Smoked Ribs using the 3-2-1 Method

3-2-1 ribs. I always wondered when I first got my smoker what it meant to smoke ribs 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 Ribs 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!

Prep the ribs first!

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: The 3 in the 3-2-1

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: The 2 in the 3-2-1

This second stage is where the meat gets super tender. The ribs get wrapped in foil and this essentially steams them which causes the connective tissues to break down and the meat to tenderize.

If desired pour a little bit of liquid in with the ribs. I usually use about 1/3 cup for each rack of ribs. You can use beer, pop or juice. They all work great!

Wrap the ribs with foil and continue to cook at 225F for 2 hours. If you are cooking back ribs, you may want to only cook for 1 hour. Side ribs need the 2 hours, but I have found that back ribs turn out just as well cooking for just 1 hour in this second step.

Step 3: The 1 in the 3-2-1

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

Open up the foil and you will see the steam escape. This process tenderizes the meat and you will see how the meat is pulling away from the rib bones.

Gently lift the ribs out of the foil. Be careful as they can fall apart cause they are so tender. Place the ribs back on the smoker rack and brush with your favourite BBQ sauce.

Place the ribs back in the smoker for the final hour!

These ribs are full of flavour and incredibly tender. Once you take them out of the smoker, you can cut and divide them up and serve them immediately!

If you want another recipe for smoked ribs check out: Honey Sriracha Smoked Pork Side Ribs

Smoked Ribs using the 3-2-1 Method

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3-2-1 ribs! These instructions for smoking pork spareribs and baby back ribs, using the 3-2-1 method, create tender fall off the bone ribs. Cooked in an electric Bradley Smoker
Prep Time: 15 minutes
Cook Time: 6 hours
Total Time: 6 hours 15 minutes
Servings: 8

Ingredients

  • 2 racks pork ribs
  • 1 cup Steve's BBQ rub
  • 1/2 cup beer, pop or apple juice
  • 1 1/2 cups BBQ sauce

Instructions

  • Peel the membrane off the back of each rack of ribs. Generously rub the BBQ spice rub all over the ribs.
  • 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.
  • After the ribs have been in the smoker for 3 hours, take them out and wrap each rack with aluminum foil. Pour a 1/4 cup of beer, pop 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.
  • 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.
  • 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 3/4 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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108 comments

  • 5 stars
    Sorry if you answered this question already. Having guests over tomorrow and have 4 racks of baby backs.(rub on) I wondered if I could do the 3 hours of smoke today and the 2-1 tomorrow. Or do the 3-2 and save the last 1 hour tomorrow. If so, How long do the ribs need to get up to room temp on the counter before putting on the sauce for the last hour? I’m one of those that like to have everything ready!

    • Reply
    • I have done both and I find it easiest to the 3-2 and then keep them wrapped in the foil in the fridge. Then for reheating, do about 30 minutes with it still wrapped and then finish with that last hour as the recipe explains. I find that the 30 minutes wrapped warms up the ribs without drying them out. Hope this helps!

      • Reply
      • Yay! That’s what I did. Love your technique, thank you.

        • Reply
        • So glad it worked out! Sorry I didn’t respond before you made them.

          • Reply
  • Excellent post. I definitely appreciate this site.

    Thanks!

    • Reply
  • 5 stars
    Im new to smoking. I founf this and thought I would try it as my first batch on my own didnt work out so well. This recipe came out AWESOME. I am using it everytime. Fact I’m getting ready to use it again today.
    Thx

    • Reply
  • 5 stars
    Steve,.

    You da Man!

    These were great!

    On step #2 I added some of the fixer upper a 1/2 cup of Budweiser and these were the best ribs I have made so far. Try this 3, 2, 1 method.

    I have an Electric Masterbuilt Signature Series Smoker and this method worked perfectly. Go gettem guys and gals, this works great! GITERDONE!!!!

    The last two hrs throw you on some sliced potatoes and onions with garlic, season salt, and butter and smoke on third step. No oven, no mess, just some lip smakin, good ole eatin!

    Mike

    • Reply
    • So glad they turned out well for you!!

      • Reply
  • 5 stars
    Great recipe. Recently though ive stopped smoking the ribs for so long in foil. I maybe only do them for 30 mins – 1 hour maximum.

    I know what you mean about trying to get a consistent temperature on a grill for smoking. Ive, in the past, tried to use a Webber kettle and it was so difficult trying to maintain the temp at 225 for 3 hours straight.

    • Reply
  • I did this method with no previous smoking experience. I did two racks of pork spare ribs with hickory chips in an electric smoker. My rub was about 1/2 brown sugar, 1/4 applewood rub, and 1/4 general pork seasoning rub we got at an Amish market. It smelled phenomenal as it was being applied so I knew we were good to go. Followed the instructions exactly, used a Redd’s Aplle Ale during the foil section and then applied Famous Dave’s Sweet n Zesty the last hour. So tender…literally fall off the bone. I tried to take them out with tongs and the bones just fell out so I scooted them onto a baking sheet to remove. Slow n low is the way to go. These were restaurant quality…I mean a legit BBQ restaurant. Some of the best ribs I ever had…and I made them. Topped it all off with sweet corn and twice baked potatoes for sides. Thanks! I’m trying round 2 today.

    • Reply
  • 5 stars
    I used this method, but used my own rub mixture. For step two I placed the ribs in oven bags and used Angry Orchard cider in the bags then wrapped foil around the bags. I used hickory and apple wood chips and used the new Masterbuilt 40″ Bluetooth smoker. The ribs turned out great using this method. The smoker with Bluetooth worked great I can do things around the house without having to run to the smoker to check the temp. All one has to do is look at your phone change temp, time and check the temp of your ribs.

    • Reply
  • I’m at 3 getting ready for step 2

    • Reply
  • 5 stars
    This is my go to recipe for ribs. I have made this version many times since finding this great recipe on www.theblackpeppercorn.com. Thanks for sharing this easy meal that is enjoyed by all who eat it!!!

    • Reply
  • 5 stars
    Steve, this was Awesome! Thank You for posting! This is the first recipe I tried in my new Bradley Digital smoker. Also my first time ever trying my hand at smoking. Everything turned out great, the wife and kids very satisfied. It really was as easy as 3, 2, 1

    Thanks Again,
    Eric

    • Reply
  • 4 stars
    Whatever you do, combine brown sugar and rib in equal amounts and allow to sit overnight although this recipe will work. Bring the ribs to room temperature prior to cooking and I would strongly urge everyone to put the ribs on a tray with a backing rack and raise them during the “TX Crutch” or steam cycle. The sauce at the end would just cover up the possibility of a bad BBQ. I’d serve it on the side.

    Finally, use the St. Louis cut for more consistent and tastier results.

    • Reply
  • Hi Steve, thank you for your response. We went 15 min. longer and the results were fantastic. The rub was great….will back off on the cayenne pepper next time. Some found it a little spicy. The beans were unbelievable. Great meal. Still eating left over ribs and smoking a batch of beef ribs tomorrow. Do you think we need to increase the time? Henry

    • Reply
  • Hi Steve, another question for you. Our smoker is full with beans and ribs. We preheated to 225 but the temp. dropped when we added everything. It has been 2 hours now and the temp. is slowly creeping up but still not at 225. Do we need to cook longer? Should we have preheated the smoker to a higher temp ? Henry

    • Reply
    • Hi Henry – I have had this happen when I fill the smoker right up with stuff. It depends how much it dropped, but I would imagine that the length of time should still be fine. If you want, you could maybe add 30 more minutes – but I would not add any more than that.

      • Reply
  • This is our first try at smoking ribs and we are following your method, including the rub. However, we are marinating them overnight. Will that be too long do you think? Henry

    • Reply
    • Hey Henry – marinating it overnight in the fridge should be fine. Hope you enjoy them!

      • Reply
  • I have used this method a lot. Follow the directions and you’ll be a GREAT rib cooker!

    • Reply
    • So glad to hear! Thanks for the comment.

      • Reply
  • 5 stars
    great site and recipes my friend. best find in years. I am a smoking addict since 10yrs upon discovery of an old smoker. love to see what others do and your site is superb! thank you and great work!

    • Reply
  • 5 stars
    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

    • Reply
    • 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!

      • Reply
  • 5 stars
    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!!

    • Reply
    • Thanks for your tips! I agree everyone should be able to enjoy a great rack and I have ribs in the fridge ready for a smoke.

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

    • Reply
  • 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!

    • Reply
    • So glad you enjoyed them! I make ribs this way all the time.

      • Reply

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