I Have a Rib Tip For You...


with Mike Johnston
June 25, 2018
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I Have a Rib Tip For You...

Most of my first 36 years on this planet were spent living on the northside of Chicago. On my 37th birthday, Janet and I left Chicago and headed west to Denver where, later that same year, we opened our first Savory Spice down on Platte street. We both love Denver and it is our home, but Chicago will always be a big part of who we are.

One of things I love most about Chicago is the food. Not the fancy food, but the joints, the dives, and the hidden gems. One of my favorite stories to tell is about a barbecue joint on the southside of Chicago called Lem’s. It is still there today, operating in a very tough neighborhood on east 75th. When I say very tough, I mean it. When you order at Lem’s you don’t hand your money to the cashier, you lay it in a small opening in the 2 inch thick bulletproof glass that the cashier then rotates inward. A few minutes later your order and change rotates out. As you can probably imagine, it can be a kind of intimidating scene.

Lem's BBQ Chicago
Photo by Nick Murway for Eater Chicago

My good friend Tony and I would hit up Lem’s 50% of time after a round of golf whenever we played in the south suburbs. The other 50%, we would head to a fried fish spot, but that’s a story for another day. Tony was a rib guy and I was a rib tip guy (with a side of fried gizzards!).

For years that was the way it was. We’d stop, get our ‘cue, and head to our respective homes to chow down. All those years I kept telling him he was missing out. The ribs were solid, but rib tips were just meatier and, in my opinion, much better. But typical Tony, he was set in his ways and there was no changing his mind. Then one day I got home from a Lem’s run after dropping him off and opened my bag to find that I had ribs, not rib tips. I immediately dialed him up and he picked up and didn’t even say hello. Instead he said, “don’t you even think about coming back.” He’s been a rib tip man ever since!

So, this 4th of July or anytime you’re thinking about smoking up some ribs, I highly recommend that you opt for spare ribs over baby backs or St. Louis cut, and rib tips are the reason why.

Technically, spare ribs and St. Louis cut ribs are the same, but the St. Louis cut is sold with the rib tip (sternum) and flap removed. A recent price comp of the two shows St. Louis cut ribs are priced more than a dollar per pound higher then spare ribs. It takes all of about 2 minutes to remove the tips and flap, so buying St. Louis cut ribs could easily be viewed as having a barbecue meal stolen from you and that’s a major food crime!

Steps for removing rib tips:

Rib Tip - Butcher Marks

First, slice off the flap. To do that, locate the last bone, which is the smallest, and cut the flap off with a parallel slice about a ½ inch away from that bone.

Second, slice off the sternum. To do that, locate the edge of the bones and make a perpendicular cut following the shape of the rib rack.

Rib Tips

Voila! Now you have a St. Louis cut rack of ribs and rib tips (including the flap). Couldn’t be any easier! Optionally, you can do some additional trimming to pretty the rack up a bit, and you can remove the membrane from the back, but I usually just move on to the next steps.

From here it’s all about applying flavor and smoking the meat. For the rack, I recommend a light seasoning of Salt & Pepper Tableside Seasoning followed by a thin coating of ‘Cue Glue and finished with a generous coating of your favorite Savory Spice rib rub.

If you’re thinking about using our new Sweet Jerk Barbecue Sauce (and you should) try seasoning it with our Bajan Seasoning. It’s not a typical rib rub but it’s a great pairing with the sauce!

For the rib tips, I recommend seasoning them with a ¼ tsp of kosher salt per pound of meat about an hour or two before you plan on smoking them to create a simple dry brine. Right before you’re ready to put them on the smoker, give them a generous coating of your favorite rub. I recommend trying our Memphis BBQ Rub and finishing the tips with Sweet Jerk Barbecue Sauce or for a more traditional flavor, our Midwestern Sweet BBQ Sauce.




When it comes to smoking the rack, allow 6-7 hours when cooking between 225-250 degrees fahrenheit. I use the flex test to know when they’re done. It’s a simple and effective way to know when ribs are perfectly cooked. Using a pair of tongs, pick the rack up in center. They are done when the rack flexes downward enough that the center starts to just split the meat on the surface.

The rib tips will cook much faster than the rack. Keep a close eye on them because at the same cooking temp (225-250 degrees fahrenheit) they can easily be done in 60 - 90 minutes (flaps will cook quicker because of their smaller size). You’re looking for an internal temp of 170 degrees fahrenheit.

Whatever you cook up this Independence Day, have a safe and fun holiday with your family and friends. I know Janet and I will LIVE LIFE FULL this holiday, because that’s the best way to live!


Comments on this Article

(guest), on June 26, 2018

If you are in a hurry try cooking ribs no seasoning meat side down for 60-90 min at 325. Clean the membrane and smoke for 15 min while heating up then cook check in 60 min and turn if not 170 when ribs are done season with favorite rib rub sparingly and use rib sauce to finish cut into rib portions and enjoy.

(guest), on June 26, 2018

Oooohh, Sweet Mama!!!

(guest), on June 26, 2018

No you gather them up off hide toward the outside middle (two sides) of the unfinished pig when you turn it over (to skin side down). On a smaller pig the ribs may be done at that point also. Because of the fluids expelled by the carcass it is a total waste to rub spices onto the hog before you start.

(guest), on June 26, 2018

I like the article and I buy my ribs already cut in the St Louis Style. I have a food trailer and like saving a dollar so do you have any idea what do you do with the sternum & flap there has got to be some use for them for.

mikejohnston (registered user) on June 26, 2018

The sternum & flap end up being the ribs tips that I love so much!. I hope you try them. Smoke em up. Chop em up. I like mine with sauce. Enjoy!

(guest), on June 26, 2018

Would pass this BBQ Place in 1954 when the neighborhood was much different. Lived at 7241 South Green Street (Half block west of Halsted), and my mother, sister and I would catch the 74th/75th CTA bus to the 75th street Lake Michigan Beach after school let out during the summer. Those were happy days.

(guest), on June 26, 2018

I haven't had much experience with any of the pork ribs and this will come in handy if they have those spare ribs on sale again. I just finished cooking a side (have to do in the oven currently), but I didn't know how to cut them like you show. Now I will know how. I used the Park Hill Rub on them and they turned out really good. (That rub is also good on chicken)

(guest), on June 26, 2018

Mike, you have a true gift. Love your article and the way you tell a story. I was thinking that you were brought up to appreciate all sorts of things that others turn their noses up on, like chicken gizzards. A very well written article. Definitely heard your voice when I read it. Love you!

(guest), on June 26, 2018

Please explain to people why to use salt and pepper seasoning.It is by far my largest an most consistent purchase from Savory.
You simply have to try it to believe it.
My daughter buys spices from a different spice peddler in Littleton,but after trying salt and pepper seasoning from my table,(I keep a few bottles around the kitchen and dining area at all times),she now has your salt and pepper on her table.
It is a great combination of light flake salt,and perfectly palatable pepper,in one great shake.
If I didn't already know,I would just throw on some ordinary salt,and some pepper.Yours makes the difference.And people should be made aware how special it really is.

(guest), on June 28, 2018

What is the easiest way to remove the sternum/tip section? It can get pretty tough and I don't own a butchers bandsaw. Cleaver? I think I've tried with a large chefs knife before and it wasn't getting the job done

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