How to Smoke Ribs Using the 3-2-1 Method
3-2-1 is a catchy way to remember how much time each step of the process takes.
With this method, you smoke the ribs at a low temperature around 225-250F degrees for 3 hours unwrapped, 2 hours wrapped and 1 hour unwrapped.
During the first 3 hours, the ribs cook low and slow and develop their mahogany color. This is the stage when the smoke starts to penetrate the meat, often creating a smoke ring.
After 3 hours, it’s time to wrap the ribs tightly in foil. This stage allows you to lock in moisture, and even add more in the form of juice, water or beer. This is where the tenderness is going to develop.
For a backyard BBQ, I recommend using 1/2 cup or so of liquid per slab, because most people like their meat to fall off the bone. If you’re entering ribs in a competition; however, you’ll want to limit the liquid to about 1/4 cup. Judges like a little tug when they take a bite.
After two hours of tenderizing, you’ll need to get some pretty color back. When the ribs are in the pouch, the steam tends to dissolve some of the bark that you developed in the first 3 hours. To get it back, sauce your ribs and lay them back on the grate unwrapped for another hour.
You’ll know they’re ready when they are flexible when you go to pick them up. They should have a gentle bend or arch.