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.
For our discussion, we will consider barbecue as the process of slow smoking meat for several hours. Barbecue is not putting hot dogs or hamburgers on a grill and cooking quickly. Although I am a big fan of ‘grilling’ steaks, burgers and brats, this would be considered grilling to the barbecue purist. The term most often used by barbecue purists is cooking ‘low and slow’. Grilling steaks and burgers, the typical temperatures are 300 degrees and up (much higher for searing steaks). The optimal temperature for smoking is in the 225-250 degree range.