3-2-1 Ribs

321 Ribs

Some of you may be saying; “what in the world are 3-2-1 ribs?” Well, 3-2-1-ribs actually refers to a method of barbequing ribs. This method is not something that originates from me and I’m not sure where it started but it’s a method I have learned and used over the years to produce some really great ribs. The numbers relate to the time you cook the ribs on the grill/smoker a certain way. If you like “fall off the bone tender” ribs then you are gonna like this.

You will need to have some understanding of smoking ribs to do this, if you don’t, check out my article Smoking Ribs – The Basics where I cover some essential things.

The 3-2-1 numbers correspond to some simple steps in cooking fall off the bone tender ribs. The first is the number 3. This tells me how long to cook my ribs uncovered on the grill, 3 hours. The second number is 2. This applies to the time to cook the ribs in foil on the grill, and the last number is 1. This tells me how long to cook the ribs uncovered once again on the grill until they are finished.

Now that sounds simple and the 3-2-1 cooking method is easy but there are a few thing you need to know about each step in the process, and I will cover them in more detail.


The 3-2-1 Ribs start out the same way as prepping the ribs I outlined in Smoking Ribs – The Basics. The (3) applies to you allowing the ribs to cook for 3 hours before doing anything to them. It is important that you allow them to cook without you constantly opening the lid to your cooker. There is a saying in barbeque; “if you are looking, you not cooking,” so keep the lid closed.


Take double sheets of heavy aluminum foil for each slab of rib you are cooking. On the foil sprinkle a little bit of rub and apple juice, place a slab of ribs meat side down on top of this and repeat with a little rub and apple juice on the bone side. Fold and wrap up foil tightly on the ribs sealing it in and place back on the grill for 2 hours. This helps to steam and tenderize the ribs. This is what make them fall off the bone tender. Maintain your cooking temp and don’t open that lid.

foil 1 foil 2


You are almost home! you are now down to your last hour of cooking before you get to enjoy these marvelous ribs. Remove the ribs from the grill and open up the foil. Be sure not to spill the juice. At this point the ribs will fall apart on you if you are not careful. I usually use extra long tongs or I make sure I dump all of the juice out of the foil and flip them over on a  Bradley Rack and place them back on the grill.

This last hour back on the grill will firm the ribs back up a bit so they don’t simply fall apart when you go to pick them up. I usually will glaze my ribs with sauce either prior to placing them back on the grill or when I am down to the last 30 minutes of cooking.

Once the hour is up, remove the ribs from the grill and allow them to sit for 15 minutes before cutting and serving.

If you are cooking baby back ribs, adjust the cooking times to 2-2-1.

You have just made the best ribs of your life!




About Pigskin Barbeque 80 Articles
Just a regular guy who loves to barbeque. Married father of two. I developed a love for grilling as a child watching my dad grill. My love for BBQ, using wood and the "low & slow" method came after I purchased my first horizontal smoker in my 20's.


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