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.
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. 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 2 more hours to this process.
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 numbers. I love the method. I don’t like the times. All three of those numbers need to be cut in half. 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 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
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
2 slabs of St. Louis style spare ribs
Your favorite BBQ rub
Reynolds Wrap Heavy Duty Aluminum Foil
12 pats of butter
1/2 cup of honey, divided three ways
1/2 cup brown sugar, divided 3 ways
More BBQ rub
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:
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.
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:
Now 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:
An hour in the smoke and the ribs are coloring up nicely:
After 90 minutes, they are ready to come off the grill and get the Reynolds Wrap foil treatment:
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:
Then 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.
After an hour, these ribs are pretty much done. How do I know. The bones tell me:
We want to firm up the bark so the ribs go back into the cooker for 30 minutes:
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:
The bottom slab in this pic was the top slab in the foil. How did that slab turn out?
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.
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.
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.
- 2 slabs of St. Louis style spare ribs
- Your favorite BBQ rub
- Reynolds Wrap Heavy Duty Aluminum Foil
- 12 pats of butter
- ½ cup of honey, divided three ways
- ½ cup brown sugar, divided 3 ways
- More BBQ rub
- 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