3-2-1 Pork Ribs

Now with all things smokey there are as many difference of opinions about ribs as there are discarded bones of the ribs that have been enjoyed. Most rib eaters will find a local Pitstop that have in their opinion the best ribs in town or have their own secret family recipe handed down from family member to family member. Each one will almost come to blows over what is the most preferred. In all actuality ribs are a personal preference and should be cooked or eaten as such.

Meat is Murder. Tasty, tasty Murder

There are many styles and preparation of ribs. Some people prefer beef over pork or visa-versa, Loin back or trimmed, Spare or baby back each with their own unique flavor and textures. My personal preference it pork ribs either baby back or spare. Baby back ribs are leaner, more expensive, but do not have as much meat on them. Spareribs tend to be fattier and less expensive but are not as popular as the fat content can turn people off. Regardless ribs are messy and fun to eat and no one can argue with that.

Ribs of all meats tend to have a richer smokier taste due to the depth of the meat and the high fat and collagen content . The smoke tends to absorb better in the meat and surrounding tissue giving them the smoky flavor and cooked in a certain way the rib meat can be as tender as any prime aged steak ever is.

The method of cooking that I like to use is the 3-2-1 or competition method. The first stage or “3” stage involves smoking the ribs for three hours at low temps (160 to 180 degrees). The second stage is the most varied. Some people “foil” the ribs others “stack”. Some that foil will use liquid as a braise some will not, but generally both ways involve cooking the ribs for 2 hours at a higher temp (180-200). The last stage is often debated whether smoke is on or off. To me it does not matter as this is where the ribs will get the “crust” or “glaze” which will do the most to vary the taste of the ribs more than any other steps. This method has so many variations on it that we won’t go over them all but during the stages I will talk about some of them for you. Again this is all preferential and you should try as many as you can to find the type of ribs that you enjoy.

Lets start off with what ingredients I use when cooking my ribs.


Rack of your favorite style of ribs, trimmed for this recipe.

Dry Rub

You can use your favorite rub but I like to make my own rubs and change them for each type of meat that I smoke.

My rub consists of:

  • 1/4 cup – course salt (Kosher or Sea)
  • 1/8 cup  – fresh ground Pepper
  • 1/4 tsp – cayenne pepper
  • 1/8 cup – Paprika (Regular or Smoked)
  • 1/2 tsp – Ground Freeze dried minced garlic

Of course this can be adjusted according to taste.

Wet Rub (Marinade)

  • 1 cup – Water
  • 1/8 Cup –  White Vinegar
  • 1/4 Cup  – Yellow Mustard
  • 1  tbsp  – Worcestershire
  • 1/2 tbsp  – Salt
  • 1/3  tsp  – Black Pepper
  • 1/5 Cup  – Paprika
  • 1/2 cup – Red Wine (Optional)

Braising or Steaming Liquid

  • 1/2 cup cranberry or apple juice
  • 1/4 cup light brown sugar
  • 1/4 cup honey

Don’t put the brown sugar away after you get your 1/4 cup as we will be sprinkling the ribs with some during one of the stages.

Additional Items

  • Tin foil
  • Large disposable cake pan
  • Basting brush
  • Large tongs
  • screw driver and pliers



If you bought ribs from the butcher have him remove the membrane on the back side of the ribs. If they were not purchased from a butcher take the screwdriver and pry the papery membrane from the leading rib on the back. Use the pliers to pull the membrane down the ribs. Them membrane can make the ribs tough and will block the marinade and rub. membraneIt can be kind of tricky to remove but with practice you can make short work of it.

Once the ribs have been “shucked” take a paper town or clean lint free cloth and pat the ribs dry.

Once dry set the ribs in the disposable pan and pour the marinade over the ribs until they cover both back and from. Put the tray in the fridge for two hours and let the ribs marinate. the vinegar in the marinate will help soften some of the connective tissue and make the ribs more tender.

Once this is done you can work on the braising mixture and the dry rub.


First Phase 3 hour smoke

Remove the ribs from the pan and place it on a prep surface. I like to wipe down an area of my counter with a damp cloth and then lay down overlapping sheets of plastic wrap to create an easy to cleanup and sanitary prep area.

Sprinkle the Dry rub on both back and front of the ribs. Despite the name you should never rub the meat with the rub. With the course salt and pepper you can shred the surface of the meat making it look unappetizing. Instead you should pat the rib in and shake of any excess seasoning. Repeat with any additional ribs that you are cooking.

Place the ribs directly on the rack of you smoker and smoke the ribs for 3 hours at a temperature between 160 and 180. For spare ribs the cooking time may increase but not during this stage.


Second Phase 2 hour Foil

Now this is where the type of ribs you like will be accomplished. Chewy or fall off the bone. If you prefer fall off of the bone ribs foil and steam method will work the best here. If you like chewy and you are cooking multiple racks of ribs you can use the stacking method. The stacking method will add more time to the second phase as you will want to rotate the ribs in the stack (Bottom to Top). This is where the heavy duty long tongs will come in real handy.

Increase the temperature of the smoker to 200 degrees.

en Papiotte or Foiling

en Papiotte or Foiling

For fall-off-the-bone ribs place the ribs on the tin foil with the  the edges folded up so as not to allow the liquid to leak. This wrapping method is also know as en Papillote which is french for ” in Paper”.  Sprinkle the top of the ribs with the brown sugar that you set aside, not a lot but a good dusting will do. Pour the steaming liquid in the bottom of the tinfoil boat you have made. Wrap the foil over and fold the edges over each other and up to make a water tight seal. Poke a couple of small holes in the top of the wrapped foil to allow steam to escaper and return the tinfoil package on the smoker and cook for an additional 2 hours.



stack-and-grill-lFor chewier ribs stack the ribs on top of each other. Make a slurry with the braising liquid by adding more brown sugar and cutting the cranberry juice in half. Baste it on the top of the ribs using a basting brush or sauce mop. Rotate the ribs at least 3 times during the 2 hour process to keep the top and bottom rib sections from drying out and adding more of the basting liquid between the ribs.





Third Phase 1 hour grill

Grilling the ribs for the final stage is a crucial part. Doing this wrong can make the previous 5 hours a complete and total waste of time.

Someone once told me that BBQ was easy, all you had to do was through some chicken on the grill and slap some BBQ sauce on it. Well this can be delicious but as most of you probably have experiences this method of cooking have more often than not ended up with a dry chicken breast with a burnt sugar glaze.  Because this recipe uses sugar please make sure that you use the indirect grilling method. This can be done on most grills. For a gas grill turn one or more of the banks of burners off. Whatever you need to keep the grill at 225. For those of you that use charcoal simply move the coals around to create a safe zone. Failure to do this can cause flareups from dripping fat and can cause the surface of the ribs to burn. The last 15 min of this stage can be used to get the char marks on the ribs. Some people like this and like I have said before, you should eat ribs how ever you like them.

Once the hour is over your ribs should rest for 15 minutes and then they will be ready to serve. Server them with your favorite BBQ sauce or dry as you prefer. Try different methods and I am sure that you will find on that you can do at home and delight friend and family alike and earn you the title of Family PitMaster!







Nathan Briggs

Nathan Briggs

Nathan was born in Ogden, UT and has lived the majority of his life in the great state of Utah. He is a proud father of three, and the lucky husband of Kari Briggs. Nathan enjoys all thing outdoors, music, and spending time with his family. He currently works for a transportation company in Salt Lake City as the Director of Information Technologies.

Posted in BBQ, Recipes.

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