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3-2-1 Spare Ribs: St. Louis Style

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I am so excited to share this 3-2-1 smoked spare rib recipe!

If you haven't used the 3-2-1 method to get smoked spare ribs to that coveted “fall off the bone” tenderness, juiciness in every bite and a crust on the outside that will tantalize your tastebuds, then you haven't had ribs at their best.

With easy to follow instructions and my original rub  in hand, it's a win-win situation!

Helpful Information
  • Prep Time: 25 minutes
  • Cook Time: 6 hours
  • Smoker Temp: 225-240°F
  • Meat Finish Temp: 185-190 or until tender
  • Recommended Wood: Cherry
What You’ll Need
Prep the Meat

Place the spare ribs bone side up on a cutting board or down in a pan.

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Remove the Skirt

First we have to remove the flap of meat called the skirt.. this piece is best removed and cooked alone to allow a more even thickness of the ribs and to allow more smoke to get to the back side of the ribs.

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Using a sharp knife, hold it up vertically with one hand and slice it off as close to the bone as you can get.

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Remove the Membrane

If you look closely, you will see a thick plastic-like membrane on the outside of the bones. Very carefully, get your fingers under this and with a good grip, pull it clean off. If you need a better grip, you can use a paper towel or some catfish skinning pliers.

It's not important that you get it all off in one piece or even that you don't leave any. Get as much of it as you can.

The one on the left still has the membrane, one on the right has been removed already.

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All removed.

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Remove the Brisket Bone

There is a odd shaped bone that runs sort of diagonal on one side of the rack of spare ribs. You don't have to remove it but it does make the ribs much easier to slice when they are done smoking.

I call it bone, but really it's mostly cartilage so a good sharp knife and it will come off with relative ease.

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Mustard and Rub

While the meat is still laying bone side up, it's a great time to go ahead and season up this side.

To help the rub to stick really good, apply a good coat of yellow mustard all over.

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Generously apply my original rub  to the bone side of the ribs giving preference to the more meaty areas and less preference to the bones themselves.

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Leave them sitting there for about 10 minutes to let the rub draw moisture from the mustard and the ribs. You will see a visible change in the rub once they are ready to turn over.

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Flip the spare ribs over to meaty side up, bone side down.

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Apply a coat of yellow mustard to the top and sides of the ribs to make sure the rub will stick really well.

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Generously apply my original rub  to the meaty side of the spare ribs.

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Leave them sitting there for about 10 minutes to let the rub soak up the some of the moisture.

The rub will get a sort of “wet” look to it when they are ready to go on the smoker.

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Note: if you have a smaller smoker such as the Smokin-it 2D Electric smoker, it may be necessary or simply advantageous to cut the rib racks in half. This will help them to fit better and as an added benefit, will make them easier to handle.

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Set Up the Smoker

Set up your smoker for cooking at about 225-240°F using indirect heat. If your smoker has a water pan, fill it up.

If it is cold out, consider allowing your smoker to preheat for an hour or more so the metal can warm up and help reduce the heat recovery time when you open the door to insert the food.

Once your smoker is ready, the spare ribs can be placed in the smoker.

I used the Smokin-it 2D electric smoker on these but any smoker will work just fine.

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The First 3 Hours

I recommend using cherry wood for smoke but pecan, hickory, apple, etc. will work fine. Use the smoking wood that you have available.

In the Smokin-it 2D electric smoker, I placed 3 small chunks (about 6 ounces) of cherry wood in the smoke box.

Place the spare ribs directly on the smoker grate or if you cut them in half, you can place the halves on cooling racks or a Weber grill pan to help transport them to the smoker.

Maintain 225-240°F with smoke during this first 3 hours and keep the door/lid closed for better heat retention.

Wrap the Spare Ribs in Foil

At the end of 3 hours, wrap the spare ribs in a double layer of heavy duty foil. It is best if they are not wrapped extremely tight but it is important that the foil is sealed pretty good so the steam can stay inside and help to tenderize the meat.

Some folks add juice or some liquid to the foil before closing up the foil.. I have done this as well but in my most recent experience, I get better results from omitting the extra liquid.

Once the ribs are wrapped in foil, place them back into the smoker and continue cooking them at 225-240°F for about 2 hours.

Finish in the Smoker or on the Grill

At the end of 2 hours wrapped in foil, the ribs will be really tender but the outside will be soft and mushy. To form a good crust it is essential to give the ribs another hour or so in the smoker, unwrapped.

Remove them from the foil and place them back on the smoker grate for 1 hour.

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You can also throw them onto a hot grill and get this done quicker. The grill is also a great place to add some sauce and let it caramelize.

I made a delicious mustard sauce by mixing my original barbecue sauce (Purchase formula here | Purchase bottled sauce) with equal parts yellow mustard.

I then placed them back into the smoker for about 1 hour to let the sauce caramelize and to let the crust firm up.

Rest the Ribs

Once the ribs are finished, place them on the counter with some foil tented over the top for about 20 minutes to let the juices redistribute throughout the meat.

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Slice and Serve

Slice the ribs between the bones and serve right away.

Tip: place the ribs bone side up when cutting so you can more easily see where to make the cuts.

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Notes and Comments
  • It is ok to season the ribs with my original rub  the night before and it may even make them better.
  • Be sure to season the skirt and brisket bone and cook them right along with the rest of the ribs, I usually do not wrap these but let them go for an hour or two and they make great snacks.
  • If you decide to do baby back ribs instead, the steps are 2-2-1 instead of 3-2-1.. just one less hour in the beginning.
4.8 from 5 votes

3-2-1 Spare Ribs for Super Bowl

If you haven't used the 3-2-1 method to get smoked spare ribs to that coveted "fall off the bone" tenderness and juiciness then you haven't had ribs at their best.
Prep Time25 minutes
Cook Time6 hours
Total Time6 hours 25 minutes
Servings: 6



  • Place the ribs on a cutting board or into a pan bone side up.
  • Remove the flap of meat called the "skirt" using a sharp knife.
  • Remove the brisket bone at the top edge of the ribs.
  • Remove the plastic-like membrane using a paper towel or catfish pliers for better grip.
  • Apply a coat of yellow mustard to the bone side of the ribs
  • Generously apply Jeff's original rub to the bone side of the ribs.
  • Leave the ribs sitting until the rub gets a "wet" look showing that it has absorbed moisture from the mustard and the meat juices.
  • Flip the spare ribs over to meaty side up.
  • Apply a coat of yellow mustard to the meaty side of the ribs
  • Generously apply Jeff's original rub to the meaty side of the ribs.
  • Leave the ribs sitting until the rub gets a "wet" look showing that it has absorbed moisture from the mustard and the meat juices.
  • The ribs are now ready for the smoker.
  • Set up your smoker for cooking at about 225-240 °F using indirect heat and cherry wood for smoke.
  • Once the smoker is ready, place the ribs directly on the smoker grate and cook for 3 hours.
  • At the end of 3 hours, wrap the spare ribs with 2 layers of heavy duty foil to allow the ribs to steam and tenderize.
  • At the end of 2 hours wrapped in foil, unwrap them once again and place them back into the smoker at 225-240°F to firm up the crust and finish cooking.
  • You can also place them on a 300°F grill for about 5 minutes each side. This is a great time to brush on sauce if you like.

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4.80 from 5 votes (1 rating without comment)

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Recipe Rating


  1. Did these in my new CampChef 24 Wifi. Some left-over mesquite pellets in the auger and bottom of hopper (the ones I couldn’t coerce to the exit chute), but mostly Camp Chef cherry. I used maple syrup instead of mustard to bind the rub. Cut the rack in half and put the halves on rack pans to minimize cleanup.

    After three hours in smoke they were quite red, but only up to about 135-140 degrees. Ok… Foil over the rack pans and into the kitchen oven at 245. 2 hours later they were at 185-190 when I stuck in the Thermopro instant thermometer. Foil off, and some King Soopers PS Molasses BBQ smeared lightly over the tops (sorry, haven’t made yours yet). A little less than an hour at 245, and ready to serve. Really good. Wish I could post a photo.

  2. 5 stars
    No surprise that another of your recipes is completely on target and easy to replicate! I see a lot of other bbq gurus recommend adding liquid to the foil wrap stage and you mention that you prefer to skip adding liquid. I totally agree and we probably have similar preferences here – a little bite yet still fall off the bone is what I’m after.

    1. It depends on the smoker I am using.. typically, if a smoker uses a water pan, I recommend filling it up and using it. The only exception to this rule is if I am trying to dry something out or when humidity would help prevent a crisp texture such as on chicken skin. In these cases, I would leave the water pan dry.

      For ribs, a water pan is always a great idea.

    2. 4 stars
      If you get a rack where you need to trim off that underside “flap” and the short end with just some cartilage…trust me keep all that and fold it all on itself until you have a chunk about the same thickness as the rib rack. I place it right next to the trimmed rack and season it the same. When it’s done cut it into chunks…for some people it their favorite part when I do this.

  3. Followed this to a T. Was defenitly falling off bone, but a bit dry! That seems like a long time to cook ribs at 225-240. The flavor was great, great rub, Jeff. I’m wondering why mine were a bit dry tho…

    1. John, I am with you…225 to 240 for 3 hours is a long time. I cook mine at 190.
      Also, when I do the 2-hour wrap. I first raise the temp to 225. I coat the ribs with brown sugar…then use a cup of Apple Juice and butter pats… seal it in aluminum foil This process steams the ribs and retains the moisture.
      When I do the 1-hour cook at the back end I retain the same temp at 225 and coat the ribs with Bar B Que sauce. Then spray them with apple juice every 15 minutes.
      I think this process should eliminate the dryness.

  4. Jeff,
    Thank you for all of your info and tips etc. Have you ever tried using parchment paper rather than foil for this? My wife is allergic to aluminum so cannot do them with that but wondering if a double wrap with parchment would achieve the same results. Thanks again for all you do.

    1. Russ, I have not tried parchment paper but I am pretty sure it would work just fine for this purpose. Another option would be to place the ribs into a stainless steel pan and set another stainless steel pan upside down on top of it. The idea is to hold in the steam for a little while and let it tenderize the meat.

  5. This 3-2-1 approach to spare ribs is a guaranteed perfect every time! I’ve tried ribs in the past and at best they were edible but this method with the rub is 100% winner every time. Thanks Jeff for the rib school and your rubs

  6. I have used your rub on pork loin, ribs, pork shoulder and your barbecue sauce for pulled pork. I have enjoyed great comments and more importantly the pleasure my family and friends have from delicious meats.
    Your recipes and smoking instructions are by far the best.
    Thank you

  7. 5 stars
    Jeff,Great article and recipe. While I generally use a simple rub of garlic, salt, pepper, and brown sugar, I will give this recipe a try (probably many tries!). Looking forward to your review of the 2D as I use the 3D. I will be using your link at amazon in the very near future to order a moisture meter which believe is necessary for ensuring that wood is ‘ripe’ to get good smoke and great Q. Thanks for your site and the forum. Dave

  8. Hi Jeff,

    Been a follower of yours for about six months now and have tried a lot of your recipes and am a big fan. I have a couple of clarifying questions regarding this rib recipe. First, during the last hour, if I choose to put the racks back in the smoker, would you still recommend saucing them with your mustard sauce or does that only apply if you’re grilling them? Second and lastly, if I decide to apply the rub the night before do I do so as a sort of dry brine and then hit it with the mustard and more rub in the morning or are you suggesting that the night before I can use the mustard and the rub and be done with that part of prep?

    Thanks, Jeff! I’ve recommended your website and rub/sauce packages to every barbecue lover I know.. all about supporting the small business.

    1. Sam, first and foremost, thank you for supporting small business. It’s folks like yourself who keep the website, newsletter and forum going month after month and year after year.

      Regarding the ribs, if I decide to do them the night before, I usually hit them with mustard and plenty of rub and that’s all there is to it.. they go right on the smoker in the morning. You can always hit them with more rub if you think they need it.

      I sometimes sauce the ribs and sometimes I don’t.. just depends on what I am after but it really has nothing to do with whether I finish them on the grill or in the smoker. If I am doing the last step in the smoker, I will sauce them at the beginning of the hour then again every 20 minutes or so to get in about 2-3 good thin layers.

      On the grill, I tend to sauce them and place the sauced side down for about 4-5 minutes then sauce the other side and place it facing down for 4-5 minutes for a great finish. I usually use the Big Green Egg indirect at about 300-325 if I am grilling them but you can also hit them directly with some flames if you want some char.. just watch them closely so there’s not too much char. Char should be an accent only, not the main attraction;-)