Smoked Rib Recipe ~ 3-2-1 Method is supported by its readers. We may earn an affiliate commission at no extra cost to you if you buy through a link on this page.

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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. 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.

  2. 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 ??

    1. 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.

  3. 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!

  4. 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?

  5. 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

  6. 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

  7. 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….

  8. 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.

  9. 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

  10. 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.


  11. 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!

  12. 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?

    1. 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.

  13. 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?

    1. Larry,

      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.

      1. 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.

  14. 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?

    1. 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.

  15. 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?

    1. 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.