Fall off the bone, full of flavor saucy ribs. These 321 Ribs are what BBQ and smoking are all about!
If smoked ribs are your thing and let’s face it, who doesn’t love them some ribs, check out our other rib recipes. Our St. Louis Ribs are tender, juicy and full of flavor while these Smoked Ribs are baby backs that practically fall off the bone!
Fall off the bone BBQ ribs
BBQ and ribs are synonymous with each other. They go hand in hand. There really isn’t anything better then fall off the bone ribs that are full of flavor. That being the case, there are so many ways that you can bring this classic BBQ dish to your table. Breaking it down into the simplest of options, there are sauce and un-sauced ribs. Beyond that, you can have ribs with dry rub, ribs with sauce, ribs with dry rub and sauce…. you get the point.
For this smoke, we will be using a popular method of smoking ribs called the 321 method. This method is perfect for beginners but even the most seasoned smoking experts will use this technique. This step by step method results in some of the most delicious, tender, fall off the bone ribs making it hard to argue against this technique.
There is no doubt that these ribs will be the centerpiece of the table at your BBQ, but what to pair it with you ask? Ribs are easily matched with a variety of BBQ sides and you can’t go wrong with the staples. Try our Potato Salad, Macaroni Salad or Smoked Mac and Cheese to add not just flavor but some color to your table.
What is the 321 method?
A perfect technique for beginners, the 321 method of smoking ribs is a simple but effective way to cook the most tender, moist and delicious ribs.
Simply put, 321 describes the steps or stages of the cook.
Step 1 – Smoke the ribs for 3 hours. After coating your ribs with dry rub pop your ribs in for a 3 hour smoke. Using a mild, even fruity wood and a low temperature of 225°, let the ribs soak in that smoke.
Step 2 – Cook for 2 hours wrapped. Using a mop, cover the top and bottom of your ribs in a mop sauce, wrap in foil and cook for 2 hours. This essentially braises your ribs, helping to bring the natural flavors to the forefront of the rib.
Step 3 – Smoke for 1 hour sauced. This final step is where you get to combine all these flavors. Make no mistake, the final product might just be the best ribs you’ve ever had!
Baby Back Ribs – The most popular of rib for smoking, the Baby Back Rib are a smaller rib section more tender and leaner than spare ribs.
BBQ Sauce – For this recipe we used our BBQ Sauce.
Dry Rub – Everyone has their favorite, store bought or homemade but we’re putting our money on this one! We’ll even double down on this Dry Rub.
Vinegar – Vinegar helps the mop sauce allow the natural flavor of the ribs shine.
Apple Juice – Adds a little fruity touch to your mops sauce.
Honey – Another nice and subtle flavor added to your mop sauce.
Having prepped and prepared the dry rub and BBQ sauce ahead of time, we’ll concentrate on the good stuff, the ribs!
Prepare your smoker as needed and preheat it to the temperature of 225°. For this dish we’ll be using Cherry wood to add a mild fruity smokey flavor. We’ve found that fruity woods are the perfect compliment to dry rubbed, saucy pork ribs but you can use a variety of woods. Harder woods such as hickory, maple or pecan work very well with ribs as well.
The first step in preparing your ribs is to remove the membrane that runs along the bottom of the rib. Typically you will have to remove this membrane yourself. It isn’t very often you will find it already removed.
Place the ribs on their back, you will see a thin white covering on the bones all along the rack. Starting at one end, use a small knife to slide right under the membrane and gently pull up, but don’t cut it. The easiest spot to get under the membrane is right on the bone and not on the meat.
Using a paper towel, slowly but firmly pull the membrane off the entire rib. 9 times out of 10 it will come off nice and smooth with no problem.
Step 1 – 3 hours
With the membrane removed, it’s now time to season your ribs. As I mentioned above, we’ll be using our tried and true dry rub that you can find a recipe for here on our sister site, or below. Of course you can use whatever seasoning or dry rub you like.
You’ll want to cover the ribs fully in the dry rub, top and bottom. Be sure to pat the dry rub on and not to smear it. Smearing it will just make it more difficult to cover and create thinner spots of coverage.
Now that you have covered your entire rib in dry rub, it’s time for the fun part! Let the smoking begin!
With your smoker now maintaining a temperature of 225°, pop your ribs in for 3 hours.
Unlike cooking ribs in any other method where you allow the ribs to dictate the time needed for smoking, we won’t be deviating from our time much on these first few steps.
Step 2 – 2 hours
After you have completed the first step and your ribs have smoked for 3 hours, it’s time to move on to step 2.
Remove the ribs from the smoker and place them on a sheet of foil.
Using a mop, apply your already prepared mop sauce to both the bottom and top of the rib. Allow the excess mop sauce to drip into the bottom of the foil. Wrap your ribs up in the foil and place them back into the smoker for 2 hours.
The braising stage will essentially allow the meet on the rib retract and tenderize.
At this point, your halfway done.
Step 3 – 1 hour
After the 2 hour braising period is over, it’s time to pull the ribs and begin the final step, saucing!
Possibly the most important step in regards to flavor, we prefer to use our homemade BBQ sauce. Everyone has their favorite, this is definitely ours. You can find the recipe for this one below or again on our sister site. We know everyone has different tastes, so please use what you feel would make the perfect rib for you, but we hope you’ll give our sauce a shot!
Your going to want to cover your ribs completely with your choice of sauce. Coverage is very important in this step. You want your flavor combinations to be consistent through-out the entire rib.
When your confident that you’ve covered the entire rib in sauce, it’s time for the final smoking. Place your ribs back into the smoker, this time for just one hour. You can do it, you’re almost there!
Has the 1 hour passed, felt like an eternity didn’t it?
It’s time to get those ribs out of the smoker. As you remove the ribs, apply a little pressure in a bend to the rib. You’ll notice how the ribs will crack, the outer layer breaking to expose the meat, even a little bone. That’s a tender rib!
Lets top off these ribs with a little more of that favorite sauce of yours. This is BBQ,, you can’t use too much of the stuff so slather it on.
It’s time to enjoy. You’ve earned it!
Storing and Reheating Ribs
In the rare event that you couldn’t polish off the entire batch of ribs, you may want to save them for later.
Keep leftovers in an airtight container in the refrigerator. Use within 3 to 4 days for best results, and enjoy them cold or reheated.
Heat low and slow to keep them tender and moist, and apply another layer of BBQ sauce as needed. I prefer to wrap cold ribs in a butcher paper (or in a pocket of aluminum foil) and reheat them in the oven at 350°. Reheat them just until hot so they don’t dry out.
Frequently Asked Questions
While using the 321 method will typically produce completely cooked ribs, our no fail test to check if the ribs are done is the bounce test. Use long metal tongues to gently lift the rib rack off the grate but hold it only about 1/3-1/2 of the way up the rack. Give it a gentle bounce to see how easily the meat cracks.
Between 225° and 250° tends to be the best target temperature for smoking ribs. You don’t want to cook at too low of a temperature and risk under cooking the meet but if you go to high you run the risk of drying out your ribs. Between these two temperatures tends to be the perfect window.
What to serve with 321 Ribs
Sometimes the perfect rib isn’t enough, Your going to want to pair these bad boys off with some great sides. You can go classic like our Potato Salad or you can go next level and bring some Watermelon Feta Salad in with some color. No matter what you decide to add to the table, these ribs are sure to be the centerpiece of a great BBQ.
- 2 Baby Back Ribs
- 1 cup ketchup
- 1/2 cup chicken broth or stock
- 1/3 cup dark brown sugar
- 1/4 cup apple cider vinegar
- 2 tbsp molasses
- 2 tbsp maple syrup
- 2 tbsp bourbon
- 1 tbsp Worcestershire sauce
- 2 tbsp tomato paste
- 1 tsp chili powder
- 2 tsp paprika
- 1/2-1 tsp liquid smoke
- 4 tbsp dark brown sugar
- 4 tbsp smoked paprika
- 2 tbsp coarse salt
- 1 tbsp ground black pepper
- 2 tsp garlic powder
- 2 tsp onion powder
- 1 tsp cumin
- 1 tsp ground coriander
- 1 tsp cayenne pepper
- 1/2 cup vinegar
- 1/2 cup apple juice
- 1/3 cup honey
- Pour all ingredients into a large bowl and whisk until all ingredients are combined.
- Prepare your smoker as needed and preheat it to the temperature of 225°.
- Remove the membrane that runs along the bottom of the rib. Place the ribs on their back, you will see a thin white covering on the bones all along the rack. Starting at one end, use a small knife to slide right under the membrane and gently pull up, but don’t cut it. Using a paper towel, slowly but firmly pull the membrane off the entire rib.
- Cover the entire rib, top and bottom with dry rub. Remember to pat the seasoning on and not to smear.
- Place your ribs in the smoker for 3 hours.
- Remove the ribs from the smoker and place them on a sheet of foil.
- Using a mop, apply your already prepared mop sauce to both the bottom and top of the rib. Allow the excess mop sauce to drip into the bottom of the foil.
- Wrap your ribs up in the foil and place them back into the smoker for 2 hours.
- Remove the ribs and cover in BBQ sauce. Coat the entire rib, top and bottom in sauce.
- Place the ribs back in the smoker for 1 final hour.
- Remove the ribs and apply a little pressure in a bend to the rib. If you see a nice soft crack, your ribs are done.
- Finally, coat the ribs in some additional sauce. Do this to taste, there is no right or wrong way to add on more sauce.