The 3-2-1 method of smoking ribs is not my original idea but is a process that tends to yield very consistent results and I do use it occasionally when I want my ribs to be falling off the bone.
If you have no idea how to prepare and smoke ribs then I recommend you read the tutorial that covers the basics of smoking ribs first. Once you have learned the basics and decide you want your ribs to be literally falling off of the bone then you should read and learn this page.
The 3-2-1 method of smoking ribs is not rocket science.. just a series of basic instructions that will do some magic on your ribs and make them more tender that you could ever imagine.
The 3-2-1 method starts out by preparing the ribs as normal.. removing the membrane, dusting with a rub or with just some salt and pepper if you prefer and then onto the smoker grate for about 3 hours.
I say “about” very loosely since it a visual cue that must tell you when to move to the next stage.
This first stage is the “3” in the equation and is over when you see the meat starting to pull back from the bone about a quarter inch. This normally requires about 3 hours or so if you are able to maintain 225 degrees in your smoker.
The second stage of the process is removing the ribs from the smoker and wrapping them in heavy duty foil. Just before closing up the foil, splash on some apple juice.
Place the ribs back in the smoker wrapped in foil and let them cook for 2 hours.
This is the “2” in the formula for the most tender ribs you ever tasted.
When the second stage is over, remove the foil and place the ribs back on the smoker grate unwrapped to firm them up a little before serving.
You are now to the last and final stage in the process.. the “1“.
Keep a close eye on the ribs at this point and remove them when they reach 172 degrees which should take about 45 minutes to an hour.
Let the ribs sit on the counter for about 15 minutes before slicing to allow the juices to redistribute throughout the meat.
Note: the 3-2-1 method is designed for spare ribs.. if you are looking to smoke baby back ribs then the process will be closer to 2-2-1.