When you want foolproof barbecue ribs, 3 2 1 Ribs is the ideal recipe for amateur or experienced grillers alike. This method for smoking ribs requires 5 hours smoking time, most of which is hands off. For this, you will be rewarded with moist, tender and delicious smoked baby back ribs.
What are 3 2 1 Ribs?
The recipe name comes from the cooking steps. 3 hours for smoking the ribs on the grill, 2 hours for grilling the ribs in a foil packet, and 1 hour slathering with barbecue sauce while cooking on the grill.
Our version of 3 2 1 ribs cuts the smoking time of the second leg of cooking - the cooking in foil - down to 1 hour. The result? Tender melt-in-your-mouth 3 2 1 ribs that are not mushy or totally falling off the bone. One of the big treats to eating ribs is to pick up that bone and bite the meat off it.
Eating with your fingers and getting messy barbecue sauce all over your hands and mouth are what eating ribs is all about!
3-2-1 Ribs are perfect for cookouts, potlucks, and my personal favorite - tailgating! These smoked baby back ribs consistently come out delicious so you don't need to fuss with them or worry about getting perfectly done ribs at your favorite gathering. Everyone raves about the taste and tenderness or 3 2 1 ribs.
Why This Recipe Is a Favorite
- Three steps and perfectly tender ribs. Smoke. Wrap. Sauce.
- 5 hours of grilling which is mostly hands off.
- You don't need to be a champion griller to get these right.
- Simple Ingredients
- Everyone loves these 3 2 1 Ribs.
Tips For Melt-In-Your-Mouth 3 2 1 Ribs
- Low and slow is the key here. 3 2 1 ribs are smoked on low heat for 3 hours so they absorb all that smoky flavor.
- Hickory or alder pellets or chips work very nicely with baby back ribs. Or try a fruitwood such as apple or cherry for a nice twist on the smoky flavor.
- Pat the barbecue rib rub all over the ribs. You do not need to rub the seasoning in to the ribs, the mustard mixture helps . Arrange the ribs meaty side up on the grill grates. If you are making several racks of ribs, you may want to use larger ribs racks to hold the ribs.
- Use heavy duty foil. These ribs are heavy and the bones can be sharp. The best way to protect your ribs is to use large sheets of heavy duty foil. You can find detailed instructions for making a flat packet for your ribs at How To Make a Foil Packet. Flat packet do not have the big domed top that results more in steaming than tenderizing. Don't push the foil onto the 3 2 1 ribs, just make sure the pack is flatter.
- Reduce the time cooking in foil from 2 hours to 1 hour. This 1 hour of braising time, like that in my ribs in the oven recipe is just perfect for tender juicy ribs without them getting too soft.
- Remove the ribs from the foil packets, put them on the grill racks and slather them with the barbecue sauce. Continue grilling and slathering the ribs until they are tender and the sauce is nicely caramelized.
Top Tip: Use a meat thermometer when making 3 2 1 ribs. This is the most reliable way to know when the ribs are done and safe for eating.
Party Starters. Smoked baby back ribs are the ultimate finger food. Cut the rack into individual ribs and arrange on a platter. Don't forget to bring lots and lots of napkins! Serve the 3 2 1 ribs with devilled eggs, a vegetable platter, or a charcuterie board.
Serve as a Main Dish. 3 2 1 Ribs are good just about anytime and even better when you have a hungry crowd to feed. 3 2 1 Ribs are fabulous served with side dishes such as: Air Fryer Potato Wedges, crispy Roasted Baby Potatoes, fast and easy Instant Pot Potato Salad, Charro Beans, grilled Elotes (Mexican Street Corn Recipe), my creamy cheesy Instant Pot Mac and Cheese, and some easy Honey Cornbread.
Safe Cooking Instructions
- Cooking Temperature. According to the USDA smoked baby back ribs are safe to eat at an internal temperature of at least 145°F. However, 3 2 1 ribs will not be nearly as tender or flavorful until they reach between 180°F and 195°F. I also look for the meat to be pulling back from the bone about ½ inch on each end.
- Separate Raw Meat From Cooked. Never use the same utensils or work surfaces with cooked baby back ribs that you used with the uncooked ribs. You also don't want to have any uncooked pork touch other ingredients that won't be cooked.
- Wash Hands. After handling uncooked ribs always wash your hands.
- Avoid the Danger Zone. This is what the USDA calls food temperatures between 40 degrees Fahrenheit and 140 degrees Fahrenheit. This temperature range is the riskiest for food borne illnesses.
- Refrigerate Leftovers. The smoked ribs or any of the side dishes should be covered and refrigerated within 2 hours. If the temperature is 90 degrees or above, food should not be left out more than 1 hour.
- Storage. Refrigerate the ribs in an airtight container for up to 5 days or freeze for up to 3 months. Reheat leftovers in a 300°F oven or grill. The smoke ribs will be heated and ready to serve in approximately 15 to 20 minutes.
Looking for a fast way to make BBQ baby back ribs? Try my Instant Pot Baby Back Ribs or these Amazing BBQ Ribs in the Oven - Fast and Fuss-Free which are perfect for when you don't want to spend time grilling.
More Smoker Recipes:
📋 Recipe Card
3 2 1 Ribs - Breaking the Rules
- Smoker or Grill
- 2 racks baby back ribs 2-½ to 3 pounds each
- ¼ cup yellow mustard
- ¼ cup apple cider vinegar
- 1 12 ounces can of beer ale, lager or wit beers work best
- 2 teaspoons orange zest
- 2 cups Homemade Kansas City Style BBQ Sauce or to taste
- OR your favorite BBQ Sauce
- Preheat the smoker, according to manufacturer's directions, to 225°F.
- Remove the thin membrane from the bottom of the ribs. (see tip) Pat ribs dry with a paper towel.
- In a small bowl, combine the yellow mustard and apple cider vinegar. Lightly brush the mixture all over the ribs.
- In a medium bowl, combine the brown sugar, paprika, kosher salt, onion powder, garlic powder, black pepper and cumin. Generously pat the rib rub all over the ribs.
- Arrange the ribs, meat side up, on the grill racks. Close the grill and smoke for 3 hours.
- Meanwhile, turn up the edges of 2 large sheets of heavy duty foil and place side-by-side onto a large rimmed baking sheet. Pour ¼ cup (4 ounces) of the beer onto each foil section and sprinkle with 1 teaspoon of the lemon zest each. Discard or drink the remaining beer.
- Using tongs, carefully transfer the ribs, meat side up, to the center of the foil. Wrap the ribs into flat foil packets. (see tips) Place the packets back on the smoker, seam side up, for 60 minutes.
- Carefully open the foil packets a little at a time to let the steam escape. Using a fork, test the tenderness of the meat in between the ribs. (If more cooking time is needed, roughly close the foil and cook another 15 minutes.) Using tongs, remove the ribs from the foil packets and place back on the grill.
- Brush the ribs with your choice of barbecue sauce. Cook, occasionally brushing with sauce, 45 to 60 minutes or until an instant read thermometer inserted into the rib meat registers at least 190°F and the ribs are tender. To test for tenderness, slightly turn 2 ribs opposite each other. If the meat gives easily, the ribs are done. If not, close the grill and continue cooking for 15 minutes or until tender.
- Transfer the ribs back to the sheet pan, cover with foil, and let rest 15 minutes.
- Cut ribs into individual ribs. Serve with additional sauce on the side.