In my mind, there’s nothing better than a perfect barbecue rib. Everybody has their own opinions of what makes a perfect rib, and they’re all absolutely right. Don’t ever let anybody tell you otherwise.

If you’re newer to barbecue, there’s a good chance that you’ve had at least one or two of your cooks go south on you. It happens. Barbecue…any cooking really…is a skill. A skill that you develop with experience and time. Unfortunately, not all of those experiences will be positive. Then again, our failures are what teach us the most.

But enough about failure…let’s focus on the positives!

If you’ve never made smoked ribs (or you have and they were chewy and dried out), I want to introduce you to the 3-2-1 method. Ever heard of it? I don’t know who came up with it originally, but you do hear it brought up here and there, because it’s pretty popular. And with good reason.

If you’ve never heard of it before, or you’ve heard of it but don’t know what it is, allow me to explain.

The 3-2-1 method is a rib-cooking technique that’s performed in three stages. Each number refers to the length of time for each stage. Here’s how it works:




Stage 1 – Get your cooker pre-heated to 225 degrees F. Get your ribs prepped and rubbed up how you like them. Throw them on the smoker with your favorite smoking wood and let them cook for three hours in heavy smoke.

Stage 2 – Remove the ribs from the smoker and either wrap them in foil or put them in a foil pan and cover the top. Add some liquid to the foil packet/pan like apple cider, and place back in the smoker for another 2 hours.

Stage 3 – Increase the temperature of the cooker to 250-275 degrees F. Remove the ribs from the foil, coat with your favorite sauce (if desired), and place back in the cooker for one hour to finish and set the glaze.


There you have it, the 3-2-1 method for ribs. Easy enough to remember, right? 3 hours open smoke, 2 hours wrapped, 1 hour unwrapped at higher heat to finish.

What’s the purpose of the 3-2-1 method?

The purpose of the 3-2-1 method, essentially, is a fairly fail-proof way to cook ribs. This is especially handy if you’re new to barbecue, or if you’ve had some bad cooks and are lacking confidence. If you use this method, you’re practically guaranteed to get moist, flavorful, fall-off-the-bone ribs.

Is there a downside to this method?

For some, yes. I used this technique for a long time until I wanted to try smoking ribs without any “help.” I’m also in the minority in that I’m not a huge fan of fall-off-the-bone ribs. I prefer a little more texture to my ribs. I also find the flavor to be a little lacking, or at least less bold.

Once I got down how to do ribs the way I like them on my own, I never went back to the 3-2-1 method. I still think it’s a great way to get started with ribs if you’ve never cooked them before. In addition, most people seem to love fall-off-the-bone ribs. If you and yours fall into that category, you may never need to use any other technique.

If you enter a competition with ribs that fall off the bone, you’re going to get marked down significantly. But you’re not competing right now, are ya? Exactly.

So don’t listen to any know-it-all schmuck who spends all their time trying to come up with ways to prove that everybody else is wrong.

Give it a shot. You may like it. Or you may decide that it’s not for you. Either way, that’s the perfect decision for you.

Thanks for reading, and keep smoking!