3 2 1 Ribs: How to Make Fall Off the Bone Smoked Ribs

Most barbeque experts view the barbequing process as a form of art, which requires a lot of skill, experience, knowledge as well as intuition.

Barbequing by numbers, such as using the popular 3-2-1 method for preparing the perfect ribs, is an easy way to achieve that unforgettable taste of mouth-watering ribs and eliminate all of the guesswork during the cooking.

What is the 3-2-1 ribs barbequing method?


This popular method for cooking ribs consists of breaking the barbequing into three consecutive time blocks of 3, 2, and 1 hour.

The 3-2-1 rib BBQ technique includes:

  • 3 hours of smoking the unwrapped ribs at a temperature of 225 degrees Fahrenheit
  • 2 hours of cooking the ribs in apple cider or another liquid wrapped in foil
  • 1 hour of cooking the ribs unwrapped and basted with barbecue sauce at a higher temperature

The method requires a total of 6 hours, but the result is worth it, as you will end up with perfect ribs which will slide off of the bones and with a tender multi-layered taste of the barbeque, which we all love if you follow the technique as instructed.

The method is considered fail-proof when the instructions are followed closely and will ensure that the ribs remain tender and juicy rather than dry and tough.

Find out how to reheat ribs, so they remain juicy and tender

Here is what Steven Raichlen thinks about the 3-2-1 ribs method

Steven Raichlen is the man who revolutionized barbequing and smoking and is an expert and author of multiple books, and TV shows specialized in BBQ and smoking.

He considers the 3-2-1 ribs cooking method an easy to use, but as he calls it, a “safe” way to barbecue ribs.

Still, Raichlen admits that it is likely that more than 95% of the people who try the ribs cooked by the 3-2-1 method will love their tender and moist texture and taste.

But according to the expert and author of multiple books on grilling, this method uses what he has condemned through the years, namely the process of boiling.

The boiling, according to Raichlen, occurs during the second time block, when the ribs are wrapped in foil with a liquid such as beer or apple cider and are left to “boil” in the liquid and their own juices.

This, according to the expert, causes them to lose part of their delicious taste, which becomes “washed-out” during the 2 hours of boiling.

He claims that the true rib experts and connoisseurs, such as the judges trained by the Kansas City Barbeque Society, prefer that the meat retains some of its chewiness and resistance, which can be felt when eating them. These experts generally do not like ribs that can be deboned with a single tug of the fingers or teeth. Plus, their complaint is that the moisture from the cooking in the foil softens the smoky and crusty bark, which is the most highly prized part of barbequed ribs by the pitmasters.

While Raichlen agrees that the first 3 hours of cooking and smoking the ribs is essential for spice-crusted ribs, and so is the last 1 hour of cooking them at a higher temperature with sauce and without wrapping to create the perfect glazing on their surface.

He disagrees with the middle 2 hours, and mainly because the ribs are wrapped and practically boiled in the foil.

Instead, Raichlen supports the 3-1-1 rib cooking method, which consists of smoking the ribs which have been rubbed in a smoker at 250 degrees Fahrenheit for 3 hours. Then wrap the ribs in foil and add ale, beer, apple cider, or another liquid and cook them wrapped with some butter for 1 hour in the smoker or grill. Then remove the foil and add more rub to the ribs, and put them back on the grill or smoker for another hour. The glaze should be applied during the last cooking stage or in the last 30 minutes of the food prep.

You can read the full recipe of the 3-2-1 rib alternative by Steve Raichlen here.

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