321 ribs is a BBQ lover’s tried and true technique for achieving that fall-off-the-bone perfection.
The 3-2-1 rib method breaks down the cooking process into simple steps:
- 3 hours of smoking
- 2 hours wrapped in foil
- 1 hour of finishing with sauce
At TheGrillingDad.com, I’ve taken a deep dive into making the most of the 3-2-1 ribs method. With the right grill, technique, and a pinch of patience, you’ll have ribs that not only tantalize your taste buds but also become the talk of the town.
Here is a video of me using the 321 method on some baby back ribs:
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What Is The 321 Method for Smoking Ribs?
If you’re into BBQ, there’s no denying that you’re into ribs. Doing them right is essential.
That’s why learning how to smoke your baby back ribs using the 3 2 1 method is a great skill to have.
As a result, we end up with the best ribs that melt in our mouths, making it the perfect starter ribs recipe and one that the family is sure to rave about!
What Does 321 Mean When Smoking Ribs?
- The “3” relates to smoking the ribs for three hours directly on the grill or smoker.
- The “2” stands for the two hours we put the ribs back on the grill with them wrapped in foil with liquid.
- The “1” is the final hour spent slathering the ribs in BBQ sauce after unwrapping them.
Ingredients for 3-2-1 Ribs
The thing about the 3-2-1 method that’s so great is that it’s a foolproof way to make sure that the tender meat falls off the bone.
Every. Single. Time.
3 2 1 ribs don’t burn or overcook, so we’ve got very little to worry about.
When using this method, all we need are the following for this ribs recipe:
- A spray bottle
- A sauce brush
- Heavy-duty aluminum foil
- A grill or smoker
- Pork ribs – preferably baby back ribs
- Dry rib rub
- Dark brown sugar
- Apple juice or apple cider vinegar
- Your favorite BBQ sauce
Read More >> Top 5 Best Dry Rub For Ribs (2022 Review)
How To Smoke Ribs Using the 321 Ribs Method
- Prepare the ribs
- 3 Hours of Smoking Unwrapped
- 2 Hours of Smoking Wrapped
- 1 Hour of Smoking Sauced Up
Step 1: Preparing The Ribs
For this first step, we’ll need to peel off the underside (or bone side) of the rack of ribs’ membrane.
Then, we use rib rub or BBQ sauce on our baby back ribs.
For this ribs recipe, I highly recommend only using a rib rub during the first step. Apply the rub and let it sit at room temp.
We should wait for at least an hour so that the flavor has time to penetrate into the meat before smoking.
Preheat Your Smoker
During the prep stage, you should set your smoker’s temperature to 225°F, which is the optimal temperature when using the 3-2-1 method.
Type of Wood To Use
I recommend using hickory when smoking ribs. It adds a subtle bacon-y taste but won’t overpower the ribs’ natural flavors either.
Hickory wood comes in logs, chunks, chips, and pellets, so you should be able to find them for any type of smoker.
Read More >> Best Wood for Smoking Ribs
Stripping the Membrane
Here’s an important step to making flavorful ribs.
Before you season the ribs, take a few minutes and pull the membrane (also called silver skin) off the bone side of the ribs.
If you skip this step, smoke cannot penetrate the underneath side of the ribs and you’ll be missing a lot of flavors!
Step 2: 3 Hours of Smoking Unwrapped
Now that your smoker is preheated to 225°F, it’s time to smoke the ribs for three hours directly on the rack bone side down.
We can also put ribs on any grill and add smoke to simulate a smoker if that’s more convenient.
Read More >> How To Use a Smoker Box on a Gas Grill
During this 3 hour smoke, don’t mess with them. Remember the saying:
“If you’re lookin’, you ain’t cookin’.”
Step 3: 2 Hours of Smoking Wrapped
The next two hours are spent tenderizing the meat.
First, we wrap the ribs in aluminum foil to allow the meat to steam while being cooked.
This steam will break down the connective tissues, making the meat tender.
We should also pour about ⅓ cup of apple juice or apple cider vinegar, 1/4 cup brown sugar, and a few tablespoons of butter.
These liquids work great for that tender result you’re looking for (and they’ll taste great).
The brown sugar will add that nice caramelized color and add a touch of sweetness.
Similar to the three hours of smoking, we should keep the temperature at 225°F when cooking for two hours.
Here, you’ll still place these bone side down.
Pro Tip >> If your ribs are cooking in the foil for more than 2 hours, they will become mushy. Make sure to set a timer.
Step 4: 1 Final Hour of Smoking Sauced Up
It’s time to sauce and smoke one final time!
For the last hour of smoking our ribs, we need to continue to cook them at 225°F meat side up after brushing on our preferred BBQ sauce.
Let the steam escape by removing the foil. Now, we’ll be able to see that the meat is beginning to fall off the bone ribs as they become more tender.
This is why we need to be careful when we’re lifting the smoked pork ribs from the foil.
They’re so tender that they may fall apart.
Use a sauce brush to apply the BBQ sauce after placing the pork ribs on the smoker rack. Apply a generous amount of sauce to make it tastier.
Now, we wait for the final hour by the smoker or grill. Get your sides ready because it’s almost chow time! Your BBQ ribs are almost ready.
Should I Rest the Ribs After They’re Smoked?
To allow the juices and heat to redistribute, let the ribs rest for about 10-15 minutes after they have been removed from the grill.
What Are the Different Types of Ribs I Could Use for 321 Ribs?
Baby Back Ribs
After the loin is removed, back ribs are cut from where the rib meets the spine. Baby back ribs are called “baby” because they are shorter than spareribs – not because they come from babies. Back ribs, back ribs, or loin ribs can also be called baby back ribs.
After the animal’s belly has been removed, pork spare ribs are cut from the belly. Typically, the breastbone and chewy cartilage are removed to form the popular St. Louis-style spare ribs. Occasionally, pork spare ribs are called St. Louis-style spare ribs or breastbone-off spare ribs.
St Louis Style Ribs
It is the belly of a hog that supplies St. Louis style ribs, which are spare ribs trimmed to have a uniform shape.
Read More >> Best Smokers for Beginners
3-2-1 Smoked Ribs
- 2 Racks of Ribs
- 4 Tbsp Yellow Mustard
- 3/4 Cup Dry Rib Rub
- 1 Cup Apple Juice divided
- 1/2 Cup BBQ Sauce divided
- 4 Tbsp Butter
- 1 Cup BBQ Sauce
- 1 1/2 Tbsp Honey
- 1 1/2 Tbsp Brown Sugar
- Start by removing the membrane from the back side of the ribs. Do this by sliding a butter knife under the membrane and over the bone. Lift and loosen the membrane until it beings to tear. Grab the edge of the membrane with a paper towel so your hands don't slip, and completely remove it. It often comes off in one big piece, but you may have to tear it off in smaller sections. This step is crucial, so make sure you take it off.
- If making your own rib rub, prepare it in a bowl. If using a pre-made dry rub, keep it nearby.
- Completely cover the ribs with yellow mustard. Don't worry, you won't taste this later. It's used as a binder.
- Next, sprinkle your dry rub all over the ribs. You want them to be covered well.
- For the best results, wrap them in saran wrap and rest for 2 hours. You can even keep them in the fridge overnight if you'd like to be more prepared.
- Once you're ready, preheat your smoker to 225°F and add in your wood chips. We recommend apple wood for when smoking ribs.
- Now that your smoker is preheated, place your ribs bone side down on the grill grates. They will be on here for 3 hours.
- While they're smoking, mix together 1/2 Cup of apple juice and 1/2 Cup of water in a spray bottle. You'll want to spritz the ribs with this mixture every half hour.
- After 3 hours, remove the ribs from the smoker, but keep the smoker going at 225°F.
- Put your heavy-duty foil on the counter and crease the edges. This makes sure the next mixture doesn't spill out. Put your ribs on the foil bone side down -- you want the meat on top for this next step.
- Mix 1/2 Cup of BBQ sauce and 1/2 Cup of apple juice in a small bowl. Place your butter directly on the ribs--I like to cut them into smaller sections and evenly space. Now pour your BBQ sauce/apple juice mixture onto the ribs.
- Tightly wrap the ribs with the existing foil and then add a second layer of foil to make sure nothing leaks out.
- Place them back on the smoker bone side up (you want all that goodness to soak the meat) for 2 hours at the same 225°F.
- After 2 hours, remove the ribs from the smoker. Carefully remove them from the foil -- there will likely be a lot of steam.
- Mix together the Finishing Touches -- 1 Cup BBQ Sauce, 1 1/2 Tbsp Honey, 1 1/2 Tbsp Brown Suger -- then coat the ribs with this sauce.
- Place them back on the smoker at 225°F bone side down (meat side up now) for 1 final hour.
- Remove from the smoker, brush with any remaining Finishing Touches sauce, then enjoy!
FAQs About 321 Ribs
Here are the answers to common questions we get about smoking ribs:
Can You Smoke Ribs Too Long?
You can smoke your ribs too long and they’ll become either mushy or burnt.
If your ribs are left wrapped in foil too long, they’ll become mushy which is not what you want.
Also, if you have the ribs exposed to direct heat for too long, you’ll get dried-out smoked ribs.
Read More >> Ribs on the Grill (5 Easy Steps)
What Does “Bone Side Down” on Ribs mean?
We’ve mentioned “bone side” a few times in this guide. Let’s clarify.
You’ll notice a meaty side and a bone side on your rack of ribs. Putting the ribs bone side down towards the grill grates is what you want to do.
Read More >> How Long Do Ribs Last in the Fridge?
Is 321 Good for Ribs?
Smoking ribs with the 3 2 1 method, you’ll experience good, fall-off-the-bone ribs. If you prefer your smoked pork ribs less tender, use another way of cooking them.
With this ribs recipe, you can use spare ribs or baby back, so it’s a great choice.
What Temperature Should I Use for 321 Ribs?
When using the 3-2-1 method for baby back ribs, you’ll smoke them at 225ºF. That’s a total cook time of 6 hours at 225ºF.
Can the 321 Ribs Method Help Me Win a Competition?
If you’re in a friendly competition, they could help you win. However, in a professional competition, most judges will consider meat that falls off the bone as overcooked.
The best thing to do when deciding how to smoke your ribs is to consider who your audience is and how they’ll like it.
Do You Need to Spritz 321 Ribs?
The decision to spritz 321 Ribs is entirely up to you. Some people save half of the liquid ingredients to use as a spritz, while others put it all on the beginning. Either yields delicious results!
Final Thoughts On Smoked Ribs
If you want to try your own smoked ribs, then the 3 2 1 method is perfect.
It’s not only easy but has tasty end results every time.
Additionally, while grilling or smoking a rack of ribs, always keep safety top of mind. Your pork ribs should be cooked to an internal temperature of 145ºF.
And if you want to make your 3-2-1 ribs even easier, try them on a new pellet grill.