3-2-1 Rib Method

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.


  1. dude, thanks much for taking the time and energy and desire to learn all you are sharing with us…really appreciate it…
    my 17 year son asked me to smoke ribs for his birthday coming up this weekend (and this was after he had some of my smoked chicken that I used a smoker for the first time).

    I’m pumped and ready to put your 1-2-3 to the test…can’t wait!

  2. woops, that’s 3-2-1 !

  3. Lafe Maurer says:

    Thanks again for the information, I will give the 3-2-1 method a try tomorrow.

  4. Lafe Maurer says:

    The ribs turned out great. Need to work out the bottom rack issue of my smoker (direct heat/flame from coals). the top rack came out delicious. Thank you very much again for your information.

    • Rotate your racks (ribs) between stages. I have 3 levels of racks and had the same problem….ONCE:) Happy somkin’.

  5. I’ve done similar with pork shoulder. About 2/3 way through cooking, I put in a pan with apple cider vinegar on the bottom and a grate to set the meat on (so meat doesn’t sit in vinegar). Tent the pan and stick in the smoker for the rest of the time…. creates a great pork shoulder….

  6. Repost** I recently got my first smoker/grill. I used this method about 3 weeks ago and I couldn’t believe how great the ribs turned out. Also I used the natural grade pork ribs with a Salt Lick (a well known BBQ joint in Austin) rub. I used a blend of oak, pecan, and hickory for the wood. My wife has been raving about them ever since. Now I am dong 2 racks today and having some friends over. I’ll let you know how it goes. Thanks for the tips!
    Results** 4 people finished most of the 2 racks I did this on last night. Very little sauce was used and we were stuffed with pig. What a great night. Thanks for the website. now to try the turkey for thanksgiving!

  7. Denis Allan says:


    Thanks for the 3-2-1 method. I have been using your recipe on everything I put on the grill with great results. I’m finishing building my smoker this weekend and hope to have ribs on the rack for the smoker’s first run after a break in smoke.

    Thank You for shareing a process and recipe, the Process makes it really come to life.

    Denis Allan

  8. my first spares are going on in about 2-3 hours. Can’t wait.

  9. Greg Lindeberg says:

    I’ve got the ribs cooking as we speak. I’m about 90 minutes into the “3”.

  10. Shawn O'Brien says:

    New to smoking and will be trying the 3-2-1 tomorrow. Can’t wait!!!!!!

  11. Kip Carroll says:

    I am on hour 2 of the 3. Feeling like Pavlov’s dog in anticipation. This is my first try of the 3-2-1 method and it HAS to be better than the 2 previous attempts I have made ( both turned into shoe leather). Very informative site. Thanx for all the info. Planning on doing alot of smokin this summer

  12. Tried this method for my first attempt at smoking ever, and used baby backs. 2 large racks were consumed by me and my 4 guests in less than 15 minutes. Everyone said they were the best ribs they had ever had. I am a true believer in the 3-2-1 method!

  13. 3-2-1 works great! If I overestimated how much my guest would eat and have racks left over, what is the best way to reheat without drying them out.

    • Raymond,
      I’ve always used the oven to reheat tender meat. Place them in foil to preserve the juices, and put the oven on 250 – 275. heat until the meat is hot again.

    • This may be unthinkable to some, but I take leftovers to eager coworkers and reheat in microwave covered in damp paper towel. I’ve tried it and it seems to work well.

  14. I swear by this method it works very well….I used a wet rub on mine that I basically make up and use a BBQ sauce called Fat Cat’s made here in KC. The key is definately the apple juice and the heavy duty foil, it makes all the difference in the world.

  15. Thank you sir……..god bless the pig

  16. People,

    I’ve used the 3-2-1 method on St. Louis style spare ribs several times this summer and it’s phenomenal. I have a vertical, double-barrel, handmade smoker which was a gift earlier this year. I use Jeff’s rub and homemade sauce every time. He’s done his homework and I suggest you invest the $15 and get them both on his website.

    I was concerned the first time I did it since the outer skin and rub appeared “moist” and I thought the it was going to be mushy, after I removed them from the foil. Putting the ribs back into a dry-heat environment for the last hour firms it right up. You’ll need two sets of tongs to remove the meat from the foil and when they’re done, because they will tear apart in the middle if you only use one tong.

    Thanks a ton, Jeff. My family/friends have been talking them up all summer and I’m starting to get a reputation, lol. Your website, free recipes and blog are professionally done. You’re pork-butt recipe was spot-on, too. Amazing flavor and your technique is right on, especially allowing it to rest for two hours. You are the smoking guru 🙂

  17. Cary Bennett says:

    Jeff I tried the 3-2-1 rib receipt and they turned out great . Thanks for the sauce and rub receipt . I would recommend these to anyone that wants great tasting results from their smoker . Thanks again TCB

  18. I’m on phase 2 for another 1 hour. this is first test of this style. wwwwwiillllll post results. thanx

  19. By the way, I am using a gas grill with pan of mostly water over only lit burner

  20. Trying this tomorrow…looking forward to it. Thanks for the recipe!

  21. Thanks a bunch for sharing this method with us. I have found that a very loose interpertation of this works well with brisket as well. great stuff. I also make all my own rubs, the store bought ones have too much salt and not much flavor

  22. Great ideas!! Lots of respect! I’ve been smokin for a year now n thankfully haven’t had a bad experience. But im lookin to perfect and wow party guest now so thanks for the hard work u put in to this site! I got some home made rub n some pappys sauce so got to get the smokin underway!!

  23. I just won1st place at the second annual Homeboy Industries Pit Masters cook off. I used the 321 method.

  24. I used the 321 method @ Homeboy Industries pit mastets cook off. I used my vertical propane smoker. I know I won 1st place, but I was lucky. My preselected ribs were so fall off the bone that I almost had a heart attack. J/k. But the bones were falling off.

  25. your right they r super consistent. thanks. Vince

  26. I have a ? when do you add the barb. sauce? this is our fisrt timetrying our smoker..Thanks

  27. Just finished my first ribs and let me tell you they came out great. The last step did not take but about 15 mins but I guess it can vary . Thanks alot

  28. John Scalone says:

    Thanks so much, just tried this method yesterday and it work to perfection! Wow, I have been experimenting with different ways of cooking my ribs but this was so simple and easy. The one thing that I did a little differently was add a little vinegar with the apple sauce when I wrapped them in foil. The ribs were absolutely perfect! Thanks Again!

  29. Thank you so much, just smoked baby back ribs with the 2-2-1 and they were amazing. I’ll use this method every time now. 🙂

  30. I tried this method for the first time a couple weeks ago and I will never do my ribs any other way! They absolutely fell off the bone and my friends and family said they were the best ribs they have EVER had! (and I come from ribs capital of the world in Memphis) Thanks for the tips!

  31. I read with interest how “Fall off the bone” seems to be preferred. However with most rib connoisseurs, if the meat fell off the bone, it would be too tender.

    It is actually very easy to cook “fall of the bone” ribs. Cover them in aluminum foil for 2 1/2 hours in a 300 degree oven and the ribs will just fall off.

    Of course, that is not good. I do 2-1-1 method and start paying attention to several factors to make sure that it is perfectly tender (and not too tender).

    There are several test that you can use to judge tenderness. The bend test, the twist test or the taste test. There are other test also and each person should experiment to find their best test that gives the empirical evidence one needs.

    When you can barley tug the meat with your teeth and just the meat in your teeth pulls off the bone, your there.

    • Bill,
      At what temp do you do your 2-1-1 method? And is that for ANY kind of ribs?
      I’m struggling a bit (see below) so any help would be great.

    • Mark Schuetz says:

      I agree 2-1-1 method is just right for pork for me.. I like just a bit of tug like in competition. I find “most” people like it to fall off the bone, which is as you said too tender and not right and hard to serve.. Almost like pulled pork. But if it falls off the bone and my guest like it..oh well!
      For me I like the meat to barely stick to the bone.

  32. Well, I did my first smoke ever today…ribs. They turned out “just ok”. I tried to use the 3-2-1 method on my brand new Masterbuilt propane smoker, but to be honest, when I checked them with my meat thermometer they were 192* after 4.5 hrs. Knowing they were probably done but wanting to stick with the plan I put them back in the smoker for about 15 minutes and they turned out a little dry. BTW, I checked the temp again at the end of stage 2 and they were only about 137* which scared me a little. I thought I was doing well to keep the temp between 225-250 throughout, but I noticed that my watering pan was empty and scorched when I was finished. Obviously, I needed to add water at some point. But, I must be doing something wrong. Anything you guys might be able to add would be helpful!

    Frustrated in SoCal.

    • I have same smoker. You obviously need to keep water in the pan and check it periodically. I also found my smoke pan tends to catch fire easily even if I presoak chips. I have moved to lump chunks of wood to help prevent this as well as putting a digital wireless thermometer in the smoker so I can tell when it catches fire and gets too hot. You cannot rely on the thermo built into the door as being accurate as well. I too have been paranoid about under cooking pork (still am always actually) so I tend to over cook mine as well. What this does is cook out the juices and leave you with tough & dry meat. It comes down to experimentation & knowledge to prevent this from happening in the future. I am still learning myself.

  33. Tony the Texan says:

    Bro…..your 3-2-1 method is “off the hook”. Them ribs fell off the bone…..they melted in my mouth and tomorrow I’m going to smoke 2 – 3 more racks. Ain’t no pig safe anymore!!

  34. Thanks for this! I made the best ribs I’ve ever made yesterday thanks to this method.

  35. Brought ribs to an end of summer party and of course they were prepared using the 3-2-1 method. All night I heard people asking ” OH My God Who Made the Ribs?” Just wanted to say thanks for this Post!

    3-2-1…bringing heaven to earth!

  36. Lonestar Jack says:

    Been using the 3-2-1 and the 2-2-1 for about 4 years now. I buy the ribs at Costco — thats 3 racks per package so I end up feeding the neighborhood.
    Along with Texas pinto beans, some cornbread and a bowl of homemade Jalapeno soup you can’t go wrong. A pitcher of Margueritas or a cooler of Shiners helps.
    I also use BJ’s BBQ rub from Reno NV.and some pecan chips

  37. I did a beef brisket (9 lbs.). The flavor was amazing BUT was a little dry. hoping the lack of water was the reason? smoked for 11 hrs. total. tried to keep temp around 225 deg. any tips would appreciate.

  38. Bo Binder says:

    Bout to try the 2-2-1 method for some baby backs and I must say I am excited for the outcome. I did some spare ribs not to long ago with the 3-2-1 method for the first time and they turned out great. This method is definitely the way to go and add some cold beer and you got yourself a fail proof Saturday.

  39. David Turner says:

    Doing spare ribs for Memorial Day. Testing Jeff’s rub I purchased to see if it is as good as said. I hope it is and it sounds like it is. 🙂 3-2-1 method for sure.

  40. I have been smoking ribs for awhile now and wanted to get them just a bit more tender. I found this post this morning and I have to say that using this technique took them to a whole new level! Thank you so much!

  41. Would this method change at all if I accidentally forgot to remove the membrane? I seasoned them, but don’t want to go through the hassle of taking it off now that the rub is on. Thoughts?

  42. Not sure if this has already been addressed but have a question as to how to do a lot of racks on a small Traeger.

    I have a Li’l Tex and can do about 8 racks if I push it. I have to get 15 done though for a party I am doing. Wondering if I can do steps 1 and 2 in advance. I have found that trying to stack too many in step 2 creates a lot of inconsistency so would like to do some in advance and do the glaze step just before I am ready to serve.

    Is that possible or am I going to screw it all up?



  43. PanamaPat says:

    Cooking some spare ribs as I type. Did some baby backs last week. Fantastic on the 2-2-1 method. I am doing the spares on the 3-2-1 method. I made one mistake. I forgot to remove the membrane. Hope they turn out good. Live and learn

  44. I made spare rips this way two times and in both cases they were absolutely perfect; put one rip in your mouth, close your lips and pull the bone… clean.
    Its so easy. Some wood chips in the “3”-phase
    Next week I promised a friend to do the rips this way. He never had spare rips before but will exlusivly try out these ones.

  45. Birddogn32 says:

    Just fixed ribs using the 3 2 1 method. All I can say is that they were DYN-O-MITE!!!

  46. Not quite 3 hours in, to 2 racks of baby backs. The temp has been 225 with the exception of adding coals twice. I’m using applewood and mesquite. The ribs have a bit of dry rub and some jack daniels on them. I just found this site, and quickly pulled them off, wrapped in foil and since i didnt have apple juice, i splashed with apple cider vinegar and chicken stock. Will go an hour and see where we’re at. Temp was 140 about half hour ago -of the meat! Fingers crossed! Thanks for the info.

  47. Rdready says:

    Tomorrow I will try this method for my husband for his Father’s Day meal. I watched the video and then had my daughter watch with me to make sure that we were doing the precooking prep correct. Can’t wait to try your method and put a smile on my husband’s face. Thanks for the great video for newbies!!

  48. Absolutely the best. First time smoking baby back ribs and they turned out PERFECT!!!! Fall off the bone PERFECT!!!!

  49. After years of slaving over a hot grille trying to keep the coals the right temp, I found an even easier way to cook ribs that is even more consistant than 3-2-1. Before going to bed I place my favorite sauce and rub on my ribs, usually Cajun spice, wrap them tightly in foil and slow cook them overnight at 220 degrees, in the morning I start my grill let it get real hot and dump my wood on it which gives me a lot of smoke. I drain the ribs, which are falling off the bone and smoke them for 60-90 minutes, spraying them with viniger and water 50/50, and then suace them for the last 20 minutes; keep the lid on tight. I them put them back in the oven and steam them for another 45-60 minutes with additional sauce. I recommend Rendezvous spice and Sweet baby rays sauce. You can order Rendezvous spice from their sacried store in Memphis. This method I only spend 60-90 minutes cooking on the grill, pop the ribs in the oven, take a shower and after steaming you have the best ribs you’ve ever made.

  50. I am getting an Primo XL on Thursday and I am looking forward to doing some new things with it. I have not done a lot of ribs, pork butts, or that kind of meats so this is going to be a learning experience for me.

  51. Used your 3-2-1 method for the first time in my Brinkmann Trailmaster Charcoal Smoker, smoke (apple and cherry) those ribs were fantastic, fall of the bone, everyone love those ribs, now they want ribs every week end, thanks for sharing your method, now pigs are not safe in Palmer, Ma.

  52. John O Moore says:

    First time I tried out your 3-2-1 method, those ribs fell of the bone, rubbed and left them in the fridge overnight, then popped them in the Brinkmann Trailmaster Horizontal with some Apple and Cherry wood also sprayed with Apple Juice every hour mannnn …..those ribs were great, now pigs in Palmer hold their ribs and run if they see me coming :):):):). Thanks for sharing your bbq technique with us.

  53. Earl Santos says:

    I have smoked in the past and have problems with the temp staying at 225. The temp always gets higher. Trying to figure out a method. Gonna re-look at the 3-2-1 method. Smoking baby backs and chicken for Easter.

  54. I just finished putting my smoker together Saturday. I will have to season the box first and try your 321 method. How much gas are you using to cook the ribs for 5 hours.

  55. I just started smoking about 6 months ago, and this was by far the best ribs I have ever made. Used your spice rub as well. So tender!! Thanks for the info!

  56. Timothy Giles says:

    I smoke plenty but this article stood out. Spinkle apple juice on then wrap in foil for 2 hrs, delicious

  57. Has anybody used a electric smoker?
    I’m about to start and I’m nervous, first time and having friends over later and don’t want them to be leather!!


  1. […] saturday night AP and I unveiled a metric shitton of smoked 2-2-1 pork ribs (this time I took some pics).  to celebrate I cracked open a couple beers with a summer feel […]

  2. […] are many different approaches to foiling. For example, for ribs many people use the 3-2-1 technique which includes a piece in which you foil the ribs to help keep the moisture […]

  3. […] and when to do it, told stories of his many lessons in learning how to BBQ, and went over the 3-2-1 method of grilling. And pretty quickly it was into the kitchen for some hands-on […]

  4. […] pics and sauce than anything. The 3-2-1 Method for Spare Ribs has been covered ad nauseum by the rest of the Internet so I don’t feel a great need to re-hash the technique at length. A basic overview of the […]

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