How to Smoke Ribs: Not the Overcooked 321 Method

Great! You bought a smoker. Now you are googling how to make smoked pork ribs. You stumble upon one of the thousand recipes for 3 2 1 Ribs. You follow the recipe step by step and make an “ok” rack of 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.  

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. Th 321 method is simply cooked too long, especially during the second step in foil for 2 hours.

The way we do ribs at AngryBBQ isn’t completely different from 3-2-1 ribs, but we tweak the steps to get you as close to competition ribs without making the process too hard. You could call this 3-0.75-0.5 ribs. I reduce the cooking time in the foil by 1.25 hours. 2 hours in foil will turn your ribs into mush.  I also believe cooking the ribs for an hour after the foil cook is too long and dries out your ribs. Our method will make the most amazing ribs.

Another popular method is the 2-2-1 Smoked Ribs. The only difference is you reduce the initial 3 hour smoke time to 2 hours but you are still cooking the ribs in foil for 2 hours which is simply too long. The best way is 3 – 3/4 – 1/2 smoked ribs but that is simply not catchy or memorable.

 So enough ranting, let’s get to it. I’m basing this recipe on pork ribs. You can get Side Ribs/St. Louis or Baby Back Ribs. Back Ribs are typically more tender, leaner and the most popular, which means you can find them easily. Spare ribs have more connective tissue, fat and are larger, which means they will take a little longer to cook. I’m using Back Ribs for this recipe but you can use Side Ribs if you desire. 

Perfectly Smoked Pork Ribs - Not overdone 321 Ribs
Perfectly Smoked Pork Ribs

Ingredients

Gear:

Cherry Wood Chips
Cherry Wood Chips
Western pecan cooking chunks
Pecan Wood Chunks
Thermapen ONE

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.  
  • 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.
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. 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 brushing the melted honey. You can spritz the ribs for extra moisture.
  • Flip the racks around so the bone side is facing up. Brush 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.  
  • 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.
Perfectly Smoked Pork Ribs - Not overdone 321 Ribs
Print Recipe
4.49 from 60 votes

Smoked Pork Ribs – BETTER THAN 321 !!!

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 hrs 15 mins
Cook Time4 hrs 15 mins
Resting Time15 mins
Total Time6 hrs 45 mins
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.
    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
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31 thoughts on “How to Smoke Ribs: Not the Overcooked 321 Method”

  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.

    1. 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

      1. Squirrelly John

        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.

  2. for the last section when saucing the ribs; does the temp remain at 225? or do you increase it to 300?

  3. 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!!

  4. 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.

  5. 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.

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

    1. 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

  7. 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.

    1. 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

  8. 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 ?

    1. 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

  9. 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

    1. 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

  10. 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

    1. 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.

  11. Will this work:

    A – with St Louis style ribs?

    B- my house likes dry ribs. Do I HAVE to sauce to make this work?

    1. 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

  12. 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?

    1. 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

  13. 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!

    1. 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

  14. 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?

    1. 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

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