When you’re shopping for a grill or smoker, you should ensure that the cooking grates are wide enough to accommodate the cuts you have in mind. Therefore, those of you who enjoy smoked ribs might be wondering, just how long is a rack of ribs?
How Long is a Rack Of Ribs?
The length of a rib rack varies depending on how large the hog was when it was butchered. On average, the rack should measure 16 to 24 inches end to end. Although a rack of spare ribs will be wider than a rack of baby backs, there’s not much of a difference in terms of length.
About Pork Ribs
Before we delve into this important topic, we should underscore the fact that there are several types of pork ribs.
Spare ribs come from the lower portion of the rib cage. As pork ribs go, they’re on the large side, so these racks should be longer than some of the competition. Because spare ribs come from the belly region, the meat is rich and fatty, with superb pork flavor.
When you buy a rack of St. Louis-style ribs, you’re getting spare ribs that have been trimmed so that the sternum bone, cartilage and rib tips are missing. This gives them a uniform rectangular shape that makes them popular on the competition circuit.
Kansas City-style ribs are similar to spare ribs, except that butchers will leave the cartilage in place during trimming. The two can be used interchangeably in recipes, but true Kansas City ribs are traditionally dressed with a thick, sticky sauce.
Back ribs, or baby backs, come from a different area altogether. These are cut from the top of the rib cage, around the spine. You might see them advertised as “loin back ribs.” Be aware that the term baby refers to their small size, not the age of the pig.
Rib Racks Defined
A rack of ribs—sometimes called a slab—is a row of rib bones that are held together by fat, cartilage, and muscle meat. A good healthy rack should include meat on top of the bones, as well as in between.
You can expect a full rack to include 10 to 13 bones. While the ribcage of a pig has more bones to begin with, not all of them will survive the butchering process.
If the rack contains fewer than 10 bones, it might be labeled as a “cheater rack.” This might make it sound as if you’re getting a poor value, but since the price should be calculated by weight, you’re actually getting exactly what you pay for.
A half-rack or half-slab of pork ribs should consist of 5 to 8 bones, depending on the rib type. This designation is often used in restaurants, but you might find half-racks at the butcher counter as well.
How Long is a Rack of Baby Back Ribs?
First and foremost, know that there’s no definitive answer to this question. The size of the rib rack depends on the size of the hog, and that can vary quite a bit.
That said, we can give you a general idea of how long a rack of ribs should be. If you’re shopping for a new smoker and plan to enjoy ribs on a regular basis, it’s important to purchase a model that can accommodate at least one full rack.
Expect a rack of baby back ribs to measure 16 to 24 inches long. With that in mind, you should ensure that your cooking grate measures at least 24 inches wide if you want to leave the rack whole.
Remember: You can always trim a rib or two off the end if you have to—or even cut the rack in half. For more information, see the separate section below.
It’s possible to find racks of baby back ribs that measure just 12 to 14 inches long—although they might qualify as half-racks, depending on how many ribs are included. This could come in handy if space is an issue.
How Long is a Rack of Spare Ribs?
Despite the difference in weight, a rack of spare ribs isn’t noticeably longer than a rack of baby backs. The only time you might notice a discrepancy is if the spare ribs have been trimmed to make a St. Louis-style rack, in which case they’ll be shorter.
To that end, your rack of spare ribs should measure around 16 to 24 inches long as well. They might be a bit shorter or a bit longer than that, but this is a good rule of thumb to follow.
How Much Does a Rack of Ribs Weigh?
A full rack of baby back ribs typically weighs in at 1.5 to 2 pounds. Thanks to their lower weight and leaner texture, they cook more quickly than spare ribs, although they still benefit from the low-and-slow treatment.
A slab of spare ribs should weigh around 3 to 4 pounds. If they’ve been trimmed to make a St. Louis-style rack, expect them to weigh a bit less.
Can You Cut The Rack In Half To Fit The Smoker?
It’s fine to trim the rib rack so that it fits on the cooking grate. In some cases, you might even have to divide the rack in half. The good news? This shouldn’t have an adverse effect on your results.
Cutting the rack in half won’t affect the thickness of the meat, so it will still need to cook for the same amount of time as if you’d left it whole. Feel free to follow the recipe of your choosing without adjusting the cooking time.
For baby back ribs, this often means smoking the divided rack at 225 degrees Fahrenheit for a total of 5 hours. You can follow the 2-2-1 method by smoking the ribs for 2 hours, then wrapping them for another 2 hours and removing the foil for the last hour.
Spare ribs require a total cooking time of about 6 hours. Even if the rack is split in half, try smoking them for 3 hours unwrapped, then wrapping them for the next 2 hours, then finishing them off with another hour unwrapped.
The Bottom Line
It’s a common occurrence for grilling enthusiasts to upgrade to a new model when they discover that their unit can’t accommodate a full rack of ribs. While the total length of each rack may vary, you can avoid this by investing in the largest smoker you can afford.
Best of luck, and happy grilling!