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May 10, 2013 04:51 PM

St. Louis vs. baby back ribs

What is the difference between the two? I have a recipe for baby back ribs but can't find any in the markets by me, but they do have St. Louis style ribs. Is there a huge difference between them?

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  1. I wish I knew and I grew up in STL. it was only in the last 5-10 years I came to understand it's the cut, not the method. I'd still prepare them the same way, it's the 'country-style' cut that's the fatty curveball. given the size difference, cooking time might vary (baby-back vs. STL-style).

    1. St Louis ribs are spareribs that have been trimed down, removing what is sometmes refered to as the rib tips. They come from the belly section of the pig, near where the bacon is. Back ribs come from the back side of the pig, near where the loin is. Personaly, I prefer the St Louis as the are a little more subsantial. For most rib recipes, you can subistute one for the other. You will need to adjust your cooking times though.

      12 Replies
      1. re: mike0989

        I guess that explains why in STL there are many M+P joints that specialize in rib tips... long considered 'poor people food' but oh so good.

        1. re: hill food

          Exactly. I have a real soft spot for them, too. Been thinking I need to get some for my Mom's Day treat.

        2. re: mike0989

          That's my understanding too. St Louis are the trimmed down spare ribs. I prefer untrimmed cuz the trimmings are delicious.

          Baby backs are a little different part of the pig. Not the same depth of flavor and won't stand up to long smoke and develop the depth of flavor. They do well with less cooking and are what the chains like Applebees offer as bbq ribs. I want my baby back, baby back..

          I don't know how a trimmed rack of spare ribs came to be called St Louis..and I spent 4 years in St Louis; but that seems to be current usage.

          1. re: 9lives

            That's interesting. I thought 'St. Louis' style referred to the rub/sauce used in cooking them.
            It has been my experience that baby backs had more meat on them.

            1. re: mucho gordo

              "It has been my experience that baby backs had more meat on them."

              Funny, I buy spares because I think they are meatier. That and the fact that they're cheaper and more "forgiving" if you leave them in the smoker for a bit too long. Also, after the St. Louis trim, I have those bits to munch on while waiting for the ribs to finish since they cook quicker.

              1. re: grampart

                Perhaps I'm thinking they are meatier because they are smaller and the meat portion is thicker than that of the longer rib with a thinner meat area. Similar to the difference between a beef rib and short rib.

                1. re: mucho gordo

                  I think they are less meaty, less fatty, and less flavorful. That stupid Chili's commercial way back when made the masses think that baby backs are preferable.

                  1. re: sandylc

                    Well maybe not such a bad thing since it's easy to find spares and the price is right

                    1. re: sandylc

                      Have you tried the babybacks that Costco prepares on their rotisserie? To me, they are the equivalent of a beef shortrib.

                2. re: mucho gordo

                  Here's a link from Weber.

                  Highlights the difference between baby back/spare rib/ St Louis cut.


                  1. re: mucho gordo

                    Nope St. Louis style is the cut

                    I prefer them over back ribs.

                3. re: mike0989

                  < Personaly, I prefer the St Louis as the are a little more subsantial.>

                  I like both, but I like St. Louis just a bit more -- for the same reason as yours.

                4. Thanks for your help! I'll just cook them a little bit longer to make up for the meatier cut and let you know how it works out.

                  11 Replies
                  1. re: _nemo_

                    May actually be quite a bit longer. Baby backs are tender and just need to be cooked through. StL or spare ribs are more flavorful but tougher, and need to be cooked low and slow to tenderize. *Real* BBQ is one way to do this (not the only way), and spare or StL ribs are a classic BBQ cut.

                    1. re: mwhitmore

                      "May actually be quite a bit longer."

                      I think that's simply not accurate. They are very similar cuts and the prep should be very close. I'm of the mindset that whole racks should only be barbecued, and I've done quite a few of both. Sometimes, even side by side. My experience has been that they cook pretty much at the same rate since the meaty parts are done before the collagen has completely melted.*

                      I'm curious though, how have you just cooked baby backs through? Steaming?

                      *See grampart's link below.

                      1. re: MGZ

                        Low heat direct grilling, or indirect grilling. Oven baking or rotisserie should work, too.

                        1. re: mwhitmore

                          Other than the direct heat which I've never done with any rib, that doesn't sound much different than any other rib cut - beef or pork. I simply don't understand what you're sayin' about "just need to be cooked through". Don't you cook St. Louis ribs in the same ways? Have you really noticed a significant difference in cook times? I just haven't experienced that.

                          1. re: MGZ

                            According to Paul Kirk who knows a thing or two about cooking ribs, when smoking them at 230-250 degrees, spareribs take about an hour longer than backribs.

                            1. re: grampart

                              He's probably right, though your link below suggested a 45 minute head start. I've found it to be a fifteen to thity minute (at most) difference, but I use a modified offset and place the SL closer to the heat than the Babys. Plus, I don't keep constant heat, too hard to do with logs and the weather variants at the Shore. I still don't understand "cooked through" even if it's an hour less on the barbecue.

                              1. re: MGZ

                                "Cooked through" isn't a term I use either. In low&slow cooking, "it's done when it's done". When the meat shrinks back on the bone and/or when you lift the rack by one end and it starts to break in the middle....time to eat. Then you have those folks that prefer the meat falling off the bone and those, like me, that like having to use my teeth a bit.

                                1. re: grampart

                                  "Cue's done when cue's done" is kinda a mantra in my house. Mrs. Z, being from rural North Carolina, has that understanding in her blood. I agree with you about havin' a "tooth" to ribs. Besides, whatta I know, I measure my cook times in beers, not minutes.

                                  1. re: MGZ

                                    Gotcha!! That's why I prefer the "more forgiving" spareribs. Especially if I'm smokin' while I'm smokin'!

                                    1. re: grampart

                                      Yep. At some point in life, you realize that it's best to be done with the axe before you start the cook.

                    2. re: _nemo_

                      "I'll just cook them a little bit longer to make up for the meatier cut and let you know how it works out."


                      1. re: grampart

                        Interesting link and a fine addition to the pig rib scholarly literature. I have one methodology issue. He is comparing a 2.5 pound St Louis rack to a 2.5 pound baby back rack. Like comparing a Cornish game hen to a scrawny fryer chicken of equal weight.
                        The St Louis rack that I am cooking this weekend is on the small side, 3.98 pounds. Better that the blogger had compared half (2.5 pounds) of a 5 pound St Louis rack with his rack of baby backs.
                        I sent him an email about it. If I get a reply, I will post it.]

                        1. As a Kansas City BBQ Society (KCBS) judge and competitor, I know a thing or two about all ribs. Spare ribs come from the breast next to the belly. St. Louis ribs are the spare ribs with the tips and chine bone cut off. The cut is made right down the cartilage. Babyback ribs come from the loin area, next to the pork loin. There is less fat in this area and these ribs cook faster. Spare ribs are more meaty and babybacks are less.

                          Some producers will trim babybacks for more meat. But most concentrate on maximizing the loin so the babybacks are a by-product of the process. Those imported Danish babybacks are a by-product of the Danish ham industry. They are THE worst kind of pork ribs you can by, because there is virtually no meat on these. Restaurants like Chili's boasts their ribs as imported to make it sound better than it really is. The truth is they just got a good deal.

                          Spare ribs have more fat and do take longer to cook. When BBQing low and slow, it's about an hour longer for spares. When grilling hot and fast, babybacks make a better choice on the grill. When using spares on the grill, it's ideal to at least let some of the cooking time be indirect or over a low heat. This will help it be more tender.