Is there a better way to get the fall-off-the-bone ribs that everyone craves
Smoked BBQ ribs are one of the barbecue staples that any budding pitmaster needs to learn how to cook. And the best BBQ ribs you can make are done using the 3-2-1 method.
If this is new to you then you’ve come to the right place. In today’s recipes and guide I’m going to walk you through everything you need to know to make perfect, tender, BBQ pork ribs.
What is the 3 2 1 method?
The 3-2-1 rib method is an easy way to cook beautifully tender ribs by following three key stages: 3 hours on the smoker; 2 hours wrapped in foil with water; and 1 final hour smoked with sauce layered on top.
The method allows for even cooking, while setting them up in a way that retains moisture and locks in flavor.
In short, if you want perfect competition-level BBQ ribs, then learning the 3 2 1 method is a must.
The truth about ‘fall off the bone’ ribs
Now, a few of you might be shouting at your screen already.
“But I thought fall-off-the-bone was bad?”
Yes, it’s true that a lot of competition winning BBQ cooks distance themselves from ribs that aim for melt-away textures, but for me it’s purely a matter of personal preference.
Sure, you might not win any competitions, but sometimes you just have to indulge in what you like.
And if fall-off-the-bone ribs is what you like, then that’s what you shall have.
How to do the 3-2-1 method
As the name suggests, this rib smoking method is broken down into three main parts. One takes 3 hours, another 2 hours, and the final part takes 1 hour.
Each of these parts is important, so be careful to follow them exactly!
Here’s a rough outline of what each stage entails:
Smoke for 3 hours
To really get the ribs to work, we need to smoke the ribs for 3 hours. We do this at a low temperature over heavy smoke.
We use a fruit-based wood like apple, cherry or maple for pork. Find out why here.
This long exposure to smoke will not only infuse the meat with flavor, but start to break down the fat content found within the flesh of the meat.
Wrap for 2 hours
Once the 3 hours is up, you will need to wrap the ribs tightly in an aluminum foil pouch. In the pouch you then want to add a little liquid which will steam up during cooking and add more flavor and moisture to the ribs.
What you use as your liquid here is up to you, but a good go-to here is a little mix of apple cider, butter, and dark sugar.
Once you have wrapped your ribs tightly, place back in your smoker and cook at 225°F (the standard smoking temperature) for 2 more hours.
This stage will effectively braise your meat and allow the fat in the ribs to render further.
A good visual aid here is to look for the meat to retract a touch at the end. We want to aim for somewhere about 1.4-inch retraction.
Smoke in sauce for 1 hour
And here we have the home straight.
For the final step, baste the ribs in your BBQ sauce of choice. Transfer the ribs back to the smoker for a final hour to allow the sauce to set on top of the rack.
Easy 3 2 1 BBQ Ribs
- 1 rack baby back ribs
- 3-4 tbsp pork rub
- 1 cup BBQ sauce
- 1 cup apple juice or cider
- ¼ cup brown sugar
- 2 tbsp salted butter cut into thin slices
- Set up your smoker for indirect cooking. Set it up so your ribs will not be placed directly above the embers or fire of your BBQ smoker. Add your choice of hardwood to coals, e.g. applewood. Allow the smoker to heat up to our target temperature of 225°F.
- Remove the membrane from the back side of the ribs
- Apply BBQ rub to both sides of the ribs. Work into every area of the ribs that you can. Apply generously.
- With your smoke fully heated up and at 225°F, transfer the ribs to the smoker in the indirect zone. Close the lid and leave to smoke for 3 hours.
- Transfer ribs to aluminum foil placed upon cooking surface. Create a pouch with the ribs in. Apply the brown sugar across the top side of the ribs, and place the bits of butter on top. Sprinkle the apple juice/cider over. Tightly fold and crimp the aluminum foil to create an airtight pouch.
- Transfer rib pouch back to the smoker and continue to cook at 225°F. Let the ribs cook for a further 2 hours.
- Remove the rib puch from the grill and transfer to cooking surface. Carefully open pouch and allow steam to escape. Remove ribs and discard pouch and liquid contents.
- Use a brush to apply BBQ sauce liberally across the ribs, on both sides. Close lid and continue to smoke at 225°F for a final hour, or until BBQ sauce has set.