Think of your perfect barbecue. It’s early summer and not too hot, you’re surrounded by friends and family, you’ve got a cold drink in your hand, and the enticing smells of oak pellets and smoked meat is in the air. What’s on the grill? In all likelihood, there’s a rack of ribs on there.
Everyone loves the deep flavor of smoked pork ribs but there’s a dilemma. Should you choose St. Louis-style ribs or baby back ribs on the pellet grill? And what is the difference, anyway? Which are the best type of ribs to smoke? How do you smoke baby back ribs? Today we’ll answer all your questions and talk you through how to prepare delicious ribs every time.
Table of Contents
Tip 1. What are St. Louis-style ribs?
St. Louis-style ribs are the trimmed version of spare ribs. Spare ribs come from the end part of the pig’s rib cage, down at the belly. The usual rack boasts 11 or 12 ribs which are long and have a lot of meat. The butcher takes the spare rib rack, trims off the rib tips, and generally tidies up the cut of meat. You end up with a good-looking piece of meat with all the goodies and none of the gnarly bits.
You can get a spare rib rack just about anywhere, but unless you want to go DIY, you may need to find a good butcher to get a proper St. Louis-style set of ribs. You may need to give them notice of your order. Expect a St. Louis-style rack to weigh somewhere in the 2½ to 3-pound region.
Tip 2. What are baby back ribs?
Baby back ribs are often what you get at restaurants when you order ribs. They are leaner, smaller, and carry less meat than their St. Louis-style cousins. They are also slightly curved. Restaurants like them not just for their leanness but also because they are just more plate-friendly.
Baby back racks have between eight and 13 ribs and weigh anywhere between 1½ to 2 pounds.
Tip 3. Where are St. Louis-style ribs and baby back ribs from on the cow?
While the St. Louis-style ribs come from near the belly of the pig, the baby back ribs are cut from the upper portion of the rib cage near the spine, close to where the loin has been removed. The baby in baby backs comes from their small size and has nothing to do with the age of the pig.
Tip 4. St. Louis-Style Ribs vs. Baby Back Ribs: Taste, Texture, and Fattiness
Let’s dive into the differences between St. Louis style ribs and baby back ribs:
- Taste: neither St. Louis-style ribs nor the smaller baby back ribs will disappoint. When properly cooked both will have a deep, rich porkiness, enhanced by the smokiness of the wood pellet grill.
- Meat: Some might say the meat found on St. Louis-style ribs is just a little tougher than that from baby back ribs but when carefully cooked that isn’t so.
- Fattiness: Louis-style ribs definitely carry more fat but it’s the fat that contributes to the flavor so they are a little fattier but possibly have more flavor.
- Nutrition: Louis-style ribs have 320 calories, 26 grams of fat, and 19 grams of protein in every ¼ pound (4 oz). By comparison, baby back ribs have 230 calories, 18 grams of fat, and 21 grams of protein in a ¼ pound.
Tip 5. Price of St. Louis-Style Ribs vs. Baby Back Ribs
Baby back ribs are more expensive per pound than spare ribs which reflects their meatiness. Because St. Louis-style ribs are well-trimmed spare ribs, you can expect them to be a little cheaper than baby backs, but not by much.
Tip 6. How to Buy the Best St. Louis-Style Ribs and Baby Back Ribs
As with all meat, finding the best ribs usually involves finding a good butcher, though if your only option is the supermarket then opt for the best you can afford. You’re not likely to find St. Louis-style ribs in your supermarket – there’s just too much work involved, so you’ll need to head to the butcher if you want authentic St. Louis ribs.
Tip 7. How to Smoke St. Louis-Style Ribs vs. Baby Back Ribs on a Pellet Grill: a Comparison
Let’s say straight away that both styles of ribs can be cooked beautifully in a wood pellet smoker and you can use either in most recipes. But you do have to alter your technique for good results.
The main difference between the two styles of ribs is simply the size. While a St. Louis-style rack might weigh 3 pounds or more, a baby back set of ribs will only go up to maybe 2 pounds on the scales. So cooking times are going to be way different. If the recipe suggests 4 hours for a baby back rack of ribs you will probably need more like 6 hours for a St. Louis-style cut.
You also need to adjust seasoning, especially the amount of kosher salt you use. If you work on the principle of one teaspoon per pound you will be in the right ballpark.
Don’t forget serving sizes. One rack of baby back ribs will feed two people – or one very hungry one! – while a rack of St. Louis-style ribs should suit three, possibly four.
Recommended reading: How to Smoke Baby Back Ribs on a Pellet Grill
Smoked St. Louis-Style Ribs vs. Baby Back Ribs Internal Temp
For both styles, you need the grill set between 250F and 275F and cook until the internal temperature reaches 190-200F – remember your temperature probe is your friend. If you are a newbie, the famous 3-2-1 method is a great place to start. This means three hours of smoking, wrapping the ribs in foil, cooking for another 2 hours, then unwrapping and up the temperature for the final hour. You will want to reduce the times by around a third for the smaller baby back ribs.
Recommended reading: How to Smoke St. Louis Style Ribs on a Pellet Grill
Tip 8. How to Choose the Right Pellet Grill and Wood Pellets
Your pellet grill must be able to maintain an accurate temperature and if you can afford one with built-in internal temperature probes, do. Here are the pellet grills we recommend for most people from our range:
Z Grills Pioneer 450B Pellet Grill is perfect for anyone dipping their toe into the smoking game and offers a sophisticated temperature control system. A step up is our 7002C2E Pellet Grill with its two included temperature probes, or how about the top-class 1000D3E Pellet Grill with three tiers of grates for the ultimate capacity.
What pellets should I use for ribs?
Make sure your wood pellets are high quality if you want consistent heat and trouble-free smoking. Z Grills hardwood pellets are obtained from U.S. mills and are all-natural with no fillers or binders.
Oak is the ‘vanilla’ flavor of wood pellet, producing well-cooked meat without altering the meaty flavor. Hickory is a great choice if you like a deep smoky flavor, while apple, cherry, and fruitwood will always give delicious results.
Tip 9. Smoked St. Louis-style Ribs and Baby Back Ribs Recipe
There are so many great-tasting pork rib recipes but here are 2 of our favorites:
Hickory Smoked St. Louis-style Ribs
- 2 racks St. Louis-style ribs
- ⅓ cup your favorite homemade or shop-bought pork rub
- 4 tbsp olive oil
- Hickory wood pellets
- Place meat on a baking sheet, brush with the olive oil and rub the seasoning well into the racks of ribs. Cover and leave in the refrigerator overnight.
- Preheat your wood pellet smoker to 250 °F and when it has reached temperature place the ribs directly on the grill. Cook for three hours.
- Remove the racks of ribs and place them on a sheet of heavy-duty aluminum foil, bone side down. Wrap tightly with the foil.
- Return the ribs to the grill and cook for a further two hours.
- Remove the racks of ribs again and remove the foil. Turn up the heat to 325 °F and cook the ribs for a further hour.
- Check the internal temperature is over 190 °F, then remove the meat and let it rest for 10 minutes before serving.
Fruit Smoked Baby Back Ribs
- Make the barbecue rub by mixing all the ingredients together.
- Brush olive oil over the ribs then rub in the spice mixture.
- Wrap the ribs in plastic wrap and refrigerate for a minimum of 30 minutes.
- Fill the grill with apple, cherry, or fruitwood pellets, light, and heat to 270 °F
- Unwrap the ribs, place on the grill, and cook for an hour.
- Mix together the apple juice, brown sugar, and barbecue sauce and use this to anoint the ribs every 20 to 30 minutes after the first hour.
- Let rest for 10 minutes before serving.
- The ribs will need around 4 hours of smoking. Once again, check for doneness with a temperature probe.
Tip 10. Conclusion
Which is better, St. Louis-style ribs or baby back ribs? The answer is neither – they’re both delicious and worth trying before you make up your mind. Pork ribs, whether St. Louis-style or baby back, are a barbecue must. Cooked in a smoker they are a must and something to share with friends and family. Whatever equipment and pellets you need, we at Z Grills have got you covered.