Smoked spare ribs are king where flavor is concerned however, if you take the time to trim them up and remove some of the extra fat before cooking them, a great experience becomes an even better  experience. Cooking them in the smoker using the 3-2-1 method will create smoked ribs that are exceptionally tender.. just the way most of us like them.

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Helpful Information
  • Prep Time: 25 minutes
  • Cook Time: 6 hours
  • Smoker Temp: 230°F
  • Meat Finish Temp: N/A
  • Recommended Wood: Hickory
What You'll Need

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Step 1: Unwrap and Rinse

The ribs usually come in a thick plastic package. Remove the ribs from the package and give them a good rinse under cold water.

Some say this is not necessary but, in my opinion, it's a good thing. Make sure the sink is nice and clean and you'll want to clean the sink afterwards as well.

After rinsing, set them on some paper towels to drain.


Step 2: Remove the Skirt/Flap

On the bone side of the ribs is a flap of meat called the skirt. To make sure that the ribs are uniform in thickness and to help them cook better, it's a great idea to trim this off.

You can still cook it alongside the ribs and when it's tender (about 60-90 minutes), it's makes a great snack for the cook and/or cook's helpers.


Step 3: Trim St. Louis Style

On the pig/hog, there are basically two types of ribs.. the baby backs and the spare ribs.

The baby backs have less fat and are a little more aesthetically pleasing (allegedly) than the fattier, more oddly shaped spare ribs.

For this reason, it is common to trim them up.

In doing so, a lot of the less desirable parts are removed and they end up looking more like a baby back.

Here's how to do that:

Cut off that bone that juts out on one side.. it's mostly cartilage so it can be cut with a sharp knife pretty easily. A cleaver will work if your aim is pretty good 😉


Next cut off the brisket bone which runs along the same side as the piece you just removed.

If you feel carefully along the ribs, you can feel a joint separating the brisket bone from the rack of ribs. This is where you make your cut.


To finish the trim work, simply cut off the extra flap of meat on the small end of the ribs and you are finished.


Place all of the extra pieces in a pan and set them aside. They can be smoked right along with the other ribs or you can freeze them and smoke them later. Once cooked/smoked they can be stored and added to beans, soups, stews, etc. for great flavor.

Here's the St. Louis trimmed spare rib.. see how nice and square it is?!

This is the best part of the spare rib.


Step 4: Remove the Membrane

This step causes folks lots of frustration and let me just say that it's not the end of the world if you have trouble with this. If you can't get it off for some reason, forget about it.

It is nice to remove it but it's not worth a lot of frustration so try and do the best you can and leave it at that.

It's hard to get a picture of this being removed but you simply lay the ribs with the boney side up. You will notice a thick plastic like skin covering the meat.

Slip a knife or other sharp object under it and try to get enough pulled up so you can grab it.

Grasp it with a paper towel for good grip and pull it clean off if you can.

If it tears, no worries. Just make another go at it.

You may have better luck with catfish skinning pliers.

Here it is removed:


Step 5: Add Mustard and Rub

Regular yellow mustard and rub added to both sides is the only thing you need to season these up.

Don't over complicate it!

While it's boney side up:

Squeeze on the mustard and rub it all over to create a nice sticky base for the rub to stick to.


Pour on about ¼ cup of Jeff's rib rub and spread it all over the ribs making sure you have full coverage.


Flip the ribs over and do the same thing to the meaty side.


Once the ribs are seasoned, leave them laying while you go get the smoker ready to cook.


Step 6: Smoke the Ribs for the First 3 Hours

Set up your smoker for cooking with indirect heat at about 230°F using hickory or your favorite smoking wood.

If you smoker has a water pan, use it

Once the smoker is ready, place the ribs bone side down on the smoker grate or if you are short on room, it is perfectly acceptable to use a rib rack to hold the ribs vertical.

This is what I did on the 22.5 WSM although, I could have easily placed a couple of racks on the lower grate and a couple of racks on the upper grate and had room left over.


Step 7: Wrap in Foil for 2 Hours

After the ribs have been smoking for 3 hours, it's time to wrap them up and let them get the heat inside of a closed space so they can steam and get really tender.

I usually get my foil pre-cut and ready ahead of time about 30 inches long and 18 inches wide.

Once the ribs are ready, I can quickly take them off and get them wrapped without losing much heat.

Note: you can add a little apple juice to the foil if you like. Lately, I have been leaving it out in hopes of creating a little less steam and leaving my rub more intact during the process. They still get very tender without it, by the way.


Place the ribs back on the smoker at 230°F but you do not need to add any smoking wood during this time as it will not be able to access the wrapped ribs.

Step 8: The Final Hour

After cooking for 2 hours wrapped in foil, unwrap them from the foil and place them back on the smoker for a final hour to finish up.

With or without smoke.. your choice.

This is the time when the bark is set and it's also a great time to add some sauce if you like them that way.

Some love to criticize those who use sauce but my theory is that it's your ribs. YOU eat them the way that YOU like them. If you like them sauced up.. then go for it and be happy doing it.

Personally.. I like them either way. They're ribs, one of God's most amazing foods and if you put them in front of me, I'll eat them all day long with or without sauce.

Step 9: Slice and Serve

I did not get a picture of the ribs all sliced up since I gave them away to a couple of new neighbors right after cooking them, but I can tell you that based on the one little rib from the end that I sliced off very stealthily, they were ultra tender, had a great smoke ring and were amazingly delicious.

Here's a couple of them on the cutting board:


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 Love the original rib rub and sauce! We have an annual rib fest competition at the lake every 4th of July. I will say we have won a great percent of the time over the past 15 years so we are not novices by any means. However, we didn't win last year and had to step up our game! We used Jeff's rub and sauce (sauce on the side) and it was a landslide win for us this year! Thanks Jeff for the great recipes. I'm looking forward to trying the Texas style rub in the near future! ~Michelle M.

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Printable Recipe

5.0 from 6 reviews
Smoked 3-2-1 St. Louis Style Spare Ribs
Prep time
Cook time
Total time
Smoked spare ribs are king where flavor it concerned however, if you take the time to trim them up and remove some of the extra fat before cooking them, a great experience becomes an even better experience.
Recipe type: Entree
Cuisine: Hot Smoking
Serves: 6
Step 1: Rinse
  1. Remove the ribs from the package
  2. Rinse under cold water
  3. Allow to drain on paper towel
Step 2: Trim St. Louis Style
  1. Remove skirt, brisket bone, and end piece to square them up and create the St. Louis style spare ribs.
Step 3: Mustard and Rub
  1. Apply mustard to bone side of ribs
  2. Pour on about ¼ cup of rib rub and spread to cover over meat.
  3. Repeat mustard and rub on meaty side of ribs.
Step 4: Smoke the Ribs
  1. Setup smoker for cooking at 230 °F using indirect heat with hickory or other favorite smoking wood.
  2. Place ribs directly on smoker grate bone side down.
  3. Smoke for 3 hours.
  4. After 3 hours, wrap in foil and place back into smoker for 2 hours.
  5. After 2 hours, unwrap and place back into smoker for a final hour.
  6. Brush on sauce if desired during last hour of cooking.
Step 5: Slice and Serve
  1. Slice the ribs between the bones and serve with warm sauce on the side.

About the Author

Long time Industrial Engineer turned self-proclaimed fire poker, pitmaster and smoke whisperer and loving every minute of it!

13 Comments on this article. Feel free to join this conversation.

  1. Tim Nates January 14, 2017 at 11:40 pm - Reply

    Finally someone who does not make the process so complicated. Direct and to the point! I’ve been racking my brain for months for something that makes sense! Thank you! Just goes to show you that the best things are sometimes the simplest!

  2. Steve Henry October 30, 2016 at 9:59 pm - Reply

    I don’t have a smoker, just a 16″ diameter x 26″ long grill (1/4″ thick steel). Right now I cook ribs in an oven for 3 hours at 275 DegF and finish off 20 minutes or so directly on the grill (after the chicken , steaks and sausage are done).
    Yes it’s a trick to get the ribs on and off since the bones are falling out while doing it.
    How can I smoke/cook the ribs the whole way on a standard charcoal grill using your recipe?
    Thank You, Steve

  3. JB April 14, 2016 at 9:18 pm - Reply

    Hi guys, I have done this recipe at least 6 times, and only once have I been able to get the tenderness of the meat right…
    I don’t know what I’m doing wrong, but I followed the recipe to a T today and again the same result…great flavor, a bit fatty inside, and the only way I can get it to inner temp 195 is to leave in foil for last hour or crank up my Daniel Boone GmG to 300 for about an hour.
    One time I used this recipe it took 9 hours and the bones just fell out…
    3 hours smoke on 230, wrap 2 hours and inner temp gets to around 180-185, then as I unwrap them and put back in the inner temp drops to 170ish and it just crawls back up so slowly…help? 🙂

    Frustrated in Seattle

    • Terry Mathis September 14, 2016 at 11:09 am - Reply

      Hi JB,

      I just tries this 3-2-1 method for the first time.I have a Range Master ( Master Built) 30″ Electric smoker. I preheated my smoker to get the wood chips smoking well, probably around 350*. I then turn the controls down to low and put my ribs in as it was cooling down. They smoked very well and I kept the temperature around 230 – 250, occasionally it would creep up to 280. I smoked these for 3 hours, then I covered in foil with a water cinnamon snaps mixture. I kept the heat the same and cooked for the 2 hours, I then added some more chips to get the smoke going and cooked for the additional hour. I did turn off my smoker 10 minutes early and let it cool down while still cooking the ribs. They came out perfect. Nice and tender, fall of the bone. I do not use a meat probe thermometer on ribs because you get a false reading due to being close to bones. You can use the tooth pick through the meat technique to make sure the ribs are done. I used a cinnamon and sugar rub with some McCormick Grill Mates Montreal Chicken Seasoning sprinkeled on top of the rub.

  4. Thomas schaffer March 4, 2016 at 7:59 pm - Reply

    I cook them like country ribs .they come out

  5. Tim Smith February 28, 2016 at 3:23 pm - Reply

    Love the rub recipe, just started in on my St. Louis ribs and they are delicious! Over the last 2 years I have really appreciated all the Great information provided by Jeff on this site.

    THX Jeff

    Tim Smith

  6. Josh Thompson June 21, 2015 at 5:47 pm - Reply

    This was awesome! Family commented it was the best ribs they’ve had.

    Question though – anybody have recommendations on what to do with the trimmings? I smoked them as well and they came out as kind of a rib jerky – just kind of dry. I imagine it’s because they aren’t as thick as the actual ribs. Any thoughts on this would be greatly appreciated!

    • Todd July 5, 2016 at 5:56 pm - Reply

      I smoked them right along with my ribs 3-2 no 1 at the end I wrapped them in foil with a 1/4 cup of Apple juice like I did the ribs and took them off after the 2 hours they were great far from jerky.

  7. David Rosenquist April 26, 2015 at 10:49 pm - Reply

    Jeff, ever since I bought your reciepes (wonderful by the way), I no longer receive the newsletter. I look forward to it every Thursday so we can sample it on Sat. night. I have tried to subscribe again but it tells me I am a subscriber. Help, my family is starting to turn on me! Thanks!

    Dave R

    • Jeff Phillips April 27, 2015 at 10:35 pm - Reply

      David, I am also showing that you are subscribed and that we are sending you the ad-free newsletter every Thursday morning. I suspect that your spam or junk filter is catching my emails for some reason. You may have a junk/spam folder that will allow you to see what is getting caught and you can then click on it and mark it as wanted email.

  8. Thomas Schaffer April 25, 2015 at 8:50 am - Reply

    I have used this recipe many times and it works great. I have modified it to 3 hrs in smoke (apple/cherry/pecan) at 235, then 1.5 hrs in foil, then 30 minutes at 250 turning once..seems to give me a rib with a little more bite tension. Coat with BBQ sauce or mop in that last 30 minutes.

  9. Don Butterbaugh April 23, 2015 at 8:29 am - Reply

    Wow, another great Meal thanks to Jeff! I have tried just about everything in his Book, you follow the instructions and you cannot go wrong. Now I am the acknowledged “expert” on smoking in my family. What I learned came all from Jeff, and his fantastic book! If a ‘Dummy” Like me can do this, anyone can!
    Once again Jeff Thank you.

    Don Butterbaugh

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