The 3-2-1 technique is an absolutely surefire strategy for ensuring fall-off-the-bone pork ribs every time.
This approach removes all of the guesswork from smoking ribs, so you won’t have to worry about how long they’ll take to cook or how to determine when they’re done. It’s a terrific strategy for beginners, whether you’re cooking for a crowd, or if you simply want to avoid stress.
I like using big cut spare ribs for this rib recipe, but if you’re preparing baby back ribs, I’ll offer you some simple changes.
- 3-2-1 Smoked pork ribs step by step
- Items that will help you cook these are:
- What type of ribs to use for the 3-2-1 method?
- Prepping the ribs
- Making your bbq sauce
- Smoker setup for 3-2-1 ribs
- Is the 3-2-1 method the best for smoking ribs?
- What to serve with bbq ribs
- How to smoke pork ribs using the 3 2 1 method?
- What liquid to use in 321 ribs?
- What temp do you smoke ribs at using the 3 2 1 method?
- Should I wrap my ribs in foil when smoking?
- Should I smoke pork ribs at 225 or 250?
- Does 321 overcook ribs?
- How often to put apple juice on ribs?
- At what temperature do ribs fall off the bone?
- Do you flip ribs when smoking?
3-2-1 Smoked pork ribs step by step
Enough teasing, what exactly is the 3-2-1 method?
It is a three-step procedure for smoking low and gradual fall off the bone ribs. It eliminates the need for decision-making while cooking your ribs, making it a failsafe cooking method.
Your seasoned ribs are smoked uncovered, then in a package, then smeared with BBQ sauce and smoked uncovered again for fall-off-the-bone tenderness.
1. Smoke ribs for 3 hours
Trim and season your ribs using your favorite rub. Place them bone side down in your smoker and smoke for three hours. This initial stage of cooking enables the meat to absorb the smoke taste, while the rub helps generate the classic mahogany color and bark that we obtain when smoking meat.
2. Wrap ribs for 2 hours
After three hours of smoking, take the ribs from the smoker and arrange bone side up on two pieces of foil with a combination of brown sugar, honey, butter, and apple cider vinegar (I’ve included more recommendations below). Wrap the ribs firmly with brown sugar, honey, and butter.
Return the foil packet to the smoker for another two hours. This is what makes 3-2-1 ribs so tender.
You may experiment with how you wrap your ribs. Some suggestions on what to include:
- Hot sauce
- Pepsi or coke
- Brown sugar
- More of your rib rub
3. Sauce ribs and smoke uncovered for 1 hour
After two hours in aluminum foil, take the ribs from the fire and peel back the foil. Using the foil as a tray, arrange the ribs meat side up and add your favorite sauce to the top of the ribs before returning to the smoker for an hour.
After an hour, you will have what most people consider to be excellent fall-off-the-bone ribs.
Items that will help you cook these are:
3-2-1 ribs may be cooked on any smoker or gas grill with a hood.
- A 22 Weber Smokey Mountain
- Heat proof gloves
- Charcoal briquettes
- Rub shaker
- Sauce bottle
- Thick aluminum foil
- Basting brush
- Knife for slicing up ribs
- Ambient temp probe
What type of ribs to use for the 3-2-1 method?
When employing the 3-2-1 technique, huge racks of ribs are recommended since a small rack cooked for six hours would be overdone. Spare ribs or St. Louis cut are also excellent choices.
You may use the same procedure with baby back ribs, but alter the timing to 2-2-1 or even 2-1-1.
In Australia, we process our pigs at a younger age, which results in smaller chops than in the United States. If you reside outside the United States, keep in mind that you may be following the precise time of someone cooking considerably bigger ribs than you have.
I approached my local butcher and stated that I intended to prepare ribs using the 3-2-1 technique and that I would want some bigger ribs. He really cared after me, which is why I always advise you to go talk to your local butcher because they are only too pleased to look after you.
As a result, I ended up with a 9.5-pound rack of spare ribs.
I also chose spare ribs since they have a lot more meat on them, and I’m simply trying to achieve the greatest possible result using the 3-2-1 approach.
Snake River Farms and Porter Road both sell wonderful ribs.
Prepping the ribs
The amount of labor required to prepare your ribs depends on how they were obtained from your butcher.
I had two alternatives since I had a large rack of ribs. I could trim them up, remove the cartilage and gristle at the very bottom of the spare rib, and neaten the entire rack up to produce St. Louis style ribs. This is how you prepare competition-style ribs. Because I had already paid for it and wasn’t preparing for a competition, I chose to continue with a spare rib prep for this rib dish.
To prepare the spare ribs, you must first remove the membrane on the side where the bones are placed. It is normally easier to go under a corner of the membrane using a butter knife, and since it is slippery, you can generally get a strong hold and remove the membrane in one go by using a piece of paper towel.
Trim any extra fat from the flesh side, and remove any little dags of meat that would just dry up throughout the cooking process.
Then just apply your favorite pork rub. I used my ultimate dry rib rub and altered it for pig by increasing the sugar amounts.
Any sweeter type barbecue rub will go well with pork. Just be sure you apply any rub from a height of around 12 inches, since this enables the rub particles to disperse fully before reaching the meat. This ensures an equal coating and that every swallow tastes the same.
To help the rub stick to the ribs, cover them with a thin coating of mustard beforehand. It’s a completely optional step, and my rib rub sticks just fine without it.
Simply set them alone for at least 30 minutes. This will allow the pork to sweat and the dry rub to become more of a glaze when it goes into the smoker, and the moisture will help the smoke stick to the meat.
Making your bbq sauce
Brush your ribs with a sauce or glaze as the last step in making 3-2-1 ribs. You may use any store-bought sauce, but I like to create my own when I have the time.
I have a homemade BBQ sauce recipe that I use for everything. It has a nice tang to it that isn’t overbearing and goes well with BBQ.
The components are simple to get, and you are likely to have most, if not all, of them in your pantry and refrigerator:
- 1 cup of ketchup
- 1 cupsapple juice
- cupapple cider vinegar
- cupbrown sugar
- 4 tablespoons of Worcestershire sauce
- 2 teaspoons of garlic powder
- 3 teaspoons of onion powder
- 1 teaspoon of kosher salt, or salt flakes will do
- teaspoon of black pepper
- teaspoon of hot cayenne pepper for a little kick
Simply combine all of the ingredients in a heavy-based saucepan over low to medium heat and whisk for 15 minutes, or until the sauce thickens slightly.
Then remove it from the fire and set it aside to cool.
This may be done before or during the first 5 hours of cooking.
Smoker setup for 3-2-1 ribs
You may attain these outcomes with any smoker. I like smoking ribs on my Weber Smokey Mountain. I load the charcoal ring with unlit briquettes and then half-fill a chimney starter with briquettes to prepare for low and slow.
After it has been ashed, I pour it into a well in the unlit charcoal and add some smoking wood bits. I selected Apple wood for this dish since it goes well with pig and imparts a beautiful sweet smokey taste.
Any fruitwood will do, and since pig is so forgiving, you should be good with any smoke wood.
I utilized my ThermoWorks Smoke X to monitor the smoker’s cooking temperature so I knew when to adjust the bowl vents when the temperature approached the ideal temperature.
Once the temperatures have settled at 225°F, insert the ribs in the smoker, bone side down, on the top cooking rack.
Any vent modifications made beyond this point should be modest and limited to weather changes. Once you’ve set your cooking temperature, bullet-style smokers may operate all day. They may vary somewhat owing to moisture, wind, and temperature changes outdoors, such as on a partly cloudy day when the smoker may be exposed to full sun and then shade at times. Do not be concerned about these variations since they will have no effect on the final result.
Is the 3-2-1 method the best for smoking ribs?
If you want fall-off-the-bone tender ribs every time, 3-2-1 is an excellent way for smoking ribs. If you’re new to grilling or preparing for a big company and don’t want to worry, I strongly suggest it.
Do I believe that 3-2-1 creates the tastiest taste ribs? No, but allow me to explain why.
It truly comes down to personal choice. The biggest complaint is that wrapping ribs essentially braises them. This might result in the bark being soft and the flesh becoming mushy rather than tender, as well as the flavor becoming a touch washed out.
In my experience, most people outside of the barbecue world like the fall-off-the-bone feel of 3-2-1 ribs, so maybe it’s the BBQ snob in me.
A fully cooked rack of ribs, in my opinion, should still have some stiffness to the bite. When you take your initial bite, don’t pull the remainder of the flesh off the bone with it. We’re not looking for pulled flesh here.
How I prefer to cook ribs
Please try the 3-2-1 approach and let me know what you think in the comments section.
I’ve discovered that the following approach produces superior texture with only a bit extra work.
I prefer to smoke at a higher temperature (275F to 300F) till I like the color and the rub does not come off when I touch it. This may take anything between an hour and a half and two hours. Then I’ll cover the ribs in aluminum foil until they’re probing sensitive between the bones. This normally takes another hour, and you may modify the sensitivity to your liking.
If I want a glaze, I’ll apply some sauce on the ribs and give them no more than 10 minutes in the smoker for the glaze to solidify.
This basically cuts the cooking time in half and results in exceptionally juicy, tender ribs every time.
What to serve with bbq ribs
Ribs are a barbecue mainstay, so pair them with any traditional side dish like cornbread, coleslaw, mac & cheese, or baked beans.
You can even go all out and serve them on a barbecue tray with brisket and hot links.