What is the 3-2-1 ribs method?

In this article, we will answer the question “What is the 3-2-1 ribs method?”, and what are the variations of the 3-2-1 method.

What is the 3-2-1 ribs method?

The 3-2-1 method is the ultimate savior if you are tired of ribs turning out dry and tough. The 3-2-1 method involves three sets of cooking times, hence the name. This method is a bit time-consuming and requires effort but is worth it. This method will ensure the perfectly tender, and fall-off-the-bone ribs.

How does 3-2-1 work?

If you know the basics of cooking, the 3-2-1 method is a no-brainer for you. All you have to do is to smoke the ribs for 3 hours, continue smoking after wrapping it in foil for another 2 hours, followed by the last 1 hour of smoking it unwrapped.

The ribs absorb most of the smoke flavor during the first 3 hours of cooking. When the smoking is paired with foil wrapping the ribs, the ribs start to release from the meat, becoming tender and soft as it steams. The last one hour of smoking in the dry heat helps form a surface crust on the ribs.

What actually is the 3-2-1 process?

The 3-2-1 method does not require any fancy equipment. All you need is plenty of time, ribs, the seasoning rub, aluminum foil, a barbecue sauce if desired, and your smoker or charcoal grill. Once you have grabbed everything you need to get started, follow the steps below.

  1. Peel out the membranes from the ribs.
  1. Coat the ribs evenly with the seasoning rub.
  1. Place ribs bone-side down in a smoker at 225 F /110 C and cook for three hours.
  1. Remove the ribs from the smoker and tightly wrap them in a large piece of foil. This will create a vacuum or an air-tight seal. Put the foil-wrapped ribs back to the smoker bone-side up and smoke for two hours.
  1. Remove the ribs from the smoker again and discard the foil. Return to the smoker bone-side down for one more hour.
  1. When there are only 20-30 minutes before the cooking time is up, braise the ribs with some sauce. Coat the ribs with the sauce in thin multiple layers. Maintain the temperature of the smoker below 265 F /130 C to prevent the ribs from burning.

What are the variations of 3-2-1?

The temperature and the cooking timing are specifically designed for pork spareribs. If you are using other pork cuts such as baby back ribs, it is better to opt for the 2-2-1 method to prevent the ribs from drying out.

If you are not a fan of prolonged smoking sessions, you can cook your wrapped ribs in the oven and finish off the cooking on a grill or in an oven at a low temperature. This will prevent the ribs from turning out smoky since most of the smoky flavor is infused during the first 3 hours of cooking.

What are the downsides of the 3-2-1 ribs method?

The standards of good smoked ribs may vary from person to person. Some people like the tender and fall-off-the-bone ribs of the 3-2-1 method. While others want meat that holds the bone without either sticking to it or falling from it too easily. So, if you do not intend to win any barbeque competitions, go for the 3-2-1 method.

How to make Competition St.Louis Style Ribs (3-2-1 method)?


  • 2 slabs St. Louis Style Ribs
  • yellow mustard
  • your favorite rib rub
  • 1/4 cup butter
  • brown sugar
  • honey
  • 1/2 cup grape juice
  • your favorite sauce


  1. Place the ribs on the cutting board, bones facing up. Use a paper towel to pull the membranes off the ribs.
  1. Trim off the bones on the rib ends, excess fat, and the flap of meat on the backside.
  1. Apply mustard and rib rub on the backside. Let it sit in the fridge for about 15 minutes. 

Apply the mustard and rib rub on the topside and refrigerate until your grill reaches 225F.

  1. Place the ribs on the grill meat side up. Close the lid and smoke for 3 hours.
  1. Spread two sheets of heavy-duty aluminum foil on the counter. Add 4-5 pats of butter, 1-2 tablespoons brown sugar, a liberal drizzle of honey, and 1/4 cup juice on top of the foil sheets. Place the ribs on the butter, meat side down. To the bone side of the ribs, add 4-5 more pats butter, 1-2 more tablespoons brown sugar, and another drizzle of honey. Wrap tightly to seal the ends.
  1. Place back on the smoker for 2 hours.
  1. Take the ribs out of the smoker, unwrap, flip the ribs, braise with sauce, and smoke for another 1 hour.
  1. Remove from the smoker. Let rest a few minutes before slicing.

Other FAQs about Pork that you may be interested in.

How to make a 2-pound pork roast in the oven?

How to boil pork chops?

What to serve with a gammon joint?


In this article, we answered the question “What is the 3-2-1 ribs method?”, and what are the variations of the 3-2-1 method. 



Hi, I am Charlotte, I love cooking and in my previous life, I was a chef. I bring some of my experience to the recipes on this hub and answer your food questions.