3 2 1 Ribs are a classic and easy way to get fall off the bone tender delicious ribs! This is a great fool proof recipe for a beginner, and a method that is used by lots of veterans.
What is the 3-2-1 method?
We smoke ribs using this method because it falls into the KISS (Keep It Simple Stupid) category, and it works every time. Basically you follow the steps below.
3 - Smoke the ribs with your favorite rub for three hours.
2 - Cover with foil, soak the ribs in our Carolina sauce or apple juice for two more hours.
1 - Remove from foil, baste with BBQ sauce if you want, and smoke one more hour.
What are competition vs. "fall off the bone" ribs?
Competition style ribs are generally tender have a bark that is crusty and chewy. Judges look for meat that cleanly comes off the bone. They are cooked to be moist but not dry which requires hours and hours of cooking. Techniques like brining or spritzing are used to keep them this way. Lastly, a lot of smoke flavor is expected by judges. This is accomplished by keeping the ribs moist during the first part of the cook.
Well, boys and girls, today we are smoking our ribs with the 3-2-1 method which will give you "fall off the bone" type ribs. This is typically what you would find at a backyard BBQ, and the meat is super tender or falling apart.
It also means you should do you! If you like them firmer feel free to do a shorter cook. Or if you like them super saucy, add lots of that. Or, if you don't like the sauce and you like to ribs to stand alone that's good too!
Prepping the meat for smoking
There are three types of ribs you can choose from which are baby back ribs, spare ribs, and St. Louis ribs. Baby backs are smaller, tender, and leaner. They are cut from the backbone, and usually are more expensive.
Spares are larger, and cut from the pigs breastbone. They typically have the rib tips intact. They take up more space on the grill, but are less expensive and just as delicious. St. Louis style are spare ribs with the tips removed.
The first step is to remove the membrane, unless you prefer to keep it for the extra crunch. Take the tip of a small knife or your fingers if you can grab it then lift up on the membrane. Once you have it started use a paper towel as a grabber to peel the membrane off the ribs. It will either come off in one piece, or it may came off in a few pieces.
The ribs should look clean and free of membrane on the back. Repeat this process with all the racks that you have to smoke.
Next take your favorite pork rub and thoroughly coat the ribs all over with it. Set aside to start preparing your fire for the smoker.
Starting the smoker
Prepare your fire so that it reaches a temperature of 225-degrees. Avoid using any petrol products to start your fire, and instead use paper to start. You can use charcoal, wood, or lump charcoal for your fire.
Regulate your fire with the inlet and outlet of air on the stack and fire box during cooking. Be sure to check your smoker at minimum on the hour to make sure it is smoldering good, and you are maintaining the correct temperature.
Smoking the ribs
Lay the prepared ribs into the smoker meat side up, and rib side down. We will be smoking at the first stage for three hours. At 1 ½ hours rotate the ribs 180-degrees for more even cooking. Continue to monitor the fire, and keep your temperature at 225-degrees.
For the second stage of cooking, remove the ribs from the smoker. Wrap in foil with a liquid of your choice. We use our Eastern North Carolina BBQ Sauce. You can use this, or also apple juice or beer.
Put the ribs back on the smoker meat side up cook for two hours. Make sure your smoker is still maintaining 225-degrees. If it is not, be sure to build your fire back up but only use charcoal.
For the final stage of cooking, remove the ribs from the foil. Baste in BBQ sauce, or leave plain. Place the ribs back on the grill to cook for one more hour at 225-degrees. If you like your ribs to be more firm then you can skip the final hour if they have a done internal temperature of 165-degrees.
Remove from the grill, and tent the ribs for a few minutes then slice the ribs into individual pieces. Serve immediately or store in an airtight container for up to one week.
If you liked this you may also enjoy Grilled Bratwurst & Sauerkraut!
3 2 1 Smoked Ribs
- 2 racks ribs baby back, spare ribs, or St. Louis Style Ribs
- 1 cup pork rub
- 2 cups liquid North Carolina Sauce, apple juice, or beer
- Remove membrane from the back of the ribs. Insert a small knife to start peeling, and then use a paper towel to remove the rest of the way. It may come off in one piece, or a few pieces.
- Coat all sides of the ribs with your favorite pork rub and set aside.
- Prepare the fire in the smoker so that it reaches 225-degrees.
- Place the ribs in the smoker meat side up and rib side down. Smoke for three hours total for the first stage. Rotate the ribs 180-degrees halfway through with the meat side still up.
- Remove ribs from smoker and wrap in foil with liquid of choice. Return to the smoker with the meat side up. Maintain a temperature of 225-degrees. For the second stage smoke the ribs for 2 hours.
- Remove the ribs from the foil, baste with BBQ sauce if desired, and return meat side up. Smoke one last final hour or until the ribs reach an internal temperature of 165-degrees.
- Once done, remove from grill then tent a few minutes. Slice the ribs into individual ribs, or a half rack for serving.
- Serve immediately or keep refrigerated in an airtight container for up to one week.