Smoked Rib Recipe ~ 3-2-1 Method

//Smoked Rib Recipe ~ 3-2-1 Method

Smoked Rib Recipe ~ 3-2-1 Method

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.

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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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2018-06-14T03:35:23+00:00By |34 Comments

About the Author:

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


  1. chuck February 14, 2017 at 4:05 pm - Reply

    tried the 321 it turned out fantastic if anybody has any problem they need to go to smoking 101 its simple as hell

  2. tradewindd July 4, 2016 at 4:30 pm - Reply

    Took the ribs off the smoker about 1:00 PM just in time for lunch today and they were incredible. I have been cooking on this “Smokin’ It” electric smoker for some time and I pretty much know what to expect from it. Temp is set to about 200 to 210 deg F. A full size pork picnic is perfect at 12 hours. The ribs I cooked for 5 hours. The day before I dry rubbed them and put them in the frig. Next morning popped them in the smoker and walked away until 5 Hours later. I am sure some would say they were overcooked because the meat was falling off the bone. Maybe they were but they were incredible tender and very moist. Also they had a bark: I like the bark and I think I could have cooked them just fine in 4 hours with out the bark. I used a tuna can that I put water in set next to the heat source and I used a small branch (about a 3 oz chunk) from an Apple tree for the smoke. And that is the way I do it. No fuss, no bother and always perfect.

  3. Mark J August 31, 2015 at 8:07 am - Reply

    Tried my first 3-2-1 method last weekend. Used pork spare ribs . Came out pretty tasty , but am wondering how to get them even more tender. I tried to maintain about 240 degrees throughout the entire process . Any suggestions ??

    • Mark Allen January 1, 2018 at 12:28 pm - Reply

      Hey Mark, try smoking the first phase for 4 hours on the rack at 230, then wrap in foil for another 2 hours at 230, then finish by turning the heat/smoke down to 200 for the final 2 hours and keep her wrapped as she will want to fall apart. You will be amazed! Let me state the obvious: Be sure to remove the membrane and give her the healthy dose of rub, prior.

  4. M Hudd August 18, 2015 at 1:28 am - Reply

    For the lady asking about the cooking temp with then 3-2-1 method, smoke 180-190 3 hours, foil at 250 for 2 hours, about 375 last hour to set the moisture.
    Times are exact for the temperatures, any more and they will fall apart taking them off the grill.
    The 3-2-1 method is in the Traeger Everyday Cookbook.
    You can view recipe online.
    I changed the rub and a couple other things, and I’ve had chefs say they are the best they’ve had!

  5. Dick Dickerson May 24, 2015 at 4:18 pm - Reply

    At what temp ? For 3-2-1 method.

    • Tjydennek June 17, 2015 at 3:32 pm - Reply

      It says 220 in the second to last paragraph. Not sure if you saw that or not.

    • M Hudd August 18, 2015 at 1:30 am - Reply

      I posted the info for the temps.

  6. Calij5619 January 20, 2015 at 10:08 pm - Reply

    3-2-1 the bomb

  7. Don January 20, 2015 at 2:08 pm - Reply

    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?

    • dave January 21, 2015 at 10:13 am - Reply

      indirect heat would be the farthest from the coals.

  8. Alex November 19, 2014 at 12:04 pm - Reply

    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

  9. Paul October 4, 2014 at 8:41 am - Reply

    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

  10. Robert Nielsen May 31, 2014 at 7:53 am - Reply

    All great info for us novices. Thank you!

  11. Don Holloway April 19, 2014 at 4:26 pm - Reply

    Is this 3-2-1 good for beef ribs as well as pork?

  12. Bob Carelli April 2, 2014 at 3:23 pm - Reply

    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….

  13. jake Chapman December 14, 2013 at 1:34 pm - Reply

    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.

  14. john October 14, 2013 at 8:15 am - Reply

    love smoken food pretty new at it but found out I love it. thank you jeff for info looking to get a book.

  15. Joe June 27, 2013 at 11:59 pm - Reply

    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

  16. John Trksak June 4, 2013 at 9:08 am - Reply

    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.


  17. BBQ Samuri May 13, 2013 at 7:10 pm - Reply

    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!

  18. Kim May 7, 2013 at 3:05 pm - Reply

    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?

    • Jeff Phillips May 9, 2013 at 12:12 am - Reply

      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.

  19. larry April 17, 2013 at 7:03 pm - Reply

    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?

    • Jeff Phillips April 17, 2013 at 10:38 pm - Reply


      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 May 25, 2013 at 8:48 pm - Reply

        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.

      • Tom June 14, 2013 at 2:08 pm - Reply

        How about for boneless "country style" ribs?  Will 2-2-1 work or should one count on 3-2-1? Thanks.

  20. Ron Fellows April 11, 2013 at 9:31 pm - Reply

    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?

    • Jeff Phillips April 12, 2013 at 1:14 am - Reply

      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.

  21. John mccormick March 10, 2013 at 11:28 am - Reply

    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?

    • Greg June 19, 2015 at 8:46 am - Reply

      chips should be soaked for around 12 hrs so they smoke and not burn quickly

  22. Carol February 24, 2013 at 9:06 am - Reply

    can I use foil in electric smoker?

    • Jeff Phillips February 24, 2013 at 9:09 am - Reply

      Yes.. foil is perfectly fine to use in an electric smoker whenever the need arises.

    • Dave B. Long Island July 4, 2013 at 6:48 pm - Reply

      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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