Two slabs of grilled ribs

The one question people ask me more than any other is, “How long did you cook it for?” This question is severely flawed. How long I cooked something has no bearing on how long someone else would cook a similar cut. There are just too many factors that can vary the cooking time greatly such as weight of the meat, temp of the grill, how many times the grill is opened during the cooking process, how long one grill takes to build the heat back up after closing compared to another, along with outside weather conditions. The solution is to cook till the meat is done, to the proper temp, and 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. 

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 and turn them into mush. Basically the grill/smoker is set to 225 degrees and the ribs go on for 3 hours. Then they are placed on a couple sheets of aluminum foil and either margarine or butter is added along with a bunch really sweet stuff like honey or syrup or brown sugar or a combo of 2 or 3 of these. Seasoning can be added as well. Maybe give Agave Nectar a try. Trust me here!

Then the ribs wrapped in the foil, are put back on the grill for 2 hours. After that, they are removed from the foil and placed back on the grill to dry out the bark from all the liquid that accumulated in the foil. Just about any ribs are done in less than an hour in the foil using this method, but there are still TWO more hours to this process.

How do you smoke ribs without the 3 2 1 method?

You may have guessed by now that I’m not a fan of the 3-2-1 method. Well, actually, it’s not the method I don’t like. It’s the durations. I love the method. I don’t like 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 then you’re golden.

The problem is the 1.5-1-.5 method sounds terrible. But in all actuality, that’s all anyone needs to cook a couple fantastic slabs of ribs. And if one cooks just a little higher in terms of temp, less time than that. 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 hot, sweet slurry. That slurry steams the ribs inside the foil, infusing some amazing flavor into the ribs, but at the same time hyper accelerating the break down of the connective tissues which makes the ribs super tender. The problem is, it’s real easy to go too far. So what I’m saying is I’m all for the foil, just not foiling for too long. We want to infuse all those flavors, but not turn the meat into mush. I know some of you are thinking all that sweet stuff will make it taste like candy or something. It doesn’t. It adds a sweetness but it’s not crazy 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. In fact, the vast majority of people in the U.S. prefer them fall off the bone

So 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:

Does the alternative to the 3 2 1 method work for baby back ribs?

While I’m doing this method on St. Louis style spare ribs, this method will work just fine on baby back ribs. In fact, they might be done just a little earlier (like 20-30 minutes over the total time of the cook). That’s the general rule. Baby back ribs take about 30 minutes less than spares but both types should be treated equally. 

3 2 1 Ribs Prep:

Start by removing the membrane off the bone side of the ribs and seasoning with salt and pepper and rub. Always season bone side up first and then season the meat side:

Seasoning two slabs of St. Louis style ribs
If you look close, you can see the BBQ rub at the edge of the ribs because dad seasoned the bone side first then flipped them over

The reason we do bone side first is so the natural concave of the bones keeps the meat off the cutting board and thus keeps the seasoning from sticking to the wood.

Seasoning some St. Louis style ribs with BBQ rub
Lay on that rub as thick or as thin as you like

Don’t forget to 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 missed the ribs and landed on the cutting board:

A slab of St. Louis style ribs getting seasoned on the edges
Don’t forget the edges

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

Now back to the recipe.

3 2 1 Ribs Grilling Instructions:

Let’s prep the smoker for between 250-275 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 on one side and the meat on the other.

I added some pear wood to the coals before putting the smokin’ stone in place and the grill grates on and then set the ribs on the cooker, again bone side down to keep the seasoning off the grill grates:

Ribs rubbed and on the grill
We could’ve used a little more seasoning on the edge of that back rack

An hour in the smoke and the ribs are coloring up nicely:

St. Louis style ribs smoking on the grill
I love how the meat undulates here

After 90 minutes, they are ready to come off the grill and get the Reynolds Wrap foil treatment:

Two slabs of ribs after 90 minutes on the cooker
Browning up nicely

How to foil ribs

Lay down a couple layers of foil, place four pats of butter a in a row a couple inches apart, 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. Then 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. Also, bone side down could wind up poking a hole in the foil. If that happens, the resulting stream of hot liquid pouring all over the shoes or bare feet is not pleasant. Ask me how I know.  See, the meat is going to pull back from the bones inside the pouch making for 12-13 pointy protrusions pushing against the bottom of the foil which is holding in all that scalding hot liquid. As soon as it is picked up, the bones poke through and now we have a sweet, hot slurry sprinkler pouring all over legs and shoes. Like I said, meat side down, bone side up here. For foil, I like to use Reynolds Wrap Heavy Duty Aluminum foil because it’s made with a heavier gauge foil that won’t break or tear, and it’s made in the U.S.A. Because those bones, when pointing up can still poke holes in the foil which will cause all the heat to evacuate the foil pouch.

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:

Honey drizzling over butter and ribs
Go for as heavy or as light as you want here. Practice with different amounts.

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, again, meat side down.

How to tell the ribs are done? The bones know:

After an hour, these ribs are pretty much done. How do I know. The bones tell me:

Nearly perfect ribs ready for a little more smoke
The bones always know when a slab of ribs is done

We want to firm up the bark so the ribs go back into the cooker for 30 minutes:

Two slabs of ribs just about to come off the grill
Why is one slab darker than the other? The one on the left was on the bottom and almost completely submerged in juices. The one on top was above all that. You could just as easily do them both in their own foil pouch to make them the same color.

Plate the ribs

When I said these ribs are pretty much done when they came out of the foil, I meant it. When I pulled the darker slab off the grill, it came just short of splitting in half at the bone because that slab was fall off the bone tender. See the split:

an alternative to the 3-2-1 method for grilling ribs
The bones came clean out of that top slab. But what about the bottom slab?

Perfect bite

The bottom slab in this pic was the top slab in the foil. How did that slab turn out?

an alternative to the 3-2-1 method for grilling ribs
BOOM!

They have 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. So with this cook, I had the best of both worlds. I had a slab that was fall off the bone for those folks who prefer it that way (hint, there are more of them than people who like them competition style), and another slab for those that prefer ribs a little less done.

an alternative to the 3-2-1 method for grilling ribs
Mmmmmm Ribs

An Alternative to the 3-2-1 Method for Grilling Ribs Run Down

I highly recommend foiling ribs and experimenting with different flavors, whether sweet or savory, in the pouch. It really is a great way to make sure ribs are flavorful and tender. Just be careful. Foiling is a potent weapon, one that can be overused. Go with the 1.5-1-.5 method, and maybe, just maybe, go under even those numbers just a little bit.

If you need help with some ribs inspiration, we can help

I partnered with Reynolds Wrap on this post.

If you have any questions or comments, feel free to leave them below or shoot me an email.

Also, you can follow us on our GrillinFools Facebook page, Instagram, and YouTube feeds

Print Recipe
4.63 from 8 votes

An Alternative to the 3-2-1 Method for Grilling Ribs

Ribs cooked for 90 minutes, then foiled in Reynolds Wrap for 60 more and finished off with 30 minutes out of the foil on the grill, or, as I call it, an alternative to the 3-2-1 method for grilling ribs
Prep Time20 mins
Cook Time3 hrs
Total Time3 hrs 20 mins
Course: Entree
Cuisine: Barbecue

Equipment

  • Reynolds Wrap® Heavy Duty Aluminum Foil

Ingredients

  • 2 slab St. Louis style spare ribs
  • salt
  • black pepper
  • your favorite BBQ rub plus extra
  • 12 tsp salted butter divided into pats
  • ½ cup honey divided 3 ways
  • ½ cup brown sugar divided 3 ways

Instructions

  • 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 this alternate method of grilling ribs

An Alternative to the 3-2-1 Method for Grilling Ribs

An Alternative to the 3-2-1 Method for Grilling Ribs

An Alternative to the 3-2-1 Method for Grilling Ribs

 

Scott Thomas

Scott Thomas

Scott Thomas, the Original Grillin’ Fool, was sent off to college with a suitcase and a grill where he overcooked, undercooked and burned every piece of meat he could find. After thousands of failures, and quite a few successes, nearly two decades later he started a website to show step by step, picture by picture, foolproof instructions on how to make great things out of doors so that others don’t have to repeat the mistakes he’s made on the grill.
Scott Thomas

Latest posts by Scott Thomas (see all)

34 comments

I use a very similar method, but when I foil them I put some bbq sauce and apple flavored whiskey in the foil. The alcohol cooks off and gives the meat a little apple flavor. The family really likes it

Reply

Jason,

That sounds fantastic…

…….Scott

5 stars
Great article and insight. After reading about the 3,2,1 method it didnt seem right. 6 hours for ribs seems long. This method was spot on for that perfect bite.

Reply

3 stars
I prefer baby backs to the St Louis style for one. I have had the best results from smoking the ribs for 3 hours and continuing to grill them indirect for another 4 hours. I stay under 200° the entire cook. Haven’t had better tasting ribs yet using any other method that involves wrapping.

Reply

My wife likes baby back ribs. Would this method be the same? I’m using a pellet grill if that matters. Thanks in advance.

Reply

Dave,

Sure it would work. Just knock 30 minutes off the first portion of the cook…

…….Scott

Completely correct, 6 hrs way too much for ribs, have u ever tried guava wood?

Reply

Wilfredo,

I have not tried guava wood. Where would I find it?

What times would you recommend for baby back ribs?

Reply

Mike,

Take about 30 minutes off the first portion of the cook for BBR’s

Hey Scott, Costco sells their baby backs in a 3 pack, would you stack the 3-pack for the foil wrap or do two separate foil pouches?

Reply

Cam,

Stacking three high will probably cut right through the foil. I generally only stack two high…

…….Scott

5 stars
Great method, Scott.
What do you consider a pat of butter… 1/2 a tablespoon?
What is the internal temp you are looking for prior to pulling off the grill?
Thanks for this site!

Reply

Vince,

A pat of butter is whatever you see it as. That’s a personal decision…

5 stars
I attempted to follow your instructions but then discovered I failed reading comprehension. First I noticed you used St Louis style and I had the meatiest back loin ribs ever. Not what I would call baby back. After the time on grill , no noticeable undulations . What had I done wrong ? Nothing except wrong ribs . Oh and back tie reading, I was @225° oops! I increased the temp to closer to 250° then used butter honey and rub meat side down 2 separate packs. 1.5 hours later , out of the foil for 30 minutes. They still turned out pretty awesome. First ever slabs I smoked, done butts,shoulders, a turkey , salt , venison and bologna . Next time . Thank you. Sorry so long winded.

Reply

I am 2 1/2 hrs into a two rack cook. I use buckthorn, an invasive species. Quite mild.

Reply

I agree with you and the on my Kamdo Joe the times are too long due possibly to the great heat retention of the ceramic grill. However on my Camp Chef Smoke Vault. They weren’t mushy after 6 hours. I also dont use foil, I use butcher paper which is supposted to breathe a little bit.

Reply

This is spot on, exactly how I do mine on my Kamado Joe. Six hours is way too long and ribs are too dry. About 3 hrs is perfect.

Reply

3-2-1 works for a 3 pound rack of baby backs commonly sold at stores like Costco.
2 pound racks works with 2- 1.5- 0.5 and 1+ pound racks works well with 1.5- 1-0.5.
Sauce the last 30 minutes in 10 minute intervals, meat, bone and meat.

Reply

Ever use butcher paper?

Reply

Sure. Butcher paper works great. It’s just not as easy to get.

What do you think of butchers paper instead of aluminum foil?

Reply

Matt,

I think butcher paper is great! You can’t go wrong with either product.

Scott, you can now get butcher paper on amazon. Good prices also.

Reply

I just cooked about 6 pounds of meaty baby back‘s and ran at 200° for about four hours – foiled and ran for two hours … removed the foil and ran an hour and a half. They were great and some bite to them. During this process of nearly 7 hours I was able to consume several beers more than if I had ran a higher temperature.

Reply

5 stars
I couldn’t agree with you more on the 3-2-1 turning ribs to mush and actually enjoying eating that. I made ribs yesterday following your process and they were flawless! Juicy, perfect bites, and full of flavor. Appreciate you sharing this Scott!

Reply

5 stars
This was a great alternative to the 3-2-1. Smoked under 4 hours, came clean off the bone, and everyone thought they were some of the best they’ve had.

Reply

5 stars
I like a competition bite. How can I avoid the bottom one getting too soft? Thanks

Reply

Bill,

Simply don’t leave them in the foil very long. Like 30-45 minutes tops…

…….Scott

4 stars
I must admit I’ve never fully understood time-only based cook methods of any kind. I view them as guidelines for the purposes of having a rough expectation. I try to get my ribs to around 195-199 and not hover in that zone too long before pulling. Sometimes it takes 5 hours, and other times 7, depending on variables like weight, type of cut, meat-to-bone ratio, starting temp, moisture, etc. I’ve never had an issue with mushy ribs. The main lesson I’ve learned is, just because cook times are longer, ribs are still not “set and forget.” It’s important to monitor them and adjust depending on the method, starting variables, and ever-changing conditions during the cook.

Thanks for your article. I enjoyed the read and picked up a couple of tips I will try.

Reply

Heard of this website for the first time from Order of Man podcast!!! I tried a few different things but my favorite so far has been the ribs. Sometimes I can’t find St. Louis style so I use baby backs and it works just the same. Awesome stuff and really enjoying the website!

Reply

is the time and temp the same if I am using a Pit Boss smoker?

Reply

Yep

Just wanted to thank you. I use this recipe every single time I smoke ribs and they have become a neighborhood favorite. Only modification is to lightly sauce for the last 15 minutes or so. Highly recommend BBQ Guys Memphis Rub. Thanks Scott!

Reply

Leave a Reply to Cam Cancel reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Recipe Rating