Count ‘Em! How Many Ribs in a Rack?

September 22, 2023
Written by Kristy J. Norton

With pork, the number of ribs can vary from 10 to 13 ribs, while with beef, there is usually 9 ribs per rack. As for lamb, the traditional number is 8.

As the professional chef of my friend group, I am often asked about how many ribs in a rack of pork, lamb, and beef. Thus, I have gotten used to breaking it down.

In this post, I will show you how many ribs in each rib rack and guide you through the variations. Let’s begin!

How Many Ribs in a Rack

A Note About Ribs in a Rack

As you go through this post, you are going to notice words such as “about”, “between”, etc. In short, you will be given estimates about how many ribs in a rack.

Why is this, though?

Well, this is because how many ribs in a rack can depend on various factors. More specifically, though, it depends on the butcher cuts.

bbq ribs being made

For instance, if a butcher made a miscalculation when cutting the ribs, then you may end up with fewer or greater number of ribs in a rack. On the other hand, if some of the ribs were damaged during the butchering process, then you would end up with fewer ribs.

In the case of pork ribs, if you get fewer than 10 ribs in a rack, it is known as a cheater rack.

This is why, when shopping for yourself, you should always do your research and count the number of ribs before making a purchase. Of course, you should keep in mind that, in the end, you are paying for how much the meat and bones weigh rather than the ribs.

A Half Rack

You are most likely to see this term on restaurant menus, although it may occasionally show up at butchers shops as well.

Then, what does it mean?

Exactly what it sounds like – half of a rack and half the number of ribs.

I should warn you that there is no guarantee about how many ribs you are going to get when you order a half rack. This is because you don’t always get exactly half a rack.

It is possible that you will get anywhere from three to eight ribs in a half rack. So, be prepared!

Pork Ribs

Pork ribs are pretty popular – they are small, tasty, and tend to be pretty easy to grill. Here are the three types of pork ribs you can choose from:

Baby Back Ribs

Baby back ribs are taken from the loin area and are curved towards the spine. A rack of baby back ribs may consist of between 10 to 13 ribs. These are arguably the most popular type of pork ribs.

The ribs can be between 3 and 6 inches long and each rack can weigh around 1.5 to 2 pounds.

Now, contrary to their name, these pork ribs don’t actually come from young pigs. Rather, they are just shorter than spare ribs. They tend to consist of leaner meat.

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Pork Spare Ribs

You can expect up to 11 ribs in a rack for pork spare ribs. These ribs are taken from the belly area. They have a considerable amount of meat on the bones and there is lots of fat here as well. They are highly flavorful.

St. Louis Style Spare Ribs

It is quite common for spareribs to be trimmed down to what is known as St. Louis style ribs. As a result, these rack of ribs may have the same amount or fewer ribs than spareribs.

One rack can weigh 2.5 pounds or more.

Typically, though, the meatier ribs only excess fat and tough cartilage removed. The main benefit with St. Louis ribs is that they are of a more uniform shape and lie flatter on the grill. Thus, they are far easier to cook.

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Beef Ribs

Let’s move onto the various types of beef ribs available to you. Here there are two cuts of beef to select from.

First, though, I would like to discuss the full beef rib rack. From the back bone to the breast bone, there are 13 ribs in a full rack. However, it is unlikely that you will find an entire rack of beef ribs either at the store or your butcher’s shop.

At most, you can expect around 9 ribs per rack.

Beef Back Ribs

These beef ribs are taken from the upper back of the cow, behind the shoulder. This area is where you get prime rib and ribeye steaks. The back ribs are what is left behind after the prime rib roast is removed.

There isn’t much meat on top of these back ribs, but there is some meat left in between each rib. The meat is quite lean. There are about seven ribs in a rack, with each rack measuring about six to eight inches long.

These are sometimes known as dinosaur ribs.

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Beef Short Ribs

Also referred to as short plate ribs, this is a cut of meat that is taken from the lower part of the cow’s rib cage. The meat in this area is quite thick, with lots of fat and connective tissue.

These short plate ribs can often be purchased as three bone portions. Unlike back ribs there is a variety of lengths with beef ribs ranging from half an inch to four inches long, depending on the type of cuisine.

smoked beef ribs

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Lamb Ribs

Unlike with beef ribs or pork ribs, there is just one type of rack of lamb. This is taken from the back bone and rib bones.

Although there is just one lamb rack to choose from, there can be quite a bit of variation in how many ribs are in a full rack of lamb.

You are most likely to find eight ribs, although it is possible to find nine or seven. If you are eve shopping for lamb ribs in the UK, then ribs may be sold with just six ribs.

The individual ribs cut up and divided into a lamb rib chop.

Just as a side note, the top of the lamb ribs are often trimmed of meat, exposing the rib tips. This is where you “French it”. This is typically done in restaurants as it improves presentation of the lamb rack.

Serving Ribs? Here’s How Much You Will Need

Now that you are aware of how many ribs there are for each animal, let’s take a look at how many ribs per person each rack can feed. This comes in handy when planning a cookout for a large group or party.

Pork Ribs

As baby back ribs are smaller and have less meat on them, you do have to plan on more. As a general rule, calculate around 5 to 6 ribs per person. Depending on how many ribs are in a full rack, a single rack may be able to feed between one to two people.

As mentioned, you are more likely to find and buy St. Louis style spare ribs than actual spare ribs. In this case, you can calculate around five to six ribs per person.

If you are cooking spare ribs instead, you can calculate four or five ribs. These are meatier and your guests will fill up on this rack of ribs more easily.

Beef Ribs

When it comes to back ribs, I would suggest putting aside three to four ribs for each person. Yes, these ribs are larger but they come with a lot of fat. This can melt during the cooking process or may be simply not be as satisfying as lean meat.

As for short plate ribs, I would recommend about two ribs, perhaps three depending on the meal. These have more meat on their bones and it is easier to feel full with a fewer number of ribs.

Lamb Ribs

As for the lamb ribs, I would say that three to four ribs per person is great. This means that a single rack of ribs can feed up to two people at a time.

Appreciating the Factors

When choosing how many ribs or even rib racks to buy, it is important to understand that there are many different factors at work here. This includes what kind of appetites your guests will have, how many side dishes you are serving and more!

Thus, take these all into consideration before making your final decision. This will leave you with th right amount.

Swapping One Type of Ribs for Another

Are you wondering if you can swap out baby backs for St. Louis style spare ribs or vice versa?

Well, yes, you can! Although these ribs are quite different cuts, you can still substitute one for the other. When doing so, though, you have to be mindful of the fact that there is a difference in how many ribs are in a full rack.

Just as importantly, you should be aware that one type has mor meat than the other.

This is why if you are swapping out the St. Louis style spare ribs for baby backs, then you will need to increase the number of racks. If the situation is reversed, then you can get away with buying less.

While you can also swap out short plate ribs with back ribs and vice versa, you will still have to buy the same number of rib racks.

As you can see, there is more to this story than just how many ribs in a rack. You also need to understand the concept of a half rack, types of ribs, and a whole lot more.

The good news is that now that you are at the end of this post, you will have a greater understanding of this all. Choosing ribs – and how much you need – is going to be easier than ever before. Now, off you go!

By Kristy J. Norton
I'm Kristy – a chef and connoisseur of all things BBQ! You can find me either in my kitchen (or someone else's) or at a big outdoor barbecue surrounded by friends and family. In both my professional and personal life I’ve picked up more than a few tips and tricks for turning out delicious food. I consider it a privilege to share it with others!
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