Discover the big differences between Baby Back and St Louis ribs in our comprehensive meat guide. Learn about their unique flavors, textures, and cooking techniques to choose the perfect rib style for your next BBQ.
If you want to go all out impressing your guests at your next backyard barbecue there is nothing better to serve than some perfectly smoked BBQ Ribs. Baby back ribs and St Louis ribs are two of the most popular options for rib cuts, but which one is best?
They are both great choices when it comes to pork ribs but there are a few key differences between the two that are worth noting. Our guide will tell you everything you need to know from where the cuts come from on the pig to which is easier to cook to help you decide which style of ribs to pick for your next BBQ.
The main difference between baby back ribs and St Louis ribs is the area they are cut from on the pig. Baby back ribs come from the upper rib area (closest to the spine) whereas St Louis ribs come from the belly area of the pig towards the breastbone.
This difference in the area they are cut from then leads us to some of their other differences, such as:
- Meat-to-Bone Ratio: Baby back ribs have more meat per bone than St Louis ribs. The bones in a rack of baby back ribs are smaller but have a higher concentration of meat around them.
- Fat Content: Baby back ribs are very lean compared to St Louis ribs which have a much higher fat content and fat marbling due to being surrounded by more connective tissue.
- Flavor: Baby back ribs have a great taste that is complemented by suitable seasoning; however, if they are overcooked, they can become dry and tasteless. St Louis ribs have a strong pork flavor due to the amount of fat surrounding them and can be dressed with a wide range of seasonings and sauces without being overpowered.
What are Baby Back Ribs?
A baby back rack of ribs is made up of around 10-13 ribs that are cut to be between 3 to 6 inches long. Depending on the length of the ribs a rack will weigh 1.5 to 2lbs. The majority of the meat on baby back ribs sits above and below the bones and they have a higher meat-to-bone ratio than spare ribs. baby back ribs will stay juicy and ‘fall off the bone’ tender when cooked properly. They have a mild and slightly sweet flavor which makes them great for pairing with a variety of different sauces or seasonings.
Where are Baby Back Ribs Cut From?
Baby back ribs are cut from the upper section of the back ribs where they meet the spine, which gives them their characteristic curved look. They are sat under the loin section of meat which makes them a lean and tender cut.
Also known as loin back ribs or back ribs, baby back ribs are given that name because they come from the upper back area of the pig, along with the fact that they are smaller and shorter than the other cut of rib, the spare rib.
Dealing with baby back ribs can be a bit of a challenge due to their unique bone structure. Direct heat? Not your friend here. The key is to embrace the indirect heat method, like with our Texas-style smoked baby back ribs.
The key is to stick to the principles of low and slow cooking to ensure even cooking without drying them out. It might mean that the smoke time for baby back ribs is in the 4-6 hour range, but the results are well worth it. Remember, baby back ribs are lean, and we don’t want to lose that precious flavor to overcooking.
To really nail it, wrapping them in aluminum foil halfway through the cook will really help lock in that moisture. Keep a watchful eye on them as they cook; it’s the difference between just okay and lip-smacking good ribs.
What are St Louis Ribs?
St Louis ribs are flat and meaty, consisting of rib bones that come from the belly area of the pig. They are trimmed to be rectangular slabs that weigh upwards of 2.5 lbs. The meat on St Louis-style ribs is mainly found in between the bones and, although they have a slightly lower meat-to-bone ratio than baby back ribs, the extra fat on this cut gives them a tender texture and a stronger flavor.
Where are St Louis Ribs Cut From?
St Louis ribs are cut from the belly portion of the pig under the breastbone. They are a spare rib cut that has been trimmed down so that the breast bone and cartilage are removed, giving a better-presented cut and more meat for your money.
St Louis ribs got their name from the style of trimming spare ribs to make them more uniform and rectangular, which was developed in the St Louis, Missouri meat packing factories in the 1930s.
For that authentic St Louis-style ribs experience, it’s essential to follow the traditional St Louis BBQ approach. Begin by liberally applying a dry rub to the ribs, ensuring every nook and cranny is covered. Next, it’s time to smoke them, allowing the ribs to slowly absorb that smoky aroma.
But here’s the St Louis BBQ twist: instead of just relying on hours of smoking, finish them off by generously slathering on some BBQ sauce. This method isn’t just about the smoke; it’s the harmonious blend of the spicy rub, the smoky flavor, and the rich sauce that truly defines the St Louis-style ribs.
There are plenty of variations on regional BBQ styles and everyone has their own spin that they like to put on recipes. But to stick as close as possible to the traditional flavors, you’ll want to use a tomato-based sauce that has a vinegary tang.
Baby Back vs. St Louis Ribs Differences
Baby back ribs have a distinct curved shape due to being from the part of the rib that meets the spine, whereas St Louis ribs are straighter and flatter as they come from the belly side of the pig. This also makes these two types of pork ribs markedly different in their sizes and meat distribution.
Since the St Louis ribs are cut from an area where the ribs are spread wider, the bones are larger and the meat sits mainly between each bone. Baby back ribs come from a point where the rib bones are closer together and have tapered to meet the spine, making the bones smaller and the meat more concentrated above and below the bone rather than in between.
A full rack of baby back ribs would comfortably feed two people whereas a full rack of St Louis ribs could feed 3 to 4 people.
If you’re planning to cook for a small group of friends then baby back ribs are the way to go but if you want to cater for a busy backyard BBQ, St Louis ribs would be better suited.
St Louis ribs have more fatty tissue surrounding them than baby back ribs which gives them a richer flavor. Baby back ribs have a good but more subtle taste to them, care needs to be taken not to drown them with overpowering flavors.
St Louis ribs can handle stronger flavors without being overpowered making them a great choice for anyone who likes to experiment with different BBQ rubs or sauces.
Baby back ribs can be deliciously tender when cooked correctly. Since the meat is fairly lean, care needs to be taken to ensure it isn’t overcooked and allowed to dry out. St Louis ribs are easier to keep nice and tender due to the amount of connective tissue and fat they have surrounding them but they can also be a bit more chewy.
If you want a rib that’s going to come out moist and tender every time without you having to spend too much time hovering over the grill, St Louis ribs are the best option.
Cooking Technique & Time
St Louis ribs take longer to cook than baby back ribs due to their size. If time is of the essence and you want something that will cook fastest then baby back ribs are the winner, but that comes with the caveat that they will need more attention when cooking.
St Louis ribs do take longer to cook, but thanks to them being fattier than baby back ribs, they can be a bit more forgiving and much less likely to turn out overcooked.
If you’re a grill master and are confident in your skills, then baby back ribs will be no problem. But if you’re still getting to grips with all things grilling, St Louis ribs would make for a more relaxed cooking session.
Since baby back ribs have become a very popular cut to serve in restaurants they have a slightly higher price than St Louis ribs. If you want the best cut of ribs for serving to guests as a main meal then you can’t go wrong with baby back ribs but if you want a lower cost cut that will serve more people at a backyard cookout then St Louis ribs will give you more value for money.