What makes a great rack of ribs? Is it the sauce? The rub? How long the rack was smoked? The answer is probably a combination of all three, with a few other variables. It's important to know what the different styles are before ordering a rack, so that you can enjoy the ribs that most appeal to your palate.
Most ribs in the U.S. are cooked using two techniques, explains ButcherBox Meat Expert, and former Butcher, Nathan Burk. "The style of ribs is very important when it comes to cooking techniques. The two main cuts are St. Louis Ribs and baby back ribs. St. Louis ribs are rich in flavor and have a juicy texture as they are cut from the lower half of the rib section. Using a cooking method that incorporates steam is key to achieving the best, most tender result for this specific cut."
On the other hand, says Burk, "Baby Back Ribs, which get their moniker from being one of the shorter cuts of pork ribs, are a leaner cut. Therefore, the slow and low cooking process (cooking them over a long period of time) is essential to getting the best finished result."
And while we're always big fans of hitting up a local hole in the wall to get great ribs, chains can be a great ambassador for trying different styles for the first time. With that in mind, we scoured reviews, tallied up awards, and talked to real BBQ fans to find the top chain restaurant ribs around the country. Both big chains and smaller operations are cooking up award-worthy ribs, and these nine picks are excellent spots to start sampling them.
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Our pick for some of the best chain restaurant ribs, Texas Roadhouse cooks its ribs with a unique blend of seasonings over the course of three days, and features a signature BBQ sauce. The St. Louis-style pork ribs are especially tender and covered in a dark and shiny sauce, and they're perfectly seasoned. Add in the price for a half-rack (about $18) and the over 650 locations, and these are probably the best and most accessible restaurant chain ribs. The chain has such faith in its ribs, it isn't afraid to show you how to cook them at home.
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Smokey Bones Fire & Grill
With over 60 locations nationwide, this medium-sized chain's tagline is "Meat is what we do." That's apparent in its meat-heavy menu. With regards to ribs, Smokey Bones offers baby back (these are upper ribs, that are shorter than spare ribs) and St. Louis-style (meatier ribs cut from the belly) ribs. Both types are available as a full rack or as a platter with ⅓ of a rack, two sides, and garlic bread for around $18 at the time of publication.
Early in the chain's history, the baby back ribs were named best ribs at the Ham Jam Festival in Florida, and they've continued with their award-winning recipe: Seasoned and hand-rubbed, house-smoked for four hours and flavored with a sweet and smoky BBQ sauce.
Founded in Florida in 1987, Outback has spread across the U.S.—and world—with over 1,000 restaurants. While they may be your go-to for a casual, well-priced steak dinner, don't overlook the chain's ribs. They're served with a "deep mahogany-colored shiny sauce that permeated every nook and cranny." Plus, the ribs are "charred without being burned and the sauce clung to the ribs as though it was caramelized." Served as a half rack or whole, Outback's ribs are smoked, brushed, and grilled with a tangy BBQ sauce, and come with two sides.
New York-based Dinosaur Bar-B-Que has been in business since 1983, beginning as a mobile concession with a 55-gallon drum cut in half, and opening a brick-and-mortar location in Syracuse in 1988. Since then, owner John Stage has opened locations around New York state, including Harlem, Brooklyn, and beyond. The chain's sauces have been profiled by ABC News and the chain was named Best BBQ in America by Good Morning America.
The chain's ribs, which are so sought after you can have them delivered anywhere in the country via Goldbelly, come down to a two-step technique and slow-and-low cooking style. First, the ribs get a dry rub that's heavy on paprika, brown sugar, and cumin. Then, they're smoked slow and low on the grill, and doused with several applications of Dinosaur's famous mop sauce.
With locations in 30 states, as well as Dubai and Abu Dhabi, Famous Dave's ribs are available almost everywhere. The chain claims to have won over 700 awards for its BBQ, and serves baby back and St. Louis-style ribs at all of its locations.
The baby back ribs are covered in rib rub, slow-smoked, and slathered in Sweet & Zesty sauce, while the St. Louis-style are hand-rubbed with a housemade blend of spices, then pit-smoked for three to four hours over a hickory fire, and finally covered with the restaurant's Rich & Sassy sauce over an open flame to seal in flavor and create crispy caramelization.
The Smoke Shop
The Smoke Shop is based in Massachusetts and you can get great ribs at their five New England locations. The chain is the result of founder, chef, and IQUE BBQ Team-member Andy Husbands' 20-plus years on the competitive BBQ circuit. With multiple locations in and around Boston, Smoke Shop is the go-to for Harvard students, hungry locals craving 'cue, and visitors to the Bay State.
The restaurant serves "gorgeously crusted" St. Louis-style pork ribs in half- and full-rack portions. Available as an appetizer, the smaller portion Sticky Fried Pork Ribs are another flavor slam dunk, tossed with Szechuan sauce, with a jasmine rice salad. If you can take the heat, try The Smoke Shop BBQ's Hot Wings with a fermented habanero and brown butter sauce.
Opening in Ohio back in 1999, this primarily Midwest chain operates over 50 locations and serves a mishmash of crowd-pleasing BBQ styles such as pulled chicken with 'bama sauce and Texas-style smoked sausage. In 2017, the Daily Meal named City the number two BBQ chain in the US, based on their 18-hour meat smoking process and high-quality products.
Ribs are a big part of the menu. They offer traditional St. Louis-style ribs, hand-rubbed and painted with house-made sauce, or crispy fried ribs that are hickory-smoked, deep fried, and tossed in a sweet and savory rub, with a drizzle of house-made white BBQ sauce. Decadent.
Bono's Pit Bar-B-Q
With 20 locations around Florida—and one in Denver—Bono's has been smoking meats Southern-style since 1949, when pitmaster Lou Bono first fired things up. Like many BBQ spots, they do a bit of everything, and each location has its own pit and pitmaster taking care of slow cooking their St. Louis-style ribs.
The ribs are made in-house and cut to order, and you can order them as a platter with two sides and bread, or by the pound if you have a lot of mouths to feed. Bono's also gets high marks from their employees, who described the job as "fun and productive." And no, they have nothing to do with the U2 frontman with the same name.
L&L Hawaiian BBQ
If you've never tried Hawaiian BBQ, there are 200 L&L Hawaiian Barbecue restaurants in Hawaii, California, Washington, Nevada, Arizona, Colorado, Oregon, Utah, Texas, New York, North Carolina, Tennessee, Virginia, and even Japan, waiting for you. Open since the 1970s, the chain specializes in plate lunches like slow-cooked kalua pork, BBQ chicken, and the star of the show: Bone-in short ribs that are smokey and so juicy. Don't go expecting typical Southern BBQ, but look for well-prepared ribs (and other meats) with Asian-inflected flavors and lots of sweet and tangy sauces.
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Corky's Ribs and BBQ
This small chain, with eight locations in Tennessee, Arkansas, and Texas, does many things well, but its Memphis-style ribs—served wet, dry, or muddy—really shine and are worth the trip. In 1984, "Captain" Don Pelts opened the first location in East Memphis, with an eye on the restaurant being for sit-down dining and takeaway. Since then, their award-winning ribs have been shipped across the country and Corky's BBQ ribs feature regularly on QVC, so you can try them at home even if you can't get down South.
Spare ribs, sometimes called St. Louis style ribs, come from the side and back of a pig and are thought of as a traditional rib. They are the least meaty pork rib but are cheaper than baby backs and the most commonly used rib in restaurants.What kind of ribs do most restaurants use? ›
Spare ribs, sometimes called St. Louis style ribs, come from the side and back of a pig and are thought of as a traditional rib. They are the least meaty pork rib but are cheaper than baby backs and the most commonly used rib in restaurants.What are the most tender ribs to buy? ›
Baby backs come from the back loin section and are smaller and more tender. Spare ribs, or side ribs, come from under the babies and are larger, tastier, and meatier, with a lot of bone and more fat. Looking for a tender, lean rack of ribs and don't mind paying out a bit more? Go for baby backs.Who is famous for baby back ribs? ›
Tony Roma's started the Baby Back Ribs craze in the U.S. in 1972 when Chef David Smith decided to throw ribs on the grill and add his special BBQ sauce, what is now Tony Roma's famous Original BBQ Sauce.What state is known for the best ribs? ›
Texas is the best state for BBQ. It's home to three of the top 12 best BBQ cities in America: San Antonio, Austin, and Dallas.Which is better country ribs or western ribs? ›
Use country ribs for grilling or roasting; western ribs for barbecue or pressure cooking. But you don't have to be militant about it. They are both tougher cuts of meat, that take well to longer roasting or braising recipes.What is the number 1 rib? ›
The first rib (top most) is the most curved and usually the shortest of all the ribs and begins from thoracic vertebrae 1 (T1). It articulates with the sternum jut below where the collarbone meets the sternum. It has muscular attachments from the serratus anterior and the anterior scalene.Which ribs taste the best? ›
St. Louis-style ribs are the meatiest and most flavorful cut of ribs. There is a lot of bone that yields a high amount of fat giving them a lot of flavor and tenderness.What's better St Louis or baby back ribs? ›
St Louis ribs give you a contest of fat versus meat. The baby back ribs are meaty, making them easier to marinate in any sauce. You have to be more selective with the St Louis ribs. The meaty rib is heartier and will fill you up faster, plus it is leaner and healthier for you.How do I buy the best ribs? ›
You want pork spareribs with pinkish-red color.
To ensure you take home a good piece of meat, use visual cues to help you buy spareribs. Look for ribs that are pinkish-red in color with some marbling in the meat (remember that fat equals flavor!). Steer clear of meat that's pale in color or has dark spots on the fat.
Plate Short Ribs
These are perhaps the mightiest of all ribs. Also known as 'Loaded Beef Ribs' for good reason, Plate Short Ribs are the biggest and meatiest you can get, taken from the lower part of the rib cage.
Baby back ribs are more tender and leaner than spare ribs, and are typically more expensive. Each rack is around 2 pounds, around half of which is bone, and one rack feeds around one hungry adult. Spare ribs are cut from the ends of baby back ribs and run along to the pig's breast bone.Are St Louis ribs the same as spare ribs? ›
Compared to spareribs, St. Louis-style ribs are uniform in shape (a beautiful rectangle!) and a little easier to work with. They've got less meat than baby back ribs (we'll get to those next) but that meat is fattier. And because they're thinner and flatter, they also brown more evenly.Are baby back or St Louis ribs more expensive? ›
There is a lot of bone but also a higher amount of fat than baby back ribs, making them very flavorful if cooked properly. Each slab usually weighs 2 1/2 pounds or more and feeds about three to four people. St. Louis-style spareribs are typically cheaper than baby backs ribs.What's the difference between pork ribs and baby back ribs? ›
Baby back ribs (bottom of photo) are cut from the top of the rib cage, near the backbone. Spare ribs (top of photo) are cut from the bottom of the rib cage and sometimes they include the brisket, which is a bony piece of meat that hangs from the bottom. The farther down the rib cage you go, the meatier the ribs become.What city has the best BBQ ribs? ›
Kansas City, a shining star of barbecue
Slow-cooked meat slathered with a sweet and tangy sauce rooted in the flavors of molasses and tomato have made Kansas City a star of the BBQ rib scene.
St. Louis-style ribs (cut from the spare ribs) may not be what you initially picture when thinking of barbecued ribs, but they'll get you salivating nonetheless. Compared with baby backs, these ribs have more meat between the bones and are fattier, making them a more flavorful choice.What city is most famous for ribs? ›
Memphis is one of the best cities for barbecue in America. Pork ribs and pulled pork are the most popular meats. While other cities are known for their distinct style of BBQ sauce, Memphis' claim to fame is using a dry rub on the meats instead of a sauce.What is the tenderest pork ribs? ›
Cut from the top portion of the rib cage, baby back ribs are shorter than spare ribs (hence, the name "baby") and are the most lean and tender ribs.Why are my country-style ribs tough? ›
Are Country Style Ribs Tough? This is a cut of meat that really needs to be cooked low and slow. As long as you cook them that way, they'll turn out tender. If you cook them quickly at a high heat, this cut of meat will be tough.
Country-style ribs are from the shoulder (or blade) end of the loin. With these, you'll find the most meat per bone and the least amount of fat.What are the top 7 pairs of ribs called? ›
The first seven pairs are attached directly to the sternum by costal cartilages and are called true ribs. The 8th, 9th, and 10th pairs—false ribs—do not join the sternum…How rare is a 13th rib? ›
Lumbar (or 13th) ribs are a rare anatomical variant and represent transitional vertebrae at the thoracolumbar junction with a prevalence of ~1% 1.Is rib 11 a true rib? ›
The ribs are anchored posteriorly to the 12 thoracic vertebrae. The sternum consists of the manubrium, body, and xiphoid process. The ribs are classified as true ribs (1–7) and false ribs (8–12). The last two pairs of false ribs are also known as floating ribs (11–12).Which is tastier beef or pork ribs? ›
Beef ribs tend to be fattier and more flavorful than pork ribs, although pork spareribs, cut from the sternum, are also fattier and pretty darn tasty. One thing that differentiates the two is where the meat comes from. Beef back ribs are leftover from where the ribeye is cut away, which makes them less meaty.Do ribs taste better on grill or oven? ›
While BBQ gives ribs a distinct flavor, baking has other benefits to it. Baking gives you more control over how fast and how much the ribs are cooked. Because ovens have controlled temperature you are less likely to overcook or under cook your ribs.What is the difference between St Louis ribs and regular ribs? ›
Louis Style Ribs. St. Louis ribs start off as spareribs, but they're trimmed down (the sternum, cartilage, and rib tips are removed) to a rectangular shape and more uniform appearance that's easier to cook and eat, making them a great rib for beginners.How many pounds of ribs per person? ›
Select baby back ribs that are 2 pounds or less for the most tender, juicy meat. Plan on 1-pound servings for two people, or half-pound servings for four people. If serving before a meal, cut up ahead of time, arrange on a large plate and serve with barbecue sauce and lots of napkins!How to buy the best baby back ribs? ›
Choose slabs with good meat coverage over the bones and no large areas of surface fat. Avoid “shiners”—slabs where the meat has been cut too close to the bone. These exposed bones may fall out during cooking. For best quality, avoid buying ribs that are frozen or have been previously frozen, if you can.Why are baby back ribs more expensive? ›
The price tag on a portion of baby back tends to be larger than for any spare rack. This is purely due to the high demand for this tender and lean option. Spare racks tend to have more flavor but can't match up when it comes to tenderness.
Costco's ribs are meaty and well seasoned with a slightly sweet and smoky flavor. If you cook them slow and low you will get super delicious ribs that will fall off the bones easily. They are wonderful if you are looking for flavorful ribs that you don't need to prepare before putting them in the oven or on the grill.What is the 3 2 1 rule for ribs? ›
Essentially, 3 2 1 ribs go like this: 3 hours of smoking the ribs directly on the pellet grill. 2 hours wrapped in foil, still cooking on the grill. 1 hour of cooking, unwrapped and slathered in barbecue sauce.What is the 2 2 1 rule for ribs? ›
The 2,2,1 stands for 2 hours unwrapped, 2 hours wrapped in foil and 1 hour unwrapped. This means – you cook your smoked baby back ribs for 2 hours on the grill in indirect heat, then you wrap your smoked ribs for 2 hours in foil, then you cook the final hour unwrapped.Which is better beef ribs or short ribs? ›
Short ribs will have less meat because they come from the chuck primal which is a tougher section of the cow. Back ribs, on the other hand, will have more meat as they come from the loin primal which is a more tender section. However, these two types of ribs are still relatively tough cuts of meat.What's the difference between ribs and beef ribs? ›
Size: Beef ribs are much larger and thicker than short ribs, meaning that they have more meat. Pork ribs come from a smaller animal and are naturally more diminutive than beef ribs. Beef ribs tend to look more hefty and primal and often require two hands to eat. Pork ribs are smaller and easier to eat with one hand.What's the difference between prime rib and beef ribs? ›
Butchery: Both rib roast and prime are primal cuts of beef; however, prime rib recipes call for the cut to remain whole, whereas a butcher typically divides a rib roast into individual ribeye steaks. The rib roast is generally a boneless cut of meat, while prime rib comes with the bone still in it. 2.What kind of ribs does Applebee's use? ›
Ever wonder where Riblets come from? "Riblets" is Applebee's trademarked name for button ribs or rib tips (as they are called at Walmart), which is a short cut trimmed from the back end of pork spareribs, packed with lots of connective tissue.Are Texas Roadhouse ribs beef or pork? ›
At Texas Roadhouse we use only American-grown USDA #1 inspected fresh domestic Pork Loin Back Ribs. Starting with the right product will give you a Legendary result.How much does a full rack of ribs cost? ›
They will usually be about $3.50 per pound but might be as low as $1.50 per pound depending on where you buy them and if you buy in bulk or not. A rack of spare ribs will have about 11 to 13 ribs each.What is the best rib in the world? ›
Scorpions are widely acknowledged as the best RIBs in the world because their unique hull design gives them the best of both worlds – the highest levels of safety and class leading performance.
Costco's ribs are meaty and well seasoned with a slightly sweet and smoky flavor. If you cook them slow and low you will get super delicious ribs that will fall off the bones easily.Which is better spare ribs or St Louis? ›
Compared to spareribs, St. Louis-style ribs are uniform in shape (a beautiful rectangle!) and a little easier to work with. They've got less meat than baby back ribs (we'll get to those next) but that meat is fattier. And because they're thinner and flatter, they also brown more evenly.What is the BBQ capital of America? ›
Kansas City is the Barbecue Capital of the World | Visit KC.Who has the best BBQ in the United States? ›
- PICNIC. DURHAM, NORTH CAROLINA. ...
- Q39. KANSAS CITY, MISSOURI. ...
- SCOTT'S BAR-B-QUE. HEMINGWAY, SOUTH CAROLINA. ...
- SKYLIGHT INN BBQ. AYDEN, NORTH CAROLINA. ...
- SNOW'S BBQ. LEXINGTON, TEXAS. ...
- THE SHED BARBEQUE & BLUES JOINT. OCEAN SPRINGS, MISSISSIPPI. ...
- THE GREATER GOOD. ATLANTA, GEORGIA. ...
- TRUTH BBQ. BRENHAM, TEXAS.
- Weber Genesis II E-310. The best gas BBQ. ...
- Big Green Egg Extra Large Nest BBQ. ...
- Weber Go-Anywhere Charcoal BBQ. ...
- Weber Smokey Joe Premium BBQ. ...
- Char-Broil Gas2Coal Hybrid Grill. ...
- Weber Compact Kettle Charcoal BBQ. ...
- Weber SmokeFire EPX6 Wood Fired Pellet Grill. ...
- Char-Broil All Star Gas BBQ.
Louis-style ribs is not always as tender as the baby back rib meat. However, depending on how they are cooked, they can be incredibly flavorful. As for size, the St. Louis-style ribs are generally larger than slabs of baby backs.