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Wednesday, July 28, 2010

BBQ BASICS: Back Ribs vs Spare Ribs

Ever go to a barbecue joint and not know whether to get spare ribs or babyback ribs (or as we simply call them, back ribs)? Ever go to the store and wonder why the smaller rack of ribs costs twice as much as the big one?

Both types are delicious and can be barbecued to tender, "clean off the bone" perfection. We at Sizzle Grove don't believe that ribs should "fall off the bone" - it's not pulled pork, it's a rib! Rather, the meat should easily come clean off the bone when you bite into it, rather than fall apart when you pick it up.

Spare ribs are gigantic, meatier, and fattier. They can deliver a great bang for the buck. So why choose back ribs?

Well, back ribs are more of a "guarantee." Their fat content is lower than that of spare ribs, but any fat in them tends to be very well marbled. Additionally, they're a bit smaller, a lot more evenly shaped, and have a consistent thickness all the way through the rack. Therefore, they are much easier to cook than spare ribs.

A rack of back ribs can cook for 2.5 to 3 hours at around 275 degrees to reach perfection. This may be slightly hotter than typical "low and slow" barbecue, but trust us, it works just as well, as long as your smoker or grill is billowing with deliciously fragrant hard wood smoke. But, cook the rack for too long and the ribs will dry out a bit.

On the other hand, a rack of spare ribs may take closer to 4 or 5 hours before reaching perfection. Undercooking will result in some tough ribs. We also recommend trimming the extra flaps of meat off of spare ribs before throwing them into the smoker. This allows a more even shape, resulting in consistent cooking. It also gives you some extra meat to throw on the smoker later, which can be chopped up into boneless spare ribs, just like you get at your favorite Chinese take-out joint. Be sure to have a good meat carving knife on hand for spare ribs, whether you're doing your initial trimming or chopping them up after cooking - the bones can be a bit oddly shaped.

Tips for any kind of ribs: try and remove the "silverskin," or thin membrane underneath the ribs if you can. Just try to poke a boning knife underneath this membrane at the side, grab the membrane in your hand with a paper towel, and attempt to rip it off. It ain't easy, but it will help overall smoke absorption. Another tip for any kind of ribs: when you've barbecued them up and are ready to chop them into individual portions, have the underside of the rack facing you. This way, you can easily see where the bones are separated and where to chop.

Any further questions or comments? Give us a shout in the comment box.

(First and second photos by Sizzle Grove)
(Third photo, raw half rack back ribs, licensed by Creative Commons)

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