The Spare Rib Conspiracy: St. Louis Style Spare Rib Prep

I have witnessed first-hand the ridiculous pricing of St Louis style spare ribs and the trepidation of some at the prospect of trimming spare ribs. The conspiracy is that St. Louis cut spare ribs are often at least as expensive as whole damn spare rib! Funk that. That’s a lot of perfectly usable rib tip meat they cut off…and they charge the same price or more. Buy the whole damn spare rib and cut it yourself.

First of all, a little Piggy-Ribby 101.

Loin Back Ribs: This is the popular cut that is from the part of the ribs towards the piggy’s back (the top of the rib cage closest the loin of the pig).
Baby Back Ribs:  Baby Back Ribs are just loin back ribs that are from smaller market weight hogs, rather than sows. I have heard some suggest that only slabs less than 1 3/4 lbs are baby backs. Whatevs.
Spare Ribs: Spare ribs are closer to the belly (mmm, pork belly). A whole spare rib will include the sternum all the way up to where the spare ribs meets the loin back portion of the ribs. It is much bigger and meatier, with more yummy fat to render, than the loin back ribs.
St. Louis Style Ribs: This is a specific cut of the spare rib. It has trimmed away the skirt, the sternum, all of the cartilage filled meat between the sternum and the rib bones, the thinner piece of meat towards the last several ribs, and usually the last 1 or 2 ribs.

First, as always on beerbecue, don’t forget your BBQ musical selection. Today we are listening to some R.L. “Rule” Burnside. Although it appears he was only married once and his birthdate is known, his blues legitimacy is rebolstered by the fact that he had 13 kids, he didn’t achieve much recognition until his 60’s, and his droning and raw and dirty guitar style exemplifies northern Mississippi hill country blues.

Here is a whole spare rib:

Top (meat side)

Bottom (rib side)

Rinse the slab and wipe it off. Then, on the rib side, cut off the flap of meat called the skirt. I bracketed the skirt with yellow lines below:

Just lift the flap and cut it off.

Then trim away the sternum, the cartilage filled-area, and most of the other stuff that does not contain rib. This will leave a slab that will cook consistently (the whole slab will be of a similar type and thickness). This isn’t rocket science. As long as you get the sternum and most of the thinest and thickest ribless portions, then you will be fine.

Anything close to this is fine.

For those who don’t get a slab with a yellow line drawn on it, you can also do this to see approximately where to cut. Remember: Bones don’t bend.

Then cut. I leave a little more meat on the small rib end than if I followed the rib-line exactly.

NOTE: I also cut off the last two ribs (they're pretty thin).

Then the last step is to trim the excess fat and remove the membrane.

Spare ribs already have plenty of marbled fat. So, just trim-up some of the large areas of exterior fat.

And the membrane is the white, membraney-looking layer on the rib side. To get ahold of it, use a piece of paper towel to grip it. You can try to get ahold of a flap of it down by the first rib. Or you can take a table knife and slide it under the membrane along the end of the second or third rib. Once you get the knife under the membrane, pry up the membrane enough so you can grip it, then carefully peel the membrane off. Note there will be a second, thinner membrane still on there. Leave that, as removing that will cause the ribs to fall apart. I think it might be impossible to pull off anyway.

Then you can use the leftover pieces to meat-slap a vegetarian, or cut them up and smoke them as rib tips.

Rubbed and ready (that's what she said).

Then (de)hydrate accordingly.

Don’t let the terrorists win. Buy the whole damn slab and trim it yourself! Happy beerbecuing!

The Haybag: I would watch the meat-slapping comments or grow a third arm, because this vegetarian helped take some of these pictures.


13 thoughts on “The Spare Rib Conspiracy: St. Louis Style Spare Rib Prep

    • There are some possum lurking around our neighborhood occasionally…ugly, snarly little things. Although, I haven’t managed to get one to play dead yet. Maybe they’re actually R.O.U.S.

  1. Great post. And timely (it’s above 80 here today, if it keeps up to the weekend I don’t think I can wait any longer). Thanks for the confirmation that I’ve been doing it pretty close to right (I always believe that Bobby Flay is holding something back) and giving the run down on on the membrane removal. That’s always pretty hit or miss for me.

    • That red-headed egomaniac can’t be trusted! (Actually, I kind of like him. The Haybag can’t stand him.) The table knife/butter knife trick almost always works for me. I pry quite a bit up with the knife (at least all the way across the length of the rib (the width of the rack)). That shit is tricky, though. You pray that it keeps peeling once you get it going.

      Now, get out there and get smokin’! And I expect pics!

      • Yes, many times have have my membrane attempts been accompanied by choruses of “Keep going, keep going….please don’t tear”. As for Bobby. I used to think he was a smug little bastard (wait, still do), but enjoy his BBQ shows. Plus, he’s been a lot easier to take once he started getting his ass handed to him on a regular basis on Throwdown.

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