When it comes to barbecue ribs, it's all about the pig. Most smokehouses serve either baby backs or spareribs (or both). Either way, they're butchered from hogs: Baby backs are the smaller bones, cut from the upper section of the rib cage connected to the spine. Spareribs, usually longer and curved, are located below the babies.

Spareribs can be served with their rib tips attached or removed. When they're removed, the ribs are often called "St. Louis-style" or "center-cut." Personally, I prefer St. Louis-style ribs, without all that annoying cartilage gumming up the works, but this list features spareribs with tips attached and without.

[Best BBQ 2016: Top 10 barbecue joints | Best brisket | Best pulled pork | Why pitmasters matter]


The ribs at Fat Pete's are some of the best in the D.C. area. (Kate Patterson for The Washington Post)

1. Fat Pete's. The pit crew at Pete's serves St. Louis-style ribs, available dry or sauced. I go with the dry-rubbed ribs to better appreciate the kitchen's skill at applying the perfect level of smoke to the bones, which are sweet and peppery.

2. The BBQ Joint. The St. Louis-style ribs I ordered here arrived sauced and sprinkled with chef Andrew Evans's proprietary rib rub, making for a bone-in experience that balances sweetness with a precision pinch of heat.

3. Smokehouse Live. Like all the best ribs, the ones at Smokehouse Live require a little jaw action to pull the meat off the bone. Your work will be rewarded with a smoky, meaty bite spiked with cayenne and chili powder.

4. Epic Smokehouse. The Arlington restaurant goes against the grain with its half rack of apple wine-glazed baby back ribs, which are charred, smoky, sticky and irresistible.

5. Hill Country. These oversized meat wands can be inconsistent, but when they're on, the spareribs deliver a lean, Texas-style pepper burn to complement the toothsome pork perfumed with post-oak smoke.

More barbecue: 

• The $20 Diner's top 10 barbecue joints

• Why pitmasters matter

• Best brisket

• Best pulled pork