Enough With the 3-2-1 Ribs

St. Louis style ribs cooked be Freedomsohard

As an aspiring Pitmaster or backyard barbecue enthusiast the first two bits of advice you get are; (1) invest in a good instant read thermometer and (2) always cook to temperature, not time. So why are people still using the 3-2-1 rib method?

What makes the perfect rib and how is it achieved? Well, I’m going to tell you.

The 3-2-1 rib method is where ribs are smoked for three hours, cooked wrapped or braised for two hours, finished with sauce and cooked for an additional hour. The 3-2-1 method is a great place to start for anyone new to barbecue, however there’s definitely room for improvement.

From my experience the 3-2-1 method has a tendency of producing overly cooked ribs. These ribs are difficult to slice without falling apart and will normally completely fall off the bone. These are both signs of an over cooked ribs.

You may be thinking “what’s wrong with fall off the bone ribs?” Don’t worry you’re not alone. I was brought up in the Central Valley of Northern California and taught a good rib is when the meat falls off the bone. Truth be told California is not known for its barbecue. Shocker. If you grew up anything like me, pork ribs were boiled, slathered with Bullseye barbecue sauce and burned on a gas grill. Thanks mom.

So what makes a quality rib? Let’s starts with the aesthetics. A quality sliced rib should have a razor sharp edge. The meat should have a slight pullback on the bone and not overly sauced. The sauce should not be over powering and always should complement the smoke and meat flavors. The bite should have a clean pull from the bone with slight resistance. The meat should not fall completely off the bone but come very close to doing so. The rib meat should be moist, tender and not mushy. If you have to gnaw on the rib it’s undercooked. If the bone can be pulled from the meat it’s over cooked.

So that’s great and all, but how is this perfectly cooked rib achieved? The path to a perfectly cook ribs starts with the selection of the rack. Pick a rack of ribs that has straight bones and is equal in thickness.

Set your grill up for indirect cooking. My preferred cooking temperature is between 225 and 250 degrees. I like to use a blend of seasoned hickory, apple and cherry wood.

While the grill is preheating remove the membrane from the bone side of the ribs and trim to make uniform. Pat dry both sides of the ribs with a clean paper towel and let air dry for a few minutes. Rub the ribs down with a binder if desired. My preferred binder is Mango Habanero craft hot sauce by Monroy’s Hot Sauce. Season the bone side of the ribs with your desired rub. I tend to lean towards the sweet heat flavor profile. Don’t be afraid and layer on the different seasonings to achieve your desired flavor profile. For example the ribs I’m making today are seasoned with Tennessee Mojo BBQ Magic, Lane’s Sweet Heat and Spiceology Honey Habanero. Let each layer of rub sweat out a bit before adding another one. After each layer of seasoning has sweat out, flip and repeat.

Ribs seasoned and on the Primo

Place ribs on the grill bone side down. This is often an over looked step. Take some time in placing the ribs on the grill. Try to keep them uniform and the bones straight. Understand the ribs will cook in the manner that they are placed on the grill. If you placed the ribs on the grill in a wonky position they will cook in the same manner and look wonky when they are ready to be sliced.

Cook ribs for three hours adding moisture as needed. Apple, white grape and peach juices are some of my favorites. It has been my experience using a pellet grill moisture will need to be added more frequently. A little misting every 30 to 60 minute should do the trick. When using my Primo Ceramic Grill I place a disposable pan below the grill grates and fill with fruit juice. This adds moisture to the cooking chamber and I do not need to add any additional moisture during the cook.

After three hours remove the ribs from the grill. Place two sheets of heavy-duty tin foil down and line with some butter, brown sugar and honey. Place ribs meat side down and top with butter, brown sugar and honey. Wrap tightly, seal one end and add ¼ cup of apple juice or your preferred liquid, through the opening on the other end. Seal the other end and place back on the grill meat side down. It’s important to wrap tightly to prevent an air pocket, which can trap steam and over cook your ribs.

This is where we are going to start to deviate from the 3-2-1 method. Continue to cook until the internal temperature of the rib meat between the bones reaches between 190 and 195 degrees. There so many variables associated with this step that can effect the time it takes to hit the targeted temperature. I would start checking the internal temp after 30-45 minutes of being back on the grill.

When the internal temperature reaches the targeted temp, remove from grill, vent and remove from foil. At this point the ribs should be a little pliable and have a slight bend. Glaze both sides’ ribs with your preferred barbecue sauce mixture. I glaze my ribs with sauce that’s has been preheated. This allows me to coat my ribs evenly and achieve the thin tacky texture I’m shooting for.

Finished ribs sliced with a Route 83 knife

Place ribs back on the grill bone side down and continue to cook until the internal temperature of the meat between the bones reaches between 201 and 205 degrees. Remove from grill, for rest five to ten minutes. Slice with a sharp knife and devour.

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Smoking temperatures are between 180 -250 degrees.



Cook to internal temperature and not to times.



Take notes and learn from each cook.