingDad Answer: Spare ribs are larger, meatier, and contain more bone and fat than baby back ribs, which many people believe gives them a more robust flavor. Baby back ribs, on the other hand, are smaller, more curved, and are the leanest and most tender of ribs.

Baby Back Ribs

Also known as back ribs, loin ribs, or simply baby backs, baby back ribs come from the upper rib cage. They’re connected to the backbone, just under the loin muscle, and situated directly above the spare ribs. Being shorter than spare ribs is where they get their name “baby” from.

Your average slab of baby back ribs usually weighs around two pounds and contains 11-13 bones. The slab will taper off at one end, with a more pronounced curvature where it meets the spine. More tender and much leaner than spare ribs, baby back ribs weigh less and thus cook faster.

Baby back ribs are smaller and cost more than spare ribs, making them a better choice for smaller gatherings and great for grilling.

Spare Ribs

Also known as spares or side ribs, spare ribs are cut from the section of the rib cage below the baby back ribs. The other edge of your spares comes from the chest, complete with small gristle (known as the rib tips), cartilage, and small bones.

They are larger and flatter than baby backs and tend to weigh in at an average of around three pounds per slab. The meat has more fat marbled through it, with the extra bones and connective tissue combined resulting in more flavorsome, richer-tasting meat.

Spare ribs are cheaper than baby backs, making them a great option for feeding a crowd and great for smoking.

BBQ ribs on the smoker

Which Pork Ribs Are Better?

In terms of texture, baby back ribs are usually the majority winner over spare ribs for most individuals. The thick-cut above the ribs just works so well.

Depending on the cooking process (smoking ribs, as an example), the fat can also melt into the meat, enhancing the flavor.

Baby back ribs are naturally softer and more tender than spare ribs, making them easy to prepare and quick to cook. Therefore, it goes without saying that baby back ribs can be a bit pricier than other pig parts.

Spare ribs are a close contender, though, considering the marbling advantage they have going on. Not only that, but the price is more affordable, too. Since they’re larger than baby back ribs and contain more bone, they do take longer to cook, which is an important consideration.

I’d rather smoke spare ribs and grill baby back ribs.

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Baby back ribs vs spare ribs Facts

Do Baby Back Ribs and Spare Ribs Taste Differently?

Now, this is where it gets interesting.

Meat straight off the bone is obviously a very tasty and wonderful experience, and if you go right into it, it may seem that the two are evenly matched. But the fact of the matter is that baby back ribs are superior in terms of taste for the simple reason that there’s more meat to go around for your spices.

Ultimately, there’s a reason why people want their baby backs. Baby back ribs elevate any barbecue event to a whole new level and can surely impress your guests the moment they see it.

If you don’t manage to get your hands on any, however, going for the spare will also impress — just be sure to add on some extra cooking time.

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Can You Tell The Difference By Looking At Ribs?

The main visual difference between baby back ribs and spare ribs is the thickness and texture of the meat.

For the most part, baby back ribs have a bit of loin meat attached to the top of the main set of ribs. Usually, this loin meat can be cut to leave a bit of fat on top of the meat.

Spare ribs, however, are usually cut flat, leaving the rib exposed. This is because spare ribs usually have more meat in between the bones.

The meat on spare ribs also has more marbling, too, so leaving a thick cut of meat and fat above it may be unnecessary.

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Do You Need To Be Able To Tell The Difference?

To the everyday person, no, you don’t really need to be able to tell the difference. Calling for a “spare ribs vs baby back ribs” war may sound a bit extreme, but like it or not, that’s exactly what it is when it comes to knowing the differences between the two tasty cuts.

The average person could probably care less because, hey, a rib is a rib — and knowing the difference definitely won’t change the fact that it’s going to be devoured either way.

To the rib connoisseur or grill master, on the other hand, baby back ribs and spare ribs mean a world of difference. To them, bringing the wrong type of rib to a barbeque could make for a very interesting discussion.

After all, pork is only second to chicken as the most consumed food in the world. It’s kind of a big deal.

Regardless, being able to recognize the difference between the two can not only be a good conversation starter, but is also knowledge worth having.

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Shawn Hill

Hey, I'm Shawn and I love this site. With a wife and 7 kids, I get most of my grilling practice from feeding my own family. I'm here to help you learn more about grilling, smoking, and backyard BBQ! With almost a decade of manning the grill and helping over 25,000 aspiring grill masters, you're in great hands! I've tried just about every type of grill, accessory, and gadget you can imagine. Because of that, I am here to help guide you to the best of the best and help you save time and money by avoiding the junk.

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