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Baby Back Ribs Vs Spare Ribs [Grill Masters, Pick Your Side]

By: Shivani Choudhary
Updated On: March 15, 2024

There’s nothing quite like the sizzle of ribs on a barbecue, the aroma floating on warm air and whetting your appetite for a succulent, tasty meal. Whether you’re a grilling novice or a seasoned pitmaster, you’ll likely have encountered this classic conundrum: baby back ribs vs spare ribs.

Which is superior? Which should you choose for your next backyard barbecue or family feast? These two popular pork products may seem similar, but in reality, they hold distinct differences in flavor, texture, cooking method, and even nutritional value. And understanding these differences can seriously elevate your next barbecue. So, let’s delve into all you need to know about baby back ribs and spare ribs and find out just which one might end up being your personal favorite.

Also Read: Blue Crab vs. Snow Crab

Baby Back Ribs Vs Spare Ribs [The Basics]

Baby Back Ribs Vs Spare Ribs

Understanding the basic difference between baby back ribs and spare ribs starts with their location on the pig. Baby back ribs, as the name suggests, come from the back or upper part of the pig near the loin, the muscle along the pig’s spine. On the other hand, spare ribs come from the pig’s lower belly and chest area.

What Are Baby Back Ribs?

Baby back ribs, also known as loin ribs or back ribs, are smaller, more tender, and leaner than spare ribs. They typically contain 10-13 curved rib bones, each around 3-6 inches long. Despite their name, baby back ribs don’t come from baby pigs. They’re called “baby” because they’re shorter in comparison to other types of pork ribs.

What Are Spare Ribs?

Spare ribs, also often referred to as side ribs, are larger, flatter, and contain more bone than meat. But don’t let that put you off. These ribs also minister an additional layer of fat, which renders down during cooking to give a beautifully rich flavor that is hard to resist. Each rack of spare ribs contains 11-13 straight bones, the length of which usually varies from 6 to 8 inches.

So, when comparing baby back ribs vs spare ribs, keep in mind that both are fundamentally different cuts from the pig, each with its own set of characteristics.

How about we look at a quick comparison summary?

Baby Back RibsSpare Ribs
Come from the back or upper part of the pig near the loinCome from the pig’s lower belly and chest area
Smaller, more tender, and leanerLarger, flatter, contain more bone than meat
Each rack typically contains 10-13 curved bonesEach rack contains 11-13 straight bones

The Flavor Profile: Baby Back Ribs Vs Spare Ribs

The primary difference between baby back ribs and spare ribs lies in their distinct flavor profiles. This can be attributed to where they are cut from on the pig and their fat content.

Baby Back Ribs

Baby back ribs, also known as loin ribs, come from the upper part of the pig’s rib cage, close to the backbone. They’re often leaner, with a slightly sweeter taste. The meat is tender, falling off the bone when cooked right, which contributes to their higher price tag.

Spare Ribs

On the other hand, spare ribs come from the belly side of the rib cage, below the section of ribs that is cut off to get the baby back ribs. They’re flatter and contain more fat, resulting in a richer flavor profile. These ribs are more robust, chewier, and slightly tougher than baby back ribs.

Cooking Techniques for Baby Back Ribs and Spare Ribs

Cooking Techniques for Baby Back Ribs and Spare Ribs

A key consideration when choosing between these two types of ribs is the cooking method. Both cuts have their quirks when it comes to grilling, smoking or baking.

Baby Back Ribs

  • Grilling: Baby back ribs are relatively quick to cook on the grill given their size and lean nature. I suggest using a low, indirect heat and cooking them for about 1.5-2 hours.
  • Baking: When baking, it’s a good idea to firstly slow-cook your baby back ribs in the oven at a low temperature, then finish them off under the grill for that appealing crispy texture.

Spare Ribs

  • Smoking: Given the higher fat content and tougher texture, spare ribs benefit from a slower, longer cooking process like smoking. This method allows the flavor to develop fully and breaks down the tougher fibers in the meat.
  • Slower grilling or oven roasting: Similar to smoking, slow grilling or roasting in the oven at a low temperature for several hours can yield delicious, flavorful spare ribs.

As a pro-tip, you can use a dry rub or a marinade on both types of ribs a few hours before cooking. This will allow the seasonings to permeate the meat and enhance its flavor. Remember to be patient; good things—especially barbeque—often take time!

Price Point: Baby Back Ribs Vs Spare Ribs

When it comes to the question of baby back ribs vs spare ribs, price can often be a determining factor. The cost of these two types of ribs can vary significantly due to several factors.

Baby back ribs tend to be more expensive than spare ribs. The main reason is the demand and the cut. Baby back ribs are cut from the part of the pig that’s close to the backbone, which also happens to be leaner and tender compared to the belly, from where the spare ribs are cut. The smaller size, increased tenderness, and less fat give baby back ribs a higher price point.

On the other hand, spare ribs are usually larger and have more bone than meat compared to baby back ribs. They’re less expensive, but that doesn’t mean they’re any less flavorful. In fact, spare ribs can contain more connective tissues, which when broken down during cooking, lead to a rich, intense flavor.

Here’s a rough guide to the prices you can expect to find (may vary depending on your location):

ItemsPrice Range
Baby Back Ribs$4 – $7 per pound
Spare Ribs$3 – $5 per pound

Nutritional Value: Baby Back Ribs Vs Spare Ribs

Nutritional Value: Baby Back Ribs Vs Spare Ribs

Considering the nutritional value is another important aspect when comparing baby back ribs vs spare ribs. They’re both packed with protein, an essential macronutrient for your body, but what about the other nutritional components?

Baby back ribs are known for their lean meat, meaning they typically have less fat compared to spare ribs. However, they can also have slightly less protein due to the smaller size and the fact they have more bone relative to meat.

Spare ribs, in contrast, are known for their richness and more abundant fat content, which contributes to their flavorful reputation. This also means they generally hold more calories and therefore might not be the best choice if you’re watching your calorie intake.

Nutritional ComponentBaby Back RibsSpare Ribs
Total Fat1722

Pairing Sides: What Goes Best with Baby Back and Spare Ribs

You’ve got your ribs — baby backs or spare ribs, doesn’t matter, they’re both mouth-watering. But, what’s a barbecue without its fair share of scrumptious sides? The right side dishes can amplify the flavors on your plate and bring balance to your meal.

Baby Back Ribs Side Pairings

  1. Cornbread: Nothing pairs better with the smoky and juicy baby back ribs than a piece of warm, buttery cornbread. Whether it’s baked into muffins, traditional squares, or even a loaf, the slight sweetness of the cornbread pairs perfectly with the rich flavors of the ribs.
  2. Coleslaw: Crisp, creamy coleslaw is a classic side dish for a reason. The tanginess and crunch of this dish provide a refreshing contrast to the deeply flavored ribs.
  3. Grilled Vegetables: Charred peppers, onions, zucchini, or other summer vegetables, offer a healthier balance to the rich ribs. The smoky flavor from grilling these vegetables complements the smoky profile of the baby back ribs.

Spare Ribs Side Pairings

  1. Baked Beans: There’s sort of an unspoken rule that baked beans are almost mandatory with spare ribs. The sweet and savory notes of these beans play off the deep, robust flavors of the spare ribs, making for a hearty pairing.
  2. Potato Salad: A creamy, tangy potato salad can be the perfect counterpoint to the slightly fatty spare ribs. Plus, it’s another barbecue classic you can’t go wrong with.
  3. Corn on the Cob: Slathered in butter, seasoned to taste, and then grilled to perfection — corn on the cob is a delightful side for rich, meaty spare ribs.

Also Read: Top Sirloin vs Ribeye Steak

Frequently Asked Questions

How does the flavor of Baby Back Ribs and Spare Ribs differ?

Due to the higher fat content, spare ribs can have a more intense, porky flavor than baby back ribs. However, baby back ribs are often described as more tender and succulent.

Are Baby Back Ribs or Spare Ribs easier to cook?

The cooking difficulty can depend more on the technique than the rib choice. That being said, baby back ribs are often seen as easier due to their smaller size and quicker cooking time. Spare ribs may require more effort to cook correctly but can yield a more flavorful result.

Why are Spare Ribs usually cheaper than Baby Back Ribs?

The price difference often comes down to demand and location of the cut. Baby back ribs are a popular cut, and they’re taken from a prime spot on the pig, which often leads to a higher price point. Spare ribs, being from a less prime location, usually come at a lower cost.

What type of sauce works well with Baby Back Ribs and Spare Ribs?

Both baby back and spare ribs can pair well with a variety of sauces. However, a sweeter, more gentle sauce often complements the delicate flavor of baby back ribs, while a bolder, tangier sauce can hold up to the robust taste of spare ribs.

Can Baby Back Ribs and Spare Ribs be used interchangeably in recipes?

While they have different flavors and textures, baby back and spare ribs can often be substituted for each other in recipes. However, cooking times and temperatures may need to be adjusted due to the size difference.


Navigating the world of barbecue fare, particularly when it comes to understanding the delectable difference between baby back ribs and spare ribs, can be quite an adventure. But with a little knowledge, you can be confident in your next rib selection, whether you’re at the butcher shop, staring down the options at the grocery store, or even standing at the grill.

Remember, the best choice will always boil down to personal preference – whether you favor the lean, quick-cooking baby back ribs or the flavorful, robust spare ribs. In the end, the enjoyment of barbecue goes beyond the cut of meat; it’s about the joy of cooking, the pleasure of eating, and perhaps most importantly – the people with whom you share the experience. Go ahead, fire up that grill and savor the journey!

Food Lover and Storyteller 🍽️✨ With a fork in one hand and a pen in the other, Shivani brings her culinary adventures to life through evocative words and tantalizing tastes. Her love for food knows no bounds, and she's on a mission to share the magic of flavors with fellow enthusiasts.
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