Barbecue Time: How Many Ribs Are In A Rack?

You know what I've noticed recently?

There's a lot of confusion revolving around something as simple as a rack of ribs. 🙂

I know, it sounds silly, and I didn't give it a second thought, either – well, not until our younger son asked us in the middle of the dinner:

- Mom, how many ribs in a rack? 

I wanted to give him a simple answer – an average number or something along the lines, but my husband decided to take over.

Half an hour later, we decided to turn to Google for an exact figure and a final answer to the question "how many ribs in a rack" – here's what we found out.

Pork Ribs

Since pork ribs are his favorite, my husband is an expert on the topic, and, as much as it's hard for me to admit, I'm not – I had to turn to him a lot while I was writing this, just to make sure I got my facts straight.

So, apparently, the number of ribs in a rack depends on the section of the pig they come from, as well as the cut; ultimately, there are four types to choose from:

Spare Ribs

  • You should be able to at least 11 (and up to 13) spares from a single rack. Also called the side ribs, these tend to be larger; ranging from two to three pounds, these can easily feed two people.
  • You should keep in mind that there's more bone than meat on a rack of spares, but according to my husband, that's what gives them their delicious, rich taste. I guess there's something about that combination of bones and fat that makes them so flavorful.

St. Louis Style Spare Ribs

  • You could say that St. Louis style spare ribs are just a variation of the previously mentioned spare ribs, but my husband thought it's important to mention these and explain the difference, so here we are.
  • If you go for the St. Louis style ribs, you'll get somewhere between 10 and 13 bones – again, very similar to spare ribs. 

  • So, what seems to be the difference, then? 
Well, in this case, the breast bones, as well as the cartilage, are removed, which results in a very clean-looking, rectangular pork rack.

Baby Rack Ribs

  • Let me get this out of the way first: no, they do not come from baby pigs. Maybe you already knew that, but I just had to make sure we’re on the same page here – I know way too many people who think these are taken from young pigs. 

  • They tend to be a lot shorter than spares – that’s how they got their name in the first place. While the number of ribs in a rack could be as low as eight, that's usually due to damage that occurred during the removal process. Typically, you could expect to find 10 to 13 ribs in a store-bought rack of baby ribs – anything less than that is considered to be a "cheater rack."

Rib Tips

  • Finally, let's talk about what happens with the strips removed from the ends of spare ribs in the process of making St. Louis style spare ribs. As you can probably guess, these become what's know as rib tips – 8 to 12 inches long, and up to three inches wide, they need to be adequately cooked to avoid toughness.

Here’s what I like to do to avoid that:

Whenever my husband decides to throw these in the barbecue mix, I marinade, as well as cook them sous vide before they even get the chance to go near the grill – just to make sure the meat is tender enough.


Beef Ribs

When my two boys were younger, barbecues were a regular occurrence in our household. And while pork ribs are, to this day, one of my husband's favorites, you wouldn't find anything other than beef ribs on our grill back then. 

Why? 

Well, our boys liked them better than pork ribs – and once you become a parent, you quickly learn that what you want doesn't matter as much anymore. If the boys like beef ribs, guess what we're having? 

Beef ribs. 

We didn't mind, though – they looked unbelievably cute trying to hold these large ribs in their tiny hands. 

While there are 13 bones on each side (counting from the backbone to the breastbone), you probably won't be able to find a rack with more than nine – entire slabs are rarely sold commercially.

There are two types of beef ribs you can buy; the main difference between the two is in how the meat is positioned relative to the bones – it may sound a bit confusing, but you'll see what I'm talking about in a moment:

Back Ribs

  • Here's where the real beef ribs are; six to eight inches long, with very little meat left on top, but with a nice amount of meat left between the bones, these so-called dinosaur ribs are a popular choice of many barbecue lovers – our boys included. 

  • Usually, you'll get seven ribs per strip. However, this number may vary, as it depends on how the butcher cuts the rib roast. The cut also determines the amount of meat left on the ribs, so choose carefully.

Short Plate Ribs

  • These ribs, on the other hand, come from the short plate, hence the name short plate ribs – it doesn't have much to do with how long they are. These can be very large, as well. 

  • As I mentioned previously, the difference between these and the back ribs is in the meat; here it's located on top of the bones – the bones are almost entirely flat, and there's an inch or two of beef on top. 

  • Now, let's talk numbers: you can usually buy these in three-bone portions: In my opinion, these are the best cut for barbecues, but they need to be cooked well if you want to get that lovely beefy flavor out of them. When it comes to short plate ribs, long and slow is the way to go.

Lamb Ribs

I guess you could say I was saving the best for last – after all, when it comes to buying and cooking meat at home, lamb is probably one of the most popular choices. 

As you previously saw, when you're buying pork or beef, a "rack of ribs" could mean several things; with lamb ribs, this is not the case – here's where it all gets simple.

On average, you can expect to get eight ribs out of a rack of lamb; sometimes you'll get as much as nine, sometimes you'll get as little as six – it all depends on the cut. But if we're talking about averages, a rack of lamb contains eight ribs, which equals eight delicious roasted lamb chops – if that's the way you decide to cook it, that is.

Oh, and here's a little tip for preparing lamb ribs: 

If you want to make the final dish a lot more presentable, you can try cutting away the meat located between the tips of the bones - by doing this, you'll make the tips more prominent. 

Of course, I didn't come up with it; this method of trimming is usually called Frenching (or French trimming). Anyway, however you choose to call it, one thing's for sure – it does make your lamb ribs look like they were cooked and served in a restaurant.


Wrapping It Up

So, as you can see, there’s no universal answer to the question "how many ribs in a rack" – the numbers vary depending on the source of the meat. 

If you’re looking for the rack with the highest number of ribs, then you should go with pork. But if the size of bones is what’s important to you, then beef ribs are the way to go – there's a reason they call them dinosaur ribs.

Lamb ribs tend to be more expensive, that’s for sure, but when you want to take your meal presentation to the next level, a rack of lamb is what you’ll need.

Fellow barbecue lovers, which type of ribs is your favorite one? 🙂

Leave a comment below!

Barbara Whitney
 

For the last 20 years, I’ve been cooking, preparing, researching, and gathering recipes, tools, and knowledge about food and the way we prepare it. Raising two lively boys and spoiling one great husband later, it’s safe to say that I’ve optimized my kitchen to deliver the best possible meal, no matter the occasion.

Click Here to Leave a Comment Below 0 comments

Leave a Reply: