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What are Spare Ribs?

By Amanda Piontek
Updated Feb 23, 2024
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Spare ribs are a popular cut of pork, featured in different cuisines around the world. Spare ribs are cut from the end of the baby back ribs, just above the belly of the pig. There is more bone and cartilage than meat in the typical rack of spare ribs, and it is most common for the ribs to be consumed individually by hand. Spare ribs are often barbecued, steamed, slow cooked, or served with a dry rub or a sauce.

The rib area of a pig is extensive and offers many different cuts that suit a variety of occasions. In addition to the spare ribs, the pig's loin and side also offer baby back ribs, rib tips, bacon, rib roasts and more. Spare ribs contain flavorful meat with lots of marbling and are preferred to baby back ribs by many cooks and chefs. Although the name implies that the ribs are in some way "extra" or "spare," that is not a true statement.

There are many different ways to prepare and serve pork spare ribs in American cuisine. Two popular methods are known as “wet” and “dry.” A wet spare rib is one that is brushed and basted with sauce during the cooking process, while a dry preparation consists of a seasoning rub that is worked into the meat before barbecuing.

Spare ribs are also found in Chinese and Japanese cooking. American Chinese cuisine features ribs in the pu pu platter, an assortment of Chinese appetizers. In Japanese recipes, they are popularly served in a dish known as soki soba. Soki soba is a soup including ribs, soy sauce, sugar, and liquor.

Ribs are a tough cut of meat that require slow cooking on low or over indirect heat. Boiling or steaming the ribs prior to placing them on the grill can both cut down on the overall cooking time as well as tenderize the meat. They can also be placed in liquid and slowly simmered in a technique known as braising.

Although ribs are most commonly cut from pork, beef ribs are also available. Like pork ribs, beef ribs are also tough and require long, slow cooking at a low temperature. The beef cut most similar to the familiar pork spare rib is called the short rib. Many people believe that beef ribs are fattier and chewier than their pork counterparts, while others state that they have more meat and more flavor.

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Discussion Comments

By wavy58 — On Jan 12, 2012

@OeKc05 – I have never eaten dry spare ribs, but I can tell you a bit about wet ones. In my opinion and in the opinion of everyone I know, they are delicious!

The company that catered my office's Christmas party served barbecued spare ribs. They were heavily basted in the stuff, and it had soaked all the way through to the bone. Plus, all the extra sauce on top gets in your mouth and mixes with the meat as you chew.

I can't imagine eating dry ribs. I would imagine they would be pretty tough to chew, but I suppose it's all in how you cook them. If I were you, I would go with wet ribs.

By OeKc05 — On Jan 11, 2012

I've never eaten spare ribs before, so I would like some advice on something. My company is throwing a barbecue next month, and they will be serving both dry and wet ribs. All of us employees are supposed to write down which kind we want so that they can make enough for everyone.

I have no idea if I will even like ribs, much less if I should choose wet or dry. Can I get some opinions on which tastes better? I'm sure different people will have different things to say about each, and that is what I am looking for.

By seag47 — On Jan 10, 2012

I have had Chinese spare ribs at a restaurant before, and they were delicious. They tasted sweet yet salty at the same time, so I'm guessing there was brown sugar and soy sauce in the marinade.

I have never tried Japanese spare rib soup, but it sounds interesting. I never envisioned ribs in soup, because you essentially have to tear the meat from the bone with your teeth. I guess you just have to pull them out of the soup and work on them.

To my knowledge, there is nothing better than Chinese spare ribs with an egg roll and low mein noodles on the side. The flavors go together so well, and I am salivating just thinking about it now.

By Oceana — On Jan 09, 2012

When it comes to spare ribs, pork is always my choice. Eating beef ribs is like gnawing on a hunk of fat, and it is rather disgusting.

There are several parts of pork spare ribs that I spit out. I don't eat the parts that seem to be pure fat. My friends think I'm crazy, because they say this is the best part.

There is just something about chewing fat that nauseates me. It coats my teeth and tongue, and it just feels wrong.

Pork spare ribs at least have some meat that is edible. As you can probably tell, ribs are not my favorite meal, but if I have to eat beef or pork, I will go with pork.

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