We take the 3-2-1 method of grilling ribs and tweak it so that the ribs aren’t so tender that they fall right off the bone. A lot of people love that, and that’s just fine, but some people want ribs a little short of pot roast. In this recipe, we give an alternative to the 3-2-1 method for grilling ribs which will save you significant time and still yield tender, juicy, and smoky ribs. We call it 90-60-30 Ribs.
How Long Does it Take?
The one question people ask me more than any other is, “How long did you cook it for?” This is a severely flawed question. How long I cook something has no bearing on how long someone else would cook a similar cut. There are too many factors that can vary the cooking time greatly such as weight of the meat, temp of the grill, fat content of the meat along with outside weather conditions. Simply put, cook to temp, not to time. But since so many people cook to time, I guess I shouldn’t be surprised at how popular the 3-2-1 method is for grilling ribs. This is an alternative to the 3-2-1 method for grilling ribs. In that 3 2 1 method recipe, we brine the ribs. We don’t in this recipe. Want the best of both worlds? The alternative to the 3 2 1 method AND brining, check out this recipe.
If you need more ribs inspiration, we can help.
What is the 3-2-1 method?
It’s the most surefire way to overcook your ribs and take them beyond fall-off-the-bone, which turns some people off, although the vast majority of people prefer them this way. Basically set the grill/smoker to 225F degrees, and smoke the ribs for 3 hours. Next, place the slabs on a couple sheets of aluminum foil and add either margarine or butter along with a bunch really sweet stuff like honey or syrup or brown sugar or a combo of 2 or 3. Feel free to add seasoning here. Maybe give Agave Nectar a try. Trust me here! Then the foil-wrapped ribs are put back on the grill for 2 hours. After that, the smoked ribs are removed from the foil and placed back on the grill to firm up the bark from all the liquid that accumulated in the foil. If applying sauce, this is the time.
So what’s the alternative?
How do you smoke ribs without the 3 2 1 method?
It’s pretty clear that I’m not a big fan of the 3-2-1 method. Well, actually, it’s not the method I don’t like – it’s the duration of each step. I love the method. I’m not happy with the times. All three of those numbers need to be cut in half. So if you convert the 3 2 1 method to the 1.5 1 .5 method, you’re golden.
The problem is the 1.5-1-.5 method sounds terrible. If we could get everyone to call it the 90-60-30 method we might have something. Because in actuality, that’s all anyone needs to cook a couple fantastic slabs of ribs. See, what happens is all that butter/margarine/honey/brown sugar/syrup/agave nectar combines with fat rendering out of the ribs to make a steaming, sweet/savory slurry. Thus, the liquid steams the ribs inside the foil, infusing some amazing flavor, but at the same time hyper-accelerating the breakdown of the connective tissues, which makes the ribs super tender.
The problem is it’s really easy to go too far. So what I’m saying is I’m all for the foil, just not foiling too long. We want to infuse all those flavors, but not make the pork too soft. I know some of you think all that sweet stuff will make it taste like candy. It doesn’t. It adds sweetness but it’s not candy sweet. The butter/margarine counters the sweetness a great deal.
Also, if the worst thing that happens to me in a day is I eat fall-off-the-bone ribs, I had an amazing day!
Let’s get to the method so I can show you what I mean.
An Alternative to the 3-2-1 Method for Grilling Ribs Ingredients:
- 2 slabs of St. Louis style spare ribs
- Your favorite BBQ rub
- Reynolds Wrap Heavy Duty Aluminum Foil
- 12 pats of butter
- 2/3 cup of honey, divided three ways
- 2/3 cup brown sugar, divided 3 ways
- More BBQ rub
Does the alternative to the 3 2 1 method work for baby back ribs?While I’m doing this recipe with St. Louis style spare ribs, the method will work just fine on baby back ribs too. Although, baby backs should be done a little earlier (like 20-40 minutes over the total time of the cook).
An Alternative to the 3-2-1 Method for Grilling Ribs Prep:
First, remove the membrane off the bone side of the ribs and season with salt and pepper and the BBQ rub. Always season bone side up first and then season the meat side:
The reason to season bone side first is so the natural concave of the bones will keep the meat (and seasoning) up off the cutting board and thus keep the BBQ rub from sticking to the wood.
Next, season the edges. The easiest way to do that is to put the ribs on their side and rub the edges along the seasoning that landed on the cutting board:
You will notice those latex-looking gloves in the above three pics. They are actually made of nitrile. They are A-MAZ-ING. Got a sloppy job to do, slap a pair on, get down and dirty then toss them in the trash. We go through thousands a year. You can also layer on 4 or 5 pairs, when the top set gets all nasty, slide that set off and the next set is ready to go. Here’s our go-to for nitrile gloves. Also, black nitrile gloves just plain look cool!
Now back to the recipe.
How to Grill Ribs:
Prep the smoker for between 250F-275F degrees. In this case we have a kamado style grill with a plate setter in between the hot coals and the ribs to deflect the heat away from the meat. In a conventional grill, simply do two zone or indirect grilling with coals/smoke wood on one side and the meat on the other.
I added some pear wood to the coals and dropped those ribs on the cooker bone side down to keep the seasoning from sticking to the grill grates:
An hour in the smoke and the ribs are coloring up nicely:
After 90 minutes (or the first part of the 90-60-30 Method for Ribs), the ribs are ready for the foil:
How to Foil Ribs
Lay down a couple layers of foil and place four pats of butter a in a row a couple inches apart. Then add a third of the honey and a third of the brown sugar along the line of butter. Sprinkle a little rub down as well. Next, put the first slab on top of that buttery sweetness meat side down. I know it’s been bone side down the whole time until now, but the rub is now melded to the meat and we want to create a vessel for the liquid to pool in. See, the meat is going to pull back from the bones making for 12-13 pointy protrusions pushing against the bottom of the foil which is holding in all that scalding liquid. As soon as the foil packet is picked up, the bones poke through and now we have a sweet, hot slurry sprinkler pouring all over our legs and shoes. Like I said, meat side down, bone side up here. Add the second slab and the last third of the honey/brown sugar/butter and wrap up the ribs in the foil.
Read on to see step by step, pic by pic, foolproof grilling instructions on exactly how to do this
The first slab is placed on top of four pats of butter. Then, add four more pats of butter to the bone side of the ribs along with a third of the honey and a third of the brown sugar as well as a little more rub:
Next, place the second slab on top of the first, again meat side down and repeat the process on the bone side of the second slab. Then wrap the foil around the two slabs and put them back on the cooker, also, meat side down.
How to tell the ribs are done? The bones know!
After an hour, I know the ribs are done because those bones tell me soL
Finally, the ribs go back into the cooker for 30 minutes without the foil to firm up the bark:
Why is one slab darker than the other? The one on the left was on the bottom and almost completely submerged in juices and melted butter. Conversely, the one on the right was on top and not submerged. If this is an issue, simply wrap each slab separately.
Plate the ribs
When I said these ribs were pretty much done when they came out of the foil, the darker slab (the one completely submerged) came just short of splitting in half at the bone because that slab was fall off the bone tender. See the split:
So just an hour in the foil and the one slab that was completely submerged was fall off the bone. Although, be careful. The Texas Crutch is a powerful tool.
The slab in this pic was the top, lighter colored slab in the foil. How did this one turn out?
There is a term for that clean indention that shows the exact shape of the teeth. It’s called the perfect bite.
That’s what every competition barbecue contestant is looking for. Thus, with this cook, I had the best of both worlds. I had a slab that was fall-off-the-bone and another slab for those that prefer ribs a little less done.
An Alternative to the 3-2-1 Method for Grilling Ribs Recap
I highly recommend foiling ribs. It’s up to you to experiment with different flavors, whether sweet or savory, as well as cook times in the foil. It really is a great way to ensure ribs are flavorful and tender. Just be careful. Foiling is a potent weapon. Go with the 90-60-30 method. Unless of course you are all about those fall off the bone ribs, then by all means, go for the full two hours in the foil and don’t let anyone tell you those ribs aren’t fantastic too!
If you have any questions or comments, feel free to leave them below or shoot me an email.
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An Alternative to the 3-2-1 Method for Grilling Ribs
- aluminum foil
- 2 slab St. Louis style spare ribs
- black pepper
- your favorite BBQ rub plus extra
- 12 tsp salted butter divided into pats
- ⅔ cup honey divided 3 ways
- ⅔ cup brown sugar divided 3 ways
- Remove the membrane off the bone side of the ribs and then salt and pepper that side before dusting with the rub
- Flip over to meat side up and repeat the seasoning process
- Prepare the grill for two zone or indirect grilling with a target temp of 250-275f
- Place the ribs bone side down the grill and close the lid
- After 90 minutes lay down two long sheets of Reynolds Wrap and line up 4 pats of butter a couple inches apart
- Drizzle a third of the honey over the butter as well as a third of the brown sugar
- Dust with some more BBQ rub
- Place the ribs meat side down and repeat the butter/honey/brown sugar/rub process on the bone side of the ribs
- Place the second slab meat side down on top of the first slab and place the remaining butter/honey/brown sugar/rub on the bone side of the second slab before wrapping the two slabs up in the foil
- Place the foiled slabs on the grill for about an hour
- Remove the foiled slabs from the grill and remove the slabs from the foil
- Place the ribs back on the grill and close the lid for about 30 minutes.
- Remove the slabs from the grill and place on a platter or cutting board
- Slice and serve
More pics from an alternative to the 3-2-1 method for grilling ribs