Competition Ribs & 3-2-1 Method

A while back, I was asked to share my competition rib recipe because I always maintained that I have no secrets about my BBQ. Well, months later, here it is. It wasn’t easy to write because I have never written it down before. Surprisingly, the post is a lot longer than I anticipated, but don’t let that deter you from using this technique that is wide spread in the BBQ community.

Don’t consider this a recipe, I believe cooking ribs is a process. It’s not about applying your favorite rubs and sauces. Instead, take note on the tips and tricks written between the sentences of this post, it’s more valuable than any kind of BBQ sauce. Ribs can be easy to prepare, depending how you look at it. You can put them on the grill to cook for 2 hours and they will be tasty ribs…but that is not BBQ.

To be honest, my ribs are not easy to make. At competitions, the ribs I smoke are made to be very rich, extremely sweet and tender…but not falling off the bone. Competition ribs are not what I grill for my family and friends in my backyard. Heck, I don’t make them this way for myself. My backyard ribs are slightly easier, but constant observation of the meat and the cooker is required because my cookers are not expensive insulated grills.

However, there is one thing that my backyard ribs and competition ribs have in common…the 3-2-1 method. Therefore, I’m only going to cover the 3-2-1 method because it works for me and I’ve been consistent with this technique.

What is 3-2-1?
This method is a way to smoke ribs from start to finish. 3-2-1 represents the amount of hours the rack of ribs cook at each stage. In other words, the ribs smoke for 3 hours, wrap for 2 hours and cooks without smoke for the last hour. Total, the ribs will spend 6 hours on the cooker. Details of this are broken down even further as you continue to read.

Rib selection…
I recommend that you try a St. Louis style rack of ribs and a loin back rack of ribs to see which type of ribs you like best. There are pro and cons for each, but I’ve got calls at rib competitions using both. This choice is a popular point of debate in the BBQ community. To me, it doesn’t matter because it’s all about how they look. I’m going with the rack that looks meatier, has more fat, straight bones and resembles close to a perfect rack of ribs. Moreover, don’t be afraid to buy the cryovac ribs from a warehouse club store, they are excellent quality.

2 St. Louis style ribs, meat down

I like going to my local meat market because my butcher always have fresh ribs on hand. I make sure my meat cutter has what I’m looking for, otherwise, I’m left with a selection of meager ribs. As much as I want to support my butcher, I’m absolutely peculiar about my ribs. I don’t hesitate to buy from somewhere else anymore. Meager ribs are not worth the 6 hours of smoke paradise.

Additional notes about ribs…
Preparation and trimming of the ribs will not be addressed here. Trimming ribs is part of the smoking ribs process, however, there are lots of other resources such as The Hog Blog that does an excellent job in showing how to trim ribs. Prepare the ribs how you like them. Whether you like to marinade, brine, or nothing at all, it’s up to you. For me, I trim my ribs but I don’t prepare them.

Keep in mind that baby back ribs weigh less than 2lbs, anything above it are loin back ribs. In addition, spare ribs are trimmed to make St. Louis style ribs. Thus, St. Louis style has nothing to do with how they are cooked.

Furthermore, loin backs ribs or St. Louis style ribs benefit most from the 3-2-1 method. Otherwise, cook times will have to be modified if cooking with baby back ribs or spare ribs. Also, do not use this technique on country ribs or beef ribs, it doesn’t work as well because the country ribs are too lean and the cook times along with the flavor profile is all wrong for beef.

My Instruments
Here is a list for my weapons of choice when I BBQ.  They include what I use to prepare a fire, maintain the grill throughout the cook and prepare the meat:

  • Charcoal grill
  • Charcoal briquettes
  • Charcoal chimney
  • Grill brush
  • Silicone baste brush
  • Long spatula and tongs
  • Aluminum foil
  • Heat resistant gloves
  • Lighter
  • Newspaper
  • Grill thermometer
  • Sharp knife
  • Cutting board
  • Chunks of smoke wood

I won’t go through and explain the use of each instrument here because that’s an insult to your intelligence. However, if there is enough interest, I can create a post to explain.

The Plan
Basically, the 3-2-1 method calls for a simple list of ingredients that are applied at different steps in the process. This list of essentials includes:

  • Ribs
  • BBQ Rub
  • Liquids (for foil wrap)
  • BBQ Sauce
  • Canola oil

Sure, this list is short, but the ingredients themselves are complex and broad. You will find out exactly what products I use and I hope to explain my reasons for the flavor profile I choose.

Step 1
If the ribs are frozen, thaw them out for approximately 3-4 days in the refrigerator. On the day of the cook, let the unfrozen ribs come to room temperature, it’s OK to set them out for 45 minutes or so. While the ribs are sitting out, coat them with canola oil, then apply a sweet, sugar based rub on the ribs. Just because the spices are called a rub, you don’t actually rub it into the meat. That just tears up the surface of the meat. Instead, gently pat the rub into the meat. Let it sit until the rub turns into a syrup glaze.

Ribs with a homemade rub

Ribs coated with competition rub

During this time, prepare the cooker for smoking. You should have a smoker or a charcoal grill to cook ribs. If you have a charcoal grill, use the 2-zone method. Set the temperature of the grill to approximately 225 degrees.

Note: I have done ribs on a propane grill and they turned out just fine. However, I have the benefit of owning a smoker, so I don’t cook ribs on the gasser anymore.

Competition Rub
I was told that approximately 90% of all BBQ competitors use commercial rubs. The reason being that there are a lot of quality rubs on the market and cooks have better things to do than play chef. Truth be told, I am a proponent of commercial rubs and there are many that claim to be championship quality.

A couple of store bought competition rubs

Once in a while, I make my own rubs, but my homemade rubs are not quite as good as the rubs on the market. For this reason, I find so many great BBQ rubs at the store that it’s hard for me to stick with one. Although, the one constant is Plowboys Yardbird rub, for several reasons this is my favorite. Many times I have used the Yardbird rub and combine it with another rub with excellent results. But just for the record, I got 1st place using Plowboys alone. Listed below are more of my favorites:

  • Blues Hog
  • Dizzy Pig Pineapple
  • Penzey’s BBQ 3000
  • Penzey’s Galena Street
  • Smokin’ Guns Hot
  • McCormick’s Grillmates Sweet & Smoky

Notice that each one of these rubs have a high concentration of sugar in them. In particular, brown sugar is the main ingredient in many pork based rubs. It is because brown sugar compliments pork extremely well while at the same time, the low temperatures of the smoker or grill caramelizes the sugar and gives it an eye pleasing look and a delectable aroma.

Step 2
Wait about 20-30 minutes for the temperature to stabilize at 225 degrees. Add the glazed rack of ribs to the cooker, flesh side up. Remember, the lid is always on or closed with the vents wide open.

Ribs on the smoker, meat side up

Add 2 or 3 chunks of dry seasoned hardwood/fruitwood such as: cherry, oak, apple, hickory, pecan, peach or a combination of wood. These are some of my favorites. However, stay away from mesquite, the smoke will overpower the pork. Moreover, do not use wood chips or soak the wood in water.

Let the ribs smoke for 3 hours. Check the temperature often without opening the cooking chamber and keep it around 225 degrees. Also, check the charcoal and water/liquids as necessary.

Note: One element to achieve tender, moist ribs is making sure that there is a source for water in the cooking chamber. Humidity keeps the moisture inside the ribs. Typically, large trailer smokers create moisture by cooking large quantities of meat, but doing with one or 2 racks of ribs cannot produce moisture in the grill. So, adding a pan of water directly over the heat source or next to it can recreate that moisture.

Step 3
At 3 hours, the ribs could be considered ready to eat. But, the connective tissue has not broken down at this point. Eating the ribs now would be tough and chewy. This next step will accelerate the break down of connective tissue which will result in a tender product.

Smoked ribs after 3 hours

When the 3 hours are almost up, create a flat preparation area. Tear a sheet of aluminum foil, enough to completely wrap 1 rack of ribs.  Remove the ribs from the grill and wrap the ribs in aluminum foil. Before you seal it up, add ¼ cup of apple juice. Doing this will expedite the cooking process of breaking down the meat and render off the fat. Seal it up tight so no liquids leak.

Hot pepper jelly and bacon fat spread on the foil wrap

Do the same for the other side of ribs too

Place the ribs flesh side down on the grill grate and continue to cook at 225 degrees for 2 hours. At this point, wood chunks are no longer needed, but continue to add water and charcoal.

Foil wrapped ribs, meat side down

Note: Heavy duty aluminum foil is recommended because the rib bones tend to puncture through cheaper foil, unless you double or triple wrap.

FYI…The process of wrapping the ribs in aluminum foil is widely known as the Texas Crutch. Again, it is a topic that divides hardcore BBQ enthusiasts. For those of us backyard pitmasters without a large trailer smoker, it is essential to wrap because the extra moisture will result in tender ribs.

Competition Wrap
The purpose of a competition wrap is to impart another level of flavor on the ribs. This is important because one bite is all a judge needs to score my ribs. So, I want to load my ribs with as many sweet, savory and rich flavors as possible into one bite.

My competition ribs need this step in order to put it over the top of everybody else’s ribs. To do that, I add a special combination of rich ingredients to go into my wrap. With these ingredients, I’ve taken 3rd, 2nd and 1st place, so the judges obviously like the flavor profile.

Wrap ingredients:

  • Parkay margarine
  • Turbinado sugar (Sugar In The Raw)
  • Honey
  • Tiger Sauce (sweet chile sauce)

Honestly, I didn’t invent this list of ingredients. This is what BBQ legend Johnny Trigg uses to wrap his ribs too. So chances are, lots of other folks are using this combination because it is a well documented recipe.

FYI…Since I find ribs to be cooked flavorless and boring at restaurants, I find ways to mix it up and taste so much better. There are other ingredients to use in wraps. Here are few ideas:

  • Beer
  • Hot pepper jelly
  • Bacon fat
  • Hot sauce
  • Apple cider
  • Bourbon
  • Cider vinegar
  • Brown sugar
  • Soda
  • Apricot preserves
  • Soy sauce

Step 4
At 2 hours, 5 hours total, remove the foiled ribs and unwrap them. They should look moist and the rub looks mealy. Another thing to notice is how much the meat has pulled back from the bone. If there is about a ¼ inch of bone pulled back, you’re in good shape. If not, don’t sweat it because it is not a litmus test for doneness. Discard the foil wrap and liquid.

Unwrapping the ribs after 2 hours

The meat is starting to pull back from the bone

Place on the grill flesh side up and apply more rub one last time. Pop on the lid and cook for the last hour to firm it up.

If you use barbecue sauce, now is the time to 1) Take it out of the refrigerator and sit out at room temperature 2) Warm it up on the grill/stove. The popular application for barbecue sauce is to put it on the 10 minutes before you take the ribs off the grill.

Place back on grill, meat side up

For myself, I don’t sauce my ribs. When I have guests, sauce is served on the side. In addition, I prefer to kick up my own BBQ sauce. Just buy any inexpensive store bought sauce and kick it up with other ingredients. I pretty much use the same ingredients that I use in the foil wrap. Be sure to cook the kicked up sauce in a sauce pan on the stove or grill, this thoroughly mixes everything together.

Competition sauce
I use a 50/50 mix of Blues Hog Original and BH Tennessee Red. I like to warm up the sauce because it’s smoother and glossy. Then I apply it when the ribs are in the turn-in box because I don’t want my finger prints showing and I want to cover up any undesirable blemishes.

Sauce is not required in competitions, but they will score higher than ones that don’t. I haven’t tried for myself, but what I’m doing seems to be working. So why change it?

Step 5
Using the 3-2-1 method takes the guessing out of knowing when ribs are done. Nonetheless, there are several ways to check to make sure they are tender. Here are a few ways to tell:

  1. When the meat pulls back about a ¼” from the bone.
  2. Take a toothpick, poke between the bones at the thickest part of the ribs. If it easily slides in and out of the rack…it’s done.
  3. With a pair of tongs, grab one end of the ribs. If they bend easy they are done, if not, keep them in the cooker.

Meat is pulled back, it’s done

Note: The 3-2-1 typically does not produce fall off the bone ribs. To achieve fall off the bone ribs…cook them longer. This will further break down the meat. Do this with caution because the meat will turn to mush and you can ruin a good rack of ribs. In other words, ribs are too expensive to make them fall off the bone…you can get the same results from pulled pork and it’s cheaper!

FYI…If you didn’t achieve a tender rack of ribs, don’t be discouraged. It’s an epidemic that seems to hit everyone, yes including me. I can’t explain it because you can do the same exact steps with different results. Ribs can be a fickle beast.

Step 6
Once the ribs are done, let them rest for a few minutes to let all the juices settle. When cutting the ribs, use a sharp, un-serrated knife. I cut mine into single or 2 bones so everybody can dig into those tender treats.

Resting without sauce

With BBQ sauce

Tip: My family likes their ribs to be heavily sauced and burnt. So after the ribs are done, I apply a coat of barbecue sauce. Then cook them over direct heat for a minute or 2 on the charcoal or gas grill. Apply a second coat of sauce…repeat until the ribs are sticky and charred.

Better results will only come with practice, I would like to practice every weekend if I had the time to do it. No matter how perfect or imperfect they turned out to be, smoked ribs always taste good. Especially, when you worked up an appetite from all the work you just did and all the beer you consumed waiting for those meat sticks.

Get in my belly!!!

Congratulations, you successfully applied the 3-2-1 method to make authentic BBQ ribs.

71 thoughts on “Competition Ribs & 3-2-1 Method

  1. Pingback: Summer Comp Practice | This ain't the Minor Leagues!

  2. I’ve been following Johnnys triggs career and recipes. If you can’t produce at least a half descent rib, I recommend you should just make hamburgers.. I’ve had great success. Johnny is thr God father of ribs

  3. I’ve tried many rib recipes and this one worked well. I’ve got a rib cook off this coming weekend so I wanted to try this first. These were by far the most tender ribs I’ve made, but a little too tender for my liking. I only cooked for a total of 5 hours. I was surprised at how much the rach cooked in the foil and I only had them in there 1.5 hours. Any tips on how to slow the process down? I was pretty diligent in keeping the temp at 225. I only cooked one rack, maybe that’s why it cooked so fast?

    • Glad you tried the 3-2-1 method Mike! Overcooking ribs to the point it turns to mush is a common problem. But there are ways to prevent it. The best advice is to cook it faster, in other words, use a 2.5-1.5-1 approach (4 hours total) at the same temps. This will take an hour off the cooking process. Use the same reasoning for tough ribs (undercooked) with a 3-2.5-1 method (30 minutes longer in the foil wrap). I recommend adjusting your cook times and peeking at the meat every once in a while, with practice you will find the right combination …soon you will be able to tell doneness by look and feel of the ribs.

      • I did just that. I still smoked for 3 hours but I cooked in the foil for 1.5 hours and grilled again for 30. This is the only way I BBQ my ribs any more. My wife cans homemade jalapeño jelly so I use that instead of the tiger sauce. Wow! Sweet but with a jalapeño kick. Great recipe. I have passed this along to a few buddies as well.

  4. I have a question. Do you still add the 1/4 cup of apple juice per slab along with your Johnny trigg competition wrap? I plan on making these for tailgating this weekend. Thanks

    • Hey Joe!

      I still use a 1/4 cup apple juice…a little goes a long ways. Liquid in the foil wrap produces humidity, much like a commercial cooker with dozens of ribs cooking at one time. Of course you’re not limited to apple juice entirely, also try peach, cherry, apricot, pineapple, etc.


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  6. The hot pepper jelly and bacon fat is an interesting concept. I will be sure to try this on my next smoke. I really enjoyed the 321 method. Use it all the time on my uds smoker. However, they tend to fall off the bone too easily, which is probably an indication that they are too done. But, in time I will perfect it. I really enjoyed this article.



    • Thanks Bruce!

      The bacon fat and pepper jelly wasn’t something I planned for this post, it was just in my fridge. Had there been pork base paste and a bottle of cab, I would have used it instead. My point is any combination of fats/sweeteners in the foil wrap will enhance the flavor of the ribs. The combinations are endless.

      Regarding the cook times, they’re too long for me too. It serves a good starting point for novice pitmaster and after time will learn to tweak how they like their ribs. Let’s face it, most folks like fall off the bone ribs, I consider it sacrilege. You sound like you’re on your way to being a bonafide pitmaster…good luck!

      Thanks for being a fan!

  7. Unbelievably amazing looking ribs. I’ve done about 6 racks since I started smoking and none have been tender. My next batch will be this exact method. I haven’t done the 3-2-1 but that seems to be the way to go. Thanks for sharing this. So awesome!!

  8. Pingback: Any good ribs recipe - - Toyota Tundra Discussion Forum

  9. Well I finally made these ribs! I followed the recipe from top to bottom to a t. Including every ingredient mentioned and the blue hogs sauce. And I gotta say, wow were they ever good. I had to steam them for 2.5 hours to get them tender enough. But all in all they were fantastic.

    • Yes! You even made adjustments until the ribs were done…that’s a hard thing to do. Soon enough I’ll be seeing you out on the competition trail. These ribs have carried me to many high finishes.

      Great job!

  10. Pingback: Making Ribs In Smoker Tomorrow Morning | 280 Dude

  11. I read these recipe’s and I have to tell you i’m not a big fan of of the 321…i own a treager smoker and have cooked st louis style ribs the 231 method. 2 hours on the smoke setting…about 140 degrees then 3 hours in a foil covered foil pan bath with apple juice, apples and garlic if you like for the moisture…turn up the temp to 325 and let cook for 3 hours or so…don’t touch them. After done, remove from smoker and let cool for about 30 min. uncovered. Meanwhile make your own mop sauce. whatever you like. i prefer an apple butter bbq sauce with rye whisky and a splash of orange juice. whisk that sucker to taste until you get a nice thin like consistency. you don’t want a thick sauce. when ready, fire up your bbq on high for about 10 min .(yes turn of the smoker), reduce heat to low. throw on the ribs and coat lightlly…be careful of your hot spots on your Q. At this point don’t walk away from the grill and keep turning and coating every 5 minutes or so. you want to carmelize the meat not burn it the sauce…most sauces with high sugar content will tend to burn so keep an eye on the griilling. what ever you do, dont walk away or close the lid of the grill. when ready…about 15 min…your done. take of the grill and let rest for about 10 min….enjoy

  12. I’ve been cooking ribs like this at home going on 6 years now. The question I have is why do you not recommend using chips? I have went back and fourth from chunks and chips, and find that chips give me the best flavor. I use “Stubbs” chips they are a blend of Hickory, oak, and apple woods. When I wrap them today I think I will use some soda and see how that turns out.

    • I left out a lot of smoke inducers such as pellets, bricks of compressed wood and good ol’ logs…all of which can claim to give the best smoke.

      At the end of the day, it’s all wood and they will all give that extra layer of flavor no matter what form it comes in.

      However, while wood chips are easily accessible and inexpensive they are not convenient for large smokers. Wood chunks allow me to cook for a couple of hours before replenishing them, but chips would be replaced frequently and I want to avoid that.

      You can argue chips benefit most from kamado, kettle or gas grills because the cooking chambers are not that big. With that said, I’m a fan of wood chips, I got a bag of pecan chips the other day and it has great flavor just like the other types of smoke wood.

      Thanks for being a fan Derek!

  13. Just wanted to say thanks. I used your recipe last year at the 6th Annual Key Biscayne Rib-Off and I got first place. Believe it or not, that was the first and last rib I have ever smoked in my life. Getting ready for the 7th Annual Rib-Off and was relearning your method to the T again. Wish me luck as the defending champion.

    Gus A.
    Key Biscayne

  14. Loved all the ideas here and the hot pepper jelly in the crutch is a wicked idea my wife uses it in her chicken under the skin so I could only imagine it on smoked ribs …. Kev

  15. I have been cooking ribs for 5 years your explanation and details .very good . I am still working to get it right. Thanks

  16. I love your recipes and techniques..Do you have any tips on how to pre-cook the ribs so that I can serve a decent rib on the “event” day for a crowd? I won’t be able (allowed) to stand over the smoker for hours but if I could do most of the work the day before and finish on the day it would be great. If it can’t be done right, I will serve something else. Thanks for the tips.. Rob

  17. Such a great recipe, thank you so much for posting this. I usually smoke back ribs for 4 hours and am done with it, but I’ve been looking for a good 3-2-1 recipe. Yours is very exciting and I will be trying it tomorrow. If alls well, it’s 4 racks of your 3-2-1 back ribs and 3 10lbs butts for Memorial Day!

  18. I just won my first contest using the steps you provided. It was a small church competition, but knowing that I’m not the only one who mixes commercial blends into my own rub made me feel much better. I’d tell you my secret rub combo, but then I may have to hurt you. I have yet to purchase a smoker, but knowing that my tricks worked on a propane grill (and I still beat 5 others who used a smoker) just gives me the confidence to being entering real contests once I’ve purchased a smoker. Like you said, why try to make my own sauce when commercial ones are great, and you can doctor them with just a few tricks and ingredients to make it your own.

  19. We just finished our first attempt at 3-2-1 ribs in our large BGE….also using our DigiQ for the first time. The entire process was effortless and packed with dividends! These were the best ribs we have ever made or, for that matter, eaten.
    Thank you for sharing your fantastic recipe with us!

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  22. Like many have already stated, thanks for taking the time to post, in detail, this recipe. I took on the task of smoking 8 racks of ribs yesterday. It was quite a task. I used this recipe and everyone had nothing but great things to say about my ribs. I want to suggest something that I did thanks to a friend watching me unwrap all the ribs. He said lets save all that wonderful juice and put it in a pot and reduce it to a glaze. I did do that and ended up using that glaze to put back on the ribs and putting them on my grill for about 10 minutes. Wow! That glaze was pretty amazing tasting. In hindsight as I’m typing this, I realized that if you are smoking a rack or two of ribs you might not have enough juice, but if you do happen to cook a large amount of ribs then I would suggest trying this. Thanks again.

  23. Thank you so very much for the help. Just beginning and now I know I can produce a good tasting meal. Thanks so much.

  24. Great Post, I won our BackYard Rib Off using this method, I love my new Webber Smoker, what a difference. thanks Jack

  25. My buddy at work started a smoke out competition. Not knowing much about smoking ribs I started with a store bought rub and sauce. Didn’t place horrible but it wasn’t what I wanted. Since then I have tried several sauces and making my own rubs. When I found your website I thought damn that looks good. The first time I tried this recipe from top to bottom I was amazed. My family LOVES these ribs. At the end of the day that’s all that matters. But DAMN am I happy with these ribs. Great job guys!!! Thank you.

  26. thanks so much for this! I will be trying the 3-2-1 method this weekend at our annual rib smoke off at the famous Union Bar in Gering Ne.

  27. Most guys that compete around here don’t use 3-2-1. They go 3-1… but at 275 degrees and with variations on the cooking process that I can’t really divulge. Try ’em at a bit higher temp with some shorter cook times, and you will be surprised at the results. But, this is an EXCELLENT tutorial on how to begin cooking competition ribs. Nice work. And, congrats on you, and all of your readers’, calls! Nothing beats that!

  28. I tried your 3-2-1 method and my family tells me these are the best ribs I have made so far. I used store bought rubs like you recommended, a sweet rub and a spicy. As far as the wrap process I used Wild Turkey on 1 rack, Modelo Especial on another, soy sauce on a rack and Bargs root beer on the other. The soy sauce and the Wild Turkey were the best. The other 2 were really good also! Thanks for all the helpful tips. I will be searching this site for more receipes!

  29. My first attempt at 3-2-1 ribs! So far so good. 1 more hour and then smoky goodness! Thanks for the great recipe and attention to detail.

  30. Pingback: best spare-ribs recipe? | Mark's Daily Apple Health and Fitness Forum page

  31. Ribs have been mystery to me. I love them, but only like once out of every 20 or so would be good. This has cured me of my rib problem. Thanks – explained perfectly.

  32. I tried this method for the second time. Both times worked great. I however did not use any juice in the foil step, I just let the ribs baste in there own juices and the meat texture was just right. The meat was just firm enough that it almost fell off the bone and was tender. Jalapeno jelly would add a great complex flavor to the ribs great idea!

  33. I just tried this method last night on some baby backs. I reduced the times by about 30 minutes per step (electric smoker so the Missus can smoke too; not a knock on ladies, it was her call)…. ABSOLUTELY AMAZING!!!! You, Sir, are a genius, and the Texas crutch was a life saver! Thank you for sharing, and I’ll make sure to give credit where it’s due.

  34. This was my first shot with this method, filled my smoker for the Super Bowl. Best I ever made, can’t wait to do it again and try different variations of the marinades.

  35. Great goods from you, man. I’ve understand
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  36. I’m pretty new to smoking ribs, but this is the only method I’ve ever used and I’ve never had anything but compliments. Thank you so much for posting this though, as I love the ideas for the wrap. I have three racks on as I type this and I wish I had some of that jalapeno jelly to try. Next time! Also, I know most people use a smoker, but if you’re new don’t be afraid to use your Weber kettle, that’s what I do. I have a tray that hold all my lump charcoal to one side. I tested my built in thermometer and surprisingly enough it was right on. I babysit it pretty carefully to keep the temp between 225 and 270, which can be a chore. I’m from MN and have also found it needs to be at least 25 degrees out, I did 6 racks at Christmas time, around 5 degrees, and it was a pain to keep the temps right. Anyway, thanks again!

  37. Pingback: How To Cook Competition BBQ Ribs - The BBQ Beat

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  40. I did 4 racks of ribs this way but the only ones which stayed moist were ones which injected. Lowering the cook time might be a good idea for me?

    • Hi Aaron,

      Great question, but without knowing what steps you used to prepare the ribs or what cooker you used, I assume you did exactly according to my instruction. In that case, it’s a learning process and it does need to be tweaked based up one the pitmaster skill level.

      In addition, why would you lower the cook times? You mentioned the ribs were dry…that could be an indication of not cooking long enough. If you overcooked, the ribs would turn to mush.

      Not sure if I helped you much, but feel free to give a little more detail…thanks!

      • I followed the prep and cooking steps to a T (except cook times) and adjusted ingredients to my own liking. I use an electric Masterbuilt smoker which does a really fine job at keeping it moist with a water pan and have had very good success with it in everything else I’ve used it for. The only problem with the smoker is the big heat loss when opening the door between the different cooking phases. I am always afraid of over-cooking meat so I lowered each cook time by 15-20 minutes during each phase. The lowered times along with the heat loss (and time to come back up to temperature) may have caused the meat to not actually cook long enough. Thoughts?

  41. Your ribs are nice. I would like to send you a Picture of mine my method is a little different & my family & people I don’t no say I have the Best Backyard Ribs in the City of Columbus Ohio & the grill Masters Resturants 😎 I hope you in joy the picture maybe tast them lol. I do agree with the BBQ Sauce Cheep & put that love in it myself they fall out for it 😱. Hope to hear from you get back to me soon The ONEHULK RIBB😎

    • I’m in Columbus Ohio (grove city) making ribs for the very first time. I only have a gas grill so I made a little smoker with an aluminum bread pan with apple juice soaked apple wood chips covered with foil and holes poked in it. I also have a water pan. Only one burner on with my smoker and water pan on direct heat and my ribs on the opposite side. I’m just hoping they turn out yummy. I plan on a foil wrap too I just wish I knew an internal rib temp to be at before the wrap.

  42. Great article and I love the 3-2-1 method. I use a mix of 2/3’s apple juice and 1/3 Red Stag Cherry Bourbon both the the wrapped phase as during the last hour as a “spritz”. You do have to look at the ribs ahead of time to fine-tune the exact timing or it can come out too tender but 3-2-1 for full spare ribs and 2-2-1 for Baby Backs is a great starting place.
    Thanks, Scott Hampton, VA

  43. I’ve smoked 8 racks of ribs and found the 3-2-1 method is complete crap. Last attempt with a new weber bullet following grate temp of 250 while hood temp read 200. 2 hours back loin smoke and at 2 hours with foil and they were tough. This is just BS, I followed the science and get half assed crappy ribs with less than 1/2 inch pull back of meat off bone and no tenderness. Now back on smoker with hood at 225 and grate 271, foiled, maybe there will be a worthy rack after another hour. $300 on grill, $70 on thermometer, and results just suck. Frustrated to beat hell, smarter than your average bear, and ready to throw in the towel. Better results with a 1 hour boil, 30 minute browning, and 15 minute sauce carmelize. 3-2-1 is a MYTH….

    • Just trying to help a little.
      I have the same weber barrel or “bullet”. Make sure that your water pan is full and don’t pay so much attention to the grate temp. Look at the thermometer on the dome.
      I generally load mine up and leave all of the vents open and it cruises along between 200 and 250 while I run a few errands.

  44. AWESOME! Im an aspiring bbq/smoker (heck buying a webster smokey this week) and this helped in astronomical ways. I watched all 3 seasons of Pittmaster on netflix and your just brought all the info i was wondering about into perspective. Particularly the rib “wrap” part. I saw them doing it on the seasons and it drove me crazy wondering just what they were doing. You post is in great, helpful, organized, with informative detail and this will be what i do on my very first attempt at smoked ribs. You covered everything I was curious about from the rub, bbq sauce and cook times. I tried my own rub on chicken few days ago (way to spicy) and que-sauce i created but your idea makes sense, focus on the que-sauce and let the pros provide the rub. Thanks alot

  45. What is the difference between putting the ribs meat side down after wrapping in foil as to leaving them meat side up?

  46. You saved my bacon! Our fire company hosted our first annual Bocci Tournament this weekend and I(the chief) was in charge of the ribs. I had several racks to prepare so I divided them between my offset horizontal smoker grill and my Weber barrel smoker. I seasoned with my own brown sugar/ paprika based rub and smoked with a mix of apple, hickory, and white oak while following your 3-2-1 method. We lost the tournament, but everyone loved the ribs.

  47. Question, when I wrap my ribs after they are done on the back side of the ribs, (non flesh side) the meat looks like it was burned off and there are alot of bones showing, is this due to the steam burning the meat back? Thanks.

  48. Hey tell me what i need to do different i cook my ribs without foil i inject them and season them but sometimes spraying them take a little taste tell me one i inject with creola butter mix with brown sugar i season with accent,lemon pepper,montrel steak season and season salt and sometimes i rub it with olive oil or steak season rub before season i have tenders i think i need parparkia for look help

  49. I plan on cooking 6 racks this coming weekend. But I have the Weber 18.5 Smoky Mountain cooker. So I need to use the rib racks. I was planning on doing 3 racks on the bottom and 3 racks on the top. In your description you state meat side down/up in certain steps. I won’t be able to do this as they will be standing on their sides. How do you think this will affect the cooking? Especially then adding the 1/4 cup of apple juice? Also I watch BBQ competitions on TV alot. It seems like a bunch of these guys use the butter/margerine in the squeeze bottle before wrapping the ribs. Have you ever tried this?

  50. Just finished this and OMG!! Rave reviews from all and I must say these were the best ribs I’ve ever done on my Traeger! I have never wrapped them before and that one step just sent these ribs over the top! Thanks so much for your recipe and tips! Wow!!!

  51. Thanks for this post — used it as the basis for cooking my ribs this evening. I had a smoker with a hanger, but wanted to try to get it more competition style, so I went with the 2.5-1.5-0.5 method. I had to cut the ribs in half to get them all to fit on each layer of my bullet smoker, but it all worked out very well. I used Famous Dave’s rib rub (cause that’s what they had at the grocery store) and then when I wrapped em, I put in some apple cider, brown sugar, and some pineapple/habenero glaze. Finished them off with a little more of the Famous Dave rib rub and then put some of the milder Famous Dave BBQ sauce on them for the last ten minutes… Wow, these were really worth the effort. Thanks very much for your laying the basics out here — most of cooking (except baking) lets you riff on a master plan but branch out in so many different directions, and this seems like no exception. Great info and again my thanks.

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