3-2-1 Ribs (Fall Off The Bone Tender!)

Rack of 3-2-1- ribs on a black cutting board.

3-2-1 ribs are coated in BBQ rub and barbecue sauce and smoked until they’re fall-off-the-bone tender and succulent. Utilizing the popular 3 2 1 method for smoking ribs will produce the best ribs you’ve made on the grill.

Our Sous Vide Short Ribs, Instant Pot Ribs and Beef Plate Ribs are pretty darn impressive, too!

Other popular smoker recipes: pork belly burnt ends, coulotte steak, smoked prime rib and smoked london broil.

Two slabs of pork ribs on a smoker.

321 Rib Method

The 321 method refers to a “low and slow” cooking technique used to cook a rack of ribs.

Here’s what the “3-2-1” method stands for:

3 – The seasoned ribs are smoked, unwrapped and bone side down, for 3 hours.

2 – The ribs are wrapped in aluminum foil, with liquid, butter and brown sugar, to steam for 2 hours.

1 – Brush the smoked ribs with bbq sauce and grill for a final hour.

We utilize the 321 ribs method when making fatty ribs, such as St Louis Style ribs, on the smoker. For less fatty ribs, such as baby back pork ribs, we utilize another method.

See the difference between St Louis Ribs vs Baby Back Ribs.

Fall Off the Bone

When utilizing this 321 ribs recipe, your ribs will be moist, tender and loaded with flavor.

We understand rib connoisseurs will say ribs “shouldn’t fall off the actual bone”, but peeps like what they like. If you prefer a more “firm” rib, you’ll need to play around with the timing to see where you can shave it down a bit. We recommend shaving down the initial 3 hours cook time to 2 hours.

Ingredients to make 321 ribs.

3 2 1 Ribs

Here are the steps you’ll be taking to make 3 2 1 pork ribs.

Prep the Rack

Clean up the ribs by remove the silver skin from the boney side of the rack. If you’re unsure how to do this, watch this quick video for guidance. Generously coat the ribs with the BBQ dry rub and let sit for an hour (ideally) in the refrigerator, to let the spices penetrate.

Smoke ‘Em

Place the ribs on the smoker and smoke, with the lid closed for 3 hours. If desired, spritz the ribs with apple juice (or even apple cider or apple cider vinegar) every 30 minutes or so to help keep the meat moist.

Steam ‘Em

Wrap the ribs in a large sheet of heavy duty aluminum foil. Add the apple juice, brown sugar and butter and cook for two hours. You’ll notice the meat starting to pull back from the bones at this point.

Red silicon brush applying bbq sauce to ribs.

Sauce ‘Em

Remove the smoked pork ribs from the foil, and baste the ribs with BBQ sauce. Transfer the rack back to the grill for a final hour of cooking.

321 Ribs Temperature

After 6 hours of cooking, the ribs should be between 180°F – 190°F. If they’re still a bit firm, keep them on the grill until they reach this temperature.

321 Smoked Ribs

3 2 1 smoked ribs are easy to make when following this proven method. It’s the perfect “Smoking ribs for beginners” guideline. This fall off the bone smoked ribs recipe can be made on any grill.

  • Gas Grill – depending on the brand, a good setting to test out is turning half the burners (on the same side of the grill) to medium-low while the other burners are off. You’ll create smoke by using a smoker box to add chips/chunks. Aim for a temperature of 225°F.
  • Charcoal – Pre-heat the coals until just washed over. Dump them on the far side (either left or right) of your grill to create a dual zone cooking area. Open the vents enough to maintain the temperature at 225°F. Create smoke by placing wood chunks directly on the pre-heated coals.
  • Pellet/Electric Smoker (Traeger 321 ribs) When making smoked pork ribs, pre-heat your grill to 225°F. Follow the manufacture’s instructions to get an even smoke.
Seasoning ribs on a black cutting board.


Here are the supplies you need to make ribs using the 3 2 1 method:

  • Energy Source – Make sure to stock up on your selected energy source: charcoal, pellets, propane, gas, etc.
  • Smoking Wood –  Chunks, chips or pellets.
  • Thermometer – Always use a thermometer. Our go-to digital thermometer is the Thermaworks Dot. It never fails.
  • Smoker Box – You’ll need one to impart the smoke flavor if using a gas grill. We’ve used this one from Amazon in the past.
  • Heavy Duty Aluminum Foil – if you don’t have heavy duty foil, just double up regular foil.

Best Wood

Cherry wood, apple wood, pecan and maple all make great wood options for pork ribs.

3 2 1 Ribs Recipe Timing

It takes about 6.5 hours, start to finish, to make these 321 bbq ribs.

Two rib racks on a grill grate.

3 2 1 BBQ Ribs

Our homemade bbq rub recipe is simple, yet flavorful, and is the perfect dry rub to use on these bad boys. Any store brand BBQ rub will work just as well, however.

You can use homemade barbecue sauce or store bought for this recipe. We love Sweet Baby Ray’s and keep a bottle on hand for nights we’re too lazy to mix up a batch of our own bbq sauce.

Secret Ingredient

We recently tested a few different binders out and LOVE using Better Than Boullion Beef Boullion. We now use it in place of mustard in most smoker recipes.

3 2 1 Baby Back Ribs

As mentioned above, we don’t love the 3 2 1 ribs recipe for baby back ribs as they’re less fatty and tend to dry out when using this method. If you’d like to go ahead and use it, we recommend shaving off an hour of the initial cook time.

Expert Tips

  • Don’t forget to remove the silver skin from the boney side of the rack.
  • If you don’t have apple juice or apple cider, you can use beef broth (Instant Pot Bone Broth).
  • If you like uber saucy wings, just serve the ribs with an extra side of bbq sauce.
  • Use the leftover trimmed meat (from St. Louis Ribs) in Sancocho Dominicano.
  • Always use a thermometer when making rib recipes. Our go-to digital thermometer is the Thermaworks Dot.
Sliced 3-2-1 ribs on a black cutting board.

How Many Ribs Per Person

For spare ribs and St Louis style ribs, calculate 4-5 ribs per person, if the ribs are the star of the meal. If they’re not, plan on 2-3 per person. For baby back ribs, calculate a half rack per person (6 each).

What To Serve With Ribs

Just add Smoked Queso, Dill Pickle Pasta Salad, Ensalada de Coditos, Ensalada de Papa or Instant Pot Mac and Cheese on the side for a killer meal!

Wine Pairings

White – Pinot Gris, Prosecco
Red – Zinfandel, Aged Cabernet Sauvignon

Rack of 3-2-1- ribs on a black cutting board.

3-2-1- Ribs

Utilizing the popular 3-2-1 method, ribs are coated in BBQ rub and sauce and smoked until they're fall-off-the-bone tender.
5 from 43 votes
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Prep Time: 10 minutes
Cook Time: 6 hours
Total Time: 6 hours 10 minutes
Servings: 3 servings
Calories: 1518kcal
Author: Darcey Olson
Cost: $15


  • 1 Rack Pork Spare Ribs
  • 2 tbsp OPTIONAL: Beef Boullion Base ((*Note 1))
  • ¼ cup BBQ Rub
  • 1 cup Apple Juice ((*Note 2))
  • ¼ cup Brown Sugar ((*Note 3))
  • 2 tbsp Butter, Cut Into Two Pieces
  • 1 cup BBQ Sauce



  • Set up the smoker/grill for indirect cooking and pre-heat to 225°F.


  • Remove the silver membrane from the back of the ribs. (Optional:) Generously rub Beef boullion base to both sides of the ribs. Generously apply the BBQ rub to both sides of the ribs. (OPTIONAL) Let sit in the refrigerator, uncovered for an hour so the spices penetrate the meat.


  • Transfer the ribs to the grill rack, bone side down, and smoke for three hours. (OPTIONAL) Spritz with apple juice every 30 minutes or so to add extra moisture.


  • Remove the ribs from the grill and place bone side down on a large piece of heavy duty aluminum foil. It will need to be about 3x the length of the ribs.
  • Add the apple juice, brown sugar and butter (to the top of the ribs) and crimp the aluminum foil around the ribs to create an airtight seal. If the foil has a hole, the hot air will escape and it will take much longer to cook.
  • Cook, bone side down, for two hours.
  • Gently remove the foil packet from the grill and, using gloves, remove the foil. There will be hot liquid, so don't burn yourself!


  • Evenly coat the ribs with the barbecue sauce. Transfer back to the grill and smoke for one hour, or until the final temp is between 180°F-190°F.


Note 1 – The beef boullion acts as a binder to infuse flavor and keep the rub from falling off.
Note 2 – Don’t have apple juice? You can use apple cider or beef broth instead.
Note 3 – You can omit the extra sugar if the BBQ dry rub you use already has a ton in it. 


Calories: 1518kcal | Carbohydrates: 57g | Protein: 72g | Fat: 109g | Saturated Fat: 37g | Polyunsaturated Fat: 17g | Monounsaturated Fat: 39g | Trans Fat: 1g | Cholesterol: 367mg | Sodium: 2076mg | Potassium: 1203mg | Fiber: 1g | Sugar: 50g | Vitamin A: 234IU | Vitamin C: 1mg | Calcium: 89mg | Iron: 4mg
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