The best way to cook pork ribs is to barbecue them in a Weber or dedicated BBQ, with a constant temperature of 225F/108C. If each step in this 3-2-1 recipe is followed, and you prepare your ribs as shown in our BBQ Ribs Done Right, your ribs will be fall off the bone, championship, award winning quality.
Before we start, it’s important to understand the difference between the cooking method in this recipe and the method in the BBQ Ribs Done Right article. The recipe and procedure in that article will turn out great ribs in four hours. This recipe and procedure uses the 3-2-1 method, and takes a total of seven hours, including resting time.
The result will be the most awesome taste, beautiful color, and perfect texture you’ve ever tasted. You should light your fire eight hours prior to when you plan to serve your ribs.
What is 3-2-1?
It’s not new, but it’s a process I’ve had to repeat several times to perfect. Simply, it’s three hours cooked unwrapped, then two hours cooked with the ribs double-wrapped in foil, and the final hour cooked unwrapped again. After than final hour, the ribs should be rested for at least one hour.
Using 3-2-1 does take more time, but not more attention to the cooking than a 3-4 hour barbecue. It’s just planning ahead.
This method is for spareribs. If you’re using baby back ribs, simply cut one hour off the first three, making it 2-2-1. They have less meat and can dry out otherwise.
Starting From The Beginning
It’s important to understand how and where to buy good quality pork ribs, how to prepare them, for cooking, and the use of rubs. These three topics have been covered well in Pork Ribs Done Right, and if you’re not familiar with those subjects, please read them first. Once you’ve gone through the rubs, come on back!
Preparing Your Grill for the First 3 Hours
This procedure is best used on charcoal or wood-fired barbecues. It’s difficult to get a gasser (propane or natural gas) grill down to 225. If you’ve got a gas grill, try it, but no promises from us as to the results.
Prepare your fire well in advance. Let the hydrocarbons (evidenced by smoke) burn off, and wait until the wood or coals have a nice white ash. Be sure the temperature is right at 225F in the area where the food will be. If you don’t have a good grill thermometer, get one and install it before you try this method. Accuracy is more critical with 3-2-1 because of the length of cooking time.
Knowing Your Grill Temperature
You’ll need to calibrate your grill thermometer against a good digital thermometer , like this one we’ve reviewed and recommended. Grill thermometers are notoriously inaccurate ; they can easily be off 30 degrees. The recommended Taylor digital is only off 2-3 degrees. To calibrate, bring water to a boil. Get a reading from the Taylor digital,then from your grill thermometer. Take you grill thermometer reading, and add or subtract the difference between the Taylor and 212 degrees (subtract if higher, add if lower). Then take that figure, and mark either “+” or “-” on your grill thermometer with a felt pen. Now your reading can be adjusted to get an accurate grill temperature.
Another good, inexpensive temp check is a surface thermometer, placed on the grill where your food will be. You can check it every hour or so when you add fuel, but the outside grill thermometer will allow you to monitor the temp constantly. A good grill surface thermometer is this Polder Grill Surface Thermometer for under $10.
The First Three Hours
Once your fire is ready and the grill is at 225, place your ribs with rub on the grill with either side facing up, but make the racks consistent–all down or all up. Place them as far from the fire as possible. If you’re using a Weber or kettle style cooker you will only be able to do two racks, and you can’t use a rib rack due to the curved lid. For a larger or wood fired unit, a rib rack can double or triple your food volume, and you don’t even have to rotate racks individually. We really like this one because it’s fairly heavy duty and can be used for a roast too.
If you’re using charcoal, you’ll need a good supply of wood chunks. For ribs, hickory is a great choice. Place three on the coals now. Do NOT soak them! That’s crazy stuff, and even some of the “experts” recommend that. Do you use water-soaked wood, or dry wood, on a campfire? Check the fire at least once an hour. Replace the chunks as needed, and be sure they are burning the entire three hours. You may replace one or two at a time, not all three. We don’t want to overpower the ribs with smoke.
If you’re not using a rib rack, you should rotate the racks front to back or side to side, and then turn them, after an hour and a half.
The Next 2 Hours
For the next two hours your ribs will be double wrapped in aluminum foil. Using a pair of tongs, simply place each rack on foil, wrap it, and wrap it again. Place them as far from the fire as possible, as before.
The purpose of double wrapping is for them to cook internally without losing any juices or fats. The foiling also helps separate the meat from the bones. The smoking is done; 90% of the smoke flavor is acquired in the first two hours. You won’t need any more wood chunks. Just be sure you keep the temp at 225.
The Last Hour
Unwrap the ribs, and place them back side down on the grill. We’re going to add some crunch and exterior texture during this hour, and seal the surface as well.
The last “hour” is a flextime. More often than not, mine are done within the first 30 minutes. There’s only one good way to tell when they’re done. For a full rack, pick them up with the tongs about one third of the way to the other end. If the rack starts to split at the holding point, they are done. For a half rack, pick them up about 25% in and use the same test. If they don’t start to break,they’re not done. It might take 30 minutes, an hour, or an hour and a half. They’re done when they’re done.
Once the ribs are done, they need to rest so the juices will flow from near the bone throughout the rib. This is an extremely important part of the process, so never skip it.
If you want to add some finishing or glazing sauce, now’s the time. Brush on lightly, and be sure its not a heavy corn syrup based sauce or it will caramelize and possibly burn. My OHY Sauce is a perfect finishing sauce, and you can get it here.
Now, double wrap each rack tightly with foil, wrap all racks in a beach towel, and place in a dry cooler. Let them rest for one to two hours. They will be plenty hot even then, and ready to serve.
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