Pork Loin Back Ribs vs Baby Back Ribs: Are They the Same?

When it comes to pork loin back ribs vs. baby back ribs, there are no differences - they belong to the same cut!

As the BBQ expert, my friends tend to call me before a cookout to figure out what types of ribs they should be buying. Th most common inquiry is what is the difference between loin and baby back ribs.

In this post I will show you why there isn't a difference and walk you through the minutiae of preparing these ribs to perfection. Let's begin!

What are Pork Loin Ribs?

OK, so the cat is out of the bag - pork loin ribs and baby back ribs are one and the same.

It isn't surprising that you have been duped, however. This is because there are so many cut names for this particular part of the pig. In addition to pork loin back ribs and baby back ribs, they are also known as loin ribs, back ribs, and Canadian ribs.

So, let's break it down for you...

Pork loin back ribs are part of the ribs that are connected to the backbone, beneath the loin muscle. They are curved where they meet the spine.

smoked pork ribs with tomatoes

The reason that they are commonly referred to as baby back ribs is that they are of a smaller size than other ribs - they are not from baby pigs at all!

On average, the longest bones are around 6 inches and these taper down to around 3 inches. A single rib rack has between 11 and 13 ribs. The weight of each rack is around 2lbs, half of this is bone. There is typically about half an inch of loin meat attached to the bones.

Now, you may have noticed that pork loin ribs - or baby back ribs - tend to be the most popular of the pork ribs.

Well, it is famous for its tender meat - it is largely made up of lean meat as well.

Pork Loin Back Ribs vs. Spare Ribs

To make things even more confusing, there are other types of pork ribs. You have spare ribs and St. Louis ribs.

Spare ribs, sometimes known as spareribs, are cut from the belly area of the pig. As such, they are a fairly meaty rib. These ribs are fattier too.

Now, St. Louis style ribs are simply spare ribs that have been trimmed down - most of the breastbone and the cartilage have been removed. As a result, they are thinner, flatter, and more uniform in shape and size.

This makes St. Louis ribs a great deal easier to cook as they cook more evenly. As they have a greater fat content, they taste quite succulent on their own, without too much need for additional flavoring.

Which is Better: Pork Loin Back Ribs or Spare Ribs?

I would argue that pork loin back ribs aren't better than spare ribs or vice versa. Instead, it is all down to preference. Each of these ribs have their own set of pros and cons.

For instance, baby back ribs have a great texture to them as they are very tender ribs. However, they aren't necessarily packed with flavor. This is why they are almost always served with a barbecue sauce of some kind.

There is also the fact that they can be pretty expensive compared to spare ribs. This means that you are contending with a higher price tag when catering to a crowd.

Spare ribs, on the other hand, have a great taste of their own unlike pork back ribs. As mentioned, this is due to the fact that they are fattier. They are also larger in size which means that they can feed a bigger group for less.

Of course, they aren't nearly as tender as baby back ribs.

Can You Substitute Spare Ribs for Baby Back Ribs or Vice Versa?

This is a fair question, one I am asked a lot - so is it possible?

Yes, one type of pork ribs can be swapped out for the other. However, they aren't perfectly interchageable, so you will need to make some alterations along the way.

First, baby back ribs have much less meat on them. Thus, if you are replacing spare ribs with pork loin ribs, then you are going to need to buy more ribs. On the flip side, if you are swapping out baby back ribs with spare ribs, then you can buy less.

There is also the matter of cooking. One of the perks of pork loin back ribs is that they cook faster. Spare ribs, however, have more meat, fat, and connective tissue. As a result, they will automatically take longer to prepare.

How to Cook Pork Loin Ribs?

Pork loin back ribs are quite versatile, which means that there is more than one cooking method for preparing ribs.

When cooking baby back ribs, you can use the oven, smoker, or grill. Some even cook it in a slow cooker. In this post, I will be showing you how to grill pork loin back ribs and cook them in the oven.

How Many Racks of Baby Back Ribs Do You Need?

I want to emphasize that the following recommendations are just that. When shopping for pork loin ribs for your family or a party, it is important to use your own judgement when deciding how much is enough for each person.

As a general rule, a single rack of baby back ribs can feed one, hungry adult. This does depend on the size of the ribs as well as how much loin meat is on the bones.

If your pork loin back ribs aren't the star of the show, you may be able to get away with using one rack for two people.

How to Prep Pork Loin Back Ribs?

For the most part, baby back ribs require very little preparation because much of the excess fat is already trimmed away for you. Some butchers, however, may leave the membrane on the meat when selling it to you.

While the membrane is edible, it can cook down to be pretty tough. This can compromise how tender your pork loin back ribs will end up being. Thus, it is better to remove it before doing anything else with the ribs.

The thin membrane can be found on the underside of the ribs. Use a sharp knife to loosen a portion of the membrane away from the meat. When you have lifted enough of it away, pull it off entirely.

If you want to save yourself some time and hassle, you can get this done at butcher shops beforehand.

Using a Dry Rub

As mentioned, baby back ribs can be a bit short on flavor. This is why I like to apply a spice rub before throwing them on the grill or on the smoker.

My favorite rub recipe is as follows:

  • 3 tbs. of brown sugar
  • 1.5 tbs. of smoked paprika
  • 1.5 tbs. of salt
  • 1.5 tbs. of black pepper
  • 1 tsp. of garlic powder

Of course, this is a very basic spice rub. You can choose to add spices or seasonings according to your own preferences. For instance, some people will include onion powder, ground mustard, and various other components.

It is a good idea to look up several recipes and determine which one you like best.

When Should You Apply the Rub?

Well, this largely depends on if you are serving your pork loin back ribs with sauce or not. If you are using sauce, then you won't require the taste of the ribs to be quite as strong. Due to this, you can get away with applying the spices about two or so hours ahead of time.

On the other hand, if there is no other flavoring, then you are going to need the ribs to stand out. I would advise you to apply the seasoning the night before and allow the ribs to marinate in it for about 10 to 12 hours.

The BBQ Sauce

There are tons of commercial sauces out there, but I have found most of them to be lacking. Of course, if you have a favorite, then go ahead and use that one. Or, you can try a homemade version. There really is nothing quite like it.

One of my favorites are:

  • 2 tbs. of chili powder
  • 1 tsp. of ground black pepper
  • 2 tsp. of kosher salt
  • 2 cups of good quality ketchup
  • 1/2 cup of yellow mustard
  • 1/2 cup of apple cider vinegar
  • 1/3 cup of Worcestershire
  • 1/4 cup of lemon juice
  • 1/4 cup of good quality steak sauce
  • 1/4 cup dark molasses
  • 1/4 to 3/4 cup honey
  • 1 tsp. of hot sauce
  • 1 cup of brown sugar
  • 3 tbs. of vegetable oil
  • 1 medium onion, chopped
  • 4 cloves of garlic, minced
ribs on a platter

Combine the chili, pepper, and salt in one bowl. With the except of the oil, onions, and garlic, combine the rest of the ingredients in a separate bowl.

In a pan, heat the oil and cook the onions and then garlic until fragrant. Add in the dry spices and cook for a few minutes. Then, add in the wet ingredients, stir, and simmer for fifteen minutes.

Strain the mixture, bottle, and keep overnight.

Resting the Ribs

Always let your ribs rest before eating them. I like to let them sit for at least 10 minutes before serving them.

A lot of people assume that you can skip this step because there isn't much meat on the bones with loin back ribs. However, you should definitely let them rest before eating.

Your Guide to Cooking Ribs

Grilled Baby Back Ribs

When grilling baby back ribs, I like to use the 2-2-1 method. This is where you keep the ribs on the grill for two hours, then take them off, wrap them in foil, put them back on the grill, and then cook them for two more hours. Then, the ribs are removed again, unwrapped, and put back on the grill for an hour.

Here is a breakdown of how this should go:

Step 1: Prep the Ribs

Remove the membrane from the ribs and rub down with spices. Place in the refrigerator until the ribs are ready to cook.

Step 2: Get the Grill Started

Although this can be done on a gas grill, I do prefer a charcoal grill for preparing pork loin back ribs. This is because I like to add wood chips to the mix. This gives the baby back ribs a nice, smoky flavor.

The other thing that I do is to set up a section for indirect and direct grilling. You want the baby back ribs to cook slowly to avoid overcooking them. This is why you need to place the ribs over the section without direct heat.

Make sure that the temperature remains between 225 and 250 degrees Fahrenheit.

Step 3: Cook the Ribs

Place the baby back ribs meat side down on the grate. Close the lid and cook for two hours. Remove and wrap with two layers of foil. Spritz with apple juice beforehand if you want.

Place the meat back on the grate for two hours - keep the lid closed.

Remove and unwrap. Place on the meat side down and apply a layer of sauce. Cook for 15 minutes. Apply sauce on the other side, flip over, and cook for 45 minutes.

Let the ribs rest for 10 minutes before serving.

Baked Loin Back Ribs

Step 1: Prep the Ribs

Trim and season the ribs. Wrap in foil and allow to marinate.

Step 2: Preheat the Oven

Preheat the oven to 275 degrees Fahrenheit.

Step 3: Bake the Loin Back Ribs

Place the wrapped ribs on a baking sheet lined with aluminum foil. Then, place on a wire rack and cook for two to two and a half hours until cooked properly.

You can test this by picking up the rack by one end with tongs. If they bend, then it means that it is done.

Step 4: Apply Sauce

Remove the ribs from the oven and unwrap, discarding the wrapping. Liberally apply the sauce to each side of the ribs. Then, place directly on the wire rack and cook for half an hour.

Step 5: Broil the Ribs

Brush the ribs with more barbecue sauce and set the oven to broil mode. Place the ribs on the middle rack and broil until the sauce begins to bubble and caramelize. Remove.

Let the ribs rest for 10 minutes before serving.

So here ends the mystery of pork loin back ribs vs baby back ribs once and for all! They are from the same cut, it is just butchers, chefs, and others have so many different names for them. Once you figure this out, though, the situation becomes a lot less confusing.

Of course, you now know more than that these ribs are the same. You also have detailed instructions on how to prepare them. There is even a recipe for the rub and sauce so you really are all set!

All that is left for you to do is to go ahead and give these tips and tricks a try for yourself!

By Kristy J. Norton
I'm Kristy – a chef and connoisseur of all things BBQ! You can find me either in my kitchen (or someone else's) or at a big outdoor barbecue surrounded by friends and family. In both my professional and personal life I’ve picked up more than a few tips and tricks for turning out delicious food. I consider it a privilege to share it with others!
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