321 Ribs – How To Smoke Ribs (The Easy Way)

Ribs are an essential addition to any top barbecue and ensuring that you’ve cooked them correctly and in the best way is critical to the quality of them in the end. 

What Does The 3-2-1 Method Mean?

You may have heard people mention that the best way is the 3-2-1 method and might be wondering what exactly that means – or maybe you know what it is, but you’re hoping to make the method much more simple. 

Whatever the case, you’re in luck by coming here. We’re going to explore the best way to 3-2-1 smoke your ribs and how you can ensure you’re getting the very best out of these tasty treats. 

What Does The 3-2-1 Method Mean?

For anyone who has ever not been to a barbecue (and if this is the case, why not?!), ribs are an almost essential facet of it. It’s expected that ribs will be on offer, along with burgers, chicken and hot dogs. 

The fact is, ribs can often be cooked wrong and completely disappoint your barbecue experience. One of the best ways you can ensure this isn’t you – you can employ the 321 method. 

This method refers to the cooking time in hours. So, here’s what that means at its basic level:

3 – 3 hours need to be taken to smoke your ribs on the grill or in the smoker

2 – 2 hours need to be taken to place the ribs back on the grill, whilst being wrapped in foil 

1 – 1 final hour needs to be taken coating your ribs in barbecue sauce once you’ve unwrapped them from the foil and cooking them one last time

You may be thinking to yourself, what makes this method so good anyway? Well, the answer is pretty simple. The finished product is juicy, tender, meaty and “falling off the bone” ribs which is the way that most people prefer their ribs. 

The time it takes to complete this might seem a little long, but good things to come to those who wait! This method is almost unmatched when it comes to getting the best ribs.

If however, you’re one to prefer firmer ribs – you’d be better off with other cooking methods. 

Smoking Ribs: Some Things To Note 

The 321 method is a testable method that works every time you try it, assuming you’ve followed the steps correctly (which we will get to). 

There are some things you’ll need to remember though before you begin. We’ll start by listing the things that you will need beforehand:

  • A grill/smoker 
  • Foil 
  • Apple juice 
  • A spray bottle
  • A brush for your sauce 
  • Butter 
  • Dry rub 

It’s also important to remember that there are different types of ribs like spare ribs and baby back ribs.

Baby back ribs are perhaps the more popular of these two and if you choose to smoke them using the 321 method – they need to reach a temperature of 225 degrees Fahrenheit to ensure they’re cooked correctly.

We’re now going to explore how to smoke your ribs using the 321 method in the easiest possible way. 

Sourcing And Preparation

Before you do anything else, if you want the best quality ribs – you need to find the best quality ribs! We’ve found that a quality butcher shop will be able to advise and sell you the highest, premium quality of ribs. 

There’s nothing exactly wrong with store-bought ribs, but it is a case of getting what you pay for.

This way you can be sure you’re getting the very best and when you’re going to be spending a quarter of a day cooking them, you’re going to want the peak of quality. 

Begin by removing the underside of the ribs’ membrane. Next, add some rib rub. Some people prefer not to do this, but we think it adds much more flavor and aroma.

Wait at least an hour before you begin the cooking process to let the sauce absorb and sink in. 

The 3 – Unwrapped Smoking 

This is where the 3 comes into play of the 321 method. You’ll need to ensure your grill/smoker is set to 225 degrees Fahrenheit and place your ribs (bone side face down) and begin the process for 3 hours. 

During this time, you should leave the area and set a timer. Most meats cook better when you let them do their thing, rather than adjusting or moving them. So, avoid the urge to watch them and simply allow the 3 hours to pass. 

The 2 – Wrapped Smoking 

The 2 in the 321 method is the time when the ribs become tenderized.

You’ll want to wrap your ribs in foil which will make the ribs steam cook whilst being smoked – this allows the meat to become much more tender and that’s why the meat will fall off the bone. 

Within the foil, you’ll also want to add some apple juice – around 1/3 of a cup will be fine. You’ll also want to add butter and if you want to – add some brown sugar.

Some people add brown sugar to allow it to caramelize to the ribs and add sweetness, but this varies depending on personal preference. 

We prefer the savory and smoky flavors and sugar often “burns” to the side of the ribs which takes away some tender quality – so we’d prefer not to add sugar. But if you like that – you can add some brown sugar in this step too. 

Keep the temperature of the smoker going at 225 degrees Fahrenheit and place your foil wrapped ribs in, again, it’s bone side face down.

It’s critical that when you move away from the cooking area, that you set a timer for precisely 2 hours. 

This is because if you smoke ribs in foil for longer than 2 hours, you’ll end up with squishy and mushed rib meat, which is overly tender! You don’t want to ruin your hard work, so ensure these times are being met to the minute. 

The 1 – Final Countdown 

Here’s the 1 of the 321 method and this is the final hour of the long process. It’s time to coat your ribs in the most amazing barbecue sauce by using your sauce brush. 

Ensure you’re giving a generous amount of sauce to each rib, all the surrounding way. Be very careful when you’re doing this because the ribs might be extremely tender and fall apart from their bones if you brush too hard. 

Once you’ve lathered the ribs in your barbecue sauce, it’s now time for the final stage. Keep your smoker going at the 225 degree heat and place your ribs back in without the foil. 

Move away from the area and set your final one-hour timer and prepare for the best ribs you’ve ever had! Once the time is up, you’ll need to be careful with the heat. 

If all has gone well, your ribs should now be tender, smoky, sweet, juicy and the perfect barbecue addition. The final stage almost solidifies the very tender meat to keep it from falling apart instantly, but keeps it tender – helped along with your barbecue sauce! 

How To Enjoy Your Ribs 

With any rack of ribs, you’ll probably want to just pick them up and bite away at them! But, you may also be wondering what you can have with your ribs, if you want them to be a main part of a dish. 

Corn on the cob lathered in garlic butter is an amazing extra with ribs cooked in this method, but it’s not exactly the healthiest (despite being a vegetable).

If you’re looking for a more balanced meal, you can use these ribs with wild rice or a mix of steamed vegetables. 

Ribs are also great with coleslaw or potato salad – ideal for those summer afternoons and evenings to cool you down. 

After hours of smoking, it is very important that you’re enjoying your ribs your way. Consider what you will have with them before you’ve cooked the ribs and prepare them during the 6 hours. 

Do I Really Have To Wait 6 Hours?

You do! If you want to ensure you’re getting 321 quality ribs, you need to follow the successful 321 method. It’s possible to cook ribs much, much quicker than this – but you’re not getting the same quality of a finished product. 

We’d recommend that you have snacks or other foods on hand while you wait for the ribs to cook which will prevent you from giving into temptation and chowing down before the time has completed. 

Taking your ribs out too early during smoking risks under-cooking them which can lead to food poisoning or, if you’re luckier, poor tasting ribs. 

Leave them too long, you can risk mushy ribs which fall apart too quickly and too easily – going from a rack of ribs to a pile of squishy meat.

Outside the foil, leaving ribs too long in the smoker can seriously dry them up and lead to a very hard and disappointing set of ribs.

None of these things are ideal! So, if you want our advice – stick closely to the 321 method, and you’ll have the best ribs for the best barbecue – they are certainly worth the wait!

The Bottom Line 

The 321 method is a tried and tested method which has resulted in the top quality ribs for years. It’s a pretty simple method to follow, but it does take a long time.

Ensure you’re prepared for the wait before you start! Good luck!


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