Second to ‘what is a boston butt’ the next most frequently asked question relating to barbecue is the difference between spare ribs and baby back ribs. Imagine a circle with the top of the circle being the back bone and the bottom of the circle being the sternum (also known as brisket). Baby back (loin back or back ribs are all interchangeable terms) run from just below the backbone (top) to the midpoint of the circle. Spare ribs continue from the midpoint all the way to the sternum. So each carcass supplies 2 racks (slabs) of baby backs and 2 racks of spares. Since baby back ribs come from the upper part of the pig near the tenderloin, they tend to be much more expensive than spare ribs which are lower on the pig so often deemed less valuable.
Pork is one of the best meats for barbecue. Pork is generally divided into four primal cuts: loin, shoulder, leg and belly. The loin is by far the most tender (and usually most expensive) part of the pig. Loin cuts include loin chop, butterfly chops, tenderloin, sirloin steaks, baby back ribs and the loin roast. In comparison to a cow, the loin chop is the equivalent of a t-bone steak. Shoulder cuts contain the highest level of fat and often make the most flavorful and most economical cuts. Because of the fat content, shoulder cuts are typically best suited for slow cooking at low heat for long periods of time (can we say smoking). Shoulder cuts include the Butt (blade) roast, shoulder chops, stewing pork and picnic roast.