When we’re planning a cookout, we tend to focus on important matters like what to serve, how much we’ll need to buy, and what to do with any leftovers. But for some of us, cost is also a concern. How much does a rack of ribs cost, and how many will you need to buy? Our guide should help you work out a ballpark figure.
How Much Does a Rack of Ribs Cost?
The answer might vary depending on the type of ribs you buy. Spare ribs are the least expensive of the lot, while baby backs tend to be the most expensive. On average, spare ribs cost $3.50 per pound and baby backs carry an average per-pound price tag of $5.99. You may be able to save money by buying in bulk.
What Type of Ribs Are You Looking For?
Before we get into the details about how much you can expect to spend, let’s determine what type of ribs you’re planning to buy. This should be the first question you ask yourself before heading to the store, since the answer will affect cooking times and serving sizes as well as cost.
Spare ribs come from the lower section of the rib cage, around the belly. The meat from this area is used to make bacon and pancetta, which should give you a clue as to how rich and fatty it is. As a result, spare ribs have a great deal of pork flavor.
If you see a package labeled “St. Louis-style ribs,” know that these are just spare ribs with the cartilage and breastbone removed. Butchers like to do this in order to make the rack look more presentable, and pitmasters tend to agree that it helps the ribs cook more evenly.
In spite of the misleading name, baby back ribs are not taken from baby pigs. The cut comes from the top section of the ribcage near the loin. They’re sometimes called “back ribs” or “pork loin back ribs,” but the “baby” designation comes from the fact that they’re shorter than spare ribs.
Of the trio, baby back ribs are the leanest, which contributes to their popularity. In addition, you can usually find a lot of meat between the bones, so you’ll feel like you’re getting more bang for your buck than you would with the trimmed St. Louis-style variety. They also cook more quickly than spare ribs.
How Much Does a Rack of Spare Ribs Cost?
The average price of a rack of untrimmed spare ribs is about $3.50 per pound. In some instances, you might be able to score prices as low as $1.50 per pound. If you see a deal like this, be sure to snap it up.
A rack of spare ribs typically contains 11 to 13 ribs. These don’t have as much meat on the bone as baby backs do, but because of the high fat content, they have a richer flavor.
How Much Does a Rack of St. Louis-Style Ribs Cost?
Because St. Louis-style ribs have a fancier presentation than regular spare ribs, you can expect to spend a bit more on them. Prices of $5 to $6 dollars per pound aren’t unheard of. If you stick to supermarkets or big-box stores, you might be able to score a better deal.
Like their untrimmed counterparts, racks of St. Louis-style ribs consist of 11 to 13 segments. The racks weigh slightly less, owing to the lack of cartilage—about 2.5 pounds on average. They’re also easier to handle, and the uniform shape helps them brown up nicely.
How Much Does a Rack of Baby Back Ribs Cost?
The regular price for a rack of baby backs hovers at around $5.99 per pound. As you can see, this represents a significant increase over what you can expect to spend on spare ribs. Given the popularity of baby backs and the fact that they’re much meatier than the alternative, this shouldn’t come as a surprise.
The good news is that you may be able to find baby backs on sale for as little $2.99 per pound, especially if you’re buying in bulk. Check out big-box stores like Sam’s Club and Costco to see if they’re running any deals.
Expect a rack of baby backs to have 10 to 14 ribs on it. Sometimes, the rack will have only 8 or 9 ribs, and butchers refer to these as “cheater racks.” Unfortunately, they usually won’t change the pricing as a result, unless you count the fact that the lower weight will naturally lead to a price reduction.
Can You Substitute One Rib Type For Another?
Let’s say you’ve decided on a rib recipe and worked out your budget and shopping list. When you get to the store, you see that they’re offering a sale on ribs. However, it’s not the same rib type that you planned on making. Is it possible to make a last-minute substitution?
You’re in luck—you can easily swap one rib type for another. You just need to make a few adjustments in the recipe.
The first thing you need to consider is the total weight of the racks. A typical rack of baby backs weighs 1.5 to 2 pounds, whereas a single spare rib rack could weigh up to 4 pounds. You should adjust the salt measurements accordingly so you don’t wind up with over- or under-seasoned ribs. Plan on using about 1 teaspoon of kosher salt per pound.
The cooking time needs to be adjusted as well. Remember that baby back ribs are leaner, so they’ll cook faster than spare ribs. When substituting spare ribs for baby backs in a recipe, increase the cooking time by 50 percent. For example, if the cooking time for baby backs is listed as 4 hours, expect the spare ribs to cook for 6 hours.
Before you decide to buy spare ribs instead of baby backs, make sure you have ample time to accommodate the change. If you’ve left your shopping for the last minute—which is never a good idea in any case—you might need to re-think your options.
Finally, think about your serving sizes. One rack of baby back ribs should feed 1-2 people, depending on their ages and how hungry they are. A rack of spare ribs, meanwhile, may be able to feed 2 to 4 people. If you were planning on buying spare ribs and you decide to get baby backs instead, it’s a good idea to buy twice as many.
When it comes to serving size, we like to overestimate so we don’t wind up with a crowd of underfed guests. You can easily reheat ribs for a tantalizing lunch or dinner the following day. In fact, if the party goes on long enough, you might not even have to wait that long.
The Bottom Line
If cost is a primary factor, make sure to do your research. Check the websites of your local supermarkets, big-box stores, and butcher shops to find out where you can get the best deal.
Since it’s easy to substitute one rib type for another, don’t feel pressured into following a recipe to the letter. Experimentation is one of the many joys that outdoor cooking has to offer, so be creative!
Best of luck, and happy grilling!