What Is Pork Spare Rib?

Allison Boelcke

A pork spare rib refers to a portion of pork that is removed from the side of the belly of a pig. It typically has a smaller ratio of meat to bones, fat, and cartilage, as compared to other pork ribs removed from different sections of the pig that may contain a higher percentage of meat. Due to the amount of fat and cartilage, pork spare ribs are generally recommended to be cooked slowly over a lower heat in order to allow sufficient time for the fat and cartilage to soften and melt, which may add more tenderness and flavor to the dish.

Pork spare ribs.
Pork spare ribs.

Prior to cooking a pork spare rib dish, it is usually advised to remove the membrane from the ribs. The membrane is a white tissue that coats the outside of the ribs and is thought by some to serve as a barrier that prevents the rib meat from becoming as moist as possible while cooking. It may be removed by inserting a knife between the membrane and meat, and cutting or peeling away the tough outer layer. For additional flavor, spare rib recipes may also recommend coating the ribs in a dry rub, or a mixture of preferred dried seasonings, and letting it refrigerate for an hour up to overnight, so the seasonings can penetrate the meat.

Different cuts of pork, including the spare ribs.
Different cuts of pork, including the spare ribs.

One of the most common cooking methods called for in preparing pork spare ribs is grilling. In order to allow the fat and cartilage time to melt and moisten the meat without overcooking, it is often advised to place the pork spare rib rack over indirect heat, rather than over the top of a flame. Depending on the thickness of the ribs and the exact temperature of the grill, grilling times may range from one to three hours on each side of the rack of the ribs.

Spare ribs are usually grilled.
Spare ribs are usually grilled.

Pork spare ribs may also be cooked using indoor cooking methods. The pork spare rib rack may be covered and baked in the oven until the meat is tender enough to easily pull away from the bones. The dish may also be cooked in a slow cooker, an electric covered cooking device that uses low heat and trapped condensation to gently cook food. Baking and slow cooking will typically result in tender meat, but will not have the smoky flavor or charred outer coating that is produced by grilling.

A pork spare rib may be eaten plain, but is also often covered in barbecue sauce before serving. Barbecue sauce ingredients vary widely depending on the cuisine, but common sauce bases include molasses, tomato, mustard, or vinegar. The ribs are generally served on the bone to be eaten with the hands, but the meat may also be cut away from the bones before serving to make consuming easier and less messy.

Barbecue pork spare ribs are a perennial favorite at outdoor summer parties.
Barbecue pork spare ribs are a perennial favorite at outdoor summer parties.

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Discussion Comments


There's a Chinese restaurant in my town that serves their version of pork spare ribs as either an appetizer or a special meal. They don't serve the ribs on the bone. Instead, they trim off the pork meat and smoke it for a while. They then wait until the dish is ordered and put the pieces into a deep fryer until they are crisp. The pork spare rib pieces are then brushed with a sweet honey barbecue sauce and packed into a container or served over rice.

As tasty as these Chinese-style pork spare ribs are, I still get a craving for Southern-style ribs from a pit barbecue stand. I also like the dry rub variety, or what we call Memphis style here.


I know some people prefer baby back ribs, but I'm definitely a fan of the pork spare rib. We have a world-famous barbecue joint here, and the pork ribs are incredibly good. They slow cook them for at least 5 or 6 hours before serving. The meat practically falls off the bone. I've tried to cook pork spare ribs at home, but they always come out a little tough. I've heard of people parboiling the entire rack of ribs before slow cooking or smoking, and that seems to take care of the toughness problem.

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