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The Best BBQ Ribs You’ll Ever Have! (Using 3-2-1 Method)

How to cook the best BBQ ribs you’ll ever have using the 3-2-1 method.

Let’s talk about smoked BBQ ribs! Ever notice how sometimes the ribs at your favorite BBQ joint just turn out so much better than the ones you make at home? Would you like to know some secrets? I’m going to share with you a recipe for what I believe will be the best ribs you’ve ever had, even if you’ve never cooked them before.

Main Ingredients:

  • 2 Full slabs of St. Louis Style Ribs
  • Any type of mustard
  • Rib Rub (3 full recipes for a homemade rub below)
  • Stick of Butter
  • Honey
  • Brown Sugar
  • Apple juice (Can also use peach juice)
  • BBQ Sauce (KC Style recipe provided below)

Explanation of 321: The 3-2-1 method is about dividing up sections of the cook time into three sections. Here is what it means: 3 hours meat side up, 2 hours wrapped in foil meat side down, and finally 1 more hour (unwrapped) meat side up to finish. 6 hours on the smoker!

Usually this involves a temp of 225 degrees. For the first three hours, the ribs are smoking with the meat side up. After three hours the rub is set and a lot of smoke flavor has been absorbed, so the Pitmaster will remove the ribs from the smoker and wrap them in foil with some additional ingredients. The next two hours involve placing the ribs meat side down wrapped in foil, and essentially simmering them at 225 degrees. Finally, the ribs are removed from the foil, placed back on the smoker meat side up again, and coated in the Pitmaster’s BBQ sauce of choice (recipe below if you’d like to try.)

Recommendations for charcoal and wood: I’m using lump charcoal in my offset smoker with apple wood. Any fruit wood will do, as well as pecan or a mix of the two. I’ve also mixed apple and hickory in the past. If all you have is post oak from cooking some Texas Brisket, that will be just fine as well. And if you haven’t yet smoked a Texas Brisket, find out how HERE.

Trim and Rub: First of all, I’m using a Saint Louis Cut of ribs here. Note these are not baby backs (which are from a completely different part of the animal) and not untrimmed pork spareribs (that require a lot more trimming). For your first time, the Saint Louis cut is likely the most stress free way to go. A full untrimmed pork sparerib can be a really great way to save money and get a lot more meat, but you’ll need to learn how to properly trim them and make sure you get all the bone fragments. That’s for another another video.

Some folks will cut off each end of the ribs to make a more uniform looking rack of ribs, but let’s be honest: you aren’t cooking these for a competition! You want to eat these things! So other than some random pieces of fat or some meat that is sticking out awkwardly, I’m not going to trim much.

We’ll go ahead and peel off the membrane on the bone side of the ribs. I usually do this by using a knife to peel up enough of the membrane to grab on to, and most of the time it will come right off in one or two pieces. I always wear gloves so it is easier for me to grab the membrane; a lot of folks find a paper towel is helpful to hold on without it slipping from your fingers. Contrary to what you may see in a lot of videos, removing the membrane in not a life or death situation, and in fact most restaurants you’ve ordered ribs from, don’t bother to do it. I do it when I’m cooking on my offset; if I was hanging the ribs in a barrel smoker, I would probably leave them on to make the ribs just a little less likely to fall apart.

Now that we’ve trimmed our ribs a bit, it is time to apply the rub. Use your favorite rub recipe, or try one of the homemade rub recipes that I use, found in the the link below. Kansas city style rubs use a lot of brown sugar, and Memphis style rubs use less or none. For this type of cook, any type of rub is fine, but if you’re doing a Kansas city style rub with a lot of brown sugar, keep extra watch on your temperatures so the sugar doesn’t burn. If that happens, your ribs may end up with a hint of burnt marshmallow taste, so be forewarned.

When putting on the rub, we are going to use a binder. Most people use mustard, but you can use olive oil or even hot sauce. Whatever works. For a true Kansas city style rub you don’t always need a binder but for pork I always use one. As a pro tip, I lather the bone side and apply rub there first, so that once I put down the rub on the meat side I can put the ribs right on the smoker.

3 hours and how to place them. We’re doing these ribs in the 3-2-1 method, so here is how to place them. On a smaller backyard style smoker, ribs have to be placed the long way, and I can fit only two racks at a time. So if there is an end of the ribs that is obviously thicker than the other, aim that end toward the firebox. For this three hour period I’ll add a water pan inside so the ribs don’t dry out, and will spritz them every 45 minutes or so with a mix of apple cider vinegar and apple juice.

2 hours: After the ribs have been on for about 2.5 hours, it is time to prepare your foil for the two hour, wrapped portion of the cook. I use heavy duty foil; you may want to use two layers to be sure the foil doesn’t leak.

Pitmasters will put all sorts of things inside the foil and it is fun to experiment. For your first time, here is what I suggest: lay down about 4-5 pats on butter across the foil where you’ll be laying the ribs meat side down at the 3 hour mark. Then drizzle a generous amount of honey back and forth over the butter. Next, sprinkle a good amount of brown sugar the length of the area and finally, pour some apple juice on top to help these ingredients blend and provide added moisture for the ribs. Once you remove the ribs and place them meat side DOWN on top of the prepared foil, go ahead and put all the same ingredients right on top of the bone side as well. Then carefully wrap the foil nice and snug, and put the ribs back on the smoker for another two hours.

Final hour: remove the ribs in their foil, carefully unwrap, and put each rack back on the smoker meat side UP. Then coat with your favorite BBQ sauce, and smoke one final hour hour.

After that hour is up, let the ribs rest for roughly 15 minutes and then do your best to slice the rack up evenly. This is where having a thicker slicer blade for ribs is helpful. You will end up hitting a bone a few times so don’t panic.

Check out that sticky bark, and “tender yet firm enough to stay on the bone” meat. Take a bite, and reconsider sharing. You’re going to want to eat all of these things!

KC Style Simple Rub:

  • 1/2 cup brown sugar
  • 1/4 cup smoked paprika
  • 1 tablespoon coarse ground black pepper
  • 1 tablespoon Kosher salt (not table salt)
  • 1 tablespoon chili powder
  • 1 tablespoon garlic powder
  • 1 tablespoon onion powder
  • 1 teaspoon cayenne pepper

KC Savory Rub:

  • 1/2 cup brown sugar
  • 4 teaspoons Kosher salt (not table salt)
  • 4 teaspoons coarse ground black pepper
  • 4 teaspoons smoked paprika
  • 2 teaspoons garlic powder
  • 2 teaspoons onion powder
  • 2 teaspoons ground mustard
  • 1 teaspoon cinnamon
  • 1 teaspoon celery salt
  • 1 teaspoon cayenne pepper

Sugar Free Rub:

  • 2 oz coarse ground pepper
  • 1 oz Kosher salt (not table salt)
  • 2 tablespoons smoked paprika
  • 1 tablespoon garlic powder
  • 1 teaspoon chili powder
  • 1 teaspoon onion powder
  • 1 teaspoon cayenne

KC Style BBQ Sauce (Great for pork and chicken)

Combine all ingredients in a pot and bring to a boil, then simmer on low heat about 15 minutes. This recipe makes a thicker sauce so better to store in jars than squirt bottles.

  • 1 cup ketchup (If you have a favorite, use that one)
  • ¾ cup brown sugar
  • ½ cup apple cider vinegar
  • ½ cup molasses
  • 14 oz can diced tomatoes
  • 1 tablespoon smoked paprika
  • 1 tablespoon Kosher salt (not table salt)
  • 1 tablespoon coarse ground black pepper
  • 1 teaspoon chili powder
  • 1 teaspoon garlic powder
  • 1 teaspoon onion powder
  • 1 teaspoon red pepper flakes
  • 1 teaspoon ground mustard
  • 1 teaspoon cayenne

Links to some essential gear (As an Amazon Associate I earn from qualifying purchases.)

Oklahoma Joe’s Offset Smoker

Mercer Boning Knife:

12 inch Knife Sharpening Rod:

Old Hickory 14 inch

Knife Guards for storage:

Silicone basting brush

Bluetooth Thermometer

“Pink” Butcher Paper 24″

Heavy Duty Aluminum Foil

Large Foil Pans

Medium Size Foil Pans

Written by Daniel Burke

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