What Are the Different Types of Ribs for BBQ? Beef, Pork, & More

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When I hear the term BBQ, I’m not going to lie – the first thing that comes to mind is almost always a succulent rack of baby back ribs.

No matter whether you’re the one doing the cooking or you’re the one doing the eating, ribs are a classic and delicious type of BBQ and one of the best types of meat you can smoke.

Odds are however that you’ve only been exposed to very few types of ribs.  Specifically, when most people hear ribs they think of baby back pork ribs – which are definitely a tasty choice and a great option for easy smoking.

While baby back ribs are the most popular and widely available choice, there are many other different types ribs to choose from for your next cookout!

In this post, we’ve rounded up all of the different types of ribs to help increase your knowledge on what’s out there.  By the end, you’ll have a great idea of all of the different types and how you can prepare them.

Different Types of Ribs for BBQ

Here’s our list of all of the types of ribs you can eat!  This is by no means an exhaustive list, as I’m sure there are some exotic rib types out there which don’t appear here.  However, most everything you would find at your local grocer, butcher, or restaurant is listed below.

Types of Pork Ribs

The folks over at amazingribs.com have created a fantastic visualization below for all of the different pork cuts that are out there.  Essentially, pork ribs are most often divided into four different popular cuts:

  • Baby back ribs
  • Spareribs
  • St. Louis cut ribs
  • Rib tips
Photo courtesy of amazingribs.com

Baby Back Ribs

Baby back ribs also go by a few other names – you may hear to them referred to as back ribs, loin back ribs, or Canadian back ribs depending on where you live.

The name “baby back” comes from the fact that these ribs are shorter than spare ribs – and they also are found closest to the spine of the animal as you can see from the diagram above.  Baby back ribs are the leanest and most tender of pork ribs, and are nestled beneath the loin muscle.

A full slab of baby back ribs typically has about 11 to 13 bones.  One end of the rack has longer bones, up to about 6 inches long, and the bones get smaller in length until they reach the short end where the bones are about 3 inches long.  Each bone is slightly curved near one of the tips, which is the side where the ribs met the backbone.

If your butcher does a good job, there will often be about a half inch of delicious, tender loin meat on the top side of the rib rack.

A typical rack of baby back ribs weighs anywhere between 2 and 3 pounds.  About half of that weight, maybe a little bit more, can be attributed to the bones.  For most adults, a rack of baby back ribs is enough to feed 2 people – but I’ve definitely seen hungry people take a full rack down on their own.

How to Cook Baby Back Ribs

The beauty of baby back ribs is that they are not only delicious, they’re easy to prepare too.  Most butchers in my experience will peel the membrane back for you, but if they don’t then use a paring knife to slit and then peel back the membrane on the bottom side of the rack (the side where bones are exposed).

Then, trim any excess fat and season your ribs with your favorite BBQ rub.  I’m from Texas and we like to keep things simple down here – so I typically just rub generously with salt and fresh ground black pepper.

From there, your ribs can go on the smoker.  I usually set the smoker to 275°F and cook for about 3 to 4 hours if I’m trying to go quick.  If you have the time, cooking for 5 to 6 hours at 225°F produces incredible results.  Really you want to cook until the ribs reach 203°F on a probe meat thermometer.

That’s it!  It’s as simple as that.  Serve your baby back ribs with your favorite BBQ sauce to dip in.  If you want to go to the next level, brush your rib racks with sauce before serving them and broil in your oven (500°F) for 3-4 minutes to let a layer of BBQ sauce caramelize on the outside of your ribs.

Where to Find Baby Back Ribs

Since baby back ribs are one of the most popular types of ribs, you can find them just about anywhere.  Most grocers will have them available in their meat section, and butchers or specialty stores will certainly have them too.

Pork Spareribs

Despite how the name might sound, pork spare ribs definitely aren’t expendable.  They’re also not named “spareribs” because the meat isn’t good.  Most often, pork spareribs are comprised of incredibly high quality meat and are actually more flavorful, complex, and rich in taste than baby back ribs.

Spareribs are cut further down the rack of ribs of a hog than baby backs are.  The spareribs run from the edge of where baby backs are cut all the way down to the breast bone.  By nature, the bones themselves of a sparerib rack are larger, and because you get proportionately less meat spareribs are cheaper on a per pound basis compared to baby backs.

Pork sparerib racks usually have 11 to 13 bones and weigh between 2.5 to 3.5 pounds.  The bones are also flatter and straighter than baby back ribs, and the meat has more fat and marbling in it, which help to make the ribs even more flavorful.

How to Cook Pork Spareribs

Process wise, preparing pork spareribs isn’t much different than the process for baby back ribs.  Remove the membrane, season with your favorite rub, and place them on the smoker!

The difference will come in the result.  The higher fatty content will add a deeper and more robust flavor in spareribs.

Where to Find Pork Spareribs

Similar to baby back ribs, pork spareribs are one of the most popular and common types of ribs out there.  You shouldn’t have trouble getting ahold of some at your local grocer, butcher, or specialty store.

St. Louis Style Ribs

St. Louis style ribs are actually found within the pork spare rib cut.  Simply put, St. Louis style ribs are a sparerib rack where the rib tips have been trimmed off.  The result is a neat, tidy, trimmed rack of ribs that are squared off and flat – making them an incredibly easy cut to work with.

One subtle feature of St. Louis style ribs that makes them great to me is that they’re a pretty symmetrical looking cut and therefore aesthetically pleasing to the eye.  If you’re looking for a combination of deliciousness and impressive looks, the St. Louis cut is a great choice.

These ribs feature a nice amount of marbling and fat content, so you can be sure that the end results will be tasty and full of flavor.

You can check out our complete, up and close comparison of St. Louis vs Baby Back Ribs right here.

How to Cook St. Louis Style Ribs

St. Louis style ribs can be smoked the same way baby backs or spareribs are if you’re looking for a traditional BBQ rib experience.  If your recipe calls for ribs to be browned or crisped in on a stove top pan however, St. Louis style ribs are ideal because of their straight and flat shape.

As far as rubs go, use your favorite BBQ rub or go Texas style with just salt and fresh ground pepper.

Where to Find St. Louis Style Ribs

For the most part, these ribs are also pretty easy to get ahold of – although this trimmed up cut might be a tiny bit less common to find at a grocer in smaller towns.  Big grocers and almost all butcher shops should be well stocked with St. Louis cuts.  At a minimum, you could also buy spareribs and have your butcher cut the rib tips off.

Pork Rib Tips

There seems to be quite a bit of confusion on the internet about what exactly rib tips are.  Rib tips and riblets are not the same thing.  Riblets are a full length slab that has been cleaved so that the bones are shorter or smaller than normal.

Rib tips on the other hand are strips that have been cut off of the end of spareribs.  Spare ribs are chewy and fairly tough, and rarely if ever served as a main course.  In fact, many butchers find alternate uses for them – most commonly as a component for sausage.

Types of Beef Ribs

When people hear BBQ ribs, pork is most often what comes to mind.  However, if you’ve limited your horizons to only pork ribs then you’re selling yourself short.  Beef ribs are packed with incredible flavor and when prepared properly, can be fall off the bone tender.

One important thing to note with beef ribs: the cage of a steer is pretty darn big.  In fact, the length of a rib bone measured from the backbone to the breastbone can be as long as 3 feet!  With that in mind, it’s very important to understand where exactly your beef is coming from as beef ribs vary quite a bit depending on where you get them from.

Beef Back Ribs

Beef back ribs are very popular in some BBQ cultures and are commonly referred to as dinosaur ribs because of their massive size.  These ribs are actually the leftover bones from the prime rib roast section of the animal.

Prime rib is an expensive cut of beef, and your butcher knows it.  Because of this, they err very much on the side of cutting a generous prime rib section and leave a relatively smaller amount of beef on the bones for back ribs.

It’s pretty common for back ribs to be sold with bone exposed and very little meat on top of the bones.  Most of the meat will be in the fingers between each of the bones.

It’s also not uncommon to see beef back ribs sold individually because they are so large.  The bones are often about 8 inches long and slightly curved.

How to Cook Beef Back Ribs

You can take beef back ribs to the smoker and do a classic BBQ rub treatment on them for delicious results.  But because of the nature of these ribs, there are also a few other tasty preparation methods you can use.  With this type of ribs it’s best to cook on a lower temperature for longer to ensure that your end results are tender enough.

In particular, beef back ribs are great for braising.  The bone marrow is a perfect natural source of flavor to add to the taste of your recipe.

Where to Find Beef Back Ribs

Beef back ribs aren’t particularly hard to find, although most grocery stores likely won’t have them in regular stock.  Butcher shops should almost always have them on hand since they also regularly prepare prime rib roast cuts.

Beef Plate Ribs

Beef plate ribs are widely regarded by BBQ pitmasters as the quintessential rib cut for over the top delicious BBQ.

The meat on a beef rib plate is on top of the bones as opposed to in the fingers.  There is typically about 1 to 2 inches of beef on top of the bones, and make some incredibly delicious BBQ thanks to a high fat content and big time beefy flavor.

How to Cook Beef Short Ribs

While you could also braise beef plate ribs, I think the best way to cook them by far is to BBQ them low and slow on the smoker.  Give this beautiful cut of meat the attention it deserves.

When it cooks low and slow, all of the flavors and tenderness can fully develop for melt in your mouth results.  This cut needs time to render it’s fat down without drying out.

Where to Find Beef Plate Ribs

You’re most likely to find beef plate ribs at a butcher shop.  It’s very rare to find them at a grocery store – and if you’re grocery store has quality short place… I’m extremely jealous.

Less Common Types of Ribs

Lamb Ribs

With lamb ribs, the most common cut you’ll find is a rack of lamb (or rib roast).  It’s essentially the same cut as a bone-in prime rib and is most often roasted.

Bona fide lamb rib slabs are also available at some butcher shops, but they don’t feature very much meat and don’t have a lot of fat either.  Not exactly a winning combination when it comes to BBQing delicious food.

Lamb riblets are cut from the bone heavy end of the lamb’s breast ribs and are a common ingredient in a few Eastern cultures.

Bison Ribs

Bison ribs are a more exotic choice, yet one of the most delicious types of ribs you could ever find yourself enjoying.

They’re pretty hard to find, but when prepared correctly are incredibly tasty.  Bison is actually a leaner and low fat alternative to beef – which makes it healthier overall without sacrificing in the flavor department.

Similar to beef, bison ribs are most commonly cut in either back rib sections or in short rib sections.

Which Type of Ribs Are Best?

Ultimately, the answer to that question is in the eye (or stomach) of the beholder.  Baby back pork ribs are probably the most widely consumed of the different types of ribs, but that by no means makes them the “best”.

If you’re just getting started on your BBQ journey, or are a beginner at using a smoker, then baby back or St. Louis style are two great types to get started with.  They are really hard to mess up, and you can cook some incredible flavor with simple ingredients and a little bit of patience.

Note: check out our post on the best wood for smoking ribs if you plan on using an offset smoker, pellet grill, kamado grill, or any other type of smoker!

Once you have some experience under your belt, it might be time to tackle beef ribs or some less common rib types like lamb or bison ribs.

Final Thoughts

We hope you found this article on the different types of ribs helpful for you – next time you are at the butcher shop you should have a much better idea of the properties of each different cut.

And the next time you have rib leftovers, check out our guide on reheating ribs to get the most out of your seconds.

Which type of ribs is your favorite?  I’d love to hear about it!  Get in touch in the comments section below.