3 2 1 Ribs

April 14, 2015

3 2 1 ribs are a fool proof way to get fall off the bone tender ribs. The 3 2 1 rib method is based on smoking ribs at a certain temperature for 3 hours, wrapping with liquid for 2 hours, and saucing for the final 1 hour.

3 2 1 Ribs

3 2 1 Smoked Ribs

The first method for smoking ribs that I am writing about is the fool proof 3 2 1 ribs recipe. This method has gained a lot of popularity with home cooks in recent years because of the flawless results in churning out super tender ribs that fall off the bone ribs every time.

While competition and traditional BBQ cooks will scoff at fall off the bone ribs, the truth is that most people just really like them that way. Judges for KCBS won’t give you a winning score, but they also won’t be hanging out in your backyard critiquing what you and your family are eating. So I say, cook what you like. Note: all of these recipes can be adapted to baby back ribs. Just cook for a little bit less time.

3 2 1 Smoked Rib

3 2 1 Rib Method

You like your ribs saucy? Put extra sauce on (I like this Kansas City style recipe)! You like your ribs to fall off the bone? Follow this 3 2 1 Rib Method! These are your ribs after all. Don’t you let the man get you down. Just don’t. I start with exposing my seasoned ribs to 3 hours of heavy heavy smoke over low heat. I prefer fruit woods (apple, cherry) when smoking pork, but other hardwoods (hickory, alder) also work really well with ribs.

After the smoke, the ribs are foiled with a liquid of your choosing (I used apple cider, 1/4 cup dark brown sugar, and 2-3 tablespoons of butter) and cooked at 225-250 degrees for 2 hours. After the braising period I look for great retraction of the meat from the bones. I want the bones to be exposed on the end at least 1/4-1/2 an inch. Lastly, the ribs are basted in your favorite BBQ sauce and returned to the grill for a final hour to hour and a half to finish the ribs and set the sauce.

3 2 1 Rib Method

3 2 1 Ribs Recipe

Sticky, sweet, tender and oh so savory. 3 2 1 ribs are probably the most requested meal when I ask what people want me to bring to potlucks or family dinners. I tend to fall back on 3 2 1 ribs for gatherings because I know that they will deliver that tender, flavorful porky flavor every time. And sometimes consistency is super important!

4.86 from 14 votes
3-2-1 Ribs: Perfect Fall Off the Bone Ribs
Prep Time
5 mins
Cook Time
6 hrs
Total Time
6 hrs 5 mins

Course: Main Dish
Cuisine: Barbecue, Party Food
Keyword: 3 2 1 Ribs
Servings: 3 people
  • 1 rack baby back ribs
  • 2 tbsp Homemade Sweet Rub
  • 1 cup apple cider
  • 1/4 cup dark brown sugar
  • 2-3 tbsp salted butter
  • 1/2 cup BBQ sauce your favorite
  1. Begin by removing the membrane on the back of the ribs
  2. Liberally season both sides of the ribs using the sweet rub, starting with the bone side.

  3. Prepare your smoker for indirect smoking. Target temperature is between 180-200 with heavy smoke from either hardwood pellets or soaked wood chips. Place the seasoned ribs on the smoker and close the lid. Leave them to smoke for 3 hours.
  4. Tear off a large piece of aluminum foil and place it on a large working surface. Transfer the ribs to the foil bone side up so the bones don't tear through the foil. Sprinkle with the brown sugar, top with the butter cut into small pads, and then pour over the apple cider.
  5. Tightly crimp the foil together to create an airtight seal. Return to the grill and increase your cooking temperature to as close to 225 degrees as you can get it. Let the ribs braise for 2 hours in the foil.
  6. Carefully remove the ribs from the grill and place on a large working surface. Open the foil package (be careful of hot steam) and use tongs to remove the ribs and place them back on the grill, bone side down. Discard the foil and excess cooking liquid,
  7. Brush the ribs with your favorite BBQ sauce, close the lid of your grill and cook at 225 degrees for an additional hour until the ribs are done to your desired tenderness and the sauce is sticky and set.
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53 thoughts on “3 2 1 Ribs

  1. Probably the best thing I’ve ever smoked. This is an amazing recipe! Every one here thinks i am a master chef or something now. Thanks so much for giving away your secrets for all of our benefit. Keep up the fantastic work, and thanks again!

  2. Used your instructions with 2 slabs of saint Louis ribs. Famous Dave’s rib rub with birch beer as my liquid and applewood rub with black cherry for liquid. No bbq sauce. Was not necessity. Thank you very much.

  3. Do you use the smoker the entire time? I’m new to all of this and just want to make sure. You mentioned smoker in the first round and then grill the next two rounds. Is it all the same? I cannot wait to try this, thank you!

  4. In step 2, you mention putting ribs bone side up and apply brown sugar, butter, and liquid. Sorry, I’m new to this as well, but do they go into smoker this way? The liquid will eventually make its way to the meat side of the ribs even though you put the ingredients on the bone up side?

  5. I smoked both St. Louis and babyback using a slight variation to this method. I didn’t put any sauce on the ribs at the end – it wasn’t necessary. They were fabulous – smokey/tender/juicy and slide-off-the-bone awesome! This is going to be my go-to method from now on.

  6. Can I do the first 3 hours of smoking the night before? I’m working a large batch (8 racks) for a luncheon and I’d rather not get up at 4 a.m. day of…

    If so, would you wrap and fridge?

  7. I’ve used this twice now and both times they were good but tough, I have a pittboss pellet smoker and the temp is pretty much spot on. I’m only doing baby backs for 6 hours total and it’s getting really frustrating. I’ve had p say cook at a hotter temp and others say low but longer. What on earth am I doing wrong ? HELP !!

    1. I usually don’t put them back on after the wrap. Unless I sauce them. If I do sauce them, I only put them back on the smoker for about 15 min to set the sauce

    2. I had the same experience. I ended up doing 3-2-2 this time just to get them done enough (I stuck a meat thermometer in after one our in the last phase and was only at 160…ribs should be closer to 190 if you want to be able to twist the bone free of the meat).

      I’ve done lots of ribs (not doing 3-2-1) and the smoke temp is 225 the entire time. I’ll return to that temp next time.

      I had baby backs which have less fat than the other cuts too. I think I’d do better to have higher temp for less time to retain more moisture.

  8. Fantastic recipe….easy to follow and great results. I did 2 racks of baby backs. 1 I pulled after the braising and served as is. The other I sauced with Trader Joe’s Siracusa and roasted garlic bbq sauce. Amazing results.

  9. Great recipe! I’m going to try it both ways, sauced and without. By question is: is your smoker generating smoke the entire first 3 hours? What about the last hour if using sauce? I have an electric smoker that needs reloading every 30-45 minutes. I’ve over-smoked some items (chickens) due to inexperience and don’t want to ruin a nice slab of ribs…THANKS!

  10. I am new to smoking and I have an electric smoker with a water pan. Should I use the water pan or leave it out since the Apple cider is poured into the foil?

  11. When you say 3 hrs heavy smoke low heat ? Like 100 f or less? On a smoke setting ? Or like 200f on preset temp setting.
    Trying these now. Can’t wait.

  12. last time I used the 321 rubs turned out great but season was not all the way thru the meat, what to do to make meat have season all the way thru the meat?

    1. You can season the night before, wrap and refrigerate. The seasoning will act as a marinade. The salt content can change the texture of the meat, and they may not be as juicy, but the flavor will be all through.

  13. Thanks for the recipe…trying it today for some friends. I have two questions:
    1.) How much apple juice do you pour over each rack of ribs?
    2.) I’ve seen some recipes that spritz the ribs from time to time before wrapping in foil. Is this a good or bad idea considering your method?

  14. I like a lot of others am using my pitbiss electric pellet smoker for the first time. I’m smoking st.louis style two racks on the whiskey smoker and I gotta day after the initial 3 hours the ribs still appear raw. Is this normal

    1. That is normal, this is a low and slow cooking method so it takes a while for these to come up to temperature and that is what we want. The initial 3 hour cook, your smoker is only running at 180-200 degrees. They still have another 3 hours to go so they will get cooked through.

  15. Tried this today. My first time ever using a smaller and was completely going into it blind. These turned out really good. Hopefully next time better now that I’ve read more tips and tricks lol thank you

  16. More of an FYI than a question. I have a charcoal smoker, and used apple wood chunks that I soaked in water ahead of time. Temp wasn’t an issue, but I over-smoked them. The thicker ribs were ok, but as the ribs get smaller on the ends, they were inedible. Otherwise, this is a magical recipe!

  17. Do you actually Smoke during the second step (second 3 hr) or just have them in the smoker at 225? Thanks.

  18. Greetings from Sweden! Finally it’s spring and I get to try my version, inspired by this, for the second time. The first try last year gave me the best ribs anyone I know had ever eaten..! So I’m quite happy. The method yields tender but smoky ribs with a lovely texture. I did however do it on mostly a slightly higher temperature and with my own rub. My cheapish offset smoker is difficult to keep at a steady temperature. Mostly I smoked them at 110-135 degrees Celsius. And I actually did the 2 hours wrapped in foil in the oven, for a steady 120 degrees Celsius. (No smoke penetrates the foil at this stage anyway) I used orange a mixture of orange juice and swedish craft beer, no sugar since I’m sweet enough. I’m also allergic to Apple… Then I popped them back on the smoker and brushed them with my own barbecue sauce.
    I love it, so thanks again for the great cooking method and tips!
    /the Swedish Chef

  19. Don’t worry about your temperature “swings”. Anytime you are cooking with wood or charcoal, the temperature will vary up and down. My analogy is a gas flame vs. burning wood or charcoal. With gas, the fuel is supplied at a constant rate, thus supplying constant heat. But with wood or charcoal, the available fuel depends on the contact area between the burning pieces to the adjacent non-burning pieces. And that, of course, is entirely random. I hope this makes sense.

  20. Followed to the letter time wise. Just used 1/2 apple vinegar 1/2 beer for the liquid.

    I tried a couple other recipes for ribs on the smoker and this one worked, as good as any of the local restaurants. That was last week, about halfway through a new batch today.

  21. This is an excellent recipe. I have smoked several butts and needed to up my game. So I tried two racks of baby back ribs. They were delicious and fall off the bone as advertised. The key phrase I failed to follow “Note: all of these recipes can be adapted to baby back ribs. Just cook for a little bit less time.” They were too crispy. I have a barrel style with a fire box on end. I placed the ribs near the fire box and chicken halves at opposite end. Next time I will not load up the cooking racks and place ribs away from heat. How much time should I take off the 3 2 1 method for baby backs?

    1. It is actually apple cider. Usually you can find apple cider somewhere near apple juice in the grocery store!

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