How to Smoke Ribs: A 321 Alternative

146 Comments

Great! You bought a smoker. Now you are googling how to smoke ribs. You stumble upon one of the thousands of recipes for 3 2 1 Ribs. You follow the recipe step by step and make an “ok” rack of smoked ribs where the meat “falls off the bone”. Congratulations. You just overcooked another rack…

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How To Smoke Ribs: A 321 Alternative
How To Smoke Ribs
Smoking Ribs the Right Way on My Weber Kettle

Great! You bought a smoker. Now you are googling how to smoke ribs. You stumble upon one of the thousands of recipes for 3 2 1 Ribs. You follow the recipe step by step and make an “ok” rack of smoked ribs where the meat “falls off the bone”. Congratulations. You just overcooked another rack of ribs like everyone else, including myself when I first started. 

If you’ve ever gone to a BBQ competition and had the Pitmasters ribs, you will quickly notice something: The ribs are individually cut and the meat actually stays on the bone until you bite it off with your teeth. Now remember your 3-2-1 ribs and how gravity removed the meat from the bones for you. That’s not what you want. AmazingRibs.com BBQ legend Meathead feels quite strongly about 321 ribs as well.  

I’ve also taken inspiration from Aaron Franklin with the method he uses for smoked ribs. His Masterclass training program goes over ribs in great detail.

Ribs are one of our favorite meats to smoke and you’ll see why after trying this recipe.

How To Smoke Ribs


What Are 321 Ribs, and Why Aren’t They Ideal?

The 3-2-1 method makes you smoke the ribs for 3 hours, then wrap the ribs in foil and cook for 2 hours followed by one hour of cooking unwrapped and coated in BBQ sauce. It’s simple but not the best way to smoke ribs. The 321 method simply requires you to cook your pork ribs too long, especially during the second step in foil for 2 hours.

We take issue with several aspects of the 321 ribs recipe:

  1. The time the smoked ribs cook in foil is too long
  2. The time spent cooking the ribs out of the foil is too long
  3. The goal shouldn’t be pork ribs with “fall off the bone” meat
How To Smoke Ribs
Perfectly Smoked Pork Ribs

How Long Does it Take to Smoke Ribs?

Baby back ribs will typically take 4.5 to 5 hours of total cooking time at 225 degrees F. We recommend about 3 hours of time smoking outside of the foil, then about 1 to 1.5 hours in foil, and finished unfoiled for about 20 minutes. This is enough time for the ribs to be thoroughly cooked and take on a smoky flavor. Spare ribs (try my spare rib recipe here) will take a bit longer like 5-6 hours and cooked at a slightly higher temp like 230F-250F.

We go over smoking times for ribs in more detail for each rib type and personal preference of rib textures here.

Ever wonder what the difference is between baby back and spare ribs? Learn about it here.

Smoked Ribs in Yoder Pellet Grill
Smoking Spare Ribs on My Yoder YS640S – With Water Pan to Add Humidity

How To Tell When Ribs Are Done

I find the easiest way to tell if the baby back ribs are done during the first smoke stage is to do the “bounce test” with the smoked ribs, where you pick them up with tongs and lightly bounce them. If the meat starts to crack by the bone, the ribs are done smoking. You can start the foil portion of the cook.

Smoked Ribs Temperature

When the smoking portion of the rib cook is complete, the ribs will be around 180F-190F. That sounds very high but this is normal when smoking ribs. Since we are cooking at a low temperature of 225F and spritzing the ribs to keep the moisture level high, the ribs will not taste overdone. As you can see below, pork is done around 145F, but smoked ribs are ready closer to 185F.

Safe Meat Serving Temps Infographic

I strongly recommend you get yourself a good smoker/grill thermometer like the Signals from Thermoworks so you can make sure your smoker is staying around 225F. You would be surprised what the actual smoke box temperature is compared to the built-in thermometer.

Smoking Ribs on a Charcoal Grill or Smoker

The best tip I can give when using a charcoal-based smoker is to utilize the Two-Zone method. Keep your charcoal on one side of the grill and place your ribs on the other side creating an indirect cook. Placing your ribs directly above the charcoal will cook them quickly. We do not want a fast cook here. We want a slow cook to allow the smoke flavors to settle in. The picture below demonstrates this well. I’m actually using the SNS Deluxe system below in the picture. Works great for ribs on a Kettle.

Also, don’t put too many wood chunks on at a time. Start with one larger chunk to start, and maybe add one or two more after. You don’t want too much wood on these charcoal burners.

If you’re not sure what type of wood to use for smoking ribs, check out our article on smoking wood. You can use stronger woods like hickory or mesquite as well as fruit woods like cherry or pecan (yes, it’s considered a fruit wood when it comes to smoking.) You can even use multiple types of wood together for a blend of flavors.

Two-Zone Smoking Ribs on Charcoal Grill Smoker

Smoking Ribs on a Pellet Grill

Pellet grills are extremely forgiving and simple to use, though there are a couple of important things to point out.

  1. Make sure you are confident on the actual temperature your pellet grill is putting out. When I do pellet grill tests, I use aftermarket digital thermometers to confirm what the actual temps are in the cook chamber. You would be surprised how far off the factory thermometer is from the real temperature in the cook chamber.
  2. Add a bowl of water in the cook chamber. It keeps humidity up which helps the smoke stick to the rib meat. Little things like this pay off. The picture below shows my water tray and the ribs on the top rack further away from the cooking grates.
Ribs on a pellet grill

How to Smoke Ribs (The Right Way)

My recipe below works great with any type of smoker be it a pellet, charcoal, offset or even an electric. This recipe was created for baby back ribs. If you are doing spare ribs, then I recommend smoking a bit longer. Usually 3 hours of smoke at 240F and then another 1.5-2 hours wrapped in foil at 225F works for spare ribs.

Smoked Ribs Ingredients: 

Gear for Smoking Ribs:

  • Smoker (Pellet Smokers or Drum Smokers work great)
  • Smoking Wood (Our favorite woods for ribs)
  • Instant Read Thermometer (Not mandatory but good to have)
  • Cutting Board
  • Heavy Duty Tin Foil (Heavy Duty won’t tear easily)
  • Grill Basting Brush
  • Sharp Knife
  • Grill Tongs (Long n’ Strong Tongs Work Best)
  • Spritzer Bottle of 50/50 water and apple cider vinegar
Cherry Wood Pellets
Cherry Wood Pellets

Time:

  • Prep Time: 2 hours 15 minutes
  • Smoking/Cooking Time: 4 hours 
  • Resting Time: 15 minutes
  • Total Time: 6 hours 30 minutes

Instructions:

  • Rinse the ribs in cold water and pad dry. 
  • Trim any excess fat or connective tissue. Only leave what you want to eat. 
Trimming Excess Fat off Ribs
Trimming Excess Fat off ribs
  • On the bone side of the ribs, remove the membrane. A quick trick is using a piece of paper towel to help grip the membrane. Once you get a good grip of the membrane, simply pull until it is completely removed.  
Rib Membrane Removal
  • Once the ribs are prepped, I apply my favorite rub generously. Make sure to cover all the sides and edges of the ribs. 
Prepped Ribs
  • Cover the ribs and keep in the fridge for 2 hours or more. 
  • Remove the ribs from the fridge and allow to warm slightly on the counter. 
  • Fire up the smoker to 225F. I use Pecan or Cherry, when smoking ribs. 
  • Once the smoker is at proper temp, place the ribs on the grill meat side up.
Smoking Ribs on Yoder
  • Now you can pretty much wait for the three hours to pass or some fanatics prefer to spritz their ribs every 30-45 minutes with a 50/50 mixture of apple cider vinegar and water. I personally quit doing this, because I never noticed a difference. 
  • After three hours, remove the ribs and place each rack meat side up on a large piece of Heavy Duty tin foil. 
  • Brush melted butter over the tops of the ribs then followed by the the melted honey. You can spritz the ribs for extra moisture.
  • Flip the racks around so the bone side is facing up. Repeat the previous step with melted butter and melted honey. 
  • Leave the racks bone side up and wrap the ribs tightly. Place back on the smoker bone side up for 45-60 minutes. Keep the temp at 225F.  Optional: If you want the ribs more tender or closer to falling off the bone, cook in the foil for 1.5-2 hours. Remember, you want to be careful wrapping the ribs to make sure they do not lose any of the juices, so be gentle when putting them back on the smoker and when removing them.
  • Remove the ribs from the foil and place back on the grill. 
  • Brush the ribs with your favorite barbecue sauce. Cook for approximately 30-45 more minutes at 225F.  
  • Check for doneness by using your grill tongs and pickup up the ribs and give them a slight bounce. If the meat starts to slightly split, the ribs are done. 
  • Remove from the smoker and cover in foil. Let rest for 10 minutes. 
  • Be a professional and take a sharp knife (I use a Henkel Serrated Bread Knife) and cut each rib individually. You’ll notice how the ribs don’t fall apart as you cut. Also look for that beautiful pink smoke ring. 
Cutting Smoked Ribs
  • Serve and enjoy. You just got a lot closer to competition ribs.
how to smoke ribs the right way to get these competition ready ribs

Wrapping It Up

I hope you agree with our take on smoking ribs and see why we have moved away from the 321 method. I know this is a debatable topic, so feel free to state your comment below.

If you’re looking for some nice BBQ sides to go with these ribs, consider our following recipes. Smoked Mac and Cheese or Smoked Au Gratin Potatoes.

Leftovers? Learn how to reheat these babies the safe and tasty way.

How To Smoke Ribs Recipe
Print Recipe
4.59 from 162 votes

How To Smoke Ribs: A 321 Alternative

If you’ve ever gone to a BBQ competition and had the Pitmasters ribs, you will quickly notice something. The ribs are individually cut and the meat actually stays on the bone, until you bite it off with your teeth. Follow this recipe, and serve competition worthy ribs right at home!
Prep Time2 hours 15 minutes
Cook Time4 hours 15 minutes
Resting Time15 minutes
Total Time6 hours 45 minutes
Course: Main Course
Cuisine: American
Keyword: 321 ribs, how to smoke ribs, not 321 ribs, smoked baby back ribs, Smoked Pork Ribs
Servings: 5 people
Calories: 714kcal
Author: Michael Haas

Equipment

  • smoker
  • Smoking Wood (we prefer pecan or cherry)
  • Paper Towel
  • Cutting Board
  • Heavy Duty Aluminum Foil
  • Grill Basting Brush
  • Sharp Knife
  • Grill Tongs
  • Spritzer with 50/50 Water and Apple Cider Vinegar

Ingredients

  • 2 Racks Baby Back Pork Ribs
  • 6 TBSP Melted Honey Real honey from a local honey farm is best!
  • 4 TBSP Butter
  • 8 TBSP Rib Rub Try our homemade dry rub rub.
  • 1/2 cup BBQ Sauce Mike likes Angry BBQ's homemade BBQ sauce, Jannah likes Kansas City style!

Instructions

  • Rinse the ribs in cold water and pad dry. 
    Trim any excess fat or connective tissue. Only leave what you want to eat. 
    Trimming Excess Fat off Ribs
  • On the bone side of the ribs, remove the membrane. A quick trick is using a piece of paper towel to help grip the membrane. Once you get a good grip of the membrane, simply pull until it is completely removed.
  • Once the ribs are prepped, I apply my favorite rub generously. Make sure to cover all the sides and edges of the ribs.
    Cover the ribs and keep in the fridge for 2 hours or more. 
    Prepped Ribs
  • Remove the ribs from the fridge and allow to warm slightly on the counter. Fire up the smoker to 225F. I use Pecan or Cherry, when smoking ribs. 
    Traeger Smoker Temp
  • Once the smoker is at proper temp, place the ribs on the grill meat side up.
    Ribs on the Grill
  • Now you can pretty much wait for the three hours to pass or some fanatics prefer to spritz their ribs every 30-45 minutes with a 50/50 mixture of apple cider vinegar and water. Adding moisture to the ribs aids in a smoky bark. After three hours, remove the ribs and place each rack meat side up on a large piece of Heavy Duty tin foil. 
    spritzing the ribs with apple cider vinegar & water
  • Brush melted butter over the tops of the ribs then followed by brushing the melted honey. You can spritz the ribs for extra moisture at this time. Flip the racks around so the bone side is facing up. Brush with melted butter and melted honey. 
    Adding honey to ribs
  • Leave the racks bone side up and wrap the ribs tightly. Place back on the smoker bone side up for 45-60 minutes. Keep the temp at 225F. Optional: If you want the ribs more tender or closer to fall of the bone, cook in the foil for 1.5-2 hours.
    Wrapping ribs bone side up
  • Remove the ribs from the foil and place back on the grill. Brush the ribs with your favorite bbq sauce. Cook for approximately 30-45 more minutes at 225F.
    BBQ sauce added to ribs
  • Check for doneness by using your grill tongs and pickup up the ribs and give them a slight bounce. If the meat starts to slightly split, the ribs are done.
    Remove from the smoker and cover in foil. Let rest for 10 minutes. 
    Finished Ribs
  • Be a professional and take a sharp knife (I use a Henkel Serrated Bread Knife) and cut each rib individually. You’ll notice how the ribs don’t fall apart as you cut. Also look for that beautiful pink smoke ring. 
    Smoked Ribs Sauced

Nutrition

Calories: 714kcal | Carbohydrates: 32g | Protein: 44g | Fat: 46g | Saturated Fat: 19g | Polyunsaturated Fat: 6g | Monounsaturated Fat: 18g | Trans Fat: 1g | Cholesterol: 181mg | Sodium: 572mg | Potassium: 642mg | Fiber: 1g | Sugar: 30g | Vitamin A: 394IU | Vitamin C: 1mg | Calcium: 84mg | Iron: 2mg

FAQs:

Question: Is 250F good for smoking ribs?

Answer: We prefer smoking our ribs at 225°F, but 250°F is a perfectly fine option. There’s a lot of discourse over which is better, and it comes down to preference. Smoking ribs at 250°F means they will be done a little faster, but smoking at 225°F means your ribs will take on a little more smoke flavor.

Question: What is the 2-2-1 rule for ribs?

Answer: The 221 method is very similar to the 321 method, only you smoke the ribs unwrapped for two hours to start rather than three before wrapping them in foil with some liquid. Some people say this is a better method for baby back ribs since they don’t need to cook as long as side ribs. 

Question: Is 3-2-1 or 2-2-1 better for ribs?

Answer: In our opinion, both methods will not give you rib perfection. In both cases, the ribs spend entirely too long wrapped up in foil resulting in overcooked ribs. The problem with the 321 method is not how much time the ribs are smoked at the beginning, it’s how long they are in foil for. The wrapping of ribs is not like wrapping brisket or pork butt because ribs are a smaller cut of meat that are not nearly thick as brisket or pork butt.

Question: What is the 2-1-1 method for ribs?

Answer: 211 Ribs is simply 2 hours of smoke unwrapped, 1 hour wrapped and 1 hour unwrapped again but sauced. This cuts down the time ribs spend before being wrapped and while wrapped on the smoker. This method is more suited to baby back ribs rather than larger spare ribs. We still prefer the extended three hours of time spent soaking up the wood smoke, but this method at least will result in tender but not overcooked baby back ribs.

Michael Haas

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Recipe Rating




146 Comments

146 thoughts on “How to Smoke Ribs: A 321 Alternative”

  1. 5 stars
    I was a 3-2-1 rib guy and was not pleased with the gelatinous texture of the completed ribs. Yeah they fell off the bone, but they didn’t have any bite at all. Last night I made 2 racks following these instructions. WOW! The ribs were perfect. Thank you for posting this technique.

    Reply
    • Hi Fred,

      Glad to hear you enjoyed them. It’s funny how methods that do not create the best results get so popular and become the standard way of doing things.

      Cheers,

      Michael

      Reply
      • 5 stars
        What perfect timing. I came across this article as my ribs are approaching their 3 hour mark. Gonna shift to your 3 – 0.75 – 0.75 method. 🙂
        Can’t argue with better ribs quicker. Can’t wait to see if there’s a difference.

        Reply
        • Hi Tina,
          Spare ribs aka Side ribs typically take a bit longer. You might want to run them in the smoke for 3.5 hours instead of 3 hours. In the foil for 1 to 1.5 hours and then out of the foil for another 30 mins. You can use a temp probe to confirm their doneness (I never really bother). 190F-200F is typically when they are done and the fat / collagen is rendered. Good luck. Let us know how it goes.

          Michael

          Reply
      • Hi,
        My take on any cooking debate is that there is no wrong way (with a caveat) I absolutely love the 3-2-1 method – I like my eggs rubbery and the list goes on! I yell at TV cooking shows when the judges criticize a competitor because their meal didn’t fit into an arbitrary standard.
        So, if someone prefers a certain texture then that is the correct style for them.
        As long as the food is not unhealthy then there is no right or wrong – it’s all a matter of preference!
        LONG LIVE 3-2-1!!! LOL!

        Reply
        • Hi Paul, I agree everyone has different tastes in life. I’m just trying to let the public know what BBQ Pitmasters aim for with ribs.
          Cheers,
          Michael

          Reply
          • 5 stars
            I was never a fan of ribs and I think it was because of the 3-2-1 overcook method. The ribs fell off the bone but the meat was mealy. Your recipe inspired me to modify and after two tries and two trips to rib perfection, I am hooked. I followed the temperature you mentioned for the first step and then the times for the remaining steps and it worked well. Thank you.

    • 5 stars
      Completely agree. I tell everyone my “3, 2, 1” is more like 3, 1 and 15 minutes. I cook the trimmings at same time and usually eat them without the 15. They’re perfect. The rack stays together for the cut and pulls clean easily on the bite.

      Reply
    • 4 stars
      I just tried this method and made some very tasty ribs. The problem is my family Does like the fall off the bone texture, so “Now remember your 3-2-1 ribs and how gravity removed the meat from the bones for you. That’s not what you want.” That IS what my family wants. I will use these direction to better trim my ribs, but I have to cook them wrapped longer to please the family.

      Reply
  2. 5 stars
    This is it. This is the recipe. I’ve been experimenting with the 3-2-1, 2-2-1, etc methods and this is the golden ratio right here! Cuts perfectly but doesn’t pull off the bone with gravity! Tastes great too!!

    Reply
    • Looking forward to tryin this recipe tomorrow. My pellet smoker only has a 200 or 250 degree setting. Should I alternate between the two or just run the higher temperature? Thanks.

      Reply
      • Hi Sam,

        Just go with the 250F. It shouldn’t make much of a difference. If you put a temperature probe in the grill, you’ll be able to see what actual temp your grill runs at. I’m guessing if you set it to 250F, it will actually be a bit lower.
        Cheers,
        Michael

        Reply
  3. 5 stars
    I was planning to do the 3-2-1 method and found this while looking it up. My wife and I agreed these were the best ribs we have ever had, period.

    Reply
  4. 5 stars
    Wow. Like everyone above, I’ve done most of the other variations on ribs, including 3 2 1.
    By far the best ribs I’ve ever made! Everybody at our get together was praising the ribs.
    Thanks for this recipe.

    Reply
  5. I tried this method but with two racks came out perfect!!!! Soooo how does one compensate for three or four racks? Please lmk!

    Reply
    • Hi Jeremy,

      Glad the ribs turned out for you. We wrote the recipe for two racks, if you want to do four racks, simply double everything. Just make sure they can all fit in your smoker. If your smoker is right full with four racks, I would recommend moving the ribs around the smoker to ensure they are cooked evenly. My Traeger and Camp Chef pellet grills do have hot spots. Hope that helps.

      Michael

      Reply
  6. 3 stars
    I did shorten up the last hour (saucing) by about 15 minutes but kept everything else the same. Sorry, I like the meat falling off the bone, as does pretty much everyone I know. I sure don’t need the “pull” to enjoy ribs. The 3/2/1 will continue to be my go-to method.

    Reply
    • Hi William,

      Thanks for commenting. I agree that a good amount of people like their ribs with the meat falling off the bone. Our guide is to help you get your ribs similar to the Pit Masters in BBQ competitions.

      Cheers,

      Michael

      Reply
  7. Hi – My ribs are coming up on the initial 2 hour mark. But they will be done too early now. Can I let them rest in the foil for a couple hours before I put them back on the grill ?

    Reply
    • Hi Bill,

      Your best bet is to foil them and get them in your over or smoker at 150 and hold them for a while. They may still be overcooked but it’s worth a shot.

      Cheers,

      Michael

      Reply
  8. I’m doing 3 racks of baby backs tomorrow. The only question I have is why do you place your wrapped ribs bone side up? I’ve always put them back meat side up. I think I will try one rack your way and let the rest the way I’ve been doing it. Just curious

    Reply
    • Hi Bill,

      I recommend wrapping the ribs meat side down for two reasons.
      1. It gives the meat side a chance to cook in the butter and honey better. It takes on more flavor.
      2. It evens out the cook a little. The meat side is up most of the time during the cook, this evens things out a bit.

      It’s the little things that go a long way.

      Cheers,

      Michael

      Reply
      • I thought the reason for putting the ribs in the foil bone-side up was to keep the bones from poking holes in the bottom of foil and letting all the liquid drain out into the smoker.

        Reply
  9. Hi Michael,

    I’m giving your recipe a try. I’m new to smoking and used the 321 method previously (FYI, the meat never fell off the bone). I’m currently at the three hour mark, internal temp is 180 – they’re done! I basted and put back in, won’t they be over cooked with another hour and a half of cooking?

    Thanks,
    Kurt

    Reply
    • Hi Kurt,
      Sorry for the late reply. I’m on holidays and not checking in on things as regularly. Theoretically they are done already but taking the ribs off the smoker to put in the foil for 45 minutes, back out of the smoker to remove the foil and back in again, drops the temp of the ribs and slows the cooking process. Remember I mentioned to check the ribs by doing the bounce test with the grill tongs? Do that test while they are smoking. It will aid in knowing how well cooked the ribs are. Even though the ribs will be over 145F, they will still not be completely overcooked like most 3-2-1 rib methods. Stick to the recipe and see how they turn out. Let us know.

      Reply
      • You are against 3.2.1 method, but then discussion is about baby back ribs 3.2.1 is for spare ribs so a bit unfair.
        What approach would you use for a typical St.Louis cut rack of spare ribs?

        Reply
        • Hi Rick, When I do St. Louis ribs I gravitate more too the 3-2-1 method. I’ll be posting my Aaron Franklin style spare ribs recipe soon which is close to 321 but different. I also use higher temps for spares vs baby backs.
          Cheers,
          Michael

          Reply
    • Hi Auggie,

      This will work with St. Louis style ribs. St. Louis ribs usually need a bit more time to cook but I’ve had success with both St. Louis and Babybacks with this recipe. I haven’t done this method with dry ribs yet but you can give it a shot. You do not need to sauce at the end to make this recipe work.
      Cheers,
      Michael

      Reply
  10. 5 stars
    Tried this my first time cooking with a smoker. Did one set of ribs 3-2-1 and one set of ribs this way. They were both good but I think your method was better and more popular with my guests. How would you change this recipe if you were smoking pork spare ribs instead of baby backs?

    Reply
    • Hi E.R. Marty,
      Side ribs or spare ribs have more fat content and are not as meaty. They typically take longer to cook but this recipe will definitely get these ribs cooked through. Good luck and thanks for commenting. Happy grilling/smoking.
      Michael

      Reply
  11. I’m doing a 1.5kg pork loin rack tomorrow. Will this method work for me? Would I need to adjust any temps or timing?
    Thanks in advance!

    Reply
    • Hi Sam, Sorry for the late reply. I definitely think you can try this recipe on your pork loin rack. The loin rack is substantially thicker than baby back ribs so make sure you monitor the temperature to make sure it hits 145F. Give it a shot. I think this would taste great.
      Cheers,
      Michael

      Reply
  12. 5 stars
    Tried this last night with some St. Louis ribs on a Weber Smokey Mountain 18.5 on the racks and it worked great. I will make a few slight mods to the cooking times and rub mix (too much cayenne for our liking), but the 5-spice powder definitely comes through nicely. We used Stonewall Kitchen Maple Chipotle BBQ sauce (one of our favorites) and it was exceptional.
    Looking ahead – how would you handle this if you were hanging your ribs in order to have more racks and accommodate more guests? Not sure how I would be able to wrap them. Or would you just skip the wrap?

    Reply
    • Hi Michael, Thanks for commenting and I’m glad the ribs turned out well. Our rib rub does have a bit of kick, so I think I’ll mention to add the cayenne to taste.
      To answer your question about adding more racks for a large dinner party, I wouldn’t skip the foil part of the cook. I feel this aids in flavor and texture by letting the ribs bathe in butter and honey. If you are tight on space in the Smokey Mountain, I would still wrap the ribs when it is time and put them in your oven at 225F. When the ribs are wrapped any smoke/charcoal flavor will not be entering the ribs. Then when the foil portion of the cook is complete, put them back on the Smokey Mountain.
      Hope that helps.
      Michael Haas

      Reply
    • Hi Luis,
      I would just make sure you have extra butter, honey, rub and tin foil available for the cook. As long as the smoker has room for all three racks, you are good to go. Good luck. Let us know how it goes.

      Cheers,

      Michael

      Reply
  13. 5 stars
    I tried your recipe with a set of baby back ribs and the results were incredible. The whole family was happy!
    I’m tempted to try it with spare ribs, and was wondering if you’ve gotten any feedback on how much longer the intervals should be. I’m tempted to keep things the same but do 3.5 or 4 hours for the first step rather than 3. Any opinion?

    Reply
    • Hi Jim,

      I think you are fine with extending the first step as you pointed out. To test the ribs for doneness, you can do the Amazingribs.com method by picking up the rib rack with bbq tongs in the middle of the rack. Lightly bounce the ribs in the air, and if the meat is starting to separate from the bones, your ribs are done and ready for the next step. It’s a quick and simple way to test.
      Let us know how the spare ribs go.

      Cheers,

      Michael

      Reply
  14. Hi Mike,
    Another convert here. I was looking for better ribs than 321, and mine were perfect a few weeks back. My question is when to extend if they aren’t quite done? If I have some fatties cooking slower or ambient temps or whatever contributing to a slower cook. In that case, would I give them longer before going to foil? I’m assuming you wouldn’t want a longer foil time because of the mush factor? Or, longer in step 3 before saucing, if needed. The little things do matter, and I know sooner or later I’ll have a shorter or longer cook time. Thanks.

    Reply
    • Hi Darwin,

      I agree with cooking them longer on the first step vs in the foil or before saucing. Longer in the foil will create mush and longer on the final pre/saucing step might dry them out.

      Thanks for commenting.

      Michael

      Reply
  15. 5 stars
    I was not doing the 3-2-1 and have never wanted my ribs fall off the bone. Wanted competition worthy ribs. Used to smoke to 160 and then wrap the ribs till they hit temp.
    I think the key was wrapping for a bit and then putting them back in unwrapped.
    Using your method made the best ribs I’ve ever made. Not greasy ribs. The spice of the rub with the sweet of the honey baste. Amazing!!
    Thanks

    Reply
  16. I do a shortened foil step myself and can confirm that it yields a superior product. However, after smoking an oddly shaped rack of spare ribs, I no longer believe that “fall off the bone” ribs are necessarily overcooked. Here’s why:
    The cut I got was straight up goofy. The lower ribs were the perfect thickness while the higher ones were a good 1.5 – 2 inches thicker. A usual, I gave my guests a steller meal with competition bite, until one guy goes, “Wow, man! These are amazing. Falling RIGHT off the bone!”

    I narrowed my eyes a little at first, when then I realized that he had grabbed from the thicker end. I decided to scope it out myself, and sure enough, that thick part was falling right off the bone.

    Now how on Earth could the thicker side have been “overcooked” while the rest was cooked to perfection? It was a simple matter of the meat being too heavy for the bones to hold. It had nothing to do with being “overcooked,” and the flavor was fantastic on either side.
    While I agree that it’s more pleasurable for the meat to stay on until the point of chewing, I would be very skeptical of the “it’s overcooked” dismissal.

    Reply
    • Hi Luc, You have some valid points. I took my lead on the “overdone” idea from Meathead at amazingribs.com. Everyone has different preferences on how they like their food and it seems fall off the bone ribs is popular with a lot of people. My hope is people try this recipe and enjoy the difference these ribs bring.

      Thanks for commenting.

      Michael

      Reply
      • 5 stars
        It’s the prevailing view among pitmasters and BBQ aficionados, certainly. I never questioned it myself until that recent experience, but now I’m not so sure. I’m starting to think that there could be multiple different causes for falling off the bone.
        That said, when people aim for fall-off-the-bone or 3-2-1 their ribs, it almost always turns into a much less satisfying mush in my opinion.

        Reply
  17. 5 stars
    I haven’t smoked ribs in a long time but ran across this link in one of the Pit Boss FB groups so I tried it out a couple of weeks ago. The ribs came out amazing. Because of this method I’ll be smoking ribs more often now.

    Reply
  18. 5 stars
    Outstanding. Texture was good, super tender but not overcooked/mush. I did spray them a couple times with the 50/50 cider wash, no idea if it made any difference. But overall they were a big hit with the family.

    Reply
    • Hi Patrick,
      Thanks for commenting. They are always a huge hit with the family and friends here as well. Glad you enjoyed the recipe. Thanks for commenting.

      Michael

      Reply
  19. 5 stars
    I agree with your adjustments to the 3-2-1 method. I’ve used this method for years and found it needed adjusted so I started trimming back Stage 2 and 3 to less time. I use a Pit Boss Austin XL which maintains a perfect temp throughout the process. That may be part of the explanation of why this adjustment works better. Other smokers tend to fluctuate in cooking temp which creates varied results.

    Reply
      • Steps 5-6 when first placing the ribs in the smoker for 3 hours if not spritzing the ribs every 30-45 min do I need to do anything to make sure they don’t dry out? Do I need a water bath or will the ribs be fine 3 hours in the first step unbothered? Planning on making 3 racks tomorrow, thanks!

        Reply
        • Hi Miranda,

          If you are unable to spritz, try to at least have a bowl full of hot water in the smoker. This keeps the humidity up in the smoke chamber. I would try to get a bit of spritzing in there if possible. Good luck. Let us know how it turns out.
          Cheers,
          Michael

          Reply
  20. 5 stars
    Tried ribs for the 1st time on a newly purchased Traeger. Decided to try them this way (for the most part). Ended up doing 3 hrs/ 1hr 10min/40 min. They were absolutely perfect and will definitely do them this way in the future!! Thanks for the detailed write-up.

    Reply
    • Hi Tom,

      I don’t turn them in the first three hours. Just spritz them. Then when you foil, you flip them bone side up. Good luck.
      Michael

      Reply
  21. 5 stars
    Lost my rib mojo a few years back vacillating between too dry and too soft (essentially falling apart when time to remove them from smoker). As such I was combing the internet for other options and ran across this recipe which was a fantastic…firm, tender ribs with incredible flavor. Followed recommended time instructions 3/2/.5…only deviation was I used butcher paper in lieu of foil which probably helped keep them a little firmer and provided a little more bark then foil. For future cooks I may do one rack in butcher paper and one on foil for some of those that like the meat to slide off bone with minimal pull. All in all great recipe and my go to moving forward!!!

    Reply
    • Hi Larry,

      Thanks for commenting. I’ll give the butcher paper a try myself. I have always used foil. I typically like to keep one rack more fall off the bone for those that like it that way. Glad your back in the rib game.

      Cheers,

      Michael

      Reply
  22. 5 stars
    Outstanding recipe! Easier and quicker; it produced the best ribs I’ve ever made.
    Thank you for the clear and detailed writeup. It compelled me to try.

    Cheers,
    Sean

    Reply
  23. 5 stars
    Completely agree. I tell everyone my “3, 2, 1” is more like 3, around 1 and 15 minutes all at 225F. I cook the trimmings at same time and usually eat them without the 15. They’re perfect. The rack stays together for the cut and pulls clean easily on the bite. We are talking baby backs too.

    Reply
    • Thanks for commenting Darrell. I wrote this recipe/article to help spread the word on this method of ribs vs 321. Enjoy the weekend.
      Cheers,
      Michael

      Reply
  24. I am not a fan of 3 2 1 ribs. mushy and way overdone. Your method is much better and like to winning ribs at a competition. Love this

    Reply
  25. So, 3 hour initial cook… up to 2 hours wrapped (for tender)… then 30-45 cooked with sauce….

    Sounds familiar… like I’ve heard this one before.

    Reply
    • Hi Alby,

      That’s not really what I’m stating. I recommend about 45-60mins cooked in the foil instead of 2 hours. If you want fall of the bone ribs, then do 2 hours. Also, 30 mins sauced makes a big difference instead of 1 hour sauced.
      Thanks
      Michael

      Reply
  26. 5 stars
    I want to try this without any smoke wood. My wife doesn’t like the flavor of smoke meats I don’t like fall off the bone ribs. I’m going to try this with cheapest cost rack I can get test it using one burner in my gas BBQ put the ribs on the other side with the 2 other burners shut off.

    Reply
    • Hi KC,

      If you are really trying to summarize in the most simple format, then yes. There is a lot of other good tips that I list in the recipe as well.

      Enjoy.

      Michael

      Reply
  27. 5 stars
    Stand by… lol
    Been looking for a good recipient and really excited to try this one! Will comment back this evening on how this turned out.

    Reply
  28. Hello,

    I am looking forward to trying this recipe this weekend. Do you add any sort of binder, such as mustard, to the ribs prior to adding the rub?

    Thanks!

    Tom

    Reply
    • Hi Tom,
      I do not put a binder on my ribs. I only use a binder (mustard) on my brisket or pork butts. Enjoy the ribs and let us know how they turned out.
      Cheers,
      Michael

      Reply
  29. 5 stars
    Novice here but definitely enjoyed the texture of this recipe vs the standard you see everywhere. Firm yet tender. This will be my go-to from here on out.

    Reply
  30. Hi,

    If I wanted to smoke the ribs a day or two before serving what step do you suggest I stop at, and what to do the day of serving?

    Reply
    • Hi Allie,
      Interesting question. If I had to stop the cook (which I wouldn’t recommend) is after the foil cook. I would let the ribs cool and possibly vac seal them. Keep them in the fridge (couple days max) and then warm them on the grill at 225F until they are warm and lather with sauce. That’s how I would do it.
      Thanks
      Michael

      Reply
  31. 5 stars
    This is my new “go to” recipe for smoked ribs. They were excellent. Nice and juicy inside and plenty of flavor on the outside. Most importantly, Everyone loved them!

    Reply
  32. PERFECTION!

    I tried this down in Mexico. Here ribs are only ever overcooked or cooked quickly and really tough.

    This blew their minds they loved it so much!

    In fact, in general, smoking isn’t done here! Most BBQs don’t even have a cover.

    Reply
    • Hi James,
      That’s cool to hear. Glad they were happy with the recipe. Maybe low n slow bbq will take off in Mexico.
      Cheers,
      Michael

      Reply
  33. 5 stars
    Made this last night and WOW!!!!!! These were the best ribs I ever had. I went 3 hours, then 45 minutes and then another 45 minutes. Perfect tenderness, flavor and not over cooked. This is my go to recipe. Thank you!

    Reply
    • Thanks for commenting Mike. We appreciate the kind words. Tell your friends. Try our brisket or smoked prime rib recipe some time.
      Cheers,
      Michael

      Reply
  34. I did the 321 for a while, I have to admit tho that this method is a better starting point for us amateurs. Individual tastes can adjust as necessary, given that these are not overcooked at the start like 321 comes out sometimes. I just kinda winged the instructions and they came out really good, had to sub some brown sugar for honey tho. Only thing I needed was maybe a Higher temp finish for a little bit of crisp

    Reply
    • Good to hear Rick. I always like to play around with other peoples recipes as well and get them to my liking. Keep on experimenting.
      Cheers,
      Michael

      Reply
    • Hi Hunter, You can use the rib rack for the first 3 hours, but once you need to foil I recommend laying them flat without the rack. I want the ribs to cook in their juices/butter/honey while in the foil. The rack won’t really allow that to happen. Hopefully you have the room for the ribs on the grates. Good luck.
      Michael

      Reply
  35. I’m a new home-smoker who just smoked his first rack of ribs last night (Masterbuilt electric digital 30″). You’re absolutely right that that the 3-2-1 method (or the 4-2-1 method) way, way, way overcooks those racks. I’d even argue it ruins them.

    I’m also changing to a salt/pepper/brown sugar-only rub with ribs. Last night, I used a traditional North Carolina rub that’s great on smoked butts, but it leaves something to be desired on ribs.

    Thank you!

    Reply
  36. 5 stars
    Made these for the first time today on my Akorn Smoker. Followed the recipe verbatim. Turned out wonderful! First time I’ve attempt ribs on the smoker. Wouldn’t change a thing. Yummy.

    Reply
    • Thanks for commenting Dale. Glad you like them. I’ll be adding a spare rib recipe soon too. Still tweaking it so it will be a couple weeks until I post.
      Cheers,
      Michael

      Reply
  37. Looking for guidance about a time pinch I’m facing. Can it work to smoke the ribs, then wrap in foil and refrigerate until the next day? Then I think I’d cook them for an hour and a half or so while wrapped to get them up to temperature before saucing and finishing on the grill. I just don’t have a way to work around a big time commitment in the middle of the day I plan to serve these. (Okay, you got me. Yes, I have a ten o’clock tee time.)

    Reply
    • Hi Randal,
      No worries about the Tee Time as an excuse. It’s spring, lets enjoy the warm weather.
      You can try your method. Just make sure you get the ribs up to temp (195’ish) before you take them off. I’m really curious how this will turn out for you. Let us know how they turned out in the end. I haven’t tried this.
      Cheers,
      Michael

      Reply
  38. 5 stars
    Well, today was my 4th time with this recipe. Thank you so much for writing this page and please don’t ever take it down. My ribs were absolutely fabulous. Best I’ve ever made by a long shot, and utterly delicious. And I *just* got back from Kansas City a few days ago. 3 hours, 45 minutes, 30 minutes. My meat temp didn’t get to 195, but my last few attempts and my ribs were a bit dry. So I pulled them on the time (I was well over 165). The ribs were perfect. Homemade rub from a recipe from the Dinosaur BBQ cookbook. Wet sauce from Capital City Mambo Sauce. OMG! Thank you again.

    Reply
    • Thanks for the kind words Andrew. We will not be taking this post down every. It’s our most popular recipe.
      Cheers,
      Michael

      Reply
  39. Ancious to try your recipe. I have judged BBQ competions and I know how ribs are supposed to turn out. Even though many restaurants advertise that their ribs are fallin off the bone, I fine them disgusting. Might as well spend your time making pulled pork. Thanks.

    Reply
    • Hi Bob,
      I would try your St. Louis ribs at 225F without foil for about 3 hours and then in foil for around 2 hours. That should get you in the ballpark. I have a new recipe coming out soon that is heavily influenced by Aaron Franklin. He does his for three hours at 260’ish, then two hours in foil around 260’ish. Mine always come out way overdone. I’m tweaking this to make sure I get it right. Stay tuned.
      Cheers,
      Michael

      Reply
  40. I have never been a fan of the 3-2-1 method either. All I season with is kosher salt and coarse ground black pepper. I am from Texas. I’ve experimented with spare ribs and the best recipe for me and my family is to smoke the ribs with the bone side down on the smoker for 2 1/2 hours keeping the smoke area around 225. I’ve found that anything between 210 and 250 works great. After 2 1/2 hours of smoking I remove the ribs and wrap them tightly in butcher paper and place them in an oven on a cookie sheet with the meat side up for 1 hour on 350 degrees. After 1 hour I remove the ribs and let them rest (still wrapped) for 1 hour. After they rest I open the wrap and slice the ribs. They have a good bark, a great flavor, are very tender and juicy, and do NOT fall off the bone.

    Reply
    • Thanks for sending us your method for Spare’s Tony. I think your method looks spot on for how I would do them too. I have a recipe for Spare Ribs coming soon. They are inspired by Aaron Franklin.
      Cheers,
      Michael

      Reply
  41. Genuine question: my in-laws wear dentures (and one of them refuses to wear them half the time 🙄) They ALWAYS want me to smoke meat for them and of course I oblige… Will they still be able to eat them this way? I’ve always done 321 out of concern for them eating ribs (I actually don’t even eat pork lol. I can sure smoke a shoulder like there’s no tomorrow though!) I know this sounds silly, but we all have ~those~ in-laws…

    Reply
    • Hi There FrazledWife,

      This is the funniest comment on this recipe yet. If they use dentures, I would increase the cook time in the foil by another 20-30 minutes. That should make the texture easy enough for them. Good luck. Let us know how it goes. Haha.
      Cheers,
      Michael

      Reply
  42. Followed the recipe to the T, couldn’t keep the gas smoker under 250 so the time was off but the taste, color and tenderness was spot on!!! Thanks for a new way of doing ribs! I will be getting a good electric smoker next year where I can keep the temperature where it needs to be. Happy 4th everyone.

    Reply
  43. I’m a brisket guy but have always wanted to smoke some back ribs. There’s just something good about eating a juicy rib with your hands while watching a game on TV. I looked at the recipes on a dozen or more websites and decided to give this one a try on my WSM. Seemed simple enough, but my first go at it proved that I’m the “bone-in pork jerky king” of the block. I let the temp drift too high and ended up with a tasty, but hard to chew mess.

    Not one to throw in the towel, I gave it another try this weekend and really watched the temp on the smoker during the 3hr smoke phase. Holy Bob! Those were the best ribs that I’ve ever had… ANYWHERE! Slightly firm, but incredibly juicy and flavorful. The only thing I’m going to change on my next cook is to do the 1 hr foil wrapped phase in the oven instead of having to watch the temp on my smoker like a hawk. That WSM just runs too hot. I had the vents on the bottom practically closed and it still would get to 275F+.

    Anyway, kudos to the recipe! Another happy camper using your method. Back ribs are now part of my summer game!

    Reply
    • Haha. Right on Don. Glad it worked out on the second round. WSM’s can be tricky with temp fluctuations. Thanks for commenting.
      Cheers,
      Michael

      Reply
  44. 5 stars
    WOW Michael, used your recipe on my Masterbuilt 1050, three of the best rack of ribs I’ve cooked in a long time. Will be my go to from now on. Thanks!

    Reply
  45. 5 stars
    I finally did it!!!! I hated the BGE cause everything I have ever tried burned up. I still struggle keeping the temp at 225 but for this rib cook I went and bought the ConEggarator ceramic plate thingy for indirect heat and let me just tell ….. Best Ribs EVER! Kinda proud of this moment cause I had failed a lot . Since my temp ranged between 225-250 I did more of a 3-1.5-.5 method using butter, honey and brown sugar in my foil. I could of went just a little longer on the last leg but its hard to say cause they were truly very goos and so tender. Im Just so excited cause I believe I can do again now . Now the only problem is all the clean up cause I kinda made a mess all over that ceramic plate and its all black now . Thanks guys!!!

    Reply
  46. 5 stars
    I tried this recipe yesterday on my pellet smoker with two racks of baby backs. Three hours at 225, then wrapped for an hour then sauced unwrapped for 45 minutes. Absolute perfection in a rib, and my entire family agreed!!!!!
    They were tender but not at all mushy, nice bite and good chew to the meat. Even with the wrap the bark was still intact. The butter and honey was a game changer, added a nice flavor component while keeping everything tender during the wrap. I have tinkered around with a half dozen recipes and methods, and this produced the best ribs I have ever smoked.

    Reply
  47. 5 stars
    Dude – great article! I really appreciate you taking the time to do this. I am a Le Cordon Bleu-trained chef and have been in the industry a very long time (and am from Texas, if you can believe that), but smoking meat was simply NOT my forte’. I’m very thankful for guys like you that come on here and take the time to educate. Your tutorial is very involved, yet concise and to the point. Thanks again man and keep smokin’!

    Reply
  48. The 321 method is mainly for newbies and others that are not looking for the perfect rib. If you’re green to smoking start with the 321 and start tweaking from there! Im spot on to your method! I want tender, not gelatinous!

    Reply

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146 thoughts on “How to Smoke Ribs: A 321 Alternative”

  1. 5 stars
    I was a 3-2-1 rib guy and was not pleased with the gelatinous texture of the completed ribs. Yeah they fell off the bone, but they didn’t have any bite at all. Last night I made 2 racks following these instructions. WOW! The ribs were perfect. Thank you for posting this technique.

    Reply
    • Hi Fred,

      Glad to hear you enjoyed them. It’s funny how methods that do not create the best results get so popular and become the standard way of doing things.

      Cheers,

      Michael

      Reply
      • 5 stars
        What perfect timing. I came across this article as my ribs are approaching their 3 hour mark. Gonna shift to your 3 – 0.75 – 0.75 method. 🙂
        Can’t argue with better ribs quicker. Can’t wait to see if there’s a difference.

        Reply
        • Hi Tina,
          Spare ribs aka Side ribs typically take a bit longer. You might want to run them in the smoke for 3.5 hours instead of 3 hours. In the foil for 1 to 1.5 hours and then out of the foil for another 30 mins. You can use a temp probe to confirm their doneness (I never really bother). 190F-200F is typically when they are done and the fat / collagen is rendered. Good luck. Let us know how it goes.

          Michael

          Reply
      • Hi,
        My take on any cooking debate is that there is no wrong way (with a caveat) I absolutely love the 3-2-1 method – I like my eggs rubbery and the list goes on! I yell at TV cooking shows when the judges criticize a competitor because their meal didn’t fit into an arbitrary standard.
        So, if someone prefers a certain texture then that is the correct style for them.
        As long as the food is not unhealthy then there is no right or wrong – it’s all a matter of preference!
        LONG LIVE 3-2-1!!! LOL!

        Reply
        • Hi Paul, I agree everyone has different tastes in life. I’m just trying to let the public know what BBQ Pitmasters aim for with ribs.
          Cheers,
          Michael

          Reply
          • 5 stars
            I was never a fan of ribs and I think it was because of the 3-2-1 overcook method. The ribs fell off the bone but the meat was mealy. Your recipe inspired me to modify and after two tries and two trips to rib perfection, I am hooked. I followed the temperature you mentioned for the first step and then the times for the remaining steps and it worked well. Thank you.

    • 5 stars
      Completely agree. I tell everyone my “3, 2, 1” is more like 3, 1 and 15 minutes. I cook the trimmings at same time and usually eat them without the 15. They’re perfect. The rack stays together for the cut and pulls clean easily on the bite.

      Reply
    • 4 stars
      I just tried this method and made some very tasty ribs. The problem is my family Does like the fall off the bone texture, so “Now remember your 3-2-1 ribs and how gravity removed the meat from the bones for you. That’s not what you want.” That IS what my family wants. I will use these direction to better trim my ribs, but I have to cook them wrapped longer to please the family.

      Reply
  2. 5 stars
    This is it. This is the recipe. I’ve been experimenting with the 3-2-1, 2-2-1, etc methods and this is the golden ratio right here! Cuts perfectly but doesn’t pull off the bone with gravity! Tastes great too!!

    Reply
    • Looking forward to tryin this recipe tomorrow. My pellet smoker only has a 200 or 250 degree setting. Should I alternate between the two or just run the higher temperature? Thanks.

      Reply
      • Hi Sam,

        Just go with the 250F. It shouldn’t make much of a difference. If you put a temperature probe in the grill, you’ll be able to see what actual temp your grill runs at. I’m guessing if you set it to 250F, it will actually be a bit lower.
        Cheers,
        Michael

        Reply
  3. 5 stars
    I was planning to do the 3-2-1 method and found this while looking it up. My wife and I agreed these were the best ribs we have ever had, period.

    Reply
  4. 5 stars
    Wow. Like everyone above, I’ve done most of the other variations on ribs, including 3 2 1.
    By far the best ribs I’ve ever made! Everybody at our get together was praising the ribs.
    Thanks for this recipe.

    Reply
  5. I tried this method but with two racks came out perfect!!!! Soooo how does one compensate for three or four racks? Please lmk!

    Reply
    • Hi Jeremy,

      Glad the ribs turned out for you. We wrote the recipe for two racks, if you want to do four racks, simply double everything. Just make sure they can all fit in your smoker. If your smoker is right full with four racks, I would recommend moving the ribs around the smoker to ensure they are cooked evenly. My Traeger and Camp Chef pellet grills do have hot spots. Hope that helps.

      Michael

      Reply
  6. 3 stars
    I did shorten up the last hour (saucing) by about 15 minutes but kept everything else the same. Sorry, I like the meat falling off the bone, as does pretty much everyone I know. I sure don’t need the “pull” to enjoy ribs. The 3/2/1 will continue to be my go-to method.

    Reply
    • Hi William,

      Thanks for commenting. I agree that a good amount of people like their ribs with the meat falling off the bone. Our guide is to help you get your ribs similar to the Pit Masters in BBQ competitions.

      Cheers,

      Michael

      Reply
  7. Hi – My ribs are coming up on the initial 2 hour mark. But they will be done too early now. Can I let them rest in the foil for a couple hours before I put them back on the grill ?

    Reply
    • Hi Bill,

      Your best bet is to foil them and get them in your over or smoker at 150 and hold them for a while. They may still be overcooked but it’s worth a shot.

      Cheers,

      Michael

      Reply
  8. I’m doing 3 racks of baby backs tomorrow. The only question I have is why do you place your wrapped ribs bone side up? I’ve always put them back meat side up. I think I will try one rack your way and let the rest the way I’ve been doing it. Just curious

    Reply
    • Hi Bill,

      I recommend wrapping the ribs meat side down for two reasons.
      1. It gives the meat side a chance to cook in the butter and honey better. It takes on more flavor.
      2. It evens out the cook a little. The meat side is up most of the time during the cook, this evens things out a bit.

      It’s the little things that go a long way.

      Cheers,

      Michael

      Reply
      • I thought the reason for putting the ribs in the foil bone-side up was to keep the bones from poking holes in the bottom of foil and letting all the liquid drain out into the smoker.

        Reply
  9. Hi Michael,

    I’m giving your recipe a try. I’m new to smoking and used the 321 method previously (FYI, the meat never fell off the bone). I’m currently at the three hour mark, internal temp is 180 – they’re done! I basted and put back in, won’t they be over cooked with another hour and a half of cooking?

    Thanks,
    Kurt

    Reply
    • Hi Kurt,
      Sorry for the late reply. I’m on holidays and not checking in on things as regularly. Theoretically they are done already but taking the ribs off the smoker to put in the foil for 45 minutes, back out of the smoker to remove the foil and back in again, drops the temp of the ribs and slows the cooking process. Remember I mentioned to check the ribs by doing the bounce test with the grill tongs? Do that test while they are smoking. It will aid in knowing how well cooked the ribs are. Even though the ribs will be over 145F, they will still not be completely overcooked like most 3-2-1 rib methods. Stick to the recipe and see how they turn out. Let us know.

      Reply
      • You are against 3.2.1 method, but then discussion is about baby back ribs 3.2.1 is for spare ribs so a bit unfair.
        What approach would you use for a typical St.Louis cut rack of spare ribs?

        Reply
        • Hi Rick, When I do St. Louis ribs I gravitate more too the 3-2-1 method. I’ll be posting my Aaron Franklin style spare ribs recipe soon which is close to 321 but different. I also use higher temps for spares vs baby backs.
          Cheers,
          Michael

          Reply
    • Hi Auggie,

      This will work with St. Louis style ribs. St. Louis ribs usually need a bit more time to cook but I’ve had success with both St. Louis and Babybacks with this recipe. I haven’t done this method with dry ribs yet but you can give it a shot. You do not need to sauce at the end to make this recipe work.
      Cheers,
      Michael

      Reply
  10. 5 stars
    Tried this my first time cooking with a smoker. Did one set of ribs 3-2-1 and one set of ribs this way. They were both good but I think your method was better and more popular with my guests. How would you change this recipe if you were smoking pork spare ribs instead of baby backs?

    Reply
    • Hi E.R. Marty,
      Side ribs or spare ribs have more fat content and are not as meaty. They typically take longer to cook but this recipe will definitely get these ribs cooked through. Good luck and thanks for commenting. Happy grilling/smoking.
      Michael

      Reply
  11. I’m doing a 1.5kg pork loin rack tomorrow. Will this method work for me? Would I need to adjust any temps or timing?
    Thanks in advance!

    Reply
    • Hi Sam, Sorry for the late reply. I definitely think you can try this recipe on your pork loin rack. The loin rack is substantially thicker than baby back ribs so make sure you monitor the temperature to make sure it hits 145F. Give it a shot. I think this would taste great.
      Cheers,
      Michael

      Reply
  12. 5 stars
    Tried this last night with some St. Louis ribs on a Weber Smokey Mountain 18.5 on the racks and it worked great. I will make a few slight mods to the cooking times and rub mix (too much cayenne for our liking), but the 5-spice powder definitely comes through nicely. We used Stonewall Kitchen Maple Chipotle BBQ sauce (one of our favorites) and it was exceptional.
    Looking ahead – how would you handle this if you were hanging your ribs in order to have more racks and accommodate more guests? Not sure how I would be able to wrap them. Or would you just skip the wrap?

    Reply
    • Hi Michael, Thanks for commenting and I’m glad the ribs turned out well. Our rib rub does have a bit of kick, so I think I’ll mention to add the cayenne to taste.
      To answer your question about adding more racks for a large dinner party, I wouldn’t skip the foil part of the cook. I feel this aids in flavor and texture by letting the ribs bathe in butter and honey. If you are tight on space in the Smokey Mountain, I would still wrap the ribs when it is time and put them in your oven at 225F. When the ribs are wrapped any smoke/charcoal flavor will not be entering the ribs. Then when the foil portion of the cook is complete, put them back on the Smokey Mountain.
      Hope that helps.
      Michael Haas

      Reply
    • Hi Luis,
      I would just make sure you have extra butter, honey, rub and tin foil available for the cook. As long as the smoker has room for all three racks, you are good to go. Good luck. Let us know how it goes.

      Cheers,

      Michael

      Reply
  13. 5 stars
    I tried your recipe with a set of baby back ribs and the results were incredible. The whole family was happy!
    I’m tempted to try it with spare ribs, and was wondering if you’ve gotten any feedback on how much longer the intervals should be. I’m tempted to keep things the same but do 3.5 or 4 hours for the first step rather than 3. Any opinion?

    Reply
    • Hi Jim,

      I think you are fine with extending the first step as you pointed out. To test the ribs for doneness, you can do the Amazingribs.com method by picking up the rib rack with bbq tongs in the middle of the rack. Lightly bounce the ribs in the air, and if the meat is starting to separate from the bones, your ribs are done and ready for the next step. It’s a quick and simple way to test.
      Let us know how the spare ribs go.

      Cheers,

      Michael

      Reply
  14. Hi Mike,
    Another convert here. I was looking for better ribs than 321, and mine were perfect a few weeks back. My question is when to extend if they aren’t quite done? If I have some fatties cooking slower or ambient temps or whatever contributing to a slower cook. In that case, would I give them longer before going to foil? I’m assuming you wouldn’t want a longer foil time because of the mush factor? Or, longer in step 3 before saucing, if needed. The little things do matter, and I know sooner or later I’ll have a shorter or longer cook time. Thanks.

    Reply
    • Hi Darwin,

      I agree with cooking them longer on the first step vs in the foil or before saucing. Longer in the foil will create mush and longer on the final pre/saucing step might dry them out.

      Thanks for commenting.

      Michael

      Reply
  15. 5 stars
    I was not doing the 3-2-1 and have never wanted my ribs fall off the bone. Wanted competition worthy ribs. Used to smoke to 160 and then wrap the ribs till they hit temp.
    I think the key was wrapping for a bit and then putting them back in unwrapped.
    Using your method made the best ribs I’ve ever made. Not greasy ribs. The spice of the rub with the sweet of the honey baste. Amazing!!
    Thanks

    Reply
  16. I do a shortened foil step myself and can confirm that it yields a superior product. However, after smoking an oddly shaped rack of spare ribs, I no longer believe that “fall off the bone” ribs are necessarily overcooked. Here’s why:
    The cut I got was straight up goofy. The lower ribs were the perfect thickness while the higher ones were a good 1.5 – 2 inches thicker. A usual, I gave my guests a steller meal with competition bite, until one guy goes, “Wow, man! These are amazing. Falling RIGHT off the bone!”

    I narrowed my eyes a little at first, when then I realized that he had grabbed from the thicker end. I decided to scope it out myself, and sure enough, that thick part was falling right off the bone.

    Now how on Earth could the thicker side have been “overcooked” while the rest was cooked to perfection? It was a simple matter of the meat being too heavy for the bones to hold. It had nothing to do with being “overcooked,” and the flavor was fantastic on either side.
    While I agree that it’s more pleasurable for the meat to stay on until the point of chewing, I would be very skeptical of the “it’s overcooked” dismissal.

    Reply
    • Hi Luc, You have some valid points. I took my lead on the “overdone” idea from Meathead at amazingribs.com. Everyone has different preferences on how they like their food and it seems fall off the bone ribs is popular with a lot of people. My hope is people try this recipe and enjoy the difference these ribs bring.

      Thanks for commenting.

      Michael

      Reply
      • 5 stars
        It’s the prevailing view among pitmasters and BBQ aficionados, certainly. I never questioned it myself until that recent experience, but now I’m not so sure. I’m starting to think that there could be multiple different causes for falling off the bone.
        That said, when people aim for fall-off-the-bone or 3-2-1 their ribs, it almost always turns into a much less satisfying mush in my opinion.

        Reply
  17. 5 stars
    I haven’t smoked ribs in a long time but ran across this link in one of the Pit Boss FB groups so I tried it out a couple of weeks ago. The ribs came out amazing. Because of this method I’ll be smoking ribs more often now.

    Reply
  18. 5 stars
    Outstanding. Texture was good, super tender but not overcooked/mush. I did spray them a couple times with the 50/50 cider wash, no idea if it made any difference. But overall they were a big hit with the family.

    Reply
    • Hi Patrick,
      Thanks for commenting. They are always a huge hit with the family and friends here as well. Glad you enjoyed the recipe. Thanks for commenting.

      Michael

      Reply
  19. 5 stars
    I agree with your adjustments to the 3-2-1 method. I’ve used this method for years and found it needed adjusted so I started trimming back Stage 2 and 3 to less time. I use a Pit Boss Austin XL which maintains a perfect temp throughout the process. That may be part of the explanation of why this adjustment works better. Other smokers tend to fluctuate in cooking temp which creates varied results.

    Reply
      • Steps 5-6 when first placing the ribs in the smoker for 3 hours if not spritzing the ribs every 30-45 min do I need to do anything to make sure they don’t dry out? Do I need a water bath or will the ribs be fine 3 hours in the first step unbothered? Planning on making 3 racks tomorrow, thanks!

        Reply
        • Hi Miranda,

          If you are unable to spritz, try to at least have a bowl full of hot water in the smoker. This keeps the humidity up in the smoke chamber. I would try to get a bit of spritzing in there if possible. Good luck. Let us know how it turns out.
          Cheers,
          Michael

          Reply
  20. 5 stars
    Tried ribs for the 1st time on a newly purchased Traeger. Decided to try them this way (for the most part). Ended up doing 3 hrs/ 1hr 10min/40 min. They were absolutely perfect and will definitely do them this way in the future!! Thanks for the detailed write-up.

    Reply
    • Hi Tom,

      I don’t turn them in the first three hours. Just spritz them. Then when you foil, you flip them bone side up. Good luck.
      Michael

      Reply
  21. 5 stars
    Lost my rib mojo a few years back vacillating between too dry and too soft (essentially falling apart when time to remove them from smoker). As such I was combing the internet for other options and ran across this recipe which was a fantastic…firm, tender ribs with incredible flavor. Followed recommended time instructions 3/2/.5…only deviation was I used butcher paper in lieu of foil which probably helped keep them a little firmer and provided a little more bark then foil. For future cooks I may do one rack in butcher paper and one on foil for some of those that like the meat to slide off bone with minimal pull. All in all great recipe and my go to moving forward!!!

    Reply
    • Hi Larry,

      Thanks for commenting. I’ll give the butcher paper a try myself. I have always used foil. I typically like to keep one rack more fall off the bone for those that like it that way. Glad your back in the rib game.

      Cheers,

      Michael

      Reply
  22. 5 stars
    Outstanding recipe! Easier and quicker; it produced the best ribs I’ve ever made.
    Thank you for the clear and detailed writeup. It compelled me to try.

    Cheers,
    Sean

    Reply
  23. 5 stars
    Completely agree. I tell everyone my “3, 2, 1” is more like 3, around 1 and 15 minutes all at 225F. I cook the trimmings at same time and usually eat them without the 15. They’re perfect. The rack stays together for the cut and pulls clean easily on the bite. We are talking baby backs too.

    Reply
    • Thanks for commenting Darrell. I wrote this recipe/article to help spread the word on this method of ribs vs 321. Enjoy the weekend.
      Cheers,
      Michael

      Reply
  24. I am not a fan of 3 2 1 ribs. mushy and way overdone. Your method is much better and like to winning ribs at a competition. Love this

    Reply
  25. So, 3 hour initial cook… up to 2 hours wrapped (for tender)… then 30-45 cooked with sauce….

    Sounds familiar… like I’ve heard this one before.

    Reply
    • Hi Alby,

      That’s not really what I’m stating. I recommend about 45-60mins cooked in the foil instead of 2 hours. If you want fall of the bone ribs, then do 2 hours. Also, 30 mins sauced makes a big difference instead of 1 hour sauced.
      Thanks
      Michael

      Reply
  26. 5 stars
    I want to try this without any smoke wood. My wife doesn’t like the flavor of smoke meats I don’t like fall off the bone ribs. I’m going to try this with cheapest cost rack I can get test it using one burner in my gas BBQ put the ribs on the other side with the 2 other burners shut off.

    Reply
    • Hi KC,

      If you are really trying to summarize in the most simple format, then yes. There is a lot of other good tips that I list in the recipe as well.

      Enjoy.

      Michael

      Reply
  27. 5 stars
    Stand by… lol
    Been looking for a good recipient and really excited to try this one! Will comment back this evening on how this turned out.

    Reply
  28. Hello,

    I am looking forward to trying this recipe this weekend. Do you add any sort of binder, such as mustard, to the ribs prior to adding the rub?

    Thanks!

    Tom

    Reply
    • Hi Tom,
      I do not put a binder on my ribs. I only use a binder (mustard) on my brisket or pork butts. Enjoy the ribs and let us know how they turned out.
      Cheers,
      Michael

      Reply
  29. 5 stars
    Novice here but definitely enjoyed the texture of this recipe vs the standard you see everywhere. Firm yet tender. This will be my go-to from here on out.

    Reply
  30. Hi,

    If I wanted to smoke the ribs a day or two before serving what step do you suggest I stop at, and what to do the day of serving?

    Reply
    • Hi Allie,
      Interesting question. If I had to stop the cook (which I wouldn’t recommend) is after the foil cook. I would let the ribs cool and possibly vac seal them. Keep them in the fridge (couple days max) and then warm them on the grill at 225F until they are warm and lather with sauce. That’s how I would do it.
      Thanks
      Michael

      Reply
  31. 5 stars
    This is my new “go to” recipe for smoked ribs. They were excellent. Nice and juicy inside and plenty of flavor on the outside. Most importantly, Everyone loved them!

    Reply
  32. PERFECTION!

    I tried this down in Mexico. Here ribs are only ever overcooked or cooked quickly and really tough.

    This blew their minds they loved it so much!

    In fact, in general, smoking isn’t done here! Most BBQs don’t even have a cover.

    Reply
    • Hi James,
      That’s cool to hear. Glad they were happy with the recipe. Maybe low n slow bbq will take off in Mexico.
      Cheers,
      Michael

      Reply
  33. 5 stars
    Made this last night and WOW!!!!!! These were the best ribs I ever had. I went 3 hours, then 45 minutes and then another 45 minutes. Perfect tenderness, flavor and not over cooked. This is my go to recipe. Thank you!

    Reply
    • Thanks for commenting Mike. We appreciate the kind words. Tell your friends. Try our brisket or smoked prime rib recipe some time.
      Cheers,
      Michael

      Reply
  34. I did the 321 for a while, I have to admit tho that this method is a better starting point for us amateurs. Individual tastes can adjust as necessary, given that these are not overcooked at the start like 321 comes out sometimes. I just kinda winged the instructions and they came out really good, had to sub some brown sugar for honey tho. Only thing I needed was maybe a Higher temp finish for a little bit of crisp

    Reply
    • Good to hear Rick. I always like to play around with other peoples recipes as well and get them to my liking. Keep on experimenting.
      Cheers,
      Michael

      Reply
    • Hi Hunter, You can use the rib rack for the first 3 hours, but once you need to foil I recommend laying them flat without the rack. I want the ribs to cook in their juices/butter/honey while in the foil. The rack won’t really allow that to happen. Hopefully you have the room for the ribs on the grates. Good luck.
      Michael

      Reply
  35. I’m a new home-smoker who just smoked his first rack of ribs last night (Masterbuilt electric digital 30″). You’re absolutely right that that the 3-2-1 method (or the 4-2-1 method) way, way, way overcooks those racks. I’d even argue it ruins them.

    I’m also changing to a salt/pepper/brown sugar-only rub with ribs. Last night, I used a traditional North Carolina rub that’s great on smoked butts, but it leaves something to be desired on ribs.

    Thank you!

    Reply
  36. 5 stars
    Made these for the first time today on my Akorn Smoker. Followed the recipe verbatim. Turned out wonderful! First time I’ve attempt ribs on the smoker. Wouldn’t change a thing. Yummy.

    Reply
    • Thanks for commenting Dale. Glad you like them. I’ll be adding a spare rib recipe soon too. Still tweaking it so it will be a couple weeks until I post.
      Cheers,
      Michael

      Reply
  37. Looking for guidance about a time pinch I’m facing. Can it work to smoke the ribs, then wrap in foil and refrigerate until the next day? Then I think I’d cook them for an hour and a half or so while wrapped to get them up to temperature before saucing and finishing on the grill. I just don’t have a way to work around a big time commitment in the middle of the day I plan to serve these. (Okay, you got me. Yes, I have a ten o’clock tee time.)

    Reply
    • Hi Randal,
      No worries about the Tee Time as an excuse. It’s spring, lets enjoy the warm weather.
      You can try your method. Just make sure you get the ribs up to temp (195’ish) before you take them off. I’m really curious how this will turn out for you. Let us know how they turned out in the end. I haven’t tried this.
      Cheers,
      Michael

      Reply
  38. 5 stars
    Well, today was my 4th time with this recipe. Thank you so much for writing this page and please don’t ever take it down. My ribs were absolutely fabulous. Best I’ve ever made by a long shot, and utterly delicious. And I *just* got back from Kansas City a few days ago. 3 hours, 45 minutes, 30 minutes. My meat temp didn’t get to 195, but my last few attempts and my ribs were a bit dry. So I pulled them on the time (I was well over 165). The ribs were perfect. Homemade rub from a recipe from the Dinosaur BBQ cookbook. Wet sauce from Capital City Mambo Sauce. OMG! Thank you again.

    Reply
    • Thanks for the kind words Andrew. We will not be taking this post down every. It’s our most popular recipe.
      Cheers,
      Michael

      Reply
  39. Ancious to try your recipe. I have judged BBQ competions and I know how ribs are supposed to turn out. Even though many restaurants advertise that their ribs are fallin off the bone, I fine them disgusting. Might as well spend your time making pulled pork. Thanks.

    Reply
    • Hi Bob,
      I would try your St. Louis ribs at 225F without foil for about 3 hours and then in foil for around 2 hours. That should get you in the ballpark. I have a new recipe coming out soon that is heavily influenced by Aaron Franklin. He does his for three hours at 260’ish, then two hours in foil around 260’ish. Mine always come out way overdone. I’m tweaking this to make sure I get it right. Stay tuned.
      Cheers,
      Michael

      Reply
  40. I have never been a fan of the 3-2-1 method either. All I season with is kosher salt and coarse ground black pepper. I am from Texas. I’ve experimented with spare ribs and the best recipe for me and my family is to smoke the ribs with the bone side down on the smoker for 2 1/2 hours keeping the smoke area around 225. I’ve found that anything between 210 and 250 works great. After 2 1/2 hours of smoking I remove the ribs and wrap them tightly in butcher paper and place them in an oven on a cookie sheet with the meat side up for 1 hour on 350 degrees. After 1 hour I remove the ribs and let them rest (still wrapped) for 1 hour. After they rest I open the wrap and slice the ribs. They have a good bark, a great flavor, are very tender and juicy, and do NOT fall off the bone.

    Reply
    • Thanks for sending us your method for Spare’s Tony. I think your method looks spot on for how I would do them too. I have a recipe for Spare Ribs coming soon. They are inspired by Aaron Franklin.
      Cheers,
      Michael

      Reply
  41. Genuine question: my in-laws wear dentures (and one of them refuses to wear them half the time 🙄) They ALWAYS want me to smoke meat for them and of course I oblige… Will they still be able to eat them this way? I’ve always done 321 out of concern for them eating ribs (I actually don’t even eat pork lol. I can sure smoke a shoulder like there’s no tomorrow though!) I know this sounds silly, but we all have ~those~ in-laws…

    Reply
    • Hi There FrazledWife,

      This is the funniest comment on this recipe yet. If they use dentures, I would increase the cook time in the foil by another 20-30 minutes. That should make the texture easy enough for them. Good luck. Let us know how it goes. Haha.
      Cheers,
      Michael

      Reply
  42. Followed the recipe to the T, couldn’t keep the gas smoker under 250 so the time was off but the taste, color and tenderness was spot on!!! Thanks for a new way of doing ribs! I will be getting a good electric smoker next year where I can keep the temperature where it needs to be. Happy 4th everyone.

    Reply
  43. I’m a brisket guy but have always wanted to smoke some back ribs. There’s just something good about eating a juicy rib with your hands while watching a game on TV. I looked at the recipes on a dozen or more websites and decided to give this one a try on my WSM. Seemed simple enough, but my first go at it proved that I’m the “bone-in pork jerky king” of the block. I let the temp drift too high and ended up with a tasty, but hard to chew mess.

    Not one to throw in the towel, I gave it another try this weekend and really watched the temp on the smoker during the 3hr smoke phase. Holy Bob! Those were the best ribs that I’ve ever had… ANYWHERE! Slightly firm, but incredibly juicy and flavorful. The only thing I’m going to change on my next cook is to do the 1 hr foil wrapped phase in the oven instead of having to watch the temp on my smoker like a hawk. That WSM just runs too hot. I had the vents on the bottom practically closed and it still would get to 275F+.

    Anyway, kudos to the recipe! Another happy camper using your method. Back ribs are now part of my summer game!

    Reply
    • Haha. Right on Don. Glad it worked out on the second round. WSM’s can be tricky with temp fluctuations. Thanks for commenting.
      Cheers,
      Michael

      Reply
  44. 5 stars
    WOW Michael, used your recipe on my Masterbuilt 1050, three of the best rack of ribs I’ve cooked in a long time. Will be my go to from now on. Thanks!

    Reply
  45. 5 stars
    I finally did it!!!! I hated the BGE cause everything I have ever tried burned up. I still struggle keeping the temp at 225 but for this rib cook I went and bought the ConEggarator ceramic plate thingy for indirect heat and let me just tell ….. Best Ribs EVER! Kinda proud of this moment cause I had failed a lot . Since my temp ranged between 225-250 I did more of a 3-1.5-.5 method using butter, honey and brown sugar in my foil. I could of went just a little longer on the last leg but its hard to say cause they were truly very goos and so tender. Im Just so excited cause I believe I can do again now . Now the only problem is all the clean up cause I kinda made a mess all over that ceramic plate and its all black now . Thanks guys!!!

    Reply
  46. 5 stars
    I tried this recipe yesterday on my pellet smoker with two racks of baby backs. Three hours at 225, then wrapped for an hour then sauced unwrapped for 45 minutes. Absolute perfection in a rib, and my entire family agreed!!!!!
    They were tender but not at all mushy, nice bite and good chew to the meat. Even with the wrap the bark was still intact. The butter and honey was a game changer, added a nice flavor component while keeping everything tender during the wrap. I have tinkered around with a half dozen recipes and methods, and this produced the best ribs I have ever smoked.

    Reply
  47. 5 stars
    Dude – great article! I really appreciate you taking the time to do this. I am a Le Cordon Bleu-trained chef and have been in the industry a very long time (and am from Texas, if you can believe that), but smoking meat was simply NOT my forte’. I’m very thankful for guys like you that come on here and take the time to educate. Your tutorial is very involved, yet concise and to the point. Thanks again man and keep smokin’!

    Reply
  48. The 321 method is mainly for newbies and others that are not looking for the perfect rib. If you’re green to smoking start with the 321 and start tweaking from there! Im spot on to your method! I want tender, not gelatinous!

    Reply

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