Barbecue Ribs 3-2-1 Method

Today  on recipe Friday  I thought I would share my favorite method for making tender, moist ribs. Please note this cooking method and the recipes are from’s BBQ newsletter. This is a favorite at family barbecues.

3-2-1 Basics: If you know how to smoke pork ribs, then all you need to know about the 3-2-1 method is that you smoke as normal for 3 hours, followed by 2 hours cooking wrapped in foil, and finally 1 more hour unwrapped. This gives the meat time to soak in smoke during the first three hours, when most smoke is absorbed. During the wrapped period the ribs are steamed, making them more tender and loosening the meat from the bone. During the last hour the ribs are exposed to the dry, smoky heat again to form a surface crust.

 The Specifics:

  1. Prep the ribs by removing the membranes and applying your rib rub
  2. Place ribs, bone side down in smoker at 225 degrees F. (108 degrees C.) and cook for three hours. Mop ribs every 20 minutes .
  3. Wrap ribs tightly in aluminum foil to form an airtight seal, return to smoker bone side up and smoke for 2 hours
  4. Unwrap ribs and return to smoker bone side down for 1 hour
  5. Apply sauce to ribs (if you want) during the last 20 to 30 minutes of the cooking time

Variations: The 3-2-1 method is specifically designed for pork spareribs and the timing works best for that cut of rib. If you prefer back ribs then you should use a 2-2-1 method for the ribs or they will get overcooked and dry out. If long term smoking isn’t something you are up to you can place wrapped ribs in the oven and finish them off (at a low temperature) on a grill or in the oven. Since most of the smoke flavor is delivered in the first three hours this method won’t affect the overall outcome too much.

The Downside: The 3-2-1- method gives you tender, fall of the bone ribs. Most people think this is the pinnacle of smoked ribs. However it probably won’t win you any barbecue competitions. For many people a good rib as meat that holds the bone but doesn’t stick to it. In other words the meat should pull away cleanly from the bone when you bite, but certainly not fall off. The wrapped cooking causes steaming and the steaming loosens the meat from the bones. Of course, not wrapping your ribs means you run the risk of dry, tough ribs.

Rub Recipe

  • 1/3 cup/80 mL paprika
  • 3 tablespoons/45 mL dry mustard
  • 3 tablespoons/45 mL onion powder
  • 3 tablespoons/45 mL garlic powder
  • 2 tablespoons/30 mL ground basil
  • 1 tablespoon/15 mL black pepper
  • 1 tablespoon/15 mL salt
  • 2 teaspoons/10 mL red pepper (1 tablespoon/15 mL if you want it hot)
  • Prep Time: 5 minutes
  • Total Time: 5 minutes
  • Yield: Makes about 1 1/4 cup


Combine all ingredients. Store in an airtight container. When applying to ribs, coat heavily and massage into the meat. If you want to make a sweet rub add 2 tablespoons/30 mL of brown sugar.

Rib Mop


  • 1 cup/240 mL water
  • 1/4 cup/60 mL white vinegar
  • 3 tablespoons/45 mL paprika
  • 2 tablespoons/30 mL dry mustard
  • 1 tablespoon/15 mL onion powder
  • 1 tablespoon/15 mL garlic powder
  • 1 tablespoon/15 mL ground basil
  • 1 tablespoon/15 mL red pepper
  • 2 teaspoons/10 mL black pepper
  • Prep Time: 15 minutes
  • Total Time: 15 minutes
  • Yield: Makes about 2 cups


Combine all ingredients. Store in an airtight container. Apply to ribs while they are smoking repeatedly in small amounts. You don’t want to wash the ribs down, but lightly apply to keep the surface moist.

Barbecue Sauce


  • 2 cups/475 ketchup
  • 1/3 cup/80 mL brown sugar
  • 1/4 cup/60 mL minced onion
  • 2 tablespoons/30 mL olive oil
  • 2 tablespoons/30 mL water
  • 3 cloves garlic crushed
  • 1 tablespoon/15 mL apple cider vinegar
  • 1 tablespoon/15 mL tomato paste
  • 1 tablespoon/15 mL Worcestershire sauce
  • 1 teaspoon/5 mL liquid smoke
  • 1 teaspoon/5 mL dry mustard
  • 1/2 teaspoon/2.5 mL cayenne
  • fresh ground pepper to taste
  • Prep Time: 10 minutes
  • Cook Time: 20 minutes
  • Total Time: 30 minutes
  • Yield: Makes about 3 cups/700 mL


Blend onion and water into a puree. Heat a medium sauce pan over a medium heat. Add olive oil. When oil is warm, pour in onion puree. Simmer until slightly browned. Add remaining ingredients. Mix thoroughly and simmer for about 20 minutes.

Suggested Sides- Beans, Cole Slaw, Corn on the Cob

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