Smoked Rib Recipe ~ 3-2-1 Method

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I wish I had a dollar for every smoked rib recipe.. there are many, many recipes but not all of them are worth their proverbial salt.. fortunately, I have learned of one recently that I really like and you will too.

It is called the 3-2-1 method and I must warn you that this smoked rib recipe bends the rules of most purist smokers.. it uses (gasp!) aluminum foil
during a portion of the process.

For those of you who are after really smoky and tender ribs and do not have a problem with using foil then please read on..

The 3-2-1 smoked rib recipe is a good way to smoke ribs and tends to turn out perfect ribs every time whether you are using the meatier spares or the baby backs.

Here is the scoop..

The 3 stands for the 3 hours that you initially smoke the ribs with nothing but your favorite rub on them and your favorite hardwood such as hickory, mesquite, apple, pecan, etc.

After the 3 hours you remove the ribs and quickly double wrap them in heavy duty foil.. just before you seal them off, splash on some apple juice for good measure and close the foil leaving some room around the ribs for the steam to be able to flow around the meat and do it's magic.

The ribs cook in the smoker wrapped for 2 hours undisturbed.

After 2 hours remove the ribs from the smoker, unwrap and place back into the smoker for the final 1 hour. You can add a glaze or sauce at this point if you wish.

Those who use this smoked rib recipe say the meat will literally fall off the bone and be extremely juicy, tender and flavorful.

I am assuming you know how to remove the membrane from the ribs and know to smoke the ribs at around 220 degrees. If not then please read the smoking ribs page to get more detail on the individual processes of smoking ribs.

Special thanks to Jefferson Davis, a member of the Smoking Meat forum who introduced this wonderful smoked rib recipe to the forum.

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  1. Don says

    I’m new to smoking meats and just got a MasterBuilt smoker. When loading the smoker with say two racks of pork ribs. Should they be on the racks closest or farthest from the heat source?

  2. Alex says

    Would this method work for moose ribs as well? they seem to be very similar to beef ribs and I’m thinking of trying them on my Louisiana grill smoker

  3. Paul says

    I thought ribs were not supposed to fall off ribs. Doesn’t the foil for two hrs reck the bark and take a lot of the rub off. I’m going to try it both ways today . See what happens

  4. Bob Carelli says

    Hi Jeff….I have been a follower from the beginning….thanks for all the great recipes…have you ever smoked Lamb Breast (riblets)…..available at Walmart…sometimes….

  5. jake Chapman says

    I used the 3-2-1 mesthod on my side box char griller. It was absolutely amazing. I could hardly even get them off the grate they were so fall ooff the bone good.

  6. Joe says

    I've used this method twice now and all everyone could say was wow. This is unreal if you want your ribs to fall off the bone. Spectacular. Thanks.  Joe

  7. John Trksak says

    You are spot on. The alum foil is what they call the texas crutch. Add grape juice to your recipe and its the same one that won the world championship in 2008,I think.  ANYWAY… this is the only way to smoke ribs! John Trksak grad form u of m hotel and food tech.


  8. BBQ Samuri says

    Thank you, for your recipes, pointers & great cross-section of 'Q'!!!! I've used parts & pieces of yours & countless others, Shiggin' for my customers' smiles!!! For succulent St. Louis ribs…I simply rub, sweat'em for an hour , hickory smoke @250 for 5 hours, refigerate (overnight & upto 2 days, bring to room temperature) & then sear-off/caramelize on grill, with my BBQ/mop sauce!

  9. Kim says

    i will be smoking ribs on Mother's Day but don't have 6 hours that day before everyone comes over.  Can I smoke them half way the day before (3) and then finish the 2  1 the next day?

    • says

      Kim, the process that makes the ribs tender is cumalitive in that as the heat builds, the fibers break down and become tender. The fat renders and you end up with perfectly smoked and tender ribs. I am not aware of a way to do this safely and in a way that would yield the same result by breaking it up across several cooking sessions.

      You could try smoking them a bit hotter.. maybe 275 and see if you can get them done in around 3-4 hours. It would probably end up being more of a 1.5 – 1 – 1.5 but I am only estimating.

      If you wanted to do them this way, smoke them hotter for say 1.5 hours for the first step then put them in the pan for an hour. The last step back on the grate would be however long it takes them to get tender. This should trim a lot of time off of them but then you are experimenting and I don’t recommend experimenting for the first time when you are serving guests.

      Smoking is a time comittment and when you don’t have ample time, it makes it very difficult to get that same quality finish that you would otherwise.

  10. larry says

    I read the recipe and you said the method is the same for beefy ribs as well as baby backs. How would I cook baby backs with this method since they are smaller in size?

    • says


      For baby backs, it will be closer to a 2-2-1 method. You just trim an hour or so from the first step and the other 2 steps remain the same. Once you do this a few times, you might decide to adjust each individual step a little.

      • Dan says

        I agree that the Baby Backs only needed 5 hours of cook time.  2-2-1.  I cooked 2 slabs and "sampled" the first after 5 hours.  It was perfect.  I cooked the second for the next hour to find it just a good, but a pinch dryer.

  11. Ron Fellows says

    WOW! Type, "Smoking Meat: The Essential Guide to Real Barbecue" into a Google search engine and find a Lot of places charging this high price for this book?

    • says

      Ron, the folks doing that are taking advantage of the fact that the book is backordered but hopefully no one is paying these kind of prices of the book. We will have books in a couple of weeks or that is what I am being told by the publishers/disributors.

  12. John mccormick says

    Hasty bake user for years w/great results.  Tried brisket on brinkman el smoker.  Great bark, OK flavor (not as smokey as desired

    but absolutely no smoke ring.  Used a lot of chips throughout process.  6# at 220 for 8 hours?  What happened?

    • Dave B. Long Island says

      Being a novice at smoking I found your simple technique to good to pass up, and am I ever glad I didn't, as were my guests.  The ribs were tender, moist and flavorful.  Give it a shot, you won't regret it.

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