February 10

Pork Spare Ribs What you need to Know


A full rack of succulent pork spare ribs are a true masterpiece. Hickory smoked and slathered in wet to the bone sauce a good rack of ribs are pure heaven.

Spare ribs are inexpensive and full of flavor making them a great choice for both novice and expert smoker chefs.

Spare ribs are a fatty cut of meat and are well suited for slow smoking. Smoking ribs is not too difficult. Read on to see just how easy it is to make great ribs.

Many smoker chefs, myself included, prefer spare ribs like the St. Louis or Kansas City style ribs over baby backs. Their great flavor and low cost make them hard to beat. 

Spare Ribs … The Basics

Pork spare ribs are traditional slabs of smoked ribs. These ribs are from the belly of the pig, right behind the shoulder. They average 11 to 13 long bones. You’ll find a thin and flavorful covering of meat on top of the bones and between them. 

The classic St. Louis style rack of ribs are a variation of the full slab. They are trimmed with the brisket bone removed. Kansas City style ribs are another variation of the full rack. Kansas City ribs are trimmed even more than the St. Louis style ribs and the hard bone is removed.

Ribs – Bones from the lower half of the hog’s rib cage.
Sternum –The breastbone is on the edge opposite the cut rib bone ends, running parallel to its length.
Point – The boneless triangle of meat at the narrow end of the slab.
Cartilage – On the same edge of the slab as the sternum and connects to the ends of the rib bones. Also called the brisket or rib tips. 
Fell – A thin, tough membrane covering the bone side of the spareribs.
Skirt – The flap of meat-covered membrane on the bone side of the slab.


Preparing a Pork Spare Rib Slab

Making a Kansas City Style Rack

 How do you pick a great rack of ribs? These days it is sometimes hard to do. Many grocery stores package them folded up with any “bad” parts hidden. We suggest going to a butcher shop that will let you see and choose your slab.

You can also try asking the butcher at your local grocery store to let you pick out some unpackaged ribs. Find a nice thick slab that has a little marbling on the meat side.

Let’s get started …

Trim the cartilage and sternum off with one cut. Starting at the wide end of the slab cut off the sternum. Continue cutting removing the cartilage ends from the ribs. 

Next remove the skirt. Lay the knife flat against the rib bones and trim it off. Save the skirt and smoke it as well, it cooks a lot quicker than the rib rack. 

Now it’s time to remove the fell (membrane). To remove it, carefully work the point of a blunt knife or a screwdriver under the membrane to loosen it and start to lift it from the bones. Once you have it started, you can work your fingers under it to completely separate it and tear it away. Starting at one corner of the flap slowly peel the membrane off. You may have to start over if the membrane tears. I use a dry dish rag to keep a good grip on the slippery membrane.  

Finally remove large deposits of fat from the ribs. 

Congratulations, you just created a Kansas City Rack of Ribs! 

Pork Spare Ribs Seasoning

Now it’s time to season your ribs. Season each side of the ribs generously with your favorite dry rub. A little rub goes a long ways. You can also marinate your ribs with a variety of liquids before seasoning. This is really a matter of taste, as ribs cooked correctly do not need a marinade to help tenderize them. Marinades can easily overpower the true taste of the pork.  Plan on marinating anywhere from one hour to overnight. 

Smoking  Pork Spare Ribs

The ribs go bone side up on the smoker grates. Be sure there is no flame, burning wood, or charcoal under the ribs. Remember, indirect heat is the way to go.

It’s important to keep the smoker temperature in the 225-250 degree Fahrenheit range. I prefer 3 pound racks of ribs, they will be done in approximately 3.5 to 4.5 hours at 200 to 225F. Extra meaty or plump ribs may take an extra half hour. Your ribs are done when you can easily pull the meat easily away from the bone. When you can do that take the ribs out immediately.

If you are going to baste your ribs with barbecue sauce, wait until the last 30-40 minutes of smoking. Sweet barbecue sauces scorch easily. Flip the ribs over so the meat side is up. Then baste again.

Choose your favorite smoke flavor, however, hickory smoke is the traditional choice. Some people keep smoke on the ribs for the entire cooking time while others only smoke for the first half, it’s a matter of personal taste.    

After you take the pork spare ribs come out of the smoker it’s time to wrap them. If you seasoned the rack with a dry rub or an oil based marinade use aluminum foil. For tomato based sauces or marinades use plastic wrap. Keep the slab wrapped for about half-an-hour. This gives time for the rib juices and flavors to distribute evenly through the meat.

Now cut the slabs into individual ribs and serve them with your favorite sides.

Return to Finger Lickin’ Rib Recipes

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