spare ribs vs baby back ribs: what is the difference?

Summer is coming and that means it’s barbecue season—and there’s no better time to finally figure out the difference between baby back and spare ribs than the present.

Pork ribs go by many names, depending on the region, but two of the most common in American BBQ are baby back ribs and spare ribs.

Baby Back Ribs

Baby back ribs, also known as back ribs, loin ribs, or Canadian back ribs, are shorter than spare ribs and a full slab has between 11 and 13 bones. Baby back ribs are connected to the backbone and nestled beneath the loin muscle—they get their name from the fact that they’re the most tender and leanest ribs. They’re sometimes called Canadian ribs because Canadian bacon is made from the same loin mean that’s connected to the ribs. (If you want to learn more than you bargained for about different cuts of pork, check out this very detailed and informative diagram.)

Spare Ribs

Spare ribs, also known as St. Louis cut ribs or Kansas City cut, are a flatter, rectangular slab that aren’t as curved as baby back ribs. Spare ribs can be less expensive because they contain more bone and aren’t always in as high demand as baby back ribs. Spare ribs are about three pounds and usually a rack will feed about two people (much of the weight is from the heavy bones). The meat is very flavorful; spare ribs are cut from the end of the baby back ribs, and they’re often meatier than baby back ribs. St. Louis cut ribs are simply spare ribs with the rib tips cut off so that the whole package is a neat rectangular slab.

If you want to dive deeper, read more about spare ribs vs baby back ribs—and how best to cook them both—or hop to some specific recipes below:

Rib Recipes

Hungry yet? Check out our seven recipes for flavor-packed baby back and spare ribs below. If you’re in a pinch,  you can always substitute one cut for the other. Just be sure to adjust the cooking times. (And don’t forget the barbecue sauce. Or the BBQ rib sides, for that matter.)

Smoked Barbecue Baby Back Ribs

The spice mix includes kosher salt, dark brown sugar, chili powder, paprika, black pepper, cayenne pepper, cumin, garlic powder, and ground mustard for a perfect smoky-sweet mix. Get our Smoked Barbecue Baby Back Ribs recipe.

Barbecue Asian Glazed Spare Ribs

The Asian glaze separates these ribs from the rest. The glaze is heavily seasoned with ketchup, soy sauce, rice vinegar, corn syrup, light brown sugar, honey, Dijon mustard, garlic powder, Five Spice mix, and hot sauce. The quantities are also easy to adjust according to your tastes. Get the Barbecue Asian Glazed Spare Ribs recipe.

Easy Barbecue Baby Back Pork Ribs

Easy BBQ Baked Ribs recipe

Chowhound

The rib seasonings combined with the homemade barbecue sauce are what take this recipe to the next level—you can use your favorite store-bought brand if you’re running short on time, but the homemade sauce really makes a difference. But what really makes these easy is the fact that they’re cooked in the oven before being finished on the grill for more flavor. Get our Easy Barbecue Baby Back Pork Ribs recipe.

Related Reading: 11 Oven Baked Rib Recipes for When You Don’t Want to Grill

Slow Cooker Chinese Spare Ribs

The sticky sauce is a combination of hoisin sauce, soy sauce, garlic, honey, Chinese five spice powder, ginger, and some other flavorful ingredients. Made in the slow cooker, they’re super easy. You can garnish the ribs with sesame seeds and freshly chopped scallions for an added touch. Get the Slow Cooker Chinese Spare Ribs recipe.

Korean Kalbi Baby Back Ribs

A Korean take on baby back ribs, this recipe has a sweet and savory mix of onion, garlic, ginger, honey, brown sugar, soy sauce, sesame seeds, green onion, rice vinegar, and dark sesame oil. Get the Korean Kalbi Baby Back Ribs recipe.

Pressure Cooker Spare Ribs

This simple recipe can easily be adjusted to your liking. Utilizing the always-reliable pressure cooker, standard cooking times can be shaved off a few hours for tender, fall-off-the-bone ribs in around 45 minutes. A real winner! Get the Pressure Cooker Spare Ribs recipe.

Slow Cooker Bourbon BBQ Baby Back Ribs

slow cooker ribs

Chowhound

If you have more time, a spell in the slow cooker makes tender ribs too; these have a bold, homemade bacon bourbon BBQ sauce slathered all over them to boot. Get our Crock Pot Rib recipe.

Header image by Chowhound.

Caitlin M. O'Shaughnessy is a New York City–based food writer and editor at Penguin who has worked on and recipe-tested several cookbooks. She is currently in search of NYC’s best ramen, and is one of the few people who admit to disliking brunch.
See more articles