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Baby Back Ribs

post #1 of 29
Thread Starter 
I have been purchasing baby back ribs in cryovac packaging and they have been OK to make. I smoke them after putting on a rub. It seems that they are fatty internally. I remember one time I purchased a package labeled baby back Loin ribs. Does anyone know if there are two different cuts of baby backs or was it prepared for sale differently? I ask because those ribs came out unbelievably good as compared to pretty good for the packages that just said baby back ribs.
post #2 of 29
More details on cook times and temps would help. I cook spares all the time and most of the fat renders out during cooking. As far as I know both cuts are the same. Some info here Pork Rib Selection - The Virtual Weber Bullet on ribs thats pretty accurate.
post #3 of 29
Thread Starter 

baby back ribs

Thanks Mary, The meat site was great. It said there was no difference in ribs. Maybe the fat is not being rendered out. I smoke the ribs for 2-3 hours and then just cook them for 2-3 hours more ususally for a total cooking time of 5-6 hours all at about 225 degrees. I have only been able to get ribs where the rack split in the middle when being picked up once. I was thinking of steaming or boiling the ribs for an hour or so before smoking and then cooking further. What do you think?
post #4 of 29
Don't steam or boil them. Ruins the ribs.

I think you're not getting your ribs as fully cooked as you want to the point where more of the fat will render. Let them go a little longer. Or give them a final few minutes on the grill to get the fat out.

Palace of the Brine -- "I hear the droning in the shrine of the sea monkeys." Saltair
Palace of the Brine -- "I hear the droning in the shrine of the sea monkeys." Saltair
post #5 of 29
If they don't split they aren't done. Are you measuring that temp at the cooking grate or is it one of those built in thermometers? And steaming or boiling ribs is sacrilege!
post #6 of 29
Baby back ribs, back loin ribs, baby back loin ribs -- all the same thing. In the pig, these ribs are attached to the spine and run outside of the loin. When the cut is butchered, the ribs are left attached by the meat, and the spine is removed.

The amount of internal fat varies depending on the breed of pig, how the pig was raised, the age of the pig, and from individual to individual. Your best guide is to look carefully at what you're buying.

Without knowing more about your smoker and your exact technique, it's hard to tell you what, if anything, you're doing wrong. One thing almost all beginners do is open the pit way too frequently to check on progress, "baste," or other non-essential activities. This makes for a waste of fuel, longer cooking times, and drier, tougher product. First Rule: NO PEEKING.

A corollary to the NO PEEKING rule is proper fire control. I need to know more about your cooker, and how you make a fire. One thing that helps with this is, NO PEEKING.

Another common beginner error is to fail to remove the membrane on the back of the ribs. Still, I'd guess that your biggest problem is doing too much, rather than too little. NO PEEKING.

Pre-steaming, boiling, blanching -- all make for a more tender, less fatty rib. Unfortunately, all of these techniques drain most of the flavor from the meat. Most folks who are serious about barbecue regard these practices in the same light as a vampire does garlic. While I take a "live and let live" approach to the way others cook. I would never. Never, ever.

There's some controversy over a technique called foiling. For awhile nearly everyone competing in barbecue competitions foiled nearly everything. The practice is not nearly as common now in competition, and I think many if not most competitors regard it as a way of separating the boys from the men. I don't foil. I never foiled. You should. It's the surest way to get moist, tender ribs out of a small smoker. When you tell me exactly what kind of smoker you use, and what kind of thermometer -- I'll give you everything you need to know for consistently good ribs. One thing I do recommend is, NO PEEKING.

Finally, "breaking" the ribs is not a good test for doneness. Ribs that "fall off the bone" are overcooked. The ideal rib has just a touch of "pull" to it so when the diner takes a bite, she gets a bit -- the rest of the rib doesn't come with it, and the bones doesn't fall out of its sheath. Competition judges test by pulling a little piece off with their fingers -- if the rest of the meat comes with it, the rib will not score well. More to the point, if the meat comes off the bone it will be at least slightly stringy. As the pitmaster and your own most honest critic, your tastes will quickly come to reflect the preference for pull. However your relatives will forever be impressed with "fall off the bone." How you resolve this conflict is a sign of your maturity and grace. Good luck.

A technique that always helps with any style of rib is, NO PEEKING

The proper test is the "bend," or "U" test. Use your tongs to pick up the entire slab from the middle rib. Each end of the slab should point towards the ground in an inverted "U." Once the slab is that flexible, the meat will not get more tender, it will only overcook.

Again, write back with details about your smoker and your thermometer, and I'll describe how to best make it work for you, along wit the right foiling technique for back ribs including times between steps. And oh yes, NO PEEKING.

Welcome to the madhouse,
post #7 of 29
So, let me get this right boar d laze, I'm guessing you recommend that one important part of great ribs is "no peeking"? :lol:
post #8 of 29
I'll have to give that some thought. Hmmmmm. Yes. NO PEEKING is the most important thing any new person can learn about smoking.

Oh, which reminds me, the cooking time from room temp to pass the bend test for a slab of BBs at 225 is very close to 4 hours. FreeFlo's 6 hours indicates a serious temp problem -- most likely caused by a bogus thermometer with bogus placement and plenty of [sigh] peeking.

Unless Flo's using an ECB ("El Cheap Brinkmann" -- Brinkmann's inexpensive bullet smoker) the mechanical fixes for her smoker are easy and not expensive. The cooking techniques are similarly easy.

The good news is that ribs are the easiest of the four most popular smoking cuts (ribs, butt, chicken, brisket); and that between spares and baby backs, BBs are the easiest of those two too.

Just too, too,
post #9 of 29
I disagree. Babybacks have a much narrower window of doneness, very easy to overshoot. Spares are more forgiving even if overcooked.

Palace of the Brine -- "I hear the droning in the shrine of the sea monkeys." Saltair
Palace of the Brine -- "I hear the droning in the shrine of the sea monkeys." Saltair
post #10 of 29
Setting aside any disagreement Phil and I may have on a tangential subject, it's very difficult to blow the timing on the 2, 1, 1 method for BBs, or the 3, 2, 1 method for spares. These methods are one of the few successful barbecue techniques based mostly on time. They work because ribs are fairly consistent and they have built in doneness test scheduling that's gay-rohn-teeed. As I said, I don't use them. But if you have any trouble timing ribs, or with dry ribs, or are just starting out -- you should. No hassle, no pressure, enjoy your own party, look like a champ, success every time.

In my experience, which includes more than three decades of catering, competing, and teaching LOTS of people to 'Q, accidental overcooking is very seldom a problem with ribs. (Except, of course, with runaway fires, but then the problem is much more the fire than the rib plan). Most beginners pay way too much attention to their food to overcook it. In fact, combine the cooking method properly done -- slow, steady, humid -- with the natural impatience of the monkey we call "man," and it's pretty difficult to overcook at all.

I'm waiting for FreeFlo to get back to us with some answers to try and build a relationship and to see if we have to deal with fire control and thermometers first -- after that, I'll post a very comprehensive recipe that includes the methods. But there's no point in talking about any kind of smoking until FreeFlo can get the smoker running at a steady temp close to 225.

That's why the repetition of NO PEEKING. Most folks simply don't realize how long it takes a small cooker to recover from opening the door. Nor do they realize the damage that temperature fluctuation and humidity changes do to the food.

post #11 of 29
Spare taste better too in my opinion. When I say fold and start to crack I don't mean the meat ripping from the bone. The ribs still hold together as a slab. For home use and catering a rib thats a bit more done seems to be preferred by most. I mop once an hour when I flip my ribs (tuning plates on my Klose have a lot of radiant heat).Otherwise the doors stays shut. Cooking time for spares seems to be 3 1/2 to 4 1/2 hours most of the time at 250 degrees which is where my pit likes to settle in and run well. Temp recovery is a tad better for me with 1200 pounds of steel though.:D
post #12 of 29
I prefer spares too. But that's not the point. People love BBs for their "meatiness," and because they perceive them as "leaner." New pitmasters like them because they're easier to learn to cook. That is, they go quickly and need very little trimming.

Large pits are easier and more forgiving than small. Well made pits are easier and more forgiving than cheap. It's funny how almost everything you learned using a small, cheap pit comes in handy with a big, nice pit, but doesn't work the other way around.

Temp recovery is not only better because of the heat storage capacity of all that steel in your Klose, but because you lose a lower percentage of your hot humid air. Mary, think about how much less you have to do with the fire -- once you've got it stable -- in your Klose than in your old SnPP.

Another point your post raises is that the time differences between cooking at 225 and 250 are large.

Klose is among the few best offsets. None better.

post #13 of 29
I pointed out that thermal mass makes a difference. If you don't have it leave the dang door shut :) I have done ribs at the lower temp and have found the slightly higher temps turn out a better product. Seems like the fat renders better. I never foil ribs unless I need to hold them in a cooler (used as a hotbox). Shoulders I will foil once past the stall temp if I need to hurry things a bit. On my SnPP opening the door added 1/2 hour to the cook time so you are right about keeping the door shut! I have done ribs on a weber kettle also (thats a pain in the rear) and there it was even more important to not look unless you needed to add charcoal, and time mopping and flipping for then too.
post #14 of 29
I know you can cook indirectly on those Weber kettles, Mary. Everybody keeps saying you can.

But if you really did ribs well using one of them you have my utmost respect.

They ain't bad for direct cooking. But that's about all you can say good about them, IMO.
They have taken the oath of the brother in blood, in leavened bread and salt. Rudyard Kipling
They have taken the oath of the brother in blood, in leavened bread and salt. Rudyard Kipling
post #15 of 29
I didnt see anything here on Danish vs domestic so I thought I'd chime in.

Danish hogs are about 100 lbs lighter than domestics (I won't even go into breeds)

Their ribs are smaller and leaner. Ours are thicker, heavier and fattier.

Regardless of whether you're using a St Louis, Backrib or Sparerib, you should always remove the skin membrane on the backside. This allows the rendered fat to escape.

Same as beef, the rib can come attached to the loin (think bone in ribeye/ribloin) or just as a rack alone. The baby back is the thinnest part of the rib, the St Louis is thicker. Different meat/lean/bone ratios require slightly different techniques to cook properly.

IMHO, the backrib s the tastiest part.

The term 'babyback' was simply a marketing term the Danes invented because their hogs were smaller and produced a smaller back rib, hence babyback

Cat Man
post #16 of 29
[quote=Cat Man;222550]I didnt see anything here on Danish vs domestic so I thought I'd chime in.

Danish hogs are about 100 lbs lighter than domestics (I won't even go into breeds) Cool.

Usually true, but depends on breed and wholesaler. We have a lot of boutique framers here and all sorts of different sizes. In fact, ribs are usually graded by weight of a full slab. For instance, "3 and down" refers to a full slab of spare ribs with a certain trim (chine off, tip on) 3 pounds or less.

Removing the membrane before cooking allows you to season both sides of the rib. It does not make any difference in "rendering," or the eventual fattiness or greasiness of the ribs. Removing the membrane makes for a rib that is much easier and neater to eat, as well as more tender. A lot of commercial sellers who work grills and smokers remove the membrane after smoking by grilling it off -- which it will do quite easily. If you're cookiing the rib "open pit," or just finishing on the grill, and as long as you're not serving "dry," there's no good reason to take the membrane before grilling. Nevertheless, my beginner's recipe includes instruction on taking it off. I think it's usually a good idea.

A slightly different aspect of trimming is the decision to remove the "skirt" from the back of spare ribs.

Sort of, sometimes and it depends, no and WTF? Your anatomy is wrong or at least confusing. In a pig, the first few front ribs of the spare rib primal were originally attached to the sternum (aka chest bone aka chine). The remaining ribs are attached to the backbone. Unlike in humans the back and chest ribs do not run towards one another. The back ribs start farther towards the tail of the animal and are attached to the spine at one end (duh); and, at the other end to one another by several strips of cartilage connected by muscle (the tips). All of the ribs, chest and back, are attached to one another by interstitial muscle (the rib meat). When a side is butchered, the back ribs are sawn in two where the loin ends and the belly begins. The chest and belly ribs come off as one "primal" cut, the spare ribs. The back ribs are considered a "sub primal" of the loin. The character of the meat is somewhat different. The loin ribs are more subtle, and the spares are heartier.

The term "rack" is ambiguous. It can either mean a full slab of ribs or a metal rack for holding several full or half slabs during cooking. You'd think food and cooking equipment wouldn't get confused. Because the term comes up so often in the same context they do. So, the term "slab" is more often used by pitmasters because it's clearer, while "rack" is used in restaurants. A "slab" or "full slab" is the entire run of ribs on one side, and the number depends on the breed of hog.

There is no particular pork cut for back ribs cut from the "prime" area of the loin comparable to the standing rib, prime rib, or "bone-in ribeye." I've never heard the term "ribloin." In beef, the rib and loin are entirely different primals, with the loin farther toward the tail.

As I said, back ribs aka loin ribs aka baby backs aka BBs, come from a different part of the pig than spare ribs aka spares. To "take" the back rib sub-primal, all of the back ribs are sawn from the spine, with the cut made just outside the spinal flanges, and a second saw cut separates the back ribs from the spares -- leaving a full slab of back ribs. The slab may then be left intact or portioned. When the back ribs are not taken as a slab of ribs, but left attached to the loin -- the loin is usually portioned into chops and sold as "bone-in loin chops."

"Spare ribs" may or may not be sold attached to the sternum aka the "chine." Spare ribs are also taken as the entire slab. Usually by cutting the sternum in half, and freeing the rib cage from the (inner) skin. The spare ribs taper down both in length and thickness from the front to the rear of the animal. If and when the slab of spares is portioned into half slabs -- the half slabs are respectively referred to as "large ends" and "small ends." They roughly correspond to the ribs which were attached to the sternum and the back. The small ends tend to be somewhat meatier than the large and are often sold at a slight price, premium. Since popularity of BBs exploded, it's become common restaurant and meat counter practice to refer to small ends as "most like baby backs." It makes sense because the small ends and the baby backs are really cut from the same rib bone; but in fact, small ends have a lot more in common with large ends than they do with BBs. Go figure.

"St. Louis" ribs refers to trimmed spare ribs and usually, but not always means, chine bone, "tips," "brisket" removed; and "flap" at least partially removed. The term "KC" can mean the same thing or something slightly different. Usage is both regional and idiosyncratic with butchers, vendors and competitors (who do their own trimming). Trust me and not Wiki on this.

Delving more deeply into trimming and terminology, the term "brisket" when referring to spare ribs means the small triangle of meat extending beyond the smallest rib and sometimes includes the smallest ribs (feather bones) if they're tangled (so called "feather bones.") It, like the flap, is removed because it cooks at a different rate than the rest of the rib, often finishing dry and tough without special handling. The tips are usually removed for competition and often for restaurant service because they're messy to eat and somewhat fatty. In my experience, most people like the tips attached.

It's true that BB rib bones are more slender than the bones in a slab of spares. Their bones also generally shorter and more curved. BBs tend to have more meat on the face of the slab, while spares carry most of their meat in the interstices and up towards and into the rib tips. Another difference is that spare ribs carry most of their fat on or near the tips, while BBs don't have tips and are much leaner, generally.

Not really. Different times, but not substantially different techniques for the various cuts.

To each their own. Personally I like both, but have a slight preference for spares. I think most experienced pitmasters feel the same, and would also agree that while BBs have some advantages over spares, taste is not one of them. From the mid-eighties until a few years ago, BBs were the best, and practically the only ribs for competition. About ten years ago, "St Louis" ribs began making a comeback, and are now the most popular comp choice (in the West, anyway). In barbecue classes, when comparing tip-on and tip-off spare ribs with baby backs. The majority of students prefer spares to BBs. The majority of those who prefer spares, prefer tip on.

This may be. "Marketing term" seems really likely. However, I can't find any reference to introduction of the term as either Danish or by the Danish meat industry in the North American market. I'd appreciate any information you have on this.
post #17 of 29
010369 Restaurants May See Baby Back Ribs Shortage

Baby back ribs were developed by the Danish livestock industry about 20 years ago as producers sought a market for what was then considered scrap. They found eager buyers in the United States, and now U.S. farmers have developed a similar product. About half the baby back ribs sold in the United States are from Danish farms. Baby back ribs typically are four inches in length, about two inches shorter than the standard pork rib, because the hogs are smaller when slaughtered.
post #18 of 29
Stay away from anything marketed as "danish" ribs. Things are more bone than meat usually. The weber works very well indirect, turkey cooked that way is still my favorite. Just have to use some foil as a heat shield and make sure your drip pan is big enough.

I always remove the membrane, makes for easier eating and as someone else mentioned it lets me season that side better.

Just stuck a 36 pound case of spares in the fridge for this weekend, and two 7 pound butts. Need to make some sauce for the butts yet today otherwise I am ready to go.
post #19 of 29
If you have this book, you can read about it there too
post #20 of 29
I'm sure I remember loin ribs being served in various restaurants before the mid-eighties. I know I don't remember them as 'Q from before the late seventies. I also know the article is wrong insofar as it claims BBs are generally taken from younger animals -- although this may be a confusingly written comparison between Danish and American ribs and Danish and American slaughtering practices. Here in California the the vast majority of BBs are domestic and from Swift, Exel, or Farmer John. Imported ribs aren't much seen. This may account for some differences in perception.

post #21 of 29
I agree. The Weber excels at high-heat indirect cooking. There are few as good. Ribs can be done very well in a Weber, both indirect and mixed direct/indirect. Low and slow smoking is neither easy nor convenient -- but that's not the only way to cook ribs.


post #22 of 29
Boy, lots of stuff to gnaw on here. I'll just add a few random comments. These days I usually smoke only spares, and grill loin backs in the Weber Kettle with indirect heat. I've heard that 'baby back' refers to sections of loin back ribs that are under a certain weight, maybe 2.25 pounds?

I'm in the crowd that thinks "fall off the bone" is overdone, I like ribs that have a bit of tooth to them.

Be careful when buying pork. The stuff that has various marketing terms on the label like 'Guaranteed Tender' or some such may contain around 15% salt water. This isn't that big of an issue (other than paying for pork and getting water ) for oven roasting, braising with kraut and such, but when using low and slow methods of smoking the treated pork can turn out excessively hammy from the the brine.

One thing I don't like about the increased popularity of loin or baby backs is that it is now harder to find good bone-in pork loin roasts. It is more profitable to take the time to seperate them and sell two cuts instead of selling just the one cut. Drat. The bone in roasts are tastier and juicier as far as I am concerned.

If you are interested in discussion about real barbecue, check out

Food nourishes my body.  Cooking nourishes my soul.
Food nourishes my body.  Cooking nourishes my soul.
post #23 of 29


Where is the said "Very Comprehensive recipe"? By the way, BDL, I thoroughly enjoy reading your posts. Labeling your posts as Entertaining would be a vast understatement. Guess I appreciate reading things written by those who are passionate about writing them.

Compliments to you,
post #24 of 29

Thanks for the kind words. They mean a lot. Here's a link that has a recipe that's good for prepping ribs, then cooking them either according to the 3,2,1 method (spares) or the 2,1,1 method (baby backs) -- both of which including foiling.

If you're already mastered foiling, or are just plain past it, we'll talk dry cooking, brining and more advanced techniques.

post #25 of 29
What is the consensus about Traegers?  My buddy at work just bought one and swears by it.  I would be interested to put my recently very successful BB's and StL. Ribs from my upright propane smoker against his Traeger's end product.  I like the idea of automation, are there downsides to the Traeger?  Should I stick with my upright smoker for the time being or do I need to drop the fairly hefty load of cash down for the traeger to get serious about BBQ this summer? 
post #26 of 29
I sold the big pit (back and shoulder problems and an all wood fire don't mix well plus it made me give up catering) and bought a Traeger 070. It produces a very good product but I think an all wood fire is a tad better. If you go the Traeger route get the digital control (the 225 degree works fine) for more variation in temps. If you want to get real serious go look at a Klose stick burner :lol: I like the Traeger's set it and forget it when doing butts and brisket. I know people who turn out a very good end product with propane pits and wood chunks so it is a personal preference more than anything. The Traeger is an all wood fire but doesn't produce the same smokey taste a stick burner does.
post #27 of 29
Originally Posted by freeflo1 View Post

 I was thinking of steaming or boiling the ribs for an hour or so before smoking and then cooking further.

Here's my technique for boiling ribs.  I slice them into individual ribs, or maybe two rib chunks, depending on the size of the rack.  I put them in a large oven proof pot and roast for about 30 -40 minutes at 425F

I let them cool a bit then pour off any excess fat.  I cover the browned ribs with cold water and slowly bring to a simmer, scraping off any scum that surfaces.  After about an hour of simmering I add stuff like chunks of carrot, celery and onion, maybe black peppercorns.  Sometimes I use garlic, ginger root and lemongrass if the final presentation warrants it.  Then simmer for another hour or two, skimming occasionally.  I pour the liquid through a fine strainer into another large bowl or pot.

The flavor is all in the stock, so at this point I throw the ribs and veggies into the garbage.

Food nourishes my body.  Cooking nourishes my soul.
Food nourishes my body.  Cooking nourishes my soul.
post #28 of 29

Thanks Mary B!  Great info.  I'll definately check out Klose pits.

post #29 of 29
The Weber Smokey Mountain or WSM, is a great choice for a beginner, and even a seasoned pitmaster.  WSMs have won more than their fair share of BBQ competitions, including the most recent  KCBS Team of the year race, was won by a team that uses several WSMs.

dugg82, just rem. while a good cooker/pit can help, great Q is made by great cooks, and they usually can do it on any pit with some practice.

I don't own a WSM, I own an electric MES (Masterbuilt Electric Smokehouse), but I am considering buying a WSM.

BDL, you really provided an awesome reference for Smoking Ribs in this thread, it should be made a BBQ sticky.

The only thing I would add, 321 221, 111111, hut hut, really doesn't matter, the differences in pits, outside ambient, quality of meat, etc, can easily throw off time table cooking.  (Use 321 or 221 as a base line!)  I agree ribs and especially BBacks are easy to get right and they're usually forgiving if you don't get the window just right.  Foiling for novices is a great way to insure success and serve tender, tasty ribs.  When should they go in the foil?  I do two tests, first is pull back, how much pull back is there?  How much of the rib tip is exposed?  I'm looking for a minimum of 1/4" to 3/8" pull back, if you don't have much pull back don't bother with the 2nd check, cook another 30 min.  2nd test is BDL's U test with tongs, to get this right pick up a rack of ribs as BDL tells you above when they are raw, see how flexible they are.  When you test after some pull back, the rack will be more flexible but you don't want as much flex as BDL describes that will come after they are foiled for an hour or two. 
Edited by deltadude - 2/26/10 at 8:36am
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