The 3-2-1 method is one of our backyard BBQers’ favorite ways to cook up a few racks of ribs. It’s practically foolproof and offers delicious results. If you like your ribs to fall off the bone, it’s time to add the 3-2-1 method to your BBQ know-how.
First, what is the 3-2-1 method? The 3-2-1 method for cooking ribs means simply this:
- 3 hours of unwrapped cook time
- 2 hours of wrapped (or braising) cook time
- up to 1 hour of saucing and glazing
Why do BBQers love the 3-2-1 method? Because:
- It’s easy. You have a plan, and the plan is straightforward and simple to execute
- It’s great for beginning BBQers. Never tackled smoking ribs before? The 3-2-1 method is a fantastic (and delicious) place to start
- It’s a playground for experimentation. The 3-2-1 method isn’t a recipe. This means that you can try the full array of binders, seasonings, braising liquid, add-ins, and sauces, all while using the 3-2-1 method. There is no end to the options while you get the feel for rib cooking.
What you’ll need for the 3-2-1 method
Your shopping list for the 3-2-1 method is as simple as the method itself:
- Ribs. Pick baby backs, pork spare ribs, or St. Louis-style ribs. They’re all fair game for the 3-2-1 method.
- Seasoning. Keep it simple with salt and pepper, or break into your pantry and throw a spice blend together. If you’re looking for an option that’s truly foolproof, grab a bottle of our Head Country Championship Seasoning in Original.
- Braising and misting liquid. Great braising liquid choices include beer, broth, and sodas like Coca-Cola and Dr. Pepper. Our misting liquid of choice is high-quality apple juice, but you can also use water or broth.
- Add-ons. Some of our pitmasters swear by adding butter to the braising step of the 3-2-1 method. Others add fists full of brown sugar, or an extra shake or two of their favorite seasoning.
- Sauce. Keep it quick and guaranteed delicious by going with one of our sauce flavors. You can also use our sauces as a base for your own sauce creation. One champion BBQer we know cuts his homemade sauce 1:1 with his favorite Head Country sauce flavor. Another adds honey. Yet another adds butter, Tiger sauce, and pepper jelly. You’re limited only by your imagination.
- Cooking tools. Make sure you’re stocked up on fuel. You’ll also need a sharp knife, a large cutting board, aluminum foil or butcher paper, a clean spray bottle, a basting brush, and a large spatula or flipper.
Step 1 of the 3-2-1 Method: Smoke for 3 hours
Preheat grill or smoker to 225 degrees F. If using a charcoal grill, stack coals to one or either side, creating a large zone of indirect heat for your ribs. If using a gas grill, light just half of the burners.
While your grill pre-heats, trim ribs to your liking. Remove the silverskin from the back of the rack.
Coat all sides of the ribs with your binder of choice: canola oil, marinade, mustard, the list goes on.
Shake on a medium layer of salt and pepper, or use your favorite seasoning. You can stock up on our Head Country Championship Seasoning in Original here, or you can find Head Country at your local grocery store. Start with the bone-side of the ribs and move to the meat side. Don’t forget to season the sides of the ribs, too.
Allow ribs to sweat 30 minutes-1 hour. Shake on an additional, lighter layer of seasoning, again starting with the bone-side of the ribs and moving to the meat side.
Add ribs to the grill over indirect heat. Close the lid and cook for 3 hours. Spray generously with your misting liquid every 45 minutes or so.
You’re ready to move to Step 2.
Step 2 of the 3-2-1 Method: Braise for 2 Hours
After 3 hours of cooking time, remove ribs from the grill onto a large sheet of heavy-duty aluminum foil or butcher paper . The piece of foil needs to be large enough that it can generously wrap around the ribs.
Fold up sides of aluminum foil or butcher paper to form makeshift cooking pans. Add your preferred braising liquid around the ribs. This is the time to throw in some add-ons, too: butter slices, brown sugar, and the like.
Seal the ribs in the aluminum foil or butcher paper by crimping the edges to form a tent over the tops of the ribs.
Add ribs back to the grill, again over indirect heat. Cover and cook 2 hours.
This brings you to step 3.
Step 3 of the 3-2-1 Method: Sauce for up to 1 hour
After 2 hours of cooking time, remove rib packets from the grill. Carefully open the packets. Reserving the juices inside, remove ribs from foil or butcher paper and add back to the grill, again over indirect heat.
Drizzle ribs generously with your preferred BBQ sauce. You can stock up on Head Country Bar-B-Q Sauce here, or you can find Head Country at your local grocery store. Cover and cook 15 mins.
Using a basting brush, dab reserved cooking juices over the ribs, making sure to not disturb the BBQ glaze. Cover and cook 15 mins.
You can repeat these steps for up to a total of an hour.
And that’s the 3-2-1 Method for cooking fall-off-the-bone ribs.
Remove sauced ribs from the grill. Allow to cool slightly before slicing. Slice, serve, and enjoy.
Yes. It really is that simple. We know you’re going to have fun with this one. Keep us posted on your BBQ adventures on Facebook, Instagram, and TikTok—we love seeing what you come up with.
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