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Learning the magic behind the 3-2-1 Ribs Method is going to ensure you get perfectly smoked ribs every time, regardless if you are novice or a pro pit master!
The 3-2-1 Ribs Method is a barbecuing phrase many novice pit-masters-to-be aren’t yet familiar with. However, learning the magic behind this phrase is going to ensure you get perfectly smoked ribs every time!
This is a post I have been looking forward to writing for a long time. I first mentioned the 3-2-1 Rib Method in my insanely popular post detailing how to make BBQ ribs in the oven. Seriously, if you ever want to make ribs indoors, that is the only recipe you need! However, it has long been my intention to do a follow-up post on how to smoke proper BBQ ribs outdoors.
The first step in your quest to reach rib nirvana is selecting the right cut of meat. I recommend Smithfield® Extra Tender Back Ribs, which I picked up at my local Walmart. I like them because not only are pork back ribs extremely meaty, Smithfield® ribs are also hand trimmed and contain no added hormones. You’ll find, when used in conjunction with the 3-2-1 Rib Method, you will get extremely tender smoked ribs every single time, regardless of your skill level!
How to Remove Membrane from Ribs?
Underneath your rack of ribs is a thin membrane that will block seasoning from penetrating the meat, and also be mildly unpleasant to chew. It is always a best practice to remove the membrane from your ribs. The easiest way I have found to do it is to slip a spoon or butter knife between the membrane and bone and gently loosen it up enough that your finger can fit in-between. At this point, you should be able to grab it and pull it straight off. The membrane is slippery against your skin, so I always hold it with a paper towel for added grip.
How to Cook 3-2-1 Ribs
You will want to use a smoker for best results with this recipe; however, a charcoal grill is an acceptable alternative. If using a charcoal grill you will want to set the coals off to the side of a pan of water so you can cook over indirect heat. The water will help maintain a lower temperature and catch any drippings so there aren’t flare-ups. I also highly recommend using a digital thermometer so you are able to ensure the smoking temperature stays in the proper range.
I also always recommend using a dry rub when smoking ribs, even if you plan to lather them with sauce later. Applying a bbq dry rub adds additional flavor to the meat, and some will even prefer to enjoy the ribs sauce free when a flavorful dry rub is used. I previously published a great dry rub for ribs recipe I recommend using. There is a good chance you already have all of the needed seasonings in your pantry! Apply the rub the day before, or right before you start cooking. It will be delicious either way!
Once the ribs are rubbed, you are ready to start the 3-2-1 countdown!
What Are 3-2-1 Ribs?
The “3-2-1” is referencing the number of hours for each stage of cooking:
- 3 hours smoked at 225 degrees, uncovered. This is when the meat is absorbing most of that delectable smoke flavor you crave! Your chunks of hardwood should be added directly on top of the charcoal. If you aren’t sure what hardwood to use, I recommend four chunks of hickory.
- Next, you are going to remove the ribs from the smoker and wrap them in foil with a couple tablespoons of apple juice. The moisture from the juice will be trapped in the tightly wrapped foil ensuring it goes to work tenderizing the meat. You will place the wrapped ribs back in the smoker for 2 hours.
- As I’m sure you guessed by now, the “1” means one hour. You are going to unwrap the ribs from the foil and let them cook uncovered for the final hour. This will allow the meat to firm up, and this is also when BBQ sauce can be added if desired.
When Are Ribs Done?
At this point, you are probably wondering if your ribs are done. The rack of ribs should threaten to crack when picked up, as shown in my picture below, however, they should not “fall off the bone”. That is a barbecuing misnomer. The only ribs that fall off the bone are overcooked ribs. Properly cooked ribs should be tender and gently pull away from the bone with each bite.
3-2-1 Ribs Method
- 1 rack pork spare ribs
- 1 Dry Rub Recipe
- 4 Hickory Chunks
- 2 tablespoon Apple Juice
- Remove the membrane from the back of the ribs. This can be done by inserting a butter knife between the membrane and the rib bone and gently working it open till you can grab it with your fingers and pull it off.
- Season the ribs liberally with your favorite dry rub on both sides. The ribs can be placed in the refrigerator over night to allow the rub to penetrate more deeply, but this isn't necessary.
- Bring your smoker to 225 degrees and add 4 chunks of hickory on top of the charcoal (be sure to refer to the manufacturer's recommendations).
- Keeping the temperature between 225-250 degrees, place the ribs in the smoker for three hours.
- Remove the ribs from the smoker and wrap in foil along with apple juice. Place back in the smoker for two hours.
- Finally, remove from smoker and unwrap. Place back into smoker for one hour and apply BBQ sauce if desired.
- Ribs are done when tender and crack slightly when picked up.
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