There’s really no difference between pork loin back ribs and baby back ribs – the two are just different names for the same cut of meat. The only difference is what they are known as locally: there’s even a third name for the two called ‘Canadian ribs’.
I first discovered that the two pork cuts were the same when I was preparing for this local barbecue competition years ago. I was at the butcher and asked him for a pound of baby back ribs when he pointed me to some pork loin back ribs. I felt like such a newb when he told me that they were the same, but I get how confusing it can be.
So, today, I thought about running you through absolutely everything you need to know about the cut.
Pork Loin Back Ribs vs Baby Back Ribs
Pork loin back ribs and baby back ribs are different names for the same exact cut. To make the mix even more interesting, some people even call baby backs ‘Canadian ribs’.
Pork loin back ribs are from the area of the hog that connects the loin muscle to the pork rib cage (and backbone). Before people learn that baby back ribs are the same as loin back ribs, they think that baby backs are from baby pigs. I wouldn’t blame you for possibly thinking this too – so why the ‘baby’ in its name?
It all comes down to the baby back pork cut being smaller than another rib type, called spare ribs (more on it later).
You can find a few different bone sizes in pork loin ribs. The shortest bones that you can get in them is usually around 3-6 inches, while the longest ones are 11-13 inches. This of course depends on the size of the hog.
What Are Spare Ribs?
Spare ribs are another pork rib cut, and they are meatier than pork loin ribs/ baby back ribs. They come from the pig’s belly area, so they’re nice and fatty.
There’s actually a special version of spare ribs called St. Louis style ribs: they’re more trimmed down with all the tough cartilage removed. This helps you get a more even cook out of them.
I personally like spare ribs over pork loin back ribs: you just get more meat out of them (that happens to be super juicy). Also, they have way more flavor than pork loin ribs. This comes down to pork loin ribs just not having as much fat. Plus, spare ribs are more affordable and bigger in size which is a plus.
On one final note, let’s talk about how you can tell the difference between pork loin back ribs from spare ribs. You can easily do this from their shapes: a rack of spare ribs is flat and rectangular while back ribs have an almost rainbow-shaped curve. This curved shape actually makes back ribs harder to finish on a strong sear.
Can You Substitute Spare Ribs for Baby Back Ribs or Vice Versa?
For the most part, baby back ribs and spare ribs are interchangeable. However, you have to keep in mind that there is a size difference between the two. There’s more meat in spare ribs compared to baby back ribs, so you’ll have to adjust your serving size depending on the number of people that you will be feeding.
Also, you have to remember that baby back ribs are a more lean meat type. So, the specific recipe that you’re making might need a bit of adjustment if you’re swapping for it.
How Many Racks of Baby Back Ribs Should You Buy?
You usually will get around 13 ribs in a full rack of pork loin back ribs. A rule of thumb is that you need 5-6 pork ribs to feed a person.
So, if you’re going to be feeding a party of three, you can get away with a single full rack, and a smaller half rack. But if you’re going to be feeding a group of 6 or 7, you’ll need at least two full racks and a half rack.
How Do You Prep Baby Back Ribs?
For the most part, you don’t have to do much to prep baby back ribs. Butcher shops already do all the heavy work and trim the excess fat that’s on them.
But there’s always the chance that your butcher kept the excess fat for you – it’s edible, but this doesn’t mean that it tastes good. It’s a thin membrane on the underside of your ribs: you can use a sharp knife to slice and get rid of it.
I would advise you to dry rub your back ribs before you cook them. You don’t have to do anything too complex for this, as a simple spice rub will be enough. Fortunately for you, I have a recipe that you can use, and it requires the following ingredients:
- 3 tbs. of brown sugar
- 1.5 tbs. of smoked paprika
- 1.5 tbs. of kosher salt
- 1.5 tbs. of black pepper
- 1 tsp. of garlic powder
The rub is really simple, so you can always customize it if you want. In fact, I played around with it recently and added more brown sugar, some ground mustard, onion powder, and cayenne pepper for a more complex mix for a St. Louis ribs that I was smoking.
If you’re going to be serving your baby back ribs with barbecue sauce, you might not want the ribs to be that strong. So, you can get away with applying the spices just an hour or two before cooking it. But if there’s no BBQ sauce, then I’d recommend that you go strong with the ribs and marinate them in your rub for about 12 hours.
How Do You Cook Baby Back Ribs?
There are two main ways of cooking ribs, which I talked about below.
1. Grilled Baby Back Ribs
I like using the 2-2-1 method when I’m grilling my baby back ribs. Basically, it’s when you have the ribs on the grill for two hours, take them off and wrap them in foil, and then put them back on the grill for another two hours. Finally, the baby back has to be removed and unwrapped for an hour before being put on the grill again.
You of course need to prep the meat before you do any of this. So, if the fat membrane is still on it, you’ll need a sharp knife to get rid of it. Also, you’ll need to add a spice rub. I already ran you through one of my favorites – it’s super simple and you can customize it and add things like ground mustard and smoked paprika to it.
When it comes to the cooking method, I like using a charcoal grill over a gas grill: you get to add wood chips and add more flavor to the meat.
With that out of the way, here are the steps to follow to cook the baby back ribs:
- Add the loin meat/baby back ribs side down on the gas grill grate (make sure it is set between 225 to 250 degrees Fahrenheit)
- Close the lid and cook for two hours, and then remove the meat and wrap it with two layers of foil. You can spritz it with some apple juice beforehand.
- Add the meat back to the grate for two hours with the lid closed
- Remove the meat and unwrap it, and then add a layer of BBQ sauce – I personally like more smoky sauces like Killer Hog's
- Cook for 15 minutes, apply the sauce on the other side, and then cook for 45 minutes.
- Take the meat out of the heat and let it rest for at least 10 minutes before serving it. This’ll make sure that all of its juices absorb back in
2. Baked Loin Back Ribs
Similar to when grilling back ribs, you also have to trim the fat membrane (if the meat counter didn’t do this), and add your spices if you’re baking.
Once you’ve done all the prep work, you can try the below steps:
- Pre-heat the oven to 275 degrees Fahrenheit
- Place the back ribs on a baking sheet lined with aluminum foil
- Place on a wire rack and cook for 2- 2 and a half hours until the loin meat is cooked properly
- Remove the loin meat and discard the wrapping
- Add barbecue sauce on each side of the ribs as basting sauce
- Place the baby back ribs directly on the wire rack and cook for half an hour
- Brush the ribs with more barbecue sauce, and then set the oven to broil and add the meat to the middle rack
- Remove the meat once the sauce becomes a nice glaze.
- Finally, take the meat out and let it rest for 10 minutes before serving.
Answered below are some popular questions.
1. How Do Beef Ribs Compare to Loin Back Ribs?
Beef ribs are larger, meatier and tend to have a stronger flavor compared to baby back and spare ribs, and are also more tender. Loin back ribs on the other hand are loved for their succulence, mild flavor, and relatively quicker cooking time.
Both baby back ribs and pork loin back ribs are just different names for the same cut of pork from the rib cage area. Many people think that baby back ribs are from baby pigs, but you now know this isn’t the case. They got this name because they’re smaller compared to other rib types.
Apart from pork loin back ribs, you also have another pork rib cut called spare ribs. They come with more flavorful meat as they’re cut directly from the pork belly area.
No matter what you prefer, knowing these distinctions and similarities can take your rib cooking experience to a whole new level.