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Ribs are a fun, finger-licking, and often delicious restaurant meal and a staple of American barbecue cuisine. You can find the very best versions in places like Texas and Tennessee. But, where I live in New Jersey, you can also get a rack of ribs at popular chain restaurants. Both Chili’s and Texas Roadhouse heavily advertise their amazing ribs, and I wondered: which place really has the best ones?
Chili’s has a popular jingle dedicated to its Texas-Size Baby Back Ribs (“I want my baby back, baby back”) and though I’d never ordered them there, I knew the chain held up the ribs as one of its very best dishes.
I’d never been to a Texas Roadhouse before, but immediately upon entering, I could see this was going to be a stiff competition. As part of her welcome spiel, the waitress announced to us that the restaurant is known for its amazing ribs! With my two dining companions (my 11-year-old twins) and big appetites, we were ready to get our fingers dirty to find out just which place deserved bragging rights.
To keep things on a level playing field, we ordered a full rack of ribs at each restaurant on different days—because, even when split between three people, these meals are very filling! When you include the sides, both orders exceed 2,000 calories, so I’d categorize these meals as a treat or “sometimes food.” Though full of iron, ribs are also fattier than other cuts of meat.
Read on to see which chain has the very best ribs.
Chili’s Texas-Size Baby Back Ribs
House BBQ (Full Rack): 1440 calories, 107 g fat (47 g saturated fat), 2180 mg sodium, 21 g carbs (1 g fiber, 19 g sugar), 99 g protein
When we sat down at Chili’s, the mirror above our table had the “Baby Back” jingle written on the glass, so already the restaurant had a lot to live up too. Priced at $23.29, the full order of ribs at Chili’s comes with fries and coleslaw, so that’s exactly what we ordered. The full order allows you to choose two sauces so we went with House BBQ and Honey Chipotle.
When the full rack arrived at our table, along with many moist towelettes, we were already salivating. The ribs had a perfect, reddish brown caramelized coating of sauce, and the sides both looked appealing. Biting in, these ribs were downright fall-off-the-bone delicious. They were not tough, but perfectly tender and the seasoning was right on. Perhaps the best part of these ribs was the sauce in which they are basted, which is very savory with just a hint of sweetness. I liked this so much that I didn’t mind the fact that it was all over my fingers. (That’s the reason I don’t often order ribs!) In fact, this stuff was so good, I’d take a bath in it.
The fries and slaw were both on point and I liked the fact that Chili’s is so confident that these are the correct pairings that they don’t give you a choice. The extra sauces were both good, but it was the House BBQ that took this dish over the top. My only criticism is that the ribs were slightly fatty but having eaten some of the best barbecue in the south, I was shocked by how good this dish was at a chain restaurant.
Texas Roadhouse Fall-Off-The-Bone Ribs
Fall-Off-The-Bone Ribs (Full Slab): 1450 calories, 102 g fat (41 g saturated fat), 2260 mg sodium, 15 g carbs (4 g fiber, 10 g sugar), 116 g protein
When we arrived at Texas Roadhouse, we were surprised to see how packed the restaurant was on a Sunday evening, with multiple birthday parties being celebrated at surrounding tables. This thematic restaurant was one big hoedown and, after being served the house’s signature warm buns, we were ready to sample the famous ribs. Priced at $22.99, a full rack came with a choice of two sides, so we went with Caesar salad and steak fries (there was no coleslaw as an option).
The salad arrived first and while tasty, it was soaked in way too much Caesar dressing. Next came the ribs which were piled high on the plate. They looked slightly less appetizing than the Chili’s ribs, which had that perfect BBQ color. Biting in, these ribs were also well seasoned and tender, but what made them fall short was the barbecue sauce.
While both chains clearly have their own secret sauce recipes, Chili’s rub had that slight sweetness that gave it a classic BBQ taste, while Texas Roadhouse’s sauce was just okay. The steak fries were fine, but here Chili’s also won out since its fries have seasoning. Texas Roadhouse did not offer any additional sauces for rib dipping, which was another minus in my book, especially since it was that extra kick of sauce at Chili’s that took the dish over the top.
Overall, I was surprised that I could find such good ribs at either chain restaurant, but when it came down to it, Chili’s came out on top.