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3-2-1 Ribs – How To Perfect the Method

3-2-1 Ribs – How To Perfect the Method

Ever tasted a slab of ribs that was drier than dry can be. No one likes eating dry ribs; they are extremely tough.

The 3-2-1 method is the perfect method for smoking ribs. 

It creates a fall-off-the-bone tender ribs that are definitely worth all of the hard work this method requires.

Best of all, all you need for the 3-2-1 method is a large sheet of aluminum foil and patience. 

Otherwise, it is pretty much the same way as smoking ribs the regular way.

What Are Ribs?

Ribs can be a cut of beef or pork. When people refer to ribs, they are typically mean pork ribs which are fabricated from the loin and stretch from the underside of the shoulder to the back legs. 

Each pig has 14 ribs that are secured to the middle part of the spine. 

Types of Ribs

Each kind of rib is sliced from a different portion of the ribs.

The location of each type of rib is very important as they vary in length, flavor, and amount of meat on each bone.

Pork ribs come in 6 different cut spare ribs, St. Louis-style ribs, baby back ribs, Kansas City ribs, rib tips, and country-style ribs.


Spareribs are fabricated from the belly or underside of the animal. 

Even though most of the belly meat is carved away and made into bacon, pancetta, or other cured pork items, the spareribs are still a fairly meaty rib.

St. Louis-style Ribs

St. Louis-style ribs are simply a fancier version of spareribs. 

The only difference between these two ribs is that St. Louis style ribs have the hard breastbone and cartilage extracted. 

St. Louis-style ribs look like beautifully evenly shaped rectangles that are very easy to smoke.

Even though St. Louis-style ribs contain less meat than baby back ribs, they are deliciously fatty.

In addition to this, they are thin and flatter than other kinds of ribs, which means they brown uniformly and look better presentation-wise.

Country-style Ribs

Country-style ribs are not actually ribs. Essentially country-style ribs are bone-in pork chops.

These ribs are carved from the section of the animal near the shoulder and the front of the baby back ribs.

The size of the country-style ribs depends on the size of the animal.

Country-style ribs usually have 1-2 ribs along with a large section of pork loin meat.

Baby Back Ribs

Even though the name implies it, baby back ribs are not cut from baby pigs. 

Spareribs are cut from the belly portion of the animal, while baby back ribs are fabricated from the loin. 

The loin stretches along the pig’s back on either side of the spine.

Baby back ribs have a defined curve and are shorter than spareribs. This

is where the term baby back rib comes from. Additionally, baby back ribs are more expensive than other types of ribs.

Kansas City Ribs

Like St. Louis-style ribs, Kansas City ribs are an upgraded version of spareribs.

In fact, they are nearly identical to St. Louis-style ribs, but they are not trimmed as much. 

The only difference is Kansas City ribs contain the cartilage, while St. Louis-style ribs have the cartilage removed.

Rib Tips

Rib tips are the small pieces of bones and cartilage that fasten the lower part of the breastbone to the front ribs.

 Rib tips result from the bones and cartilage being removed from St. Louis-style ribs.

Rib tips are approximately 8-12-inches in length and 1-3-inches in width.

However, they are cut into 2-inch pieces before being served. Even though rib tips were considered scraps, they make the perfect appetizers.

Ribs tips are chewier than their counterparts. This is because of the high ratio of cartilage. However, when prepared correctly, rib tips are super tasty.

Smoked Barbecue Pork Spare Ribs

How the 3-2-1 Method Works

Essentially, the 3-2-1 method is to smoke your pork ribs as you usually would, then remove the ribs from the smoker.

Next, wrap your ribs in foil, then smoke them for another 2 hours. Finally, unwrap the wraps and cook them for another hour.

The first three hours of cooking allow the smoke to infuse into the ribs.

The ribs will be steamed during the second cooking period, making them more tender and extricating the bone’s meat.

The final cooking session allows the ribs to develop a beautiful crust.

Is the 3-2-1 Method Good for Ribs?

Yes, the 3-2-1 method is great for ribs, especially if you have trouble with smoking ribs. It creates a rack of fall off the bone tender ribs.

Pork Spareribs vs. Baby Back Ribs

The 3-2-1 method is only meant for pork ribs. Spareribs work best for the 3-2-1 method.

Spareribs are the optimal choice for this technique since they high fat to meat ratio. Additionally, the fat melts over time as the meat cooks.

If you are going to use baby back ribs, you might need to tailor the formula to 2-2-1.

Baby back ribs contain significantly less meat. It will dry out if they are uncovered for 3 hours in a smoker.

In addition to this, if you are not able to find spareribs, you can substitute another rib.

You will have to tailor the method to fit the kind of ribs you are smoking.

Furthermore, if you want to feed the same amount of people with baby back ribs rather than spareribs, you may need to double or triple the number of ribs you buy.

What’s the Best Temperature to Smoke Ribs?

Whether you are using the 3-2-1 method or another method to smoke ribs, it is best to smoke your ribs at 225ºF. 

Some BBQ experts prefer to use a temperature range between 250ºF-275ºF.

Higher temperatures supposedly speed up the smoking process by allowing the connective tissues and tough muscles to break down quicker.

However, the 225ºF is the perfect temperature for smoking ribs. Smoking ribs is not a quick race.

It is a slow, steady 6-hour long race that will yield delicious tender ribs.

What Wood Is Best for the 3-2-1 Method?

When it comes to the smoking process, wood chips are almost as important as the meat itself. 

With that being said, always choose your wood chips wisely. 

Wood chips come in mild varieties such as cherry and alder and stronger varieties such as pecan and oak wood.

There are also more robust flavors, such as mesquite or hickory. If you use mesquite chips, use them sparingly as they can easily overpower the flavor of the meat.

Bottom Line
A combination of cherry wood and hickory works particularly well for pork ribs.

However, ensure you use a higher ratio of cherry wood than hickory as it can become bitter when used liberally.

How Do I Smoke Ribs Using the 3-2-1 Method?

The best thing about the 3-2-1 method is that you do not need many fancy tools to get the job done.

All you need are the ribs, a dry or wet BBQ rub, aluminum foil, BBQ sauce, a smoker, timer, and a thermometer.

Additionally, it is best to clear your schedule for at least six hours.

Ribs have a silver skin or membrane located on the back of the rib. It is best to detach the silver skin as it can make the rib chewy.

The best way to remove it is by cutting a Slit into the membrane, loosening the skin with your fingers, and pulling the skin back with a paper towel.

After removing the silver skin, apply the rub and allow the ribs to marinate for a minimum of 6-8 hours or overnight in the fridge.

Remove the ribs from the refrigerator an hour in advance before smoking. Heat your smoker to 225ºF.

Arrange the ribs flesh side up in the smoker, uncovered, and cook them for 3 hours.

Take the ribs out of your smoker and set them on a sheet of foil. Wrap the ribs tightly with the foil until it is airtight.

Arrange the ribs in the smoker’s bone-side up and cook them for an additional 2 hours.

Remove the ribs from the smoker, then arrange the ribs flesh side up and cook for another 30 minutes. 

Apply the BBQ sauce to the ribs and cook them for an additional 30 minutes. 

Hot Tip
It is best to apply the sauce in thin coats to prevent it from burning.

How To Use the 3-2-1 Method on a Charcoal Grill

Although the best way to cook 3-2-1 ribs is using a smoker, you can also use a charcoal grill.

Smokers allow the wood chips to infuse into the meat and maintain constant temperatures throughout the entire smoking session.

However, if you do not have a smoker, a charcoal grill will do the trick.

Nevertheless, it requires a little bit of extra work, and it may take a few attempts to master this technique.

To use the 3-2-1 method with a charcoal grill, you have to invest in a temperature probe. 

This is the only way of determining the internal temperature of the grill throughout the entire cooking process.

Additionally, you need to place the probe in the middle of your grill, close to the ribs.

The safest and quickest way to light briquettes is using a chimney starter. A chimney starter is a machine used to light charcoal or briquettes.

In as little as 15-20 minutes, your coals will be covered with gray ash.

At this point, you should switch your dampers to the open position.

Place all of the coals onto one side of the grill. This will create indirect and direct grilling zones.

Add the lid to the charcoal grill and wait for 6-10 minutes until the temperature comes up to 225ºF.

Partially close one of the dampers and leave the other one set to open. Check the temperature every 4-5 minutes until the charcoal grill has a constant temperature of 225ºF.

Arrange the ribs on the indirect zone or the cooler side of the grill.

Cook the ribs uncovered for 3 hours, then wrap them tightly with foil and smoke them for another 2 hours. Remove the ribs from the foil, return it to the smoker and cook it for another hour.

Hot Tip
If you are using BBQ sauce, add it to the ribs during the last 15-20 minutes of smoking time. Moreover, you can add a few cherry wood chips to your coal before you begin the smoking process.

How Do I Know When Ribs Are Done Cooking?

Some people are sticklers for thermometers, while others are not. Some people believe that when the timer goes off, the ribs are ready.

However, just because the timer sounds does not mean your food has completed cooking.

The only way to tell whether pork ribs are done cooking is to check the internal temperature of the meat.

This is where an instant-read thermometer comes in handy.

Once the ribs achieve an internal temperature that ranges between 205ºF- 210ºF, the ribs are done. 

Furthermore, do not insert the thermometer near the bone. It will give you an inaccurate reading.

The Darkside of the 3-2-1 Method

The average person prefers a tender fall off the bone rib. It is the definition of a superb rib. However, in the BBQ competition world, things are different.

BBQ competition competitors usually serve a rib that is still attached to the bone. The only way it becomes detached from the bone is when you eat it.

The 3-2-1 method equals fall off the bone meat is an absolute tragedy in the competition world as it literally removes the meat from the bone. 

The rib meat should easily pull off the bone, not fall off the bone the minute it is picked up. 

Bottom Line
If you are not a contestant in BBQ competitions, the 3-2-1 method is your best friend. However, if you regularly participate in BBQ competitions, the 3-2-1 method is your worst enemy.

Final Thoughts

The 3-2-1 method is an exceptional way to smoke ribs, especially for newcomers to the BBQ world or for those that struggle with mastering ribs.

It is so easy and only requires a few ingredients.