Pork Loin Back Ribs vs Spare Ribs

This post may contain affiliate links. Please read our disclosure policy.

When it comes to outdoor grilling, the choice between Pork Loin Back Ribs vs Spare Ribs can make all the difference in your barbecue experience. Pork loin back ribs are known for their tenderness and subtle flavor and generally have less meat on them. In contrast, spare ribs offer a heartier, more meaty bite. Understanding these differences in tenderness, meatiness, and flavor is crucial for any BBQ fanatic looking to impress at their next outdoor gathering.

Pork loin back ribs are also referred to as baby back ribs due to their smaller size and location at the back of the pig. Read more in our post about pork loin back ribs vs baby back ribs. Spare ribs are sometimes known as side ribs for their location along the pig’s belly. Both are delicious and, when cooked properly, perfect in their own right.

Side by side of baby back ribs and st. louis style ribs on cutting board.

🐷 What Are Pork Loin Back Ribs?

Pork loin back ribs, or baby back ribs, are a premium cut of pork that comes from the top of the rib cage. They are near the spine on the upper section of the ribs, right below the loin muscle. Their location near the pork loin contributes to their distinct characteristics. To learn more about this portion of the pig, read our post about pork loin vs pork chop. Pork loin back ribs are known for their tenderness and a more subtle flavor. They’re less meaty compared to spare ribs but are famous for their succulence and the way the meat easily falls off the bone.

One of the defining features of pork baby back ribs is their lower fat content. The loin of the pig is relatively lean, so the pork loin back ribs also have a lower fat content. However, this doesn’t mean they lack in flavor. While they might not have the intense porkiness of spare ribs, their mild flavor makes them a perfect canvas for absorbing the smoky and savory flavors from grilling or smoking the ribs. Just like our recipe for smoked pork loin on Traeger, pork loin back ribs are a delicious and scrumptious addition to your BBQ.

Pork loin back ribs are smaller than spare ribs, but they pack a satisfying amount of meat between each rib. The primary difference is that while pork loin refers to the meaty part along the pig’s back, the back ribs include a portion of this along with the rib bones.

Pork loin back ribs vs spare ribs stacked on top of eachother on butcher block.

🐖 What Are Spare Ribs?

Spare ribs are one of the most popular choices at a BBQ. Specifically, St. Louis-style spare ribs have been trimmed to remove some unwanted sections and make it look more presentable. They are known for their rich flavor and satisfying meatiness. This cut comes from the belly side of the rib cage, extending to the breastbone. Spare ribs are larger and meatier compared to pork loin back ribs, and they also have a higher fat content and more marbling. This extra fat gives the spare ribs a much more intense flavor.

When it comes to size, spare ribs are longer and flatter than back ribs, providing more surface area for that delicious BBQ rub and sauce.

If you are searching for spare ribs, you will often find St. Louis-style. These are prepared by trimming the spare ribs in a rectangular shape while removing the cartilage containing the rib tips and also the flap of meat known as the skirt. These portions of the spare ribs won’t cook evenly, so they are best removed and used in other ways.

Pork loin back ribs and st. louis style spare ribs on cutting board.

👨‍🍳 Pro Tips for Baby Back Ribs and Spare Ribs

Whether you’re working with pork loin back ribs or pork spare ribs, a few key tips can make all the difference. The secret lies in patience, proper preparation, and understanding how to maximize flavor and tenderness. Here are some tips to keep in mind at your next BBQ!

Preparation is Key

  • Remove the membrane on the back of the ribs. Use a butter knife and work under the membrane. Eventually, you can get a firm grip on the membrane and peel it off.
  • Trim off any excess fat and remove any flaps of meat that could potentially burn. Along with removing the membrane, this will give you a much more tender result.
  • Season generously with a dry rub for at least one hour before smoking. This allows the flavors to be absorbed.

Smoke Them Right

  • Cook ribs at a low temperature around 225°F for several hours. This slow cooking process renders the fat and connective tissues for tender, fall-off-the-bone meat.
  • Adjust the cooking time depending on whether you like fall-off-the-bone ribs or ribs with a bit of structure.
  • Keep the ribs moist by spraying them with apple cider vinegar or apple juice while they cook.
  • For extra tenderness, wrap the ribs in foil or butcher paper. In the 3-2-1 method, you wrap the ribs with a little liquid while smoking for a portion of the cooking time.

Finish the Ribs

  • During the last 1 hour of smoking, brush the ribs with your favorite BBQ sauce.
  • Let the ribs rest for about 10-15 minutes after cooking. This ensures that the juices stay in the meat after slicing them and gives you a much more flavorful result.
Hand holding cooked pork loin back ribs vs spare ribs.

🔥 Time to Smoke Some Pork Ribs

Check out our recipe for 3-2-1 ribs, an easy method for cooking pork spare ribs (or even baby back ribs). This method, which involves smoking the ribs for 3 hours, wrapping them with liquid for 2 hours, and then saucing and finishing for 1 hour, yields wonderfully tender and juicy ribs. If you prefer ribs with more of a bite and chew, you can modify the 3-2-1 method as described in the recipe post. In your decision between pork loin back ribs vs spare ribs, you really cannot go wrong! Try them both then decide which is your favorite!


Be sure to follow us on our social media accounts.

Did you make this recipe? Tell us about it in the comments below!

About Joshua Boquist

Josh is an outdoor enthusiast and food fanatic. A License To Grill is his passion project where the outdoors intersects food - grilling, smoking, and all things tasty!

You May Also Like

Get new recipes sent to your inbox!
Don't miss out! Subscribe and get all the new recipes first.
Please enable JavaScript in your browser to complete this form.

Leave a comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *