The third episode of Becoming a Backyard BBQ Master is here! Today, Evan will attempt to smoke his first rack of ribs, using the popular 3-2-1 method.

Evan loves ribs. They are a top 3 favorite food, and there is nothing like them when they can fall right off the bone. The first attempt was a success! The 3-2-1 method makes cooking perfect ribs surprisingly easy. Watch everything in the video below, or you can find the directions, recipe, and lessons learned from Evan below!

Why the 3-2-1 Method for Cooking Ribs?

When I eat ribs, my goal is to be able to lick the meat right off the bone. I don’t want to fight with the meat or work too hard. Some people would say this is too tender, but not me. And since I’m cooking ribs in my own backyard, I’m going to cook them the way I like them!

The 3-2-1 Method is an awesome way to achieve that fall-off-the-bone consistency with ribs. It’s popular because it’s easy and consistent. Since this was my first time, I decided to try it.

Here is a quick overview on how the 3-2-1 Method works for smoking amazing ribs:

3: Smoke spare ribs over indirect heat for 3 hours (or 2 hours if you’re using baby back ribs). This gives the smoke flavor from your wood a chance to cook into the meat.

2: Wrap the ribs in aluminum foil and smoke them for 2 more hours. It’s popular to add some kind of liquid inside the foil to give it extra moisture.

1: Remove the foil and coat the ribs in barbecue sauce. Smoke for 1 more hour.

Since I was cooking baby back ribs instead of spare ribs, this really became the 2-2-1 method for cooking ribs. Baby Back Ribs are a good bit thinner than spare ribs so they don’t need to cook as long.

Materials Required

As usual, I’m going to describe the food ingredients I used, plus the grilling equipment:

As far as the ribs go, this is a pretty simple recipe with only a few ingredients:

  • Spare ribs or baby back ribs
  • Dry rub for the ribs
  • Liquid mixture for step 2 – I followed a great recipe from Hey Grill Hey
    • 1 cup of apple cider or apple juice
    • 1/4 cup dark brown sugar
    • 2-3 tbsp salted butter
  • Your favorite BBQ sauce

Hickory Smoking Chunks - Large BoxFor grilling equipment, here is what I used:

I chose hickory smoking wood chunks because I love bold flavors, and nothing is more bold than hickory. It’s an awesome cooking wood, and you can really tell the difference when you cook with it. The chunks from Cutting Edge provide a nice, clean burn that is so good!

Step-by-Step Guide to Cooking Ribs with the 3-2-1 Method

Preparing and cooking these ribs was surprisingly easy. I’ve had bad ribs so many times in life I figured it would be tougher (pun intended).

But the 3-2-1 Method really simplifies things. Here is everything I did, step by step:

1. Start preparation the night before (or several hours before) the meat goes on the grill:

  • If you’re cooking Baby Back Ribs, there is a membrane that needs to be removed. Weber has a helpful explanation about removing the membrane.
  • Apply the dry rub to the ribs. Rub it all over and let it soak into the meat for several hours.

Ribs with Dry Rub

2. When it’s almost time to start, preheat the smoker to 235 degrees. If you’re using a mix of charcoal and cooking wood chunks like me, then get the charcoal lit first. You don’t add the cooking wood chunks until the grill is heated. I always like to let the meat sit at room temperature while the grill preheats as well, as this helps everything cook more evenly.

3. Once you’re ready to put the ribs in the smoker, add your smoking wood chunks to the fire. Immediately after adding the wood, add the ribs with the bone side pointing down. If you’re using quality cooking wood chunks like the ones from Cutting Edge Firewood, they’ll ignite quickly and burn slowly, providing flavorful smoke for hours.

Hickory Cooking Wood Chunks for Smoking Ribs

4. Set the timer for 2 or 3 hours (depending on if you’re smoking baby back ribs or spare ribs). Don’t touch anything while it smokes!

5. Once the timer goes off, remove the ribs from the grill and place them on aluminum foil. Keep the grill closed so it maintains the right temperature. Add the liquid mixture to the ribs and wrap them in aluminum foil tightly. I recommend rolling the foil up to prevent liquid from dropping out into the bottom of the grill. Once complete, open the smoker and place the ribs, wrapped in foil, with the bone side up. Set the timer for 2 hours again.

3-2-1 Ribs - Step 2

6. After 2 hours, remove the ribs from the grill again. Unwrap the foil and flip the ribs over so the bone side is facing down. Brush the ribs with your favorite BBQ sauce and then place back onto the grill. Set timer for 1 hour.

7. Once the final timer goes off, the ribs should be done! Your BBQ sauce should be caramelized and the ribs should be crazy tender.

3-2-1 Ribs that are complete8. You say “OH YEAH!” and wait as patiently as possible for them to cool down enough for you to eat them without burning yourself.

And that’s it! The process takes a few hours, but the flavor and tenderness is unbelievable. Even my infant daughter, who had only been eating solid foods for a few weeks, loved them.

Lessons Learned

Each episode, I want to share a few lessons I learned. Today I have 3 things (although only 2 of them are actually serious):

  1. Don’t work on food over the open grill! For my final step, I made a big mistake. I tried to remove the ribs from the foil over the grill. This meant a lot of liquid spilled out into my coals which cooled everything down. It also meant copious amounts of steam and smoke got in my eyes. To make matters worse, I then covered them with BBQ sauce over the open grill. Although I didn’t spill anything, it still meant that more heat was lost to my open grill. It’s much better to remove the ribs at each step, and then treat them on the side with the smoker closed.
  2. Cook more ribs if you have the space: I seriously loved these ribs and know that next time I will fit as many as possible into the smoker. Fortunately I’ve got the Primo XL400 and it can fit a lot of food!
  3. Remove the membrane before adding the dry rub: I didn’t realize there was a membrane to remove from the baby back ribs until after I had applied the dry rub and let it sit overnight. The membrane prevented the dry rub from getting into the meat so it would have been better to remove earlier.

Conclusion

Making ribs using the 3-2-1 method was an awesome way to do it for the first time. Frankly, I’ll probably continue using the same method for awhile because it was so good. I loved the smoky flavor that came from the hickory chunks and the tender texture of the meat. You can try out our hickory smoking chunks yourself or, if you want to try a few different woods then give try a box of our Variety Pack Smoking Chunks.

I knew it was a success when I shared some with family and their eyes lit up when they tried it for themselves.

So there you go! If I can make awesome ribs, then you can too. Share your comments, tricks or tips with us in the comments!