3 2 1 Ribs


3 2 1 is a very popular method that was used to cook these delicious looking spare ribs.  This method will give you perfect barbeque ribs cooked in a smoker.  The biggest complaint people have when they cook ribs is that they turn out tough and dry. 

This method is called 3 2 1 because there are three sets of cooking times.  When your ribs are finished and ready for the table they will be falling off the bone, without a lot of effort.  You will need time and a large sheet of aluminum foil for 3 2 1 ribs.

The three cooking times are:

  • Smoking normal for the first three hours
  • Two hours of smoking wrapped in aluminum foil
  • One hour of smoking unwrapped.

During the first three hours of cooking time, your ribs are absorbing the delicious smoky flavor.  The next two hours they are being steamed, which helps to loosen the meat from the bone and making them tender.  The last hour is when the ribs develop that surface crust from being exposed to that smoky, dry heat.  This method is specifically designed for pork spareribs.

If you want to use this method for baby back ribs you will need to cut the first smoking down to two hours so they will not be overcooked and dry.

Prepping and Smoking the Ribs

Make sure to put adequate seasoning on both sides of the ribs

The first step to prepare the ribs for the smoker is to remove the membranes. Once this is done you can apply the rub or light glaze over both sides of the ribs. Place your ribs in the smoker, bone side down for three hours.  The temperature in the smoker should be 250° F.

At the end of three hours, take the ribs out of the smoker.  Season them lightly with sugar and wrap them tightly in aluminum foil to create an airtight seal.  Before sealing, pour some liquid in the package, like apple cider, and seal.  This time you will put them bone side up and smoke for two hours. 

Unwrap the ribs after two hours and place bone side down for the last hour.  If you want stickier ribs you can turn the temperature up a few degrees in the smoker. Before you put the ribs in for the last hour you can lightly season the ribs with the rub.

To check to see if they are done, instead of using a meat thermometer, use toothpicks.  Insert one between the bones to see if it penetrates easily.  They are done if the toothpick can easily penetrate the ribs and they are ready to eat.

During the last 20-30 minutes of smoke time, you can apply sauce to the ribs if you want.  When applying the sauce, use several thin layers.  To keep the sauce from burning, make sure that the temperature in the smoker is below 265° F.

Smoking Bone Side up or down

When smoking ribs, it is best to smoke them bone side down.  This will allow the smoky flavor to penetrate the bone side along with the meat so you get that smoky taste in every bite.  If you cook them bone side up, the juices are going to pool in the center of the bones.  This will help to make your ribs tender and juicy but the downside is this juice will act as a barrier.  It will keep the smoke from getting into the meat. 

The downside with using the 3 2 1 method is that the second hour you are practically boiling the ribs in their juice.  This could cause the bark that you got in the first three hours to become soft, and possibly fall off the ribs.  The rub you put on it practically disappears.  And the spare ribs can go from tender to mushy. 

Setting up the Smoker

Preheat the smoker to 250° F and then put your wood chips in water to soak for 30 minutes.  Put the shallow water pan in the smoker and the drained wood chips in their tray.  Wood chips are necessary to give your meat a smoky flavor. Wood chips, and wood chunks, are the best ones to use to generate smoke.

3 2 1 Ribs

One recipe that you can use with this method is this:

  • When you are preparing your ribs for the dry rub of your choice mix together 1/3 cup of yellow mustard, ¼ cup of apple juice, and 1 tablespoon Worcestershire sauce.  Brush this mixture all over the ribs before you apply the rub.  This will help the rub adhere to the ribs.
  • When you are ready to wrap them in aluminum foil, mix 1/3 cup of honey and ½ cup of light brown sugar together and sprinkle over the top of each slap of ribs.  Next put 2 tablespoons of butter on each slab on top of the honey-brown sugar mixture. 
  • Wrap each slab of ribs in double aluminum foil leaving one end open.  You can use 3 tablespoons of bourbon or apple juice in the open end and shut it tight.  If you want to, you can use a combination of bourbon and apple juice at which ever ratio you want.  This is done to both slabs of ribs.

Now they are ready to go back in the smoker for the rest of the smoking time.

In Conclusion

Some prefer to change it and only smoke the ribs wrapped in foil for an hour instead of two.  By doing this, it can help to alleviate the above-mentioned problems.   When trying to figure out how many spare ribs you need, a rack will usually feed two to three people but to make sure you have enough ribs, figure two people per rack.  This way you are sure to have enough. If you are one that likes to have their ribs firm and not fall off the bone this recipe is not for you.  There will still be meat on the bone if you want to gnaw on the bone.  In total you will spend about seven hours, counting prep and cook time.

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