3 2 1 Ribs: How to Do It? And Is It Worth Trying?

This article will help you understand how to use the 3-2-1 cooking method and explain how it works, along with providing some useful advice.
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Last updatedLast updated: July 31, 2021
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Barbecuing intimidates beginners because there are a number of factors that play a key role in ensuring the final dish is tender and flavorful with an appealing texture. These include using the right amount of heat and smoke and balancing the rubs and seasoning. One of the almost foolproof techniques you can adopt is the 3-2-1 method which involves a total cooking time of 6 hours. To cook 3 2 1 ribs, you first smoke them on low heat for 3 hours. Next, you wrap them in aluminum foil, add liquid like apple cider, and cook the ribs for 2 hours. After that, unwrap the ribs and apply sauce, and then continue cooking them for one hour.

In our definitive 321 ribs guide, we have provided step-by-step instructions on the three cooking stages and the purpose they serve in optimizing taste and texture. We have also included some of the popular variations.

What is the 3-2-1 cooking method?

3 2 1 Ribs: How to Do It? And Is It Worth Trying?

The 3-2-1 method consists of three stages which add up to 6 hours. The stages may use different temperatures, and the ribs may be wrapped or unwrapped depending on the cooking stage.

The 3-2-1 ribs cooking method is sometimes referred to as Texas Crutch in BBQ cook-offs. Texas is popular for its variety of barbecues Trusted Source The best barbecue in Texas and beyond Growing up in Ohio, Vaughn didn’t truly fall for barbecue until he moved to Dallas more than 16 years ago. It didn’t take long for him to become obsessed, and he started chronicling his weekend journeys across the state on his blog, Full Custom Gospel BBQ, while working as an architect. www.cnn.com which include pork ribs, pulled pork, smoked turkey, and of course, brisket. If you are looking for a smoker for Texas-style barbecue as well as other types of smoked dishes, we recommend Char-Griller E1224 Smokin Pro 830. It comes with a side firebox that increases the total cooking space to 830 square inches and a temperature gauge that maintains a consistent temperature.

After reading through our comprehensive 3-2-1 guide, you will realize that making the fall-off-the-bone ribs that have always been in high demand would be a walk in the park.

How to do the 3-2-1 method?

Below is a detailed explanation of the three steps involved in the 3-2-1 cooking method for ribs.

Smoking ribs for 3 hours

  • Make sure you remove the membrane Trusted Source How to cook sticky spare ribs – recipe | Food | The Guardian The American barbecue classic gets the Felicity Cloake treatment www.theguardian.com ; it does not render and is difficult to chew.
  • 3 2 1 Ribs: How to Do It? And Is It Worth Trying?Prep the ribs by slathering them with rubs such as cayenne pepper, paprika, or mustard.
  • 3 2 1 Ribs: How to Do It? And Is It Worth Trying?Set your grill or smoker at a temperature of 225°F. This low temperature is ideal for infusing a heavy, smoky flavor to your ribs over three hours. We recommend using cherry, maple, or applewood to impart a fruity flavor to pork ribs.
  • 3 2 1 Ribs: How to Do It? And Is It Worth Trying?The fat also begins to render the unwrapped pork spare ribs during this initial cooking stage of 3 hours.
  • If you are smoking baby back ribs, you can reduce the duration of this stage to two hours to prevent them from drying out from prolonged cooking. Make sure that you also use a reliable rack that will cook the ribs evenly. According to most user reviews, these stainless steel Rib Racks have a high smoking capacity and can hold five racks of baby back ribs upright. They are also compatible with traditional ovens, gas, and charcoal grills for versatile use.

Wrapping for 2 hours

3 2 1 Ribs: How to Do It? And Is It Worth Trying?

This is the stage where the seasoned ribs are tenderized to get the popular fall-off-the-bone results. The fat continues to render, and the ribs cook without burning to a crisp.

  • Wrap the ribs in an aluminum foil to lock in the natural juices, heat, and flavor to get tasty ribs with a texture that melts away.
  • This stage also allows you to add dry spices or liquid, or both. Add a little liquid such as apple cider to create flavored steam for additional flavor. The liquid also prevents the ribs from drying out. In addition to apple cider, some people may add butter and brown sugar. Brown sugar helps to balance the heat profile or to mellow the heat of spicy rubs.
  • Smoke the wrapped ribs at a temperature of 225°F for two hours. This is the standard temperature for smoking meat.

Smoking in the sauce for 1 hour

3 2 1 Ribs: How to Do It? And Is It Worth Trying?

This is the final stage of smoking 3 2 1 ribs.

  • Unwrap the ribs and use a basting brush to apply barbecue sauce generously in several thin layers.
  • Next, place them bone-side down and cook them for one hour at 225°F. Be careful not to exceed this time so the sauce can be set without the ribs overcooking or drying out.

Other variations

The 3-2-1 method is mainly used to smoke pork spare ribs because it is specifically designed for that cut of rib. As we had mentioned earlier, there are variations for other types of cuts. For example, the 2-2-1 method is preferred for pork ribs; it is the same as 3-2-1, but the wrapping time is reduced to 2 hours to avoid overcooking or drying out the ribs.

In competitive circles, judges prefer pork ribs with a snap-in their bite. If you prefer the same, you could reduce the wrapped second stage of 3-2-1 to 30 minutes or one hour so the ribs won’t be so tender that they will melt off the bones when you take a bite.

If the 6 hours is too long for you, you could smoke the ribs for 3 hours, then wrap them, and then put them in an oven to continue cooking at low temperature. Most of the smoky flavor is infused in the first three hours anyway. For the last hour, you could cook the ribs on a grill or in the oven.

Final thoughts

The 3-2-1 method entails three hours of smoking ribs, another two hours of smoking them while wrapped with a bit of liquid or dry spices in aluminum foil, and a final hour of smoking the ribs with sauce. Quite a number of people who prefer their meat with a bit of chew reduce the wrapping time to a maximum of one hour, and there are others who would rather not wrap it at all. The latter opinion is popular in competitive cook-offs.

Part of the fun of barbecuing is exploring different types of meat and cuts, ingredients such as spices and sauces, and wood flavors to find your favorite flavor and preferred style. Start with the 3 2 1 ribs, and then you can tweak your cooking style over time if need be.

References

1.
The best barbecue in Texas and beyond
Growing up in Ohio, Vaughn didn’t truly fall for barbecue until he moved to Dallas more than 16 years ago. It didn’t take long for him to become obsessed, and he started chronicling his weekend journeys across the state on his blog, Full Custom Gospel BBQ, while working as an architect.
2.
How to cook sticky spare ribs – recipe | Food | The Guardian
The American barbecue classic gets the Felicity Cloake treatment
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