Smoked Ribs using the 3-2-1 Method

Smoked Ribs using the 3-2-1 Method

There is no food that screams summer to me than a rack of smoked pork ribs. I want them to be coated with rub, smothered in sauce and smoked to perfection. Also, they need to be tender and juicy! Ribs, if cooked improperly, can result in tough meat that has to be ripped off the bone. If cooked the right way, ribs can be tender juicy and fall of the bone delicious! This method, often called 3-2-1, is easy and generally fool proof. It creates ribs that are so tender that you can pull the meat off the bone with your fingers.

3-2-1 Method

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This first stage is the stage where the ribs are smoked for 3 hours. Set the smoker is set for 225F to create a low and slow smoke. Make sure the ribs are generously coated with a good BBQ rub. Here is a recipe for my rub which is great on ribs! 3 hours of smoking is the recommended time for pork spare ribs. If you are smoking back ribs you may want to smoke them for just 2 hours. Any more and you may find it dries the ribs out a bit too much. I have used hickory, apple, cherry, alder and maple woods with this method of smoking ribs. My preference is hickory or apple although the ribs taste wonderful with any of those types of wood. Before I got a smoker I used my gas grill to simulate smoking. It can work somewhat but it does not generate near the level of smoke in the unit. Also sometimes it is difficult to get a gas grill to have a consistently low temperature like 225F. Directions for using a gas grill are below. 

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The second stage is where the meat tenderizes. If you like your ribs to be fall off the bone tender then make sure you do this step. Wrap the ribs tightly in foil. This steams the ribs and the result is tender juicy ribs. Just before closing each rack of ribs in the foil, put a little bit of beer or apple juice in with the ribs. This helps the steaming process. Put the ribs, wrapped in foil, back in the smoker for 2 hours at 225F. My smoker can function as an oven and so, for this stage, I turn off the smoking element in my smoker and actually just bake them in the smoker at 225F for the 2 hours. Some people continue to smoke for these 2 hours as well. It is also possible to use an oven for this stage.

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This final stage is when you sauce the ribs. Make sure you use your favourite BBQ sauce and liberally coat the ribs on both sides. Then back in the smoker set for 225F for 1 final hour.  Again, it is possible to use an oven for the last hour. Personally, I like to smoke them for the final hour. It creates a wonderfully smokey flavour in the BBQ sauce.  The result is tender ribs that have a full on smokey flavour with so much seasoning in the rub and sauce. This 3-2-1 method is easy and guarantees that you will have ribs you will never forget!

Some great BBQ rub recipes

Some of my BBQ sauce recipes

 

For those interested in what smoker I have, it is a Bradley Electric Smoker with 4 racks. You can see the link to it at the Amazon store to the right. I highly recommend it. It is set-it-and-forget-it easy!

Peel off the membrane on the underside of the rack of ribs. Generously rub the BBQ rub on the the ribs before smoking. Let the rub penetrate in the meat for an hour or as long as you can before smoking it.

Step 1:

Smoke the ribs in a 225F smoker for 3 hours. If you do not have a smoker, there are directions below for simulating a smoker with your gas grill.

Step 2:

Wrap the ribs with foil and continue to cook at 225F for 2 hours.

Step 3:

Sauce the ribs with your favourite BBQ sauce and smoke at 225F for a final hour.

4.8 from 11 reviews

Smoked Ribs using the 3-2-1 Method
 
Prep time
Cook time
Total time
 
Author:
Serves: 4
Ingredients
  • 2 racks of pork ribs
  • 1 cup of Steve’s BBQ rub
  • ½ cup beer or apple juice
  • 1½ cups BBQ sauce
Instructions
  1. Peel the membrane off the back of each rack of ribs. Generously rub the BBQ spice rub all over the ribs.
  2. These are directions to smoke the ribs in a smoker.Set the smoker to 225F and use your wood of choice (I use hickory and apple most often). Place the ribs in the smoker and smoke for 3 hours if they are spareribs and 2 hours if they are back ribs.
  3. After the ribs have been in the smoker for 3 hours, take them out and wrap each rack with aluminum foil. Pour a ¼ cup of beer or apple juice with each rack of ribs. Fold over the foil and pinch all the edges to ensure that it is sealed well to allow steaming.
  4. If your smoker can function as an oven (like Bradley smokers) place the ribs wrapped in foil back in the smoker for another 2 hours. It is also possible to use an oven for this stage. Have it set for 225F and bake them for 2 hours.
  5. After these 2 hours, remove the ribs carefully from the foil. Generously coat the ribs in your favourite BBQ sauce. Put them back in the smoker set for 225F for 1 final hour. It is also possible to use the oven for this stage.
Notes
Directions to smoke the ribs on your gas grill: Setup your barbecue for indirect grilling. To do this place a metal pan or tray under the grill where the ribs will cook. Fill the pan ¾ full of water. The water helps the ribs ‘slow cook’ and keeps the heat down. How to make a smoker pouch: Make a pouch of aluminum foil and fill with the wood chips. Close the foil pouch and poke a few times with a knife so the smoke can escape. Place the pouch, under the grill in the barbecue but not right under where the ribs will be. Heat the barbecue to about 225 F. Place the ribs on the grill and and close the lid. Cook for about 2-3 hours. If after the first 2 hours the ribs are looking well cooked and browning, it may be best to remove them from the grill.

 

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71 comments

  1. these sound soooo good! i love ribs in the summertime + these sound right up my alley. love the 3-2-1 method – such a smart idea!

  2. This post does sound like an easy way to get tender and tasty ribs. I may have to step into my hubby’s world of smoking things and suggest he try your version. It does look like a winner!

  3. These sound amazing! Great step by step guide. I’d love to try these out, we’ll see how I do. :)

  4. So ready for rib season. Great tips!

  5. Simple straight forward breakdown of how to make great ribs. I must say that I’m jealous of your smoker, though one of these days I will have a backyard with multiple grilling devices for whatever mood I’m in.

    Glad to see the Old Speckled in one of the images. cheers!

  6. Great rack! And thanks for explaining the method – I have next to no experience with with barbecuing!

  7. Smokers and Grills are not my methods of cooking… but I wish I could do it after seeing these beautiful ribs. My son loves ribs and asked for them as his birthday dinner last year. He would flip for these. :)

  8. Looks great. I’m assuming those are spare ribs, not baby backs? I’ve always found that the 3-2-1 method results in ribs that are overcooked to my taste. I like them to have a little pull to them. I’ve modified mine down to a 3-1.5-and then however much longer it needs final stage. But it is a great starting point and seems to work out fine on your smoker by the pics. Thanks for sharing. Good to see more blogs with grilling and smoking. Keep up the good work.

    • Thanks!! yeah, everyone has different preferences on so many aspects of cooking eh. People can follow the recipe and then tweak as they see fit. You are right, these are spareribs. Like I mentioned in the directions, I think that with baby back ribs it is better to cut out an hour of the cooking. I go 2-2-1. I know others that go 3-1-1. My wife and kids prefer no pull at all. I like a bit.

      • I am smoking ribs as I sit here and tell you these are by far the best ribs I have ever smoked I followed your directions last night and made some of the best ribs ever. Today is Sunday June 29th 2014 it is my 49th birthday and I am smoking 3 more racks for a BBQ today my family loves them

        • So happy to hear this! Glad you enjoyed the ribs and I hope you have an awesome birthday. The simple fact that you are smoking meat today indicates that the birthday is already pretty awesome.

  9. WOW! I could smell these babies smoking right off the computer screen! My husband would be very, very envious of your smoker so I’m going to have to hide this post of yours. You ribs are amazing and your process shows that you really do love to smoke!

  10. Looks awesome, thanks for the recipes, I am going to try it out next weekend. Thanks.

  11. Old Speckled Hen…..mmmmmmm
    one for the ribs, and one for the belly. The English make a lovely pint!

  12. Steve, This recipe is AMAZING! I’ve just featured it (and your BBQ Rub and your BBQ Sauce) as the Daily Nosh on the VirtualWineBar.com. I paired it with some Sangria while the Ribs smoke and a bottle of McManis Cabernet Sauvignon at the table. Keep up the wonderful grilling!
    Cheers!

  13. Smokes is still out – there’s time. I never new the trick to getting them ‘fall off the bone’ tender. Thanks.

  14. The bradley is pre-heating, the ribs are soaking up the rub (your recipe). It’s 11:30 am. Havin’ a couple of brews as I go! What a great way to spend a Sunday!
    Thanks for your clear and concise instructions!
    Can’t wait to lay into these puppies!

  15. I did this recipe a while ago and it was pretty decent. doing another batch right now and hoping i can get them a little more tender. Great recipe and thanks for sharing

  16. This paragraph is truly a nice one it assists new internet viewers, who are wishing for blogging.

  17. Great recipe Steve, but room for tweaking as you say. My tweak is to salt cure the ribs and omit the rub. Pack ribs in dry salt, kosher preferred, for 45 min to an hour, then rinse salt off completely, pat dry and continue with Steve’s 3-2-1.
    Some minor changes: (1) cut the rack into 4 rib section, cure the front 2 large sections one hour and the smaller one’s 45 min. (2) I do the tenderizing in an oven in a covered pan rather than in foil in the smoker. This reduces the salinity somewhat as salty liquid comes out of the meat.

  18. I will give a try….fall off ribs is backyard…but I will certainly try your method…thx for posting..m

  19. Best ribs I’ve ever made or eaten following this method

  20. Do you put your wood chips in dry, or soak them beforehand? I took your advice and will be smoking a couple of racks tomorrow.

    • You only soak wood chips if your smoking on a charcoal/gas bbq as far as I know, you should not with a electric smoker I have never soaked mine trying this 3-2-1 today, have smoked ribs in the past for about 6 hours but didn’t wrap them in foil for 2 hours and they were a bit dry but still good

  21. I too have a Bradley Smoker, exact same model, so I am wondering what you have in the cassarole dish on the bottom rack? Side dish or something else?

  22. Made these in a Brinkmann electric smoker with peach wood. Turned out great. I have always been lacking in the rib department. But these turned out great with my own applewood rub and my hickory BBQ sauce. I have gotten pork shoulder and chicken down but these are the first “spot on” spare ribs I have made.

  23. When smoking bone side down or meat side

  24. This method sounds awesome! I will be trying it on my Big Green Egg on Friday. I will post up the results.

  25. Made ribs today with your rub and 3-2-1 method and I have to say it worked out amazing!! I tweaked the rub a little, but overall this method just makes it so easy and delicious! It was my 1st time and will certainly not be my last!! Thanks!

  26. I am smoking a rack of Baby Back Ribs at the moment in my 22.5″ Weber Kettle. Had some thunderstorms this afternoon that delayed my start.

    After trimming the ribs, removing the membrane, and patting them dry, I applied a thin layer of yellow mustart and then applied Lambert’s Barbeque Sweet Rub O’ Mine as a rub. I let them rest for a while.

    I arranged the Kingsford Hickory briquettes along one edge of the kettle, three deep in two rows.

    I foiled the rest of the lower coal grill and created a vertical diffuser/barrier with heavy-duty aluminum foil.

    I lit some briquettes on the side and after ashed over, I put them on top of one end of the line of briquettes.

    I placed a large disposable drip pan beneath where the ribs would cook and filled it with about 3 cups of water to stabilize temperature in the kettle.

    After 3 hours, I removed the ribs from the kettle and placed them on heavy-duty aluminum foil coated with Pierce’s BBQ sauce from Williamsburg, VA (thinned with water and mixed with cayenne powder). I carefully coated the remainder of the surface of the ribs with the mixture and tightly wrapped them in the foil, making sure that there were no leaks.

    I placed them back onto the Weber Kettle (indirect heat) at 225 deg. It’s been an hour now, so I still have some time to go before I remove them from the foil and give them a final baste for a nice finish.

  27. Steve, sorry for the delay. The ribs came out amazing! I cooked 2 St. Louis racks using mesquite & apple wood. They were a hit! The meat was perfectly tender and easily came of the bone. That last hour appeared to be crucial in firming them up a bit. Right out of the foil they were almost falling apart. All in all they were great. This will be my new way of smoking ribs. It’s simple & fool proof. Thanks for sharing. A+++

    • Kevin – Thanks for your comments. I am so glad you enjoyed them! You are correct, right out of the foil they are close to falling apart as they are really tenderized during that second stage. The last hour helps them stay together but they still are fall off the bone tender.

  28. Steve, made baby backs using your rub and your 2-2-1 (for baby backs) recipe. Totally fall-off-the-bone smoked and delicious. My wife, who is a very fussy eater, gave me (and you, therefore) the ultimate (for her) compliment when she said, “Honey, those were excellent ribs.” Your recipe was totally easy to follow and complete. One quick question–if I wanted to have some pull and chew to them, how do you think I should adjust my times.
    Thanks, rib-bro!!

    • Hi Ken! So glad you and your wife enjoyed the ribs. The 2nd stage is really the time when they are tenderized. You could try adjusting the time from 2-2-1 to 3-1-1. I have found that moving one hour into the 1st stage can result in ribs with a bit more pull. If you try that in the future, let me know how that works for you. Thanks for stopping by!!

      • Thanks for the advice, Steve! I actually tried to give you 5 stars for your recipes, but my fingers are too big for the little tablet I was typing on, and once you indicate how many stars you want to give a recipe, the app will not let you change it. Something the webmaster might want to tweak a bit.

  29. Great method the 3-2-1….. dont see the need for barbecue sauce though. Full flavor without. Maybe on the side.

  30. Steve, it’s 11pm and now I’m starving after reading all your recipes. I’d really like to try the 3-2-1 ribs but I have a question since I will be traveling this weekend. If I were to smoke them at home on Friday and wanted to finish them at a friends cottage on Saturday, where in the 3-2-1 process would I split it? Smoke and cook at home and then just finish on Saturday or just smoke at home and cook and finish on Saturday? I figured I’d ask the expert.

    • Hey Brian! That is a great question. What I would do is smoke and cook the ribs at home and just do the last hour to finish them at the cottage. I would keep them wrapped in the foil for the trip as well. That way they do not dry out at all between the smoking and the last stage. I think they should still be very moist and turn out great.

      • So it would be safe to do the first two steps, leave them in he foil wrap and refrigerate, then warm the next day in the oven? I’m assuming at about 225. They would still be nice and tender without over cooking?

  31. I googled smoked ribs yesterday and found your 3-2-1 method. The ribs were outstanding and the most tender ribs I’ve ever eaten. I’d pick up a rib to eat it and by the time it got to my mouth all there was was the bone left… the meat just fell off. Thanks for this excellent method for the best ribs ever!

  32. I used this method today and they came out incredible. I will use a little bit less cayenne next time because some of my guests don’t like the heat. Otherwise this is the way I’m going to smoke my ribs every time.

  33. So quick question after you putt BBQ sauce for last hour do you put them back in aluminum foil? Sorry new to smoking

  34. I’ve done this recipe twice now in my old timey cinder block smoker. Normally I smoke pork shoulders to make BBQ, but I hadn’t really gotten into ribs yet. Well, I’m now hooked! These ribs ROCK! Best I’ve ever had! The only difference was that I used hickory and pecan as my smoke wood. Thanks so much for posting this. The apple juice/beer step is crucial. Oh, and I used Carolina Treet sauce which really took the smoke well.

  35. Im trying this out today we will see how it goes I’ve never smoked ribs before but this seems like its working so far

  36. So we should do step one and two then refrigerate and reheat in the oven for step three the next day and hey won’t be overcooked? I’m assuming 225?

  37. This was my first time smoking anything and my wife and I both loved the ribs. I used an electric smoker and they turned out great. The thing thing I loved best was I had freedom to get other things while the ribs doing their thing. I did have one question though. I forgot to add water to my smoker and wondered if it hurt anything?

    • So glad you enjoyed them! Not adding water is not a major thing. Really, what it does is snuff out the fire/smoke in the wood puck once it falls off the burn plate. The greatest fear without the water is that it could truly catch fire in the smoker. So, water is advisable, but I am glad nothing happened this time round. Happy smoking!

  38. I happened upon this recipe as I was debating on buying a smoker attachment for my grill. After seeing this, I decided to pick one up and boy was I not disappointed. Even though I am still going through the trial and error stages of smoking, the ribs turned out GREAT! I have never been a big fan of ribs, though I have had some that I thought were good. After my first batch today, I know what good ribs are. Your method/rub has turned me into a true rib fan! I don’t know if I could ever go back to the ribs of the past now.

    Now I just need to work on pulling the ribs from the foil without them falling apart.

  39. The most frustrating part of ribs has always been the membrane. Problem solved — use pliers to grab the edge and tear down. Worked like a charm.

  40. WOW! I’d never heard of the 3-2-1 method before but I am a true believer now!! We had three racks of back ribs and a new smoker all ready for Father’s Day but not really sure how to make it all work together. Found this recipe and followed it (including the BBQ Rub). We tried out one rack tonight just to make sure and MAN!! It was awesome!! My 11-year old son ate half the rack on his own. My family is going to love me tomorrow! Thank you!!

  41. Wow! Incredible. Thank you for this very concise and easy to follow recipe. I made a full rack of baby backs – half dry with the rub and the other 1/2 with a sweet BBQ sauce. Both were amazing. (I probably would go dry next time if I had to pick one; but thankfully I don’t!)

    Since I was doing baby backs, I shortened up the time to 2 hours smoke, 2 hours wrap, and ~ 35 minutes finish. The meat was absolutely falling off the bone, yet still moist and delicious. Next time I might shorten up the times event a little further as the full rack broke in half when I took it out of the foil wrap; but that is not a complaint by any stretch, merely a note-to-self on nuanced changes on the next rack!

    Thanks again!

  42. I now use this method every time I smoke my ribs…nice, quick and pretty easy…thanks Steve

  43. I just ate some bomb diggity ribs! Similar method. I rub my rack with peanut oil first, then apply generic rib rub-followed by a tablespoon or two of brown sugar. Then smoke on pecan at 250 ish for three hours. Then I add another tablespoon of the brown and a cup of apple juice. However I was out of juice today, so I put in half a bottle of ipa. Then I diced an apple and spread it around the rack (double foil wrap just before adding the liquid of course). Then I move inside at about 300-320 in the oven. (No more wasting that delicious pecan). Wait 2-3 hours. So I have what you might call a 3-3, or 3-2 method. I used the beer/sugar liquid in the bottom of the foil for mop-beats any sauce you could ever conjur up. I like em dry-then add whatever you want afterwards ( brown/beer mop in my case). They were fantastic. Then I found your recipe! Glad you are sharing it. Everybody should be able to enjoy a great rack!!

  44. Andrew Wittrock

    Hello, Steve. Thanks for the share. I’m smoking up some back ribs right now using 2-2-1. I was so excited to get this rolling, I forgot to peel off the membrane. Any thoughts on how that will play into things? This is actually my first set of ribs to smoke.

    -Andrew

    • Hey Andrew. Great to hear from you and this may be your first ribs to smoke but I am sure it will not be your last :)

      Regarding the membrane – leaving it on will not affect it too much. That has happened to me from time to time. More than anything, you may notice it a little more difficult to cut and the meat comes off the bone easier without the membrane. On the taste side of things, the membrane does not allow the rub or smoke to penetrate as much flavor in the underside of the rack. It will still taste great though!

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