It was one of those culinary epiphanies. I realized you rarely get great barbecued ribs from a restaurant. They have to come from backyards.
My rib awakening came during the world’s largest barbecue contest, Memphis in May. All it took was that first bite of a grill-smoked rib for me to recognize the real deal. There is nothing like homemade ribs.
And here is the dirty little secret: They don’t take nearly as long as the competition guys would like you to think they do. And they are much simpler to prepare than legend has it.
The most popular ribs to cook are back ribs, but spareribs and St. Louis-style ribs are gaining traction, too. Back ribs are cut from high up on the rib near the spine. Back ribs are meaty, leaner than spareribs and very flavorful. This is the area of the pig from which the tenderloin is cut.
Back ribs usually are sold in either full slabs (13 ribs) or half slabs (7 ribs), and are the most expensive cut of rib. When they come from a pig that was less than a year old, they are referred to as “baby” back ribs. True baby back ribs generally weigh 1 to 11/2 pounds each, which makes them difficult to cook on the grill because they have so little meat.
Spareribs are cut from the belly or side of the pig. Spareribs are longer and fatter than back ribs. While they have less meat, many parts of the country prefer them and the St. Louis-style cut is gaining in popularity. The St. Louis cut is a sparerib trimmed to remove the flap of meat on the underside of the breast bone and squared off to more easily fit on the grill.
Once you decide which type of rib to buy, there are a few things to remember when purchasing your meat. First, make sure each slab weighs at least 2 pounds and that the ribs have a nice layer of meat covering the bone. Slabs of ribs that are factory-cut often have “bone shine,” or areas of the rack where the blade hit the bone and cut off all the meat.