3 2 1 Ribs, The Perfect Ribs.

3 2 1 Ribs – The best way to smoke ribs

The 3 2 1 ribs method, as it is known, is a meat smoking technique used by many PROS like Aaron Franklin. If you don’t know who Aaron Franklin is, he is one of the top pitmasters in the US, owner of Franklin BBQ in Austin, Texas, and even has his own BBQ class at MasterClass.com . The 321 ribs smoking method cooks ribs at specific temperatures and stages for a total of 6 hours.

Using the 3 2 1 ribs method, you will smoke the ribs for 3 hours, then unwrap the ribs and smoke for 2 hours at 225 f; lastly, for the final 1 hour, you will get the ribs back in the smoker and apply BBQ Sauce to get fall off the bone tender ribs.

The entire process can last up to 6 hours, but the end result is well worth the time and work.

Smoked Ribs using the 3-2-1 ribs method

321 ribs

The 3 2 1 smoked ribs recipe is a favorite rib smoking method that yields the most tender ribs you can dream of. The process can take some time and practice, but you too can smoke delicious, “fall-of-the-bone” ribs with some patience.

Ribs cooked using this method are the perfect summer party plate. Smoked ribs are a crowd favorite, and using the 3 2 1 method for smoking ribs is a sure way to impress the crowd.

Using the 3 2 1 method is a sure way to up your BBQ skills and grill some mean meat.

What is the 3-2-1 Smoked Ribs Method?

The 3 2 1 ribs smoking method is actually a simple but effective method to smoke juicy fall off the bone tender ribs. The process consists of three main steps or coking stages where the ribs are smoked in different conditions.

The method includes these steps: ( total time 6 hours )

  • 3 hours of smoking the ribs on your smoker
  • 2 hours more hours of smoking the pork ribs wrapped in heavy-duty aluminum foil
  • 1 more hour of smoking the pork ribs unwrapped, ribs bone side down. This is also when you glaze the ribs with your favorite BBQ sauce.

What does the 3 2 and 1 mean in the 321 smoking ribs method? I Explain.

The 321 method is a slow smoking method for cooking a mean, fall off the bone, pork ribs. The 3 2 and 1 reference three different steps and the time the ribs cook on each step.

bbq grill 180The 3 in the 3-2-1 – Smoke Unwrapped in the Smoker

The three in this method refers to the initial 3 hours of smoking the ribs in your smoker. This method does require a smoker grill. There are ways of turning your gas or charcoal grill into a smoker if you don’t own a smoker, but using a smoker grill to smoke a mean rack of ribs will yield better results.

During the initial 3 hours of the cook, the ribs will smoke seasoned for 3 hours at about 180 to 200 degrees Fahrenheit.

temp 225The 2 in the 3-2-1 Wrap Ribs in Foil

The 2 in this process refers to the number of hours you will be smoking the ribs during this second stage. There are two main things we are going to do in this step.

First, we will increase the smoker’s heat to about 225 degrees F, and second, we are wrapping the ribs in aluminum foil. The purpose of these next 2 hours is to slowly braise the rack of ribs wrapped in foil. In this step, we will carefully remove the ribs from the smoker and wrap them tightly in foil. This is also where you can get a bit creative and add some of your own charm, but most people keep it simple.

My preferred technique is to add a small amount of apple juice over the rack of ribs. Yum! To aid the process, add a small amount of brown sugar and apple cider.

Add a little butter, brown sugar, and honey to the mix for a more sweet and juicy flavor. Apple juice can be added for a delicious, moist taste and texture. 

Some people like to use orange juice to add to the flavor but again, this is where you can get creative. I have seen people even use beer but, I’m not sure I want to use my beer 🙂

Here is a warning: do not let the temperature go above 250 degrees F. The sugar in the apple juice and season can caramelize and ruin the “smoked robs” flavor.

The 2 hours of smoking is a crucial step in this process. This is when the tenderness of the ribs is determined. Steam will break down connective tissue and tenderize the meat. Keep in mind that smaller racks might not need the entire 2 hours, but this is when practice and experience come in. So work on your 2 hours step. This is where the magic happens.

temp 225The 1 (one) in 3-2-1 ribs Unwrap and Throw the Ribs Back in the Smoker.

We are finally here. The moment we all waited for, just one hour away from eating the best tasting ribs in your life and all done using the 3-2-1 ribs method and cooked by you!

In this last stage of the cook, you will smoke the ribs unwrapped for, yes, you guessed it, for 1 hour. Then, remove the ribs from the smoker and carefully unwrapped them.

Place the ribs meat side up, bone side facing the heat, and apply your favorite BBQ Sauce. I like to apply several BBQ sauce coats, but this is where your taste and own preference come in.

Here are a few tips that can you can use during this stage.

how long to let ribs rest

Once the ribs are done and they have reached the right temperature is time to let the ribs rest before serving. Letting the ribs rest will help the meat juices settle back into the meat for a juicier and tender bite.

How long to let the ribs rest? I recommend letting the ribs rest for about 10 minutes at room temperature.

3-2-1 baby back ribs

First, adjust the cooking time during this step if needed. The 3 2 1 method can be applied to different pork cuts but depending on the type of meat cuts you might need to adjust cooking times. For example, back ribs or thicker ribs like spare ribs might need the full hours, but if you are smoking a small baby back ribs rack, 3o minutes might be sufficient.

Set your smoker to 225 F, and let rip! In about one hour, check the ribs for tenderness and readiness. Once the ribs reach your desire level of doneness and temperature, get ready to eat.


The 3 2 1 method is a popular smoking method and is the go-to technique for cooking ribs and smoke-perfect back ribs. This is a long process, so be sure to prepare for a long day of cooking and get plenty of beer!

Enjoy Life, Happy Grillin’ 

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