The 3-2-1 Method

Three Steps to the Perfect Barbecue Pork Ribs

Cherry smoked pork ribs
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The biggest complaint most people have with ribs is that they turn out dry and tough. The 3-2-1 method for smoking ribs nearly guarantees you tender, fall-off-the-bone ribs without a lot of extra effort. All you need to use this method is ao big sheet of aluminum foil. Everything else follows the normal process of smoking ribs.

3-2-1 Basics:

If you know how to smoke pork ribs, then all you need to know about the 3-2-1 method is that you smoke as normal for 3 hours, followed by 2 hours cooking wrapped in foil, and finally, 1 more hour unwrapped.

This gives the meat time to soak in smoke during the first three hours when most smoke is absorbed. During the wrapped period the ribs are steamed, making them more tender and loosening the meat from the bone. During the last hour, the ribs are exposed to the dry, smoky heat again to form a surface crust.

The Specific Steps:

  1. Prep the ribs by removing the membranes and applying your rib rub
  2. Place ribs, bone side down in smoker at 225 degrees F. (110 degrees C.) and cook for three hours
  3. Wrap ribs tightly in aluminum foil to form an airtight seal, return to smoker bone side up and smoke for 2 hours
  4. Unwrap ribs and return to smoker bone side down for 1 hour
  5. Apply sauce to ribs (if you want) during the last 20 to 30 minutes of the cooking time


The 3-2-1 method is specifically designed for pork spareribs and the timing works best for that cut of rib. If you prefer baby back ribs then you should use a 2-2-1 method for the ribs or they will get overcooked and dry out.

If long-term smoking isn't something you are up to you can place wrapped ribs in the oven and finish them off (at a low temperature) on a grill or in the oven. Since most of the smoke flavor is delivered in the first three hours this method won't affect the overall outcome too much.

If you want to sauce the ribs while they cook, make sure that the cooking temperature is below 265 degrees F (130 degrees C) to prevent burning, and apply the sauce in several thin layers.


The Downside: 

The 3-2-1- method can give you tender, fall-off-the-bone ribs. Most people think this is the pinnacle of smoked ribs. However, it probably won't win you any barbecue competitions. For many people a good rib as meat that holds the bone but doesn't stick to it. In other words, the meat should pull away cleanly from the bone when you bite, but certainly not fall off. The wrapped cooking causes steaming and the steaming loosens the meat from the bones. Of course, not wrapping your ribs means you run the risk of dry and tough ribs.