Fabricating the St. Louis Rib Rack, a pictorial tutorial

Discussion in 'Pork' started by bbally, Jan 17, 2010.

  1. bbally

    bbally Master of the Pit OTBS Member

    Lots of questions on fabrication St. Louis Style ribs. Thought I would
    put a pictorial together on the fabrication of a St. Louis rack out of spares.

    One of the first things I want to go over is the selection of the ribs
    themselves. St. Louis can not have bone creep (pull back) in the
    professional catering world. And since most the cutters we have right now
    in the butcher houses are rarely trained, and those in a chain grocery store and
    never trained, you have to know how to select the proper ribs to get a good
    finished product. You need to use your fingers and kneed the meat to the
    bone to see the cover. You need at least 3/8 inch of meat cover to keep
    bone creep out of the presentation on the final product.

    We are going to start with a decent set of spare ribs. I have selected
    these out of 20 in the case (I bought these at the store instead of ordering
    from IBP so I could go through the same process as a home smoking enthusiast.)
    because they have about 1/2 inch cover on the end of the rib bones.


    Now the first thing that has to go is the damn flap of muscle and silver skin
    on the rib. This always needs to be trimmed off. Save it for Chile


    With the flap removed we start seeing the back of the ribs to take a more
    professional look in their clean cut appearence.


    With the flap removed we then slip a boning knife or a fillet knife under the
    membrane and remove it. Some don't remove this membrane. Your ribs
    will have a much better mouth feel if you remove this non-digestible membrane.
    You have the option of doing the cartilage cut prior to removing the membrane,
    just don't forget to do it.

    I have left the knife in the cartilage cut so the line of the cut becomes
    evident to those who are not familiar with fabrication cuts.


    After we remove the meat and bone along the cartilage cut we have finally
    arrived at the basic St. Louis. The end where the cartilage was removed
    should have the cartilage round ends showing through. This indicates you
    cut along the proper line. To find this line it is sometimes helpful in
    the beginning to fold the rib up, the fold point that takes place naturally is
    the area for the cut. I am using a breaking knife at this point. A
    heavy backed knife with a steep cut angle for cutting the tough stuff.


    Now we want to count the rib bones. I like 10 to 12 ribs per St. Louis
    Rack. Don't go to nine, this is called a cheater in the industry, stay
    with 10 to 12 and you will always have full consistent sized ribs. I have
    left my boning knife in the gap between the three I removed and the St. Louis
    fabrication so everyone can see the line that is cut. Remember to cut out
    closest to the bone on the removal side so you have plenty of meat cover on the
    end of the rack.


    Now that the basic St. Louis is fabricated we still have some cleaning up to
    do. Because there are damn few butchers actually cutting meat anymore, you
    will have to remove excess meat, fat, and silver skin to create a St. Louis rib
    worth presenting to guests.


    I remove silver skin with a boning or fillet knife. It allows me to slip
    along between the protein and the nasty membrane tissue and fillet it off.
    Depending on who the cutter was, you can have a lot of nastiness to remove.
    Barbarians are in charge of cutting anymore at the packing houses, so all manner
    of crap that should be thrown out is still hooked to the cut. The better
    the cleaning the better the final product.



    Of course they leave it on cause you are going to pay $1.99 per pound for it.
    And they would rather you take the loss, because they know most people don't
    really know it is wrong. I cut my own St. Louis for this same reason, I
    will not pay more per pound to have someone cut off parts of the spare that have
    less training in butchery than I do.

    In the end if you fabricate your own, or know what to look for when selecting
    already fabricated St. Louis you will end up with a nice clean, squared off
    product that should produce an excellent smoking experience and final product.


    Now the section on top of the cartilage is excellent for a smoking testing.
    That is to say, you already have the fire going, might at well use the riblet
    section to do your testing and experiments.


    Of course I have already seasoned these with the experiment. And the
    next pic is of those St. Louis waiting to have the magic of oak and hickory
    added to them to produce that wonderful product we so all enjoy!


    And while they are in the charbroil offset, the wife and I enjoy our new
    cement patio deck. Wine in the finally above freezing weather.




    I hope this helps a few of you to start to take spares and fabricate your own
    St. Louis Style rib racks. I think you will find your product improving
    greatly if you start taking control of the fabrication.

    Yours in good smoking, bbally
  2. brohnson

    brohnson Smoking Fanatic

    Looks great, nice work!
  3. deltadude

    deltadude Master of the Pit OTBS Member

    Nice instructions and pics. Thanks for taking the time and effort.

    I wish I could buy already trimmed spares to st.louis style. Costco or Sams sells BBacks for about $1.5 more per lb, and each package has 3 racks. The spares have only 2 racks. For our family of 5 three racks will feed everyone with seconds and still have 1+ rack for left overs. But to get an extra rack of spares I have to buy 2 packages, and that is a lot of extra trimming and half of that trim is useless and goes to the dog. So I would prefer paying the same price for per lb for either trimmed spares or bback and avoid the waste, and extra work.
  4. b8h8r

    b8h8r Smoke Blower

    nice tutorial...points for you.
  5. nwdave

    nwdave Master of the Pit SMF Premier Member

    And I just happen to have one in the freezer to practice on. And the best thing is, I get to eat the mistakes and have to buy more to practice on. The best of both worlds. Thanks for the step by step. [​IMG]
  6. Great pics!
    I'm about to pull mine. They are at 167 now. What is that white stuff on the ground?
  7. danmcg

    danmcg Master of the Pit OTBS Member SMF Premier Member

    Bob can you expand on this a bit? why not and what is it you look for?
  8. Thanks for the lesson. Nice job.
  9. bbally

    bbally Master of the Pit OTBS Member

    No bone sticking out like some kind of compound fracture.

    I want to see no bone sticking out, only the end of the bone covered properly by meat.

    Swift packing is the worse for this, Excel is damn close to swift, IBP cuts the best spares there is!
  10. mulepackin

    mulepackin Master of the Pit OTBS Member SMF Premier Member

    Interesting that IBP (formerly Iowa beef processors, now a part of Tyson Foods, the chicken people) turn out the best pork. Great photo essay!
  11. ronp

    ronp Smoking Guru OTBS Member SMF Premier Member

    Nice job Bob. I thought about you today when at Sam's. They had IBP ribs there today.
  12. bbally

    bbally Master of the Pit OTBS Member

    Here is the finished product.


    This is the rib from the side. Smoke almost made it all the way through to the heaviest spot.


    This is an example of mechanically induced bone creep. The packing house sliced the end of this one and that cause just the one bone to come through.


    The tasted great. Hickory has no equal!
  13. ronp

    ronp Smoking Guru OTBS Member SMF Premier Member

    Looks great!! [​IMG]

    I use hickory exclusively. I got some shrimp scampi on now with hickory. I have a bag that is almost gone of mesquite, and I will not be buying again, too strong, and I like smokey.
  14. rickw

    rickw Master of the Pit OTBS Member

    Very nice tutorial. I always do my ribs St. Louis style, luv em.

    This is one that should be made a sticky imo. It's a very good piece of reference material.
  15. pignit

    pignit Master of the Pit OTBS Member SMF Premier Member

  16. pops6927

    pops6927 Smoking Guru Staff Member Moderator Group Lead OTBS Member SMF Premier Member

    This is the skirt, or part of the diaphram muscle, of the hog; it's also the same from the plate on a steer, the equivalent cut from beef. Skirt steak on beef became widely known in the 70's as KMart featured it on their Tuesday Night Blue Light Special Steak Dinner (for $3.99 if I remember correctly) in their Kmart restaurants.
    If you julienne it across the grain, it is very good for stir-fry as it's loose connective tissue breaks down with the acids used. Of course, it adds to sausage meat too, or is great for nibbling while waiting for the ribs (it's thinner, will cook thru faster - snack time!).
  17. bbally

    bbally Master of the Pit OTBS Member

    This one is destine for my grinder and then to a chefs pan to make the transition to Green Chile!
  18. fired up

    fired up Smoking Fanatic OTBS Member

    Nice post Bob, this deserves a sticky.
  19. richoso1

    richoso1 Smoking Guru OTBS Member SMF Premier Member

    Thank you Bob for the great pics and time to develop this tutorial. I know many a rack will benefit from your interest in ribbing. Points to you my friend.
  20. dirt guy

    dirt guy Smoking Fanatic

    If you can get Seaboard spares (marketed as "Prarie Fresh" around here) give them a try. They are comparable (IMO, most times better) than the IBP. On one of our purchases, Seaboard had accidently packaged some St. Louis styles in a box labeled as regular spares. They were some of the best looking ribs we've ever bought. Tasted great, too.

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