How Many Ribs In A Rack: A Griller’s Guide To Serving Sizes

If you’re an enthusiastic visitor to BBQs, or your the main griller at every BBQ or party, do you know just how many ribs are actually on a rack?

If you are the griller, you’ll be in charge of the quantity of meat you need to serve each person at every gathering, and to do this, you’ll also need to work out what the appropriate serving sizes are. Knowing how many people to expect can help with this, but so can knowing how many ribs are on a rack and how you will divide these up.

When it comes to racks of ribs and other bone-in meats, serving sizes can be tricky. Ribs are almost always sold in bulk and this can often complicate things further.

Luckily, we have written this guide to tell you a little more about how many ribs are in a rack or a half rack and what the best serving size is for visitors to your BBQ. Let’s dive right in.

How Many Ribs Are In One Rack?

The number of ribs you get on one rack will depend on which animal you are using. Pigs have 15 or 16 ribs depending on the breed, whereas cows have 13 ribs.

A full rack of ribs from a pig usually has around 10-13 ribs, whereas a full rib rack from a cow has only 9 ribs. A rack of lamb however has around 7-8 loin rib chops.

Pork Ribs

The first thing you will need to know when it comes to understanding rib meat is that there is more than one form of ribs and this is because there is more than one animal. However, even if you do only eat pork ribs, you will find you will always have more than one type of rib to choose from and this only makes it more complicated.

Spare Ribs

Spare ribs are taken off of the breast bone and the belly of a pig and are usually the most common type of ribs served up at BBQs. They are also referred to as side ribs and the meat is usually quite chewy, containing a lot of fat.

This chewiness however can be reduced if you cook the spare ribs for a long time at a particularly low temperature. Spare ribs can be expensive but yield a good amount of meat per rib. They also are a lot richer and hold a lot more flavor than baby backs.

The average rack holds about 11-13 ribs, but St. Louis ribs are a trimmed-down version of spare ribs, yet will have only 10-13 ribs in each rack.

Rib tips consist of meat that has been trimmed down from St. Louis ribs and these are known as brisket in the grilling world. However, they should not be confused with the beef cut that shares its name. Rib tips are typically around 1-3 inches wide and the cut can be up to a foot long.

You must cook rib tips properly as otherwise, the meat will be extra chewy and even quite tough. Many pitmasters do not bother with them but if you decide to have a go at serving rib tips, you will need to marinate and flavor them well before cooking, whilst also cooking them sous vide and then adding to the grill. 

Back Ribs

The back ribs, as the name, suggests come from the upper spinal region of the animal. They are lean, tender, and take less time to cook than spare ribs. You might also know them as loin back ribs or baby back ribs.

When the back ribs are removed from the pig, there are usually just a couple left in the shoulder. The racks consist of more ribs than the lower sections of the pig and you can usually find around 15 or 16 ribs on one rack of back ribs.

However, back ribs and baby back ribs both come from the same cut of the animal. The baby sections simply refer to the fact that these ribs are smaller than spare ribs but the overall rib count might be lower too. There can be as little as 8 ribs on a rack of baby ribs.

Beef Ribs

Beef ribs have 13 bones and these range from the backbone to the breastbone. A full rack consists however of only nine bones with the ribs ranging from the second to the 10th bone. This is because the bottom ends are cut off and sold as short ribs and the ribs will instead only be taken out of the middle section.

Beef ribs are not as cheap as pork ribs and though you can buy an entire rack, they are not as widely available either. This is because they can measure up to 18 inches long.

Though beef ribs are not cheap, they are less expensive than other cuts of beef as they hold a great deal of bone, meaning they yield less meat per pound. Though meat content can be little, however, they make up for this in their beefy, bold flavor.

Beef ribs are sold in two different cuts and these include beef back ribs and beef short ribs.

Beef Back Ribs

Back ribs are sometimes known as dinosaur ribs and they can measure between 6-8 inches long. They are usually sold in strips of 7 ribs, but this number depends on the butcher’s method of cutting the rib roast. If you go for beef back ribs, you will find little meat on top but plenty in between the individual bones.

Beef Short Ribs

Short ribs are usually sold in strips and consist of three bones with meat sandwiched in between. The cut is known as BBQ-style or flanken-style short ribs and it is popular for braised dishes.

Short ribs are called short plate ribs in some cases as the bones are relatively flat with a few inches of meat on the top. This is a big difference between the two different cuts of beef ribs.

Rack Of Lamb

A lamb rib chop consists of a long bone with a large morsel of loin muscle meat on the tip. A lot of restaurants might ‘french’ the rib chop and this means trimming the fat and any excess meat off the bone so it resembles a lollipop. This means only the tasty loin meat is left.

A full rack of lamb ribs consists of around 7-8 individual ribs but this can depend on the butcher.

Cheater Racks

A cheater rack usually refers to a rack of pork ribs that contain less than 10 ribs. If there are less than 10 ribs on a rack of back ribs, this is usually because the rack suffered a degree of damage whilst being butchered. This can lead to consumers thinking they have been cheated out of a full rack of ribs, hence the name.

However, it’s important to note that meat products are sold by the pound and therefore although you might feel cheated, you are only paying for the amount of meat you actually receive.

Half Racks

At restaurants, you might find you are offered either a full rack or a half rack of ribs, and you might be wondering how many ribs are in a half rack.

As a pig has between 15-16 ribs, a half-rack usually has 7 or 8 ribs, depending on the size of the full rack. Just like whole racks, however, the number can vary if the ribs suffer damage whilst being butchered. 

If you are purchasing ribs from the store, you should be able to count them yourself but when you are dining in a restaurant, it’s common to get between 3-8 ribs per half rack.

Serving Sizes

Now we have gone through what to expect when you buy a rack of ribs, let’s break it down into suggested serving sizes.

Pork Ribs

A rack of spare ribs can feed around 2-3 people, depending on size and how hungry your guests at the BBQ are. You will need to plan on serving each person around 4-5 ribs on average and since the rack contains around 13 ribs, it should be enough to feed 2-3 people.

For baby back ribs, however, you will need to be feeding your guests a couple more ribs as they are a much smaller size. They also don’t hold as much meat and this means the same amount of ribs will not get you as far. If you are serving baby back ribs, you should be serving each person about 6-7 baby back ribs.

Beef Ribs

You can reduce down the number of beef ribs if you decide to grill and serve these at the BBQ. You only need 2-3 beef back ribs per guest and this applies even if you are following the same protocol. Since the ribs are usually sold in three-bone portions it is easy to adhere to this guideline.

Lamb Ribs

If you choose to serve a rack of lamb, you should plan to serve around 4 rib chops to each guest. The average serving size ranges from 3-4 ribs per person but it’s always better to serve 4 to be on the safe side and make sure everyone is happy and full. Ribs often look as if they have a lot of meat on them, but this might shrink after cooking. 

Adjusting Serving Sizes

Although it is recommended to use the guidelines above when it comes to serving sizes, it’s perfectly acceptable if you want to be flexible with the numbers. Below is a list of other factors you should consider when you are planning on how many ribs to buy.

Type of Gathering

The type of gathering will be a big factor in determining how many ribs to serve each guest. For example, a fancy sit-down celebration meal will require large serving sizes whereas casual meet-ups and gatherings which are designed to simply get guests mingling and having a good time, will require fewer ribs to be served to each person.

This is because when people are focusing on mingling, this is all they tend to focus on and food comes second. 

Time Of Day

What time of day is the gathering is held at will also determine how many ribs to be served to each person. If you choose the evening, guests are often most hungry and therefore it is a good idea to overbuy meat to be on the safe side. However, if your party is mid-afternoon, you can expect people to eat slightly less.

Guests

Which guests you invite will depend on how many ribs you serve. This usually is associated with age as kids eat a lot less than adults. If the event is held outside, you will need even fewer ribs as kids easily get distracted by outdoor activities.

However, if your party is full of hungry full-grown adults eager to try some ribs, you are going to have to buy a lot more meat. This goes for how many guests you have at the party too.

You need to work out how many guests you are expecting to work out how many racks of ribs you need to buy to ensure everyone gets a fair portion size and no one is left out.

Sides

Before you head to the butcher’s to buy some ribs for your next party or BBQ, you need to know what side dishes you will be serving with the ribs. If you are planning to organize a whole summer BBQ, popular side dishes include potato salad, cornbread, coleslaw, pasta salad, bread, and lots of potato chips and dips.

This means you can hold back slightly and only serve the bare minimum amount of meat to guests so that they can fill up on the cheaper side dishes.

What Ribs Are Best To Serve At Your Next BBQ?

This all comes down to personal preference and whichever sort of ribs you end up choosing, we know you’re guests will be happy as long as you know what you’re doing on the grill and you’re adding plenty of flavoring.

However, if you do want our recommendation, beef back ribs are a popular choice to be served up at cookouts. This is because they are a reasonable price and can yield a good amount of meat for the value of the price. They also look impressive at the dinner table but make sure none of your guests is afraid of big bones!

Final Thoughts

From this article, we hope you have learned a little more about the different types of ribs you can find at BBQs or on the grill at any time of year and you now have a better idea of serving sizes if you happen to be the main griller that day or organizer of the party.

Though you can get so many different types of ribs, we promise whichever cut or animal you go for, it will be tasty and your guests will be back for more! So what are you waiting for? Grab that BBQ and head to the butchers as soon as possible! Happy grilling from us!

Mick Rogers