How to Trim Competition St. Louis Spare Ribs
Mmmm, pork… Even better, pork spare ribs, or as I like to call them pig on a stick. The ubiquitous smoked pork rib. Tender, juicy, packed with smoky flavor and porky goodness. It doesn’t get much better than this folks! In this installment, I am going to demonstrate how to trim pork spare ribs into the lauded Competition-style St. Louis cut.
Why spare ribs, you ask? What about babybacks? Well, babybacks, also called back ribs or loin backs, are good, don’t get me wrong. But in my humble opinion, if you want a more meaty rib and a real depth of flavor, you really need to reach for the spare rib instead. They each come from the same rib cage. Babybacks reside at the very top of the ribcage, extending directly from the spine down about a quarter of the way. When you purchase bone-in loin chops, you are getting babybacks with the loin meat still attached to the inside. Spare ribs on the other hand, comprise the lower portion of the ribcage below the loin ribs, extending down almost to the pig’s sternum. And as things go on pigs, the lower you go, the fattier the meat becomes. With this fat also comes a boatload of flavor and inherent tenderness. This is why I prefer spare ribs.
Now, on to the St. Louis cut. Basically, the idea is to trim the rack of ribs down to rectangle. This does several things. It helps the rack cook evenly, it also makes them look better, and finally, it helps them fit into those 9×9 styrofoam clam-shells we must use for our entries at BBQ contests. However, this isn’t just a contest thing, at least not for me. I always trim my ribs this way, even if I’m cooking for myself or catering. I just like how the ribs cook up and look when trimmed this way.
This is an untrimmed spare rib rack right out of the cryovac package. Say hello Mr. Sparerib…
Start by finding the longest bone in the rack. I’m pointing to it here. Once you find the longest bone, take your finger and score a line into the rib meat parallel to the opposite (bone) side of the rack. This is where you’ll make your first cut.
I’ve drawn a line on this picture to help illustrate where you’ll need to cut. Use a stout and sharp knife and make the cut in one pass if you can. Don’t worry, there aren’t any bones where you’re cutting, just some cartilage. You’ll be surprised just how easy you can cut through it. Really! I promise.
Once you have the cut made the waste piece isn’t waste at all. It’s called the “brisket” by some folks. Others call them rib tips. I just call them good eats. Smoke them right along side your racks and you’ll have a meal in itself that’s done 1-2 hours before the slabs themselves are done. Also, notice the section I’ve circled in red. This is some extra loin meat. Not all spare rib racks have this, but when they do, I trim this off as well. Save these scraps to grind into pork burgers later.
Now it’s time to flip the rack over because we have more trimming to do. Find the flap of meat, called the “skirt” and remove it as close to the bone as you can as well. This also gets thrown into the “grind” pile.
Now we need to remove the membrane from the bone side of the rack. The best tool I’ve found to get this process started is an oyster knife, but I’ve also used butter knifes and even a screwdriver or two. One HUGE word of caution: There are actually TWO membranes, one on top of the other. The uppermost membrane is thicker than the lower one. It’s the upper, thicker membrane we need to remove. If you go commando and remove both, your rack of ribs will have nothing to hold the bones in and they’ll all fall out during the cooking process. That’s bad, don’t do that. Use your oyster knife to get under and between the two membranes and work a corner loose. Now, using a paper towel for traction, begin pulling the thick membrane off slowly. If it tears, pick up where you left off and try to get it all removed. If you find any large fat deposits under the membrane, remove these as well.
That’s it. Now you have a perfectly trimmed rack of St. Louis-style spare ribs.Ok, Ok…. some of you purists might say this is actually a “Kansas City” style rack of ribs because we removed the skirt and they are trimmed “extra neat”, but in my book, that’s a distinction without a difference, so I just stick to calling them St. Louis style, and heck, I’m even from Kansas City…
In our next rib installment I will show you how we like to rub them down and smoke them over indirect heat. Put away your boiling pot folks, because the only thing you’ll need water for is to thin down your Scotch…