Butcher's block: Pork ribs

Baby back, country style or side ribs? Learn the different cuts of pork ribs and which are best suited to your cooking style.

By Christine Picheca

Pork rib cuts and recipes
Most everyone loves ribs! While pork ribs are a popular choice when ordering out we don't often consider making pork ribs at home - but why not? Ribs can be an economical and delicious meal for a family dinner. They are also a great choice for entertaining at your back yard barbecue, as finger foods for a football party or make excellent cocktail hors d'oeuvres.

Side ribs
Side ribs are the ribs that extend down the sides of the animal over the belly and have had the breast bone removed. They are less tender than back ribs but are still very flavourful and less expensive. Because they are less tender and have more connective tissue, side ribs will take longer to cook. The secret to cooking side ribs is long, slow cooking either on the grill or in an oven.

Keeping your ribs soft
The desired result is for the meat to fall off the bone - it should not be tough and chewy. Sometimes recipes will call for slow roasting in an oven or boiling before finishing on a barbecue. Both the methods are acceptable, just make sure to not cook your ribs at a roaring boil or a high temperature or you will toughen the meat. Side ribs are also a good choice for braising or work well in a slow cooker. Sometimes these ribs are cut crosswise into strips and then cut into individual pieces as in Chinese-style riblets which work great as hors d’oeuvres. 

Back ribs
Back ribs (or baby back ribs) come from the area of the loin closest to the shoulder. They are the bones that remain when the loin meat is removed. Back ribs are more tender and meaty than side ribs, and therefore also more expensive. When cooking, treat them the same way you would side ribs. Both back ribs and side ribs lend themselves well to a spice rub or a marinade, which helps to break down the connective tissue before cooking.

When cooking ribs, make sure sweet sauces go on the ribs in the last few minutes of cooking or the sugar will burn and char the outside of the meat.  

Country style ribs
Country style ribs are cut from the same loin portion as the back ribs but without the loin meat removed. The loin is butterflied and opened up to create a thick flat piece of meat great for grilling or smoking. As country ribs have more lean meat than rib bone, make sure not to over cook or the resulting meat will be dry and tasteless.

Rib roast

A rib roast is the same as country ribs but the loin has not been opened and is intact. Cooking a loin on the ribs will result in a more flavourful roast - just make sure that the butcher has cut through the chine bone that runs along the spin so that it is easy to cut into slices once it is cooked.

Ready to cook up some racks at home? Here are a selection of rib recipes to get you started.      

Pineapple Ginger Ribs

Smoky Barbecue Rib

Apple Butter Ribs

Chipotle Glazed Ribs

Fall Off The Bone Ribs in Barbecue Sauce

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