Sunday, August 31, 2008

Spare ribs cut

Spare ribs (a.k.a. spares, a.k.a. side ribs). Spare ribs are not like spare tires. They are not extras, leftovers, or an inferior cut. Nor are they so named because the meat is scanty. They contain excellent meat. Many chefs prefer spares to baby back ribs.

Spares come from further down the side than baby back ribs and there is more bone than meat in a slab of them. USDA says a slab must have at least 11 bones. They are also straighter and flatter than baby backs. The bones, connective tissue, and the fat make them very flavorful.

Look at a slab of spare ribs and you will notice that along one edge the ends of bones are showing and you can see marrow (the left side in the photo at right). This is where they were cut from the baby backs. The other end, with no bones sticking out, is a gristly flap from the sternum to the belly side, called rib tips. In the photo you can see the place where the tips join the ribs on the underside of a slab of spares. The bone side of spare ribs usually has a meaty flap that is part of the diaphragm called the flap meat. It has been removed in the photo.

So how did spareribs get their name? According to Charles Perry of the Los Angeles Times, "In 17th century England, spareribs were also called spear-ribs or even ribspare, a clear tipoff that this wasn't a native English word. It was borrowed from the German rippespeer, which is smoked pork loin."

Spares are a little less expensive than baby back ribs because they have more bone. The price difference is also because demand for baby backs has grown significantly since a chain restaurant began promoting them (sing along with me now "I want my baby back baby back baby back ribs"). Spareribs are typically $2-6 per pound, they generally run 4-5 pounds and can usually feed two people. Top chefs prefer spares from smaller, younger hogs, 3 1/2 & down, or less than 3 1/2 pounds.

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