3 2 1 Ribs
Ribs are a delicious and popular cut of meat you can find at the supermarket. However, cooking ribs (beef or pork) on the stovetop requires a lot of attention and time. Because they are so delicious people want to cook them as much as possible, but it’s just not worth it for some people.
This is why we developed the 3-2-1 rib method: three hours of smoking and then two hours wrapped in foil and one more hour back into the smoke. The result is the most tender ribs you have ever had, without spending all day on barbecue duty! In this article, we will show you exactly how to cook ribs using the 3-2-1 method.
What are ribs?
Ribs are the meat on top of a ribcage, which is an extension of the spine that protects vital organs. There are four pairs of ribs in most mammals, with the bones being shaped similar to a mirror – two thin bones meet at each end and are joined by thin strips of bone along their length.
There are three types of meat on the ribs: ribeye (the most tender), baby back ribs (middle-fat content), and short ribs or flanken-style.
One slab usually consists of 12-16 bones, so if you have one slab this equates to 24-32 individual pieces. A typical slab will weigh between 1.5kg and 3kg. Pork spareribs come from the belly of the pig while beef spareribs come from the steer.
Pork ribs are meatier because they have less bone, so if you buy them look for bones with a lot of meat on them. When you are buying beef ribs, look for slabs that are well covered in meat – these will have more flavor.
What are some good ways to cook ribs?
There are many ways to cook ribs, but all of them involve cooking for a long time at low temperatures.
Sous vide is one way to do this (where you vacuum-seal the meat and then cook it in a water bath) but this requires special equipment that not everyone has access to.
Another popular choice is slow cooker recipes, which fall into two categories: crockpot or pressure cooker. With either method, the ribs will take eight hours minimum (and sometimes more). Because they are cooked slowly like this it’s OK if you leave them on all day, even overnight with these methods.
Ribs can also be smoked over a pit fire with wood chips or chunks, where they will need six hours or more.
Smoking ribs on the stovetop doesn’t require any special equipment (other than a smoker box, obviously) and you can cook them for three hours in one go.
What is the 3-2-1 ribs method?
The 3-2-1 rib method is perfect if you are cooking ribs for a casual occasion. You can make them on the weekend or even during the week – if you start early enough they’ll be ready in time for dinner! We developed this easy rib recipe to save people who don’t have all day to babysit their barbecue some trouble, but also because it’s delicious and produces amazing results. Even though smoking ribs isn’t that difficult it does require attention every 30 minutes or so, but with this method, you only need to check on your meat twice – once after three hours and again after six hours. The result is fall-off-the-bone tender ribs with a nice smoky crust.
Why should you use the 3-2-1 methods?
If you are cooking for more than four or five people, it can be hard to manage the wood chips when using a smoker.
Three hours of smoking time gives the ribs enough time to absorb smoky flavor and become tender. Wrapping in foil at this point preserves moisture and makes them even more tender – this step is usually only done in restaurants because most home cooks don’t want to do double-duty with ovens or grills. Finally, you will need to re-smoke them after they come out of the foil before serving – if not, they will seem underdone because they will look wet.
3-2-1 ribs method explained:
The 3-2-1 ribs method is an easy way to cook ribs so that they are tender and delicious, even if you’re short of time. This cooking technique involves cooking them low and slow (for three hours) then wrapping them in foil (the ‘foiling’ stage), before finishing them off in the oven (the ‘resting’). Finally, unwrap their foil package and place the ribs back in the oven for around 30 minutes to make them sticky, caramelized, and delicious.
You will need:
Spare or loin back ribs – make sure you buy meaty ones with a decent amount of fat running through them. They should have a good color to them, too
Barbecue sauce (if required)
Large sheet of foil cut so that it’s big enough to completely wrap the ribs once they have been cooked
A metal rack – this is used in between the ribs and baking tray so that air can circulate around both sides of your meat while it cooks. This helps your meat cook more evenly, absorb smoke more easily, and also speeds up cooking time
Tray – big enough to hold the ribs while they are being cooked so that you don’t have to move them while they’re cooking. If your baking tray is too small then this won’t be a problem, but it’s important that if your ribs do start drip-cooking their juices next to the oven, you can close the door before any steam from the meat lands on your clean oven walls or racks
- Mix salt and brown sugar together and rub it into the meat side of the ribs
- Place the ribs on a metal rack in an aluminum tray and position them so that they aren’t touching each other
- Put the tray on the lowest shelf of your oven with a roasting pan underneath to catch any drips (this will help keep your oven clean)
- Set your oven temperature to 230°C (446°F). If you have a convection function, turn it on – this will speed up cooking time by circulating hot air around the food and creating more even heat distribution (it won’t change the taste). We don’t recommend using convection for beef or lamb ribs, however.
- After three hours, turn the ribs over to cook for another two hours on their bone side
- When the time is up, wrap them in foil and return them to the oven until they are ready (for beef, lamb, or other meats this will be after another hour; for pork ribs, it should be after six hours total cooking time)
- After an hour unwrap the ribs and place them back in your oven to finish cooking uncovered – you should leave them in here for 30 minutes or enough to make sure that they are fully cooked through
8 . Re-apply barbecue sauce if required but give it at least five minutes before serving so that the meat has a chance to absorb the sauce and it can set
- Remove ribs from the baking tray and place them on a large plate. If you have cooked them at 230°C, they will be tender enough to pull apart with your hands – if not, finish in a hot pan for two minutes or so until caramelized
You can easily add flavor to your ribs by using a rub. In this case, salt and pepper is the favored choice but you can add garlic powder, onion powder, cayenne pepper, or any other spices that you think might work well with your ribs.
What types of smokers should you use?
There are types of smokers that are good for the 3-2-1 ribs: gas smokers, electric smokers, charcoal, pellet smokers all work very well. What type of smoker you want to use is up to you!
Gas smokers: These are very popular for smoking BBQ because they usually give you the best results. A gas smoker is easy to use, heats up quickly, and can maintain a constant temperature throughout the entire cooking process. Basically, it does all the difficult work for you!
Electric smokers: These tend to be cheaper than gas smokers but often take a little bit longer to heat up and cool down when in use. They also struggle to regulate their internal temperature in windy conditions or when cooking at lower temperatures (under 120 C / 250 F).
Charcoal smokers: Charcoal works well when using this method – you will need to add wood chips or chunks into your charcoal for added flavor during long cooks. You can even add wood pellets into your gas smoker if that’s what you have!
Pellet smokers: This is a recent addition to the smoker market and I’m a huge fan. Pellets work very well with this recipe because they are so clean and easy to use – no mess or fuss! Most pellet smokers give good results when cooking ribs in the 3-2-1 method, but keep an eye on your temperature if your smoker tends to run high.
What types of wood chips should you use?
There are lots of different types of wood chips that you can use when smoking ribs with this method. If you’re using a gas smoker, the “smoke” setting on your machine should work well for most woods – just make sure they are soaked in water before you add them! If you are using charcoal or pellets instead, here are some good choices:
Hickory: Good strong flavor. One word of warning though – too much hickory smoke can sometimes leave your ribs tasting bitter so don’t go overboard!
Mesquite: A favorite among many pitmasters, mesquite has a very distinct flavor that works amazingly well with beef and lamb meat. Unfortunately, it’s not the best choice you have allergies to tree nuts so watch out!
Oak: A milder wood than hickory or mesquite, oak is truly versatile. It works well with many flavors and foods so you can rarely go wrong when adding it to your smoker.
Apple & Cherry: Similar to oak in their flavor profile, these lighter woods are perfect for pork ribs. Apple will work really well but don’t use too much – just a handful of wood chips should be enough to give your ribs that delicate apple flavor. If you want to add some cherry to the mix instead, make sure you use half apple half cherry (or even quarter if you want it mild). NOTE: Do not soak fruit woods like apple and cherry when using them for smoking meat! They will only make your ribs soggy and spoil the taste.
Do NOT use: I’ve been asked a few times if you can use mesquite to smoke ribs indoors. The answer is no, don’t do it! You really need the oxygen from your outdoor grill or smoker to make good BBQ but that’s not possible with an enclosed indoor kitchen… so the answer is no. Don’t try it!
Good charcoals to use:
Charcoals are really easy to use when making these ribs – just get the coals glowing hot before adding them into your BBQ pit. Here are some good choices:
Lump charcoal: This is my favorite fuel to use when smoking ribs because it burns clean and has a high heat output. Lump charcoal also gives you more flexibility – if your smoker gets too hot, just add handfuls of unlit lump charcoal into your grill to reduce the temperature. Once you’ve got the heat down again, throw on a new load of lit coals and keep going!
Kingsford Original Charcoal briquets: These are very popular for smoking BBQ but they don’t give out as much heat as lump coal does. However, they do work well in smokers that have trouble maintaining steady temperatures throughout long cooks (electric or gas smokers).
What else will I need? Here’s a list of some accessories that will help you make the best ribs ever:
BBQ mitts – You definitely don’t want to burn your fingers when checking on the heat of your coal fire, so pick up a pair of our 8″ BBQ Mitts! Longer gloves are also recommended if you’re going to be putting meat into or taking it out of an oven or grill.
Meat thermometer – Forget guessing how well your ribs cooked and use a proper digital smoker instead. They’re cheap and they’ll give you an accurate reading in just a few seconds! If you already have a grill thermometer, try placing it at a grate level for more accurate readings throughout long cooks.
Heavy-duty aluminum foil – To wrap those ribs tight before putting them back into your smoker or grill. You can also use foil pans to hold water or other liquids for even more flavor.
A spray bottle – Not only is this useful for spraying on some water so the skin doesn’t dry out, but you can also spritz apple juice onto your meat at regular intervals to keep it moist and add an extra punch of flavor. Combined with a BBQ mitt, these are two must-have accessories that will make cooking ribs indoors or outdoors much easier!
Good sauces to smoke ribs with the 3-2-1 method:
You need some good sauce to make these ribs amazing! I’ve included my three favorite BBQ sauces that work exceedingly well with this method of cooking.
Stubbs Original Bar-B-Q Sauce – Stubbs is one of the most popular BBQ brands in Texas and it’s really easy to see why. It’s got a mild heat level that works well with pork meat and it gives your ribs an amazing flavor. Just apply right before putting them back into your smoker for the best results!
Good ol’ Sweet Baby Ray’s – This sweet sauce has become extremely popular over the past few decades for its sweet taste and ability to keep the meat moist even when cooked at high temperatures. You can use it straight out of the bottle for medium heat or add some extra spices (ground red chili, soy sauce, or garlic) to make it hotter.
Homemade BBQ sauce recipe – It’s time you learn how to make your own barbeque sauce! My own recipe is pretty easy and doesn’t take too much effort: Get good quality ketchup (I like Heinz), add in some Worcestershire, brown sugar, and mustard and that’s it! Add some cayenne for extra heat and you’re all set!
That’s about it really. Just remember that these ribs need several hours of cooking so plan accordingly. The more patient you are, the better the result will be when eating these delicious pork ribs!
How to make your own rubs and marinades
If you do not want to buy a pre-made rub or marinade then you can always make your own! This way, you can be sure about what goes inside and still impress your dinner guests with the tasty flavors you can bring out in meats like ribs.
The first step is to decide whether you’re going for sweet, spicy, or smoky flavor profiles when creating your rib rub. Below are some examples of each type.
Sweet – Sugar, brown sugar, molasses, and honey. Basic ingredients for this type would include salt, pepper, and other spices like garlic powder and chili powder if desired along with other ingredients such as onion powder and dried mustard if desired. Sweet rubs should be cooked on the meat for a short amount of time.
Spicy – Cayenne pepper, hot sauce, and garlic plus other spices like onion powder and cumin. For this type, you should cook it low and slow (on the smoker) in order to make sure that all of the ingredients can properly infuse with the meat without imparting any char or burnt flavor.
Smoky – If you want a smokier end result then mix your rub completely in advance with your favorite flavored woodchips such as mesquite! Make sure to add brown sugar for sweetness which will help balance out some of that smokiness when cooking over charcoal or gas grills.
What sides do you serve with smoked ribs?
Smoked ribs go great with almost any side dish! Here’s a list of popular options:
Potato salad – It’s traditional to serve a simple potato salad with these ribs. Just boil your potatoes, add in some mayo and pickles, and you’re ready to go!
Coleslaw – Heavy on the veggies but not so much on flavor? Try smoking up a batch of coleslaw to pair with your pork ribs for extra flavor. You can also add hard-boiled eggs and cream if desired for an even more delicious taste that melts into the coleslaw mix.
Cornbread – Regular cornbread is great but I like my cornbread topped with cheese and jalapenos (jalapeno cheddar) which melts into a wonderful little treat that goes awesome with smoked ribs!
Greenbeans – Add some veggies to the mix and serve these delicious green beans alongside your meat. You can also smoke up some asparagus or other vegetables if desired to make a complete meal.
Macaroni and cheese – A classic side dish, mac n’ cheese is delicious for dinner parties and large gatherings. Just make sure you have enough for everybody!
A lot of people drink beer when it comes to pairing with ribs but I prefer having a nice glass of wine instead. It’s much easier on the stomach, goes well with other side dishes, and pairs nicely with the smoky flavor that pork rib meat has to offer.
Here are some great wines to serve alongside your smoked ribs:
Merlot – A rich red wine that is truly wonderful for smoking up ribs in your smoker or grill. Just make sure you serve at room temperature!
Pinot Noir – If you want something cheaper than Merlin then go with Pinot Noir which is another excellent choice when serving alongside ribs. Pairs well with lighter foods like chicken too!
Cabet Sauvignon – This is my go-to wine when I’m serving smoked ribs! It’s got a lot of flavors but isn’t so strong that it overpowers the meat. Just make sure you serve at room temperature!
Sauvignon Blanc – A nice white wine for those who prefer something lighter on the palette. Goes well with most foods, especially seafood and poultry dishes.
Tips for smoking with the 3-2-1 methods
There are a few things you can do to make your ribs taste even better when smoking them up! All of these tips are for those who are using the 3-2-1 method.
Use the 3-2-1 method with baby back ribs instead of spareribs.
After you remove the ribs from the smoker, cut each rack in half before putting them back inside for another hour to make sure they are fully cooked! Remove them again and enjoy!
For maximum smoke flavor, I like tossing a few chunks of hickory or mesquite into my smoker box any time I’m smoking up ribs. Experiment with different types of woodchips to see which ones taste best!
Brining is an excellent way to ensure your meat is moist so try brining your ribs at least one day ahead or overnight before throwing them on the grill/smoker. This will work especially well if you are using the 3-2-1 method.
After removing your ribs from the smoker, you can simply wrap them in foil and let them sit for a few minutes before serving. The juices will soak into the meat and make it that much more delicious! Just make sure to unwrap right before serving because if you do this ahead of time then the meat will get soggy.
Common mistakes when smoking ribs
Here are some of the most common mistakes people make when they smoke ribs so you can avoid them!
Not removing the membrane – Removing the membrane is crucial for any smoker’s rib recipe because it ensures that your ribs will taste delicious. Not only does it get in the way of cooking meat properly but causes excess fat to sit on top of your meat which can ruin its flavor.
Removing too much fat – Pork spareribs have a lot of fat on/around them and if you cut off too much then your meat won’t taste that great or be as tender anymore. Just remove what you need depending on how big your slab is!
Cooking at too high a temperature – If you are using charcoal, make sure your smoker/grill is hot, but not too hot! If you are smoking with wood then keep the temperature between 225-250 F. Make sure to use a meat thermometer to check if your ribs are ready or not!
Not letting the meat rest after removing from the smoker – Letting meat rest for a few minutes before cutting into it allows the juices inside to redistribute, making each bite more delicious than ever! Make sure that none of your guests cut into your meat before letting them rest.
So there you have everything you need to know about smoking with wine and why it makes such a great pairing to just about any smoked meat! Go ahead and try it out the next time you are smoking meat so that your dinner guests can fully appreciate what you have worked so hard for!
What are some good 3-2-1 ribs recipes?
Here are some quick and easy 3-2-1 ribs recipes that you can try out for yourself! It yields some delicious results that will leave your family and guests begging for more.
3-2-1 Spareribs Recipe
5 lbs of pork spare ribs (St. Louis cut)
For the dry rub:
Whole black peppercorns, 1 tablespoon of coarse sea salt, and/or garlic powder/onion powder to taste.
Prepare your smoker so it reaches a temperature of 225 F. Rinse the ribs under cold water and pat dry with paper towels. Cut into slab portions if they are not already in slab form when you purchase them from your butcher or local supermarket. Apply barbecue dry rub to all sides of the ribs generously. Place them on your smoker rack and smoke until cooked (you can use a meat thermometer to check the temperature).
This usually takes anywhere from 3 hours to 5 hours, depending on how hot you are keeping the heat. When the ribs are done, wrap them in foil then place them back into your smoker for another two hours. Once they have finished cooking through, remove from the foil (they should be very tender now) and apply more dry rub if you so desire before placing them back onto your grill for an additional hour.
Once they have finished smoking, spray each slab with some apple juice to help give it that delicious shine! Remove once again and let rest for at least five minutes before serving or cutting into individual ribs. You should also remove the bones to give your guests an easier experience when enjoying these delicious ribs!
3-2-1 Ribs Recipe for 3 lbs of Pork Spareribs
5 cloves of garlic, crushed or minced
½ cup brown sugar, packed
¼ cup granulated sugar, packed
2 teaspoons salt
1 tablespoon mustard powder (optional)
Optional dry rub ingredients: Whole black peppercorns, 1 tablespoon of coarse sea salt, and/or garlic powder/onion powder to taste.
Rinse the ribs under cold water and pat dry with paper towels. Cut into slab portions if they are not already in slab form when you purchase them from your butcher or local supermarket. Combine all ingredients listed under sauce in a medium saucepan over low heat until it begins to simmer. Place the ribs in a large baking dish and pour half of your sauce over them. Reserve the other half for serving after they have finished cooking. Bake uncovered at 325 degrees F for 3 hours or until ribs are very tender. Remove from oven, apply additional ¼ cup of brown sugar if desired, then place back into the oven with sauce side up for another 2-3 hours (depending on how hot you are keeping your oven), or until sauce begins to caramelize.
Remove from oven and let rest for 5 minutes before enjoying! Optional step: remove bones once cooled down enough to handle! Enjoy!
3-2-1 Ribs Recipe with Jack Daniel’s BBQ Sauce
½ cup ketchup
¼ cup unsalted butter
½ cup apple cider vinegar or white wine vinegar
6 tbsp molasses
1 heaping tablespoon brown sugar, packed
2 tablespoons Jack Daniel’s whiskey (or any other kind of whiskey you prefer)
Various dry rub ingredients to your liking.
Place the ribs in a large baking dish and pour half of your sauce over them. Reserve the other half for serving after they have finished cooking. Bake uncovered at 325 degrees F for 3 hours or until ribs are very tender. Remove from oven, apply an additional ¼ cup of brown sugar if desired, then place back into the oven with sauce side up for another 2-3 hours (depending on how hot you are keeping your oven), or until sauce begins to caramelize. Remove from oven and let rest for 5 minutes before enjoying! Optional step: remove bones once cooled down enough to handle! Enjoy!
What kind of meat is best used for 3-2-1 ribs?
This method will work with just about any kind of ribs, including baby back and spareribs!
What’s the easiest way to get the membrane off all my ribs?
Place your hand on top of a rib and slide a butter knife under the membrane. Once you have a good hold on it, quickly pull it off so that it doesn’t rip. Use kitchen shears to cut through stubborn spots if you need to!
Do I need to use wood chunks/chips when smoking ribs in this method?
Yes, adding smoke flavor from these sources will give your ribs that delicious taste that associates with barbecue restaurants everywhere! If you are charcoal then keep an eye on your smoker box to make sure that you are getting enough smoke.
What kind of barbecue sauce should I use on my ribs?
There’s no wrong answer here, but most people like using hickory-flavored or mesquite-flavored barbecue sauces with this method! However, feel free to experiment and see what is your favorite type of sauce for smoking ribs!
How long do I need to let my ribs rest after removing them from the smoker?
Let them rest for at least 5-10 minutes before serving, making sure that nobody cuts into your food! Cut into one of the slabs and make sure it’s not too hot inside before letting everybody dig in.
How do you choose a good rib?
There are three things that you should look for when choosing your ribs:
1) The meat needs to be bright pink and somewhat shiny. This means it’s fresh!
2) The ribs need to have a little bit of fat on them, but not too much. Just enough so that the meat doesn’t dry out while cooking.
3) Good smoky aroma- this might be obvious, but if there is no smokey smell then chances are your ribs weren’t cooked properly! It could also mean they were overcooked which produces an unpleasant flavor.
Why do my ribs come out tough after the 3-2-1 method?
If your ribs come out tough or overcooked then it means you either started smoking them too early in the day and they finished cooking when you were sleeping (yes this happens sometimes!) or that you didn’t cut into your ribs in time and let them rest!
Are ribs healthy to eat?
Ribs are one of the healthier cuts of meat you can eat. You’ll be getting a lot of protein, but not much fat or carbohydrates.
What is the nutrition information of ribs?
According to Nutrition Data, one serving of spareribs is 4 oz. and contains about:
* 240 calories
* 22g protein
* 10g fat (5g sat fat)
Ribs also contain zinc, niacin, thiamine, riboflavin B6, and pantothenic acid! So there you have it- now you can make your friends think that they are eating healthy when they eat ribs!
Where can I get good prices on quality ribs?
Obviously, the cheapest place you can purchase great quality rib is from your local butcher shop. But if you don’t have one, grocery stores are starting to carry better cuts of meat as well. You might have to spend an extra buck or two but it’s worth not having to go through the hassle of hunting down an independent butcher shop.
Can you freeze pork ribs?
Yes, you can freeze ribs! However, freezing will change their texture so try to use them within 6 months if possible. If you’re unsure about when your ribs were frozen then just play it on the safe side and don’t hesitate to throw them out if they’ve gone bad! A lot of people won’t dare eat something that has passed its “best by” date regardless of whether or not it’s still good- so be sure to follow these guidelines for optimum flavor and freshness.
How do I reheat leftover ribs?
I usually like making my own leftovers into pulled pork sandwiches, but you can also go as intricate as re-constituting them into a more traditional style of rib.
If you’re using spareribs, just cut them into small pieces and place them in a frying pan with some water to warm them up! If you’d rather not do that then baking ribs is always an option too!
Do cold ribs taste the same as hot ribs?
Nope. Chilling your food will cool down all those flavor compounds so your ribs won’t have nearly as much depth of flavor if they are consumed cold. But on the flip side, it’s far healthier! At the end of the day though, there isn’t an absolute answer since everyone has their own opinion on this matter (so don’t feel like you’re offending anyone if you like cold ribs!).
So there you have it! The 3-2-1 ribs method is really just a guideline for cooking delicious spareribs. Just remember that when it comes to choosing, smelling, tasting, or cutting into ribs, go with your instinct and everything should be good in the ‘cue family!