A Study in Ribs: St Louis vs Baby Back Ribs

There are plenty of distinctions with St. Louis vs. baby back ribs including size, popularity, taste, texture, and more.

I love grilling ribs so I learned all about the types very early on in my life. I will now show you what makes each of them special so you can make your own decision.

In this post, I will highlight what they are, how they are prepared, and a whole lot more. Lets get started!

What are Baby Back Ribs?

There are four types of pork ribs - baby back ribs, rib tips, spareribs, and St. Louis ribs. Let's first tackle what baby back ribs are:

delicious pork ribs

These are taken from the parts of the ribs that are attached to the backbone, below the loin muscle. They are curved where the ribs meet the spine. In some instances, the ribs may have about half an inch of loin meat connected to the top.

Contrary to their name, these ribs dont actually come from baby pigs. Instead, they are simply the smallest of the pork ribs, which is why they are called baby back. These are also referred to as pork loin baby back ribs and loin ribs.

What are St Louis Style Ribs?

Now, let's move onto what Louis Style ribs are:

Pork ribs are divided into two sections. One are loin back ribs which are more commonly referred to as baby back ribs. The other section is known as spare ribs.

This is the section of the rib cage that is closest to the sternum. As a result, they usually have some of the breastbone still attached. The thing about spare ribs, though, is that there is a lot of tough cartilage that can be difficult to eat through.

Thus, this chewy cartilage is trimmed away, giving you St Louis style spare ribs. These are far easier to eat and are more uniform in shape and size as well.

The Main Differences Between Baby Back and St. Louis Ribs

Let's take a look at some variations between baby back vs St Louis ribs:

Size and Weight

As you will have already figured out, the main difference here is in size. With baby back ribs, at the longest point, they are about 6 inches long and at the shortest point, they are around 3 inches.

Each rack has around 10 to 13 ribs and weighs between 1.5 and 2lbs and one rack can typically feed a single adult.

As for St Louis style ribs, there are about 13 ribs in a rack and they can be around 5 to 6 inches long. As mentioned, they is more uniformity in their appearance. They can each weigh in at least 2.5lbs. As a result, they can easily feed 2 to 3 people.

It isn't just weight that makes St Louis ribs bigger. No, this type of ribs has more meat on the bones as well. Thus, though, the rib rack may have a similar number of ribs, St Louis ribs are meatier.

Type of Meat

The meat on the bones of these ribs are quite unique to each other as well. Baby back ribs dont just have less meat, they have leaner meat as well. These have a minimal amount of fat. Despite this, it boasts tender meat.

St. Louis ribs have a meaty texture that is fattier as well. Interestingly enough, though, the meat can seem relatively tough compared to that of baby back ribs. When cooked, though, the fat melts and works its way into the meat. Thus, St Louis ribs are just as capable of being tender if prepared properly.

Taste

There is no denying that baby back ribs and St Louis ribs are both delicious! In sheer terms of flavor, though, St Louis style ribs would probably win out. This is due to the fact that it has a higher amount of fat and fat equals flavor.

In general, you will discover that these ribs have a more distinct and notable flavor than baby back ribs. They are also quite succulent which is why they don't need to be seasoned as much. Baby back ribs, on the other hand, require a bit more assistance in the flavor department.

Popularity

Although both these pork ribs are fan favorites, baby back ribs are certainly more popular. This has to do with the tender texture of the meat. Many people also like this meat because it is lean, and as such, healthier.

As baby back ribs enjoy a higher level of popularity, they are also more expensive. This is simply due to the fact that there is greater demand for them. If you are looking for a more economical option, it is better to opt for St Louis ribs as they have a greater amount of meat on their bones too!

Cooking Process

Technically, you can grill, smoke, and bake both baby back ribs as well as St. Louis ribs. In general, low and slow cooking works best for these ribs. This is especially true for St. Louis as the fat needs to render out and tenderize the meat.

pork ribs meal

It can be trickier to cook baby back ribs as they have curved bones. This can make it tricky to cook more evenly. It is also why you should never cook them on direct heat on a grill. Instead, place them on the section with indirect heat.

The process is far simpler with St Louis style ribs as they are flat and have a uniform shape. This makes it excellent for browning the meat first. As they are more flavorful, you need minimal seasoning. Even the BBQ sauce is served sparingly.

You often have to take more care when you prepare baby back ribs. This is because they need to be infused with flavor. They are often soaked in a marinade or have a spice rub applied to them beforehand. It is important to season with kosher salt for the best results.

Then, once they are cooked, they tend to be slathered with barbecue sauce.

Cooking Time

As for how long each type of ribs take to cook, baby back ribs win the title. They are smaller and have less meat on their bones which means that they can cook faster. As for St Louis ribs, it can take you a couple to several more hours to cook the meat.

Which One Works Best for a Crowd?

Both of these types of ribs work well as finger food. They are easy to chow down on. However, which of the two kinds works best for a larger group?

Well, St Louis ribs may seem like the most answer. It is cheaper and has more meat. As such, it is automatically more filling.

That being said, baby back ribs have the advantage of cooking faster. Thus, you can get them off the grill more quickly, ensuring that people are fed. Of course, if you want to keep it economical, you will have to limit the guest list to fewer people.

Can You Substitute One Type of Pork Ribs for the Other?

You can substitute baby back ribs for St Louis style ribs. When doing so, though, you should be mindful of the facts that the baby backs are smaller. As such, you may need to double up on the amount that you are buying.

Conversely, if you swap out St Louis ribs for baby backs, then you should be mindful that the former requires more time to cook. Therefore, you will need to get your cookout started earlier.

If you though that there were more similarities than distinctions between these ribs, think again! Although they both come from similar parts of a pig, there is a whole lot that set them apart. And, now, you know exactly what this is. In turn, choosing the perfect ribs for you will be a breeze!

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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