3 2 1 Ribs

June 10, 2019

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.

Sliced baby back 3 2 1 ribs

3 2 1 Smoked Ribs

Today, I’m showing you an amazing method for smoking ribs: 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 every time.

While competition and traditional BBQ cooks will scoff at fall off the bone ribs, the truth is that most people 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!

So fire up your smoker (I like to cook ribs on my Camp Chef SmokePro LUX), and let’s get smoking!

3 2 1 smoked rib

3 2 1 Rib Method

I firmly believe that you should cook food the way you like it, and ribs are no different! You like your ribs saucy? Put some extra sauce on them (I like using my Kansas City Style BBQ Sauce)! You like your ribs falling 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.

Here’s how to cook your ribs using the 3 2 1 method:

  1. Smoke for 3 hours. Start with exposing the seasoned ribs to 3 hours of heavy smoke over low heat. I prefer fruit woods (apple or cherry) when smoking pork, but other hardwoods (hickory and alder) also work really well with ribs.
  2. Wrap for 2 hours. After the initial 3-hour smoke, foil the ribs with a liquid of your choosing (I used apple cider, 1/4 cup dark brown sugar, and 2-3 Tablespoons of butter) and cook at 225-250 degrees for 2 more 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 to 1/2 an inch.
  3. Sauce and smoke for 1 hour. Lastly, baste the ribs basted in your favorite BBQ sauce and return them to the grill for a final hour to hour and a half to finish the ribs and set the sauce.

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

3 2 1 Rib Method

More Ribs Recipes

Are you a rib fan like me? Then you’ll absolutely love these other rib recipes on Hey Grill Hey:

Best Dry Rub for Ribs
Crispy Sticky Smoked Spareribs
Smoked Dr. Pepper Ribs
Apple Jalapeno Smoked Ribs

3 2 1 Ribs Recipe

Follow the recipe and I’ll teach you the simple steps to making your delicious ribs at home. You can find more of my smoking and grilling recipes and videos on YouTubeInstagram, or our Facebook Page. Let’s make delicious food together!

Want some Hey Grill Hey Signature Sweet Rub or BBQ sauce delivered straight to your door? Patio Provisions has great products to help you make delicious food for your family and friends. These products are designed for smoked and grilled food and make you look like a total pro!

3 2 1 Ribs
Print Recipe
4.92 from 25 votes

3-2-1 Ribs: Perfect Fall Off the Bone Ribs

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.
Prep Time5 mins
Cook Time6 hrs
Total Time6 hrs 5 mins
Course: Main Dish
Cuisine: American
Keyword: 3 2 1 Ribs
Servings: 3 people
Calories: 709kcal


  • 1 rack baby back ribs
  • 2 tbsp Signature Sweet Rub
  • 1 cup apple cider apple juice also works
  • 1/4 cup dark brown sugar
  • 2-3 tbsp salted butter
  • 1/2 cup BBQ sauce


  • Begin by removing the membrane on the back of the ribs
  • Liberally season both sides of the ribs using the sweet rub, starting with the bone side.
  • Prepare your smoker for indirect smoking. Target temperature is between 180-200 with thin blue smoke. Place the seasoned ribs on the smoker and close the lid. Leave them to smoke for 3 hours.
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • 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,
  • 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.


**This post was originally published in June 2015. Images and information have been updated, but the delicious recipe remains the same.


Calories: 709kcal | Carbohydrates: 53g | Protein: 38g | Fat: 40g | Saturated Fat: 16g | Cholesterol: 151mg | Sodium: 733mg | Potassium: 749mg | Fiber: 2g | Sugar: 42g | Vitamin A: 645IU | Vitamin C: 2.1mg | Calcium: 194mg | Iron: 5.4mg
This post contains affiliate links. For more information on them, visit our Privacy Policy

114 thoughts on “3 2 1 Ribs

    1. If you’re going to use any butcher paper at any time it would be at the end. The point of crutching halfway through is to help break down any remaining cartilage and toughness and butcher paper isn’t going to do that – you need the foil. Then – the last hour restores the bark.

      Butcher paper will help maintain the temperature without mushing the bark or drying out the meat – if you need to keep the meat on the smoker longer than intended, such as a cook that went way faster than expected.

      1. Agreed. I just tried this with peach paper for this set amount of time and the meat isn’t quite done. Stick with the foil.

  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!

      1. I made these today. All I can say is OMG. Best ribs I’ve ever made. Used my electric smoker with apple and cherry wood. Thx Hey Grill. Definitely a winner.

  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.

    1. I use a similar method (3 2 1) with st. Louis style ribs with no sauce. Just dry rubs and an apple cider beer as the liquid. But with baby back ribs i use a (4 1.5 .5) method to keep the bones from falling apart. same dry rubs and liquids though.

  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.

      1. Once done from smoking at 215 to 225 , are you allowing for the meat to start pulling back from the bone
        On the ends ? Are y’all cooking them wrapped in tin foil with your choice of a liquid, such as beer or a wine of your choice ? Or even a small amount of your favorite
        Liquor. (The alcohol evaporates very quickly from either, leaving the flavor of your chosen spirits to faintly cut into
        Your meat. Times will stay the same .( this part of the process helps tenderize to that fall off the bone stage that you’re looking for.
        You should continue with your cooking times as this recipe is calling for in these directions. ( if you are following the 321 directions, continue to do so. I’m just trying to help, in areas that some people kinda fudge on a little. Also, I saw where one person wasn’t exactly thrilled with the internal temperature of the ribs. Even though your internal temperature isn’t exactly where the directions here call for ,as long as the meat has started to pull back from the end of the bones half an inch to three quarters of an inch minimum, your meat has more than reached a safe internal temperature. If it hadn’t reached a safe internal temperature ,your meat would still envelop the bones and wouldn’t even look like it was realeasing from the bone. Once you get use to cooking ribs, that one sign, tells you that the bone temperature is actually cooking the meat causing it to realease from the bone. Just trying to let those of you understand that there is ” some ” squirming room when cooking ribs and some other cuts of pork. But when smoking ribs, some slabs have a little more meat, or less meat on the bone.
        Because one end of the slab didn’t give you your spot on temperature, if the whole slab looks basically the same as far as the meat pulling back off of the bone, you can say that it’s safely cooked. ( using the meat releasing from the bone method , will keep it simple for baby back ribs as well as St.Louis style .
        Hope this helps for those who were still unsure, even when the directions weren’t real complete, they were but
        Sometimes you just needed that “what if question ” answered.

    3. I had similar experience with my Camp Chef grill…not so much that the ribs were tough they just didn’t seem like the fat rendered out of of them and they were greasy. I increased the temperature for the “2” to 275 and left it on 250 for the last hour (instead of 220) and it definitely helped on my grill.

  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!

    1. I would not reload the wood chips more than 2 times on an electric smoker. You get WAY more smoke and smoke flavor on an electric smoker with wood chips than on a pellet grill smoker. On a pellet grill smoker you smoke for 3 hours and still don’t get a really good smoke flavor….in my opinion.

  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!

  22. I have made these several times and only change I made was using some cinnamon sugar in my rub. They always turn out delicious. We are goi g to the beach next weekend and the group has requested these again. My question is how can I freeze them and then re-warm them for the clan?

    1. Reheat wrapped in foil on a grill or in the oven at a low temperature, like 225-250. The issue might be keeping them warm and getting them to the beach unless you have a way to reheat there. If you don’t, reheat them and stick them in one of those cheap Styrofoam coolers. That should help keep them warm.

  23. These were quite easy and very good. It was a hit. I used apple juice, no sugar, and only did 3 2. They were fall off the bone. Thank you for the recipe!

  24. Tried smoking these today. Turned out great. Will definitely be cooking these again. Only change I made was instead of wrapping in foil, I used a foil pan then just sealed the top with foil. Once that step was done, I split the ribs in half (which just pulled apart) and did one half with bbq sauce for my girlfriend while I used Buffalo Wildwings blazin sauce on mine. Omg they were delicious. I used hickory pellets. Wouldn’t change a thing. Thanks for sharing.

  25. I tried these today with cheap 1 one pack of ribs get one free at safeway. They were cheap ribs but my first time using a smoker and first time with the recipe. They turned out to be some of the best ribs I’ve ate. I used the rub and method, with stubbs spicy bbq sauce, I mixed a cup of cider in the water I used in the pan as well. Will be printing and keeping this recipe thanks for sharing. It makes amazing ribs.

  26. Just had to try this, and I’m glad I did. I did do a few things different just because…. used my own sweet spice blend, completely forgot the brown sugar (blonde moment I guess) then couldn’t find any apple juice…so I used Pendleton Whiskey. Six hours later and delicious ribs for dinner. Thanks for sharing!

  27. If I’m doing baby back ribs, what would my reduced time look like? I haven’t smoked baby back ribs before, and don’t want to over do them.

    1. A lot of people do 2-2-1 for baby backs. Plan for about 5 hours and just keep an eye on them. When the meat has receded about a half inch off the bone they’re done.

  28. I am planning to do two batches of six rib slabs, (16 lbs each in each batch) hanging in my electric smoker. Can I place the smoked ribs wrapped in foil, in my kitchen oven, while I smoke second batch?

  29. Did two St Louis style racks two weeks ago. Best ribs ever. Used a Smoke Hollow with four racks. Split the ribs in half and did one per rack. used your rib rub and then 1/2 cup apple juice each in foil. Then in foil with Sweet Baby Rays BBQ sauce for the last hour. Kept temp at 240 deg whole time. They finished at 205 deg after 6 hours total. Best damn ribs ever! Thanks for the recipe…..Going to do them again next week.

  30. Last week I bought a pork butt at Sams. Took it home and cut the bone out then split it to half it’s thickness. Cut the pieces into “country ribs” about 1 -1/2″ wide. Seasoned them in “house seasoning” (1 C. salt,1/4 C.garlic pwdr, 1/4 C. B. pepper) let them sit for an hour then grilled on lowest setting on the gas grill. turned every 15 min. the fourth time basted with Sweet baby rays. Finished in one hour. “Ribs” to die for….

  31. I did everything, except a sauced very lightly halfway through first 3, then after unwrap I just let them sit till 195 internal, best ribs I’ve ever had

  32. Duplicated all your instructions but I fell short of ingredients so I substituted apple butter molasses sugar and butter for the cider and brown sugar

  33. I’m halfway done on some pork ribs and they already look amazing. I’ll update in 3 hours.
    Thank you Hey Grill!

  34. Just my 2nd effort on a wood pellet grill (Traeger) and I was a little skittish as my 1st effort was a little rocky. I may have been too ambitious with 1st thing I tried. Happy to say I knocked it out of the park. Super tender baby back ribs. My wife’s not a big eater and she was licking the plate clean. As a lifelong charcoal and gas griller it takes a little getting used to the process. I think I learned today that in the braising phase (step 2) you really need to keep the foil sealed tight as it appears from tracking internal temp this is phase that pushes up to the desired 200 degrees or so and the pulling back of the meat from the end of the bone. Once I had a good seal with the foil the internal temp pushed up and I was home free.

  35. These were amazing! This was our first time smoking ribs. They were the hit at our 4th of July barbecue! It was a joint effort with my husband doing the smoking and I made the dry rub and then the apple juice step. Per don-in-law request, we did steps 1 and 2 on half the ribs and all three steps in the other half. Definitely liked all 3 steps. Making them again today for a large family gathering. Thanks for the recipe!

  36. Did the 3-2-1 method. Smoked mine at 225. Did 2 racks of baby backs. Sauced one rack. Left the other. Both were great. Great smokey flavor. Thanks for the recipe.

  37. I have used this method for ribs many times and it comes out great! However, when I wrap in foil I use butter and honey. Incredibly tender. Half the time they fall apart when I remove from the foil, so the last hour does not happen. They are still great. Just have to let everyone choose if they want BBQ sauce or not. When this happens I don’t add sauce and they taste great as is.

    1. Awesome! Yes, 3-2-1 is meant just as a guide and should be adjusted depending on your preferences. I’m also a fan of sauce-less ribs!

  38. The 3-2-1 method and recipe is a knock it of the park for baby back pork ribs. I have two Treagers to do this recipe on. I use the XL when I’m having 15-20 guest and the tailgater when I’m doing two racks.I use a hickory and mesquite 50/50 mix of the pallets for a flavorable smoke. I use Treagers pork an poultry rub and smoke for three hours bone side down. Then two hours rapped in foil with the butter wedges, apple cider and brown sugar. Temp setting at 250 on the Treager. After that I sauce some of the racks with Rib Rack BBQ sauce and heat them up at 200 degrees on the Treager for 20-25 minutes (out of foil). So I believe I’m following your recipe real close and I certainly appreciate the help. The ribs are amazing if I may say so myself.

  39. Made these this week. Best ribs I’ve ever made. I made them on a Traeger with mesquite pellets. The ribs were from Costco and came pre-rubbed. Used Head Country sauce to finish. My only complaint was that they were not “fall off the bone.” Any idea what might have happened there? I’m looking forward to making these again. Thanks so much!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *