Baby Back, Beef Back, Spare, and More: A History of BBQ Ribs

ribs in san diego county

Eating a great rack of ribs in San Diego County is great, but knowing the story behind the food you’re eating makes the experience even richer. 

Few foods have as long and as interesting a history as BBQ and BBQ ribs. Because the story behind the food we serve you is important to us, we feel it’s important to share these stories as well. So today, we’re taking you through the whole story of BBQ ribs and how they became the food staple we love today.

BBQ Ribs Through the Centuries

While you may be getting your BBQ ribs in San Diego County, they definitely didn’t originate here. They have a long and rich history and are popular today thanks to the rise of meatpacking as an industry, mechanical refrigeration, and commercial barbecue stands.

BBQ for All

The story of BBQ ribs, and BBQ in general, starts in the 19th century. Communities would occasionally host large events during which the community’s farmers would gather a few pigs, slaughter them, and place the entire animal on a barbecue pit to cook. At this time, ribs weren’t prepared specifically but were only eaten when a large gathering required the entire animal to be cooked. It’s commonly believed that barbecue and BBQ ribs come from a tradition of “making do”, but the truth is that it was originally used for the purpose of cooking an entire animal to feed communities of people.

Ribs to Spare

However, as the 19th century went on and meatpacking became a large industry in the U.S., ribs became available outside of community gatherings. In fact, at one point, meatpackers had more spareribs available than they knew what to do with. 

To transport pork, packers would put hams, shoulders, chines, hocks, jowls into barrels. The part of the pig that didn’t fit into the barrels? Spareribs. This left meatpackers with a significant amount of ribs that they needed to get rid of. This led to meatpackers practically giving ribs away for free or disposing of it however they could, but this would all change thanks to advancements like mechanical refrigeration and artificial ice-making.

The 1870s brought the rise of artificial ice-making and mechanical refrigeration, which made meat available year-round. This allowed meatpackers to keep the spareribs that couldn’t be shipped and sell them rather than give them away.

Commercial BBQ Ribs

In the 20th century, the U.S. became more urbanized and less rural, paving the way for cooks to sell barbecued meats on street corners or courthouse squares. While these cooks started out with temporary stands, they quickly expanded to permanent restaurants. This was when BBQ became commercial.

Originally, cooks that sold barbecue from temporary stands were farmers who would slaughter a few animals and take them to town to sell, but once they established permanent restaurants they began purchasing meat from packing houses. This also led to restaurant owners buying specific cuts of meat instead of working with the entire animal.

Thanks to these restaurants, spare ribs were soon popular all over the country, but particularly in cities with a large African-American community, where ribs were sold at nightclubs. Owners would set up small barbecue pits behind their clubs and ribs would be cooked and sold to hungry nightclub-goers. 

Post-War Ribs 

After World War II, high-end restaurants began to sell ribs. Americans also began barbecuing in their backyards during the post-war years, further increasing the demand for ribs. Thanks to this increased demand, the ribs went from being a low-cost cut to being in the “luxury” price bracket. 

This was the same time period when the St. Louis rib and rib tips appeared. Because St. Louis ribs aren’t based on how the ribs are cooked but rather how they’re cut, this left meatpackers another, new cut on their hands that their customers seemed initially uninterested in: the rib tip. The rib tip is a portion of the rack that’s made up of cartilage, gristle, and meat, which packers believed they would be unable to sell, but barbecue restaurants didn’t let these rib tips go to waste. Rib tips can now be found in most barbecue restaurants!

ribs in san diego county
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Today’s BBQ Ribs

At Felix’s BBQ With Soul, we carry the knowledge of this rich history with us and it informs how we prepare and cook our ribs. Just as ribs were originally a food eaten during community gatherings, we want you to feel at home in our community whenever you step into one of our locations. We know how important food is to bringing people together to create great memories, which is why we always put love and care into the food we make, and our ribs are no exception.

Our process for cooking ribs begins with a thorough rubdown where we make sure we cover every seam and crack so our ribs are fully saturated with flavor. Then we let our ribs marinate for 24 hours before cooking them. After this, our ribs are smoked and finished off with a chargrill. Finally, no sauce is put on our ribs until they’ve been ordered, because it’s important to us that our customers only get the freshest, best-tasting food. Serving our community includes providing them with quality food as well as a good experience.

Our Menu of Ribs

We have plenty of different types of ribs on our menu and we’re sure we have something for you!

  • Beef back ribs are made up of the bones leftover from a prime rib roast and are usually cut into single rib portions rather than a rack due to their size. There isn’t as much meat on beef back ribs, but they’re very tender when cooked long enough.
  • Spare ribs are found near the belly of the pig. Like beef back ribs, they’re very large and extend all the way to the front of the pig. Because they come from the belly, they’re very fatty and the least meaty of all types of ribs. However, spare ribs tend to be one of the most flavorful types of ribs because of their fat content.
  • Baby back ribs are found high on the back of the pig. They also come from the same bone found in bone-in pork rib chops. These ribs have a slight curve to them and are very lean, very meaty, and have very little cartilage.
  • St. Louis ribs come from the same part of the pig as spare ribs. As mentioned earlier, what differentiates St. Louis style ribs from spare ribs is the technique used to cut them. These ribs are very fatty, not particularly meaty, but are incredibly flavorful.

Ribs in San Diego County From Felix’s BBQ With Soul

If you’re looking for great BBQ ribs in San Diego County or the Lake Elsinore area prepared and cooked with care, come visit one of our locations! At Felix’s BBQ With Soul, our goal isn’t just to provide our customers with great food, but the experience that we believe should come with enjoying BBQ and Soul Food as well. When you step into any of our locations, our goal is to make sure you feel just as comfortable as you would at home.

Visit us today! You can even order ahead of time here. We hope we’ll see you soon!

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