Ribs 3 Ways - St. Louis, Baby Back, and Spare

Ribs 3 Ways - St. Louis, Baby Back, and Spare

What happens when you cook 3 different types of ribs the same way? This question plagued me, so I figured I’d take you on my journey to cook Ribs 3 Ways. For this experiment, I treated each rack of ribs the same way. With no variables, I had an accurate assessment of whether cooking different types of ribs really changes the cooking time and process. I trimmed the ribs similarly, then topped them with two of my bestselling rubs. I also gave them a simple butter bath with my latest line of glazes and topped them with a succulent sauce. 

What were the results? I’ll ask you to keep reading to find out, but I know it’s going to shock you! You might just change the way you view smoking ribs! Whether you prefer hearty St. Louis ribs, leaner Baby Backs, or juicy Spare Ribs, you’re in for a treat. With this simple process, any rack of ribs can be turned into a masterpiece. 

Ribs 3 Ways | Heath Riles BBQ

Ribs can be intimidating for pitmasters because they cost so much money. The truth is, you’re not saving the world; you're just trying to make a good eating rib! Kick back and relax because making good ribs is simple and fun. If you follow my easy tutorial, you can create delicious, moist ribs regardless of your meat budget. This simple recipe is great for any BBQ, work potluck, or family event. Grab some while you can; we can’t guarantee there’ll be any leftovers. 

The Ingredients

Here are a few of the delicious ingredients used to make Ribs 3 Ways. 

  • Heath Riles BBQ Everyday Rub. This AP rub is an upgrade from your simple salt and pepper shakers. We added a hint of garlic to the mix, making it suitable for ribs, steaks, popcorn, fries, vegetables, and wings. 
  • Heath Riles BBQ Honey Chipotle Rub. If I could choose one rub, it would be this one. This is among my most versatile rubs, adding a burst of flavor to beef, pork, chicken, steaks, and seafood. Once you have a bottle, you’ll never want to be without it! 
  • Heath Riles BBQ Brown Sugar Honey Habanero BBQ Glaze. This glaze is one of my newest products, and it’s been such a great addition to the Heath Riles BBQ line. Add a dash to your BBQ sauce for a hint of heat, or use it to glaze hams and roasts. You can also use it as a butter bath, adding moisture and keeping the juices where they belong. 

Ribs 3 Ways...Which Rib is Right for You? 

There are three different ribs and three different profiles. Check out this brief summary to learn which rib is right for you. 

Baby Back Ribs:

  • Location: From the upper part of the rib cage, near the spine.
  • Size and Shape: Smaller and curved, usually 3-6 inches long.
  • Texture: Leaner and more tender, with less fat. 

Spare Ribs:

  • Location: From the belly side of the rib cage.
  • Size and Shape: Bigger and flatter, typically 6-8 inches long.
  • Texture: Meatier with more fat, so they’re really flavorful.

St. Louis Style Ribs:

  • Location: These are spare ribs that are trimmed down to a more rectangular shape.
  • Size and Shape: More uniform and easier to handle.
  • Texture: Still meaty and flavorful, like spare ribs, but trimmed down.

The Smoker Setup

Here’s the main equipment I used for this recipe. More of my grilling favorites can be found in the Equipment and Tools section. 

  • Pellet grill/smoker. I cooked my Ribs 3 Ways on the Traeger Ironwood XL. This pit is incredible because you can use it to grill or smoke. The Traeger Ironwood XL has many excellent features, like a pellet sensor, a super smoke button, and easy transportation. 

If you cook large quantities of food, you can’t go wrong with the Traeger Ironwood XL. It’s roomy without taking up your entire patio. Plus, it’s ultra-durable, lasting for years!

  • Pellets. I stoked the pit with Royal Oak Charcoal Hardwood Pellets. I love this brand because you get clean smoke with no fillers. It gives the ribs a rich, deep flavor that tastes authentic. 

The Process for Making Ribs 3 Ways

You can find a detailed demonstration of this recipe. For now, here’s a quick rundown of how I cooked Ribs 3 Ways. 

  • Fire up the pit. I stoked the Traeger Ironwood XL with Royal Oak Charcoal Hardwood Pellets and fired it up to 275℉.
  • Prep the ribs. I trimmed the ribs, removing stray bone pieces, hard meat flaps, discoloration, excess fat, and membranes. Watch the video to learn my tricks for trimming each type of rib. 
  • Add seasoning. I didn’t use garlic, but I added a good dash of Heath Riles BBQ Everyday Rub and Heath Riles BBQ Honey Chipotle Rub. Then, I let the ribs rest, flipped them, and repeated the process on the other side. 
  • Start cooking. I laid the ribs directly on the pit and bunched them up. Then, I shut the grill’s lid and let them cook for 2 hours and 15 minutes, spritzing the ribs with water at the halfway mark. At this point, my spare ribs were reading 164℉, the Baby Backs were at 172℉, and the St. Louis ribs were at 163℉. Pretty close, so far!
  • Wrap the ribs. I removed the ribs from the Traeger Ironwood XL. Next, I double-lined a large baking pan with tin foil and laid the ribs on top. I added a drizzle of Heath Riles BBQ Brown Sugar Honey Habanero BBQ Glaze to the front and back of the ribs. I wrapped the ribs tightly and let them smoke on the Traeger Ironwood XL for an hour and fifteen minutes. I took the ribs off the pit and let them rest for 15-20 minutes. 
  • Add sauce. Once the ribs had a chance to rest, I unwrapped them and sauced them with Heath Riles BBQ Competition BBQ Sauce. Then, I put them back on the Traeger Ironwood XL for 15 to tack up. The ribs had a total cook time of about 4 hours. I took the ribs off the pit and let them cool before digging in. The only thing left was to slice and serve!

The Results

The ribs slightly differed in appearance and texture, but the overall result was very similar. The ribs came off the pit with a moist, flavorful, colorful bark. They were juicy, and every bite was filled with the sweet notes of honey. Be sure to watch the video to learn which rib works for you! 

Storing Leftovers

You can store leftover ribs in the fridge for 4 days or freeze them for up to 4 months. 

Equipment and Tools

Aluminum foil, Traeger Ironwood XL, Royal Oak Lump Charcoal, Royal Oak Tumbleweeds, ThermoWorks Hi-Temp Silicone Brush, ThermoWorks Thermapen ONE, Heath Riles BBQ Heat Resistant Gloves, Heath Riles BBQ Butcher Paper, disposable cutting board.

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