321 Ribs – How To Smoke Ribs (The Easy Way)

Smoked meat is a signature meal in the Southern States of America, especially Texas.

321 Ribs - How To Smoke Ribs (The Easy Way)

Grill restaurants and BBQ restaurants serve various cuts of meat that have been cooked low and low in a smoker, along with a variety of tasty side dishes. 

If you want to have a go at smoking some of your meat, then one of the easiest types of meat to use is a rack of ribs.

Smoking ribs is fairly simple and easier to get right the first time than smoking brisket. If you are new to smoking meat and you aren’t sure where to start, then you are in the right place. 

We have put together this helpful guide to introduce you to the 3-2-1 method of smoking ribs. Keep reading to find out more, then you will be able to create your smoked meat sensation. 

What Is Smoking Meat?

Smoking is a method of cooking meat. It involves cooking the meat for a long period of time over a low-temperature fire. Charcoal or fire is used to fuel the fire, which gives the meat a delicious, smoky flavor. 

Cooking the meat slowly keeps the meat relaxed, which prevents it from becoming chewy. It also helps to keep the moisture in the meat and prevents it from drying out.

This means you will end up with tender, succulent meat that melts in your mouth. 

The flavor of smoked meat pairs perfectly with BBQ sauce, creating a mouth-watering combination that is popular all over the United States but also the world. 

What Is The 3-2-1 Method?

When it comes to smoking meat, there are lots of different methods and processes that you can follow.

People have different opinions on how long the meat should be smoked for and at what temperature, when to wrap the meat, when to unwrap the meat, when to add the sauce- it can get very confusing!

The 3-2-1 method is a simple three-stage process for smoking ribs which is ideal for beginners.

Once you get to grips with the 3-2-1 method you can start to experiment with cooking times and temperatures to see what your signature BBQ style is, but this is a great starting point to begin your journey with smoked meat. 

What Will You Need?

To make delicious smoked ribs using the 3-2-1 method, there are a few things that you are going to need.


First, you will need a smoker- also called a smoker oven or a food smoker. You buy these online or at specialist stores.

They range in price from a few hundred dollars up to over 1000 dollars depending on the size, the brand, and what kind of features you want.

If you are a hobbyist meat smoker then you shouldn’t need to spend more than 300 to 400 dollars to get a good quality smoker that will last you a long time.

Make sure you familiarize yourself with the instructions for your smoker, as they can vary from oven to oven.

You should also pay close attention to the safety warnings and make sure that you have the necessary safety equipment – heat-proof gloves are a good idea. 

You will also need fuel for the smoker. Most domestic smokers use wood rather than charcoal.

Apple wood or hickory wood are two of the most popular types of fuel for smoker ovens, but you can use any kind of wood that is compatible with your smoker.

The type of wood will impact the flavor of the meat so choose carefully. 


For part of the cooking process, the meat is wrapped up. This helps to keep in the moisture and stops the meat from drying out.

Some chefs wrap their meat in greaseproof paper or baking parchment, but the most common material used for smoking meat is aluminum foil.

This is because it is readily available in most kitchens and it forms a good seal around the meat. 


If you are going to get into smoking meat then you will need a good set of knives for preparing the meat, but also for carving and serving it.

This is not so important with ribs as you can serve them in a rack and eat them with your fingers, but when you start smoking a brisket and other cuts of meat then some chef-style knives will be more important. 


321 Ribs - How To Smoke Ribs (The Easy Way)

Next, you need to choose your ribs. There are four main types of pork ribs you can choose from- back ribs, baby back ribs, spare ribs, and St Louis-style ribs.

Back ribs come from the middle of the pork loin, whereas baby back ribs come from the top of the rib cage where it meets the spine and is a lot smaller. Back ribs and baby back ribs are tender and not very fatty.

Spare ribs come from the belly of the big and are larger, with quite a high-fat content. This makes them more flavorsome but also a bit more unhealthy.

St Louis style ribs are spare ribs with the rib tips trimmed off to create racks with a uniform rectangular shape. All types of ribs work well for smoking. 


You will need a dry rub to season the meat before you cook it. A dry rub is a combination of spices and herbs that is rubbed into the meat to give it more flavor.

You can buy dry rub in a packet from a grocery store or make your own. The flavors that tend to be used in dry rub are smoked paprika, garlic, cayenne pepper, salt, pepper, and chili powder.

Some people use mustard powder, onion powder, and herbs like oregano. You can get creative and experiment with different flavors. 


Partway through the cooking process, you will be adding some liquid to the meat to make the ribs even more juicy and tender.

This step is optional, but it adds flavor as well as moisture and can elevate your smoked ribs to the next level. You can use beer or cider, a fizzy drink like cola, or even fruit juice.

Liquid with a high sugar content works best because it will make the meat nice and sweet. Think about which flavor will complement the seasonings in your dry rub. 


Towards the end of the cooking process, you will be coating your ribs in sauce. BBQ sauce tends to work best, so choose your favorite one.

You might like bourbon BBQ sauce, spicy BBQ sauce, or extra sweet BBQ sauce. You might also prefer a different kind of sauce, like Buffalo sauce or Louisiana sauce. 

Step One

Begin by preheating your smoker to 225 degrees Fahrenheit. As this heats up, you can prepare your ribs.

When you buy your ribs from a butcher, they might still have a membrane on them or a very thin layer of paper on the back. Make sure this is peeled off before you begin.

The next thing you need to do is add your dry rub to the meat. Rub it in generously, covering all parts of the meat so the flavor will be even.

Once the meat has been seasoned you can place the ribs into the smoker on the smoking rack.

Spare ribs or St Louis-style ribs will need to be smoked for three hours, whereas back ribs or baby back ribs will only need two hours.

Step Two 

321 Ribs - How To Smoke Ribs (The Easy Way)

After the initial smoking period, it is time to wrap the meat in foil. This will keep in the juices and the moisture, making sure the meat is succulent and tender. The tighter your wrap the foil, the faster the meat will cook.

This stage is also when you can add some extra cooking liquid. This step is optional, but it is recommended to get the best flavor and texture from your ribs.

Pour your chosen liquid into the foil parcel – around one-third of a cup for one rack of ribs- then seal the foil packet and place it back in the smoker oven.

The temperature should remain at 225 degrees Fahrenheit. Spare ribs and St Louis ribs will need another 2 hours, whereas baby back ribs and back ribs will only need one hour. 

Step Three

During the final stage of cooking, the BBQ sauce is added to the ribs. Take the foil parcel out of the smoker and lay it on a heat-proof surface. Open the foil, being very careful not to burn yourself on the steam that comes out.

Gently lift the rack of ribs out of the foil. The meat will already be very tender at this point, so you will need to be careful not to knock it off the bone.

You can discard the foil and the liquid. You can coat the ribs in the sauce before placing it back on the smoker rack or afterward, depending on your preference and whether you are brushing the sauce on or pouring it over.

Once the sauce is added, close the smoker oven and cook the meat for one more hour. It should then be ready to serve.

Be very careful as you lift the ribs out of the smoker, as they could easily fall apart now that the meat is tender. 


If you are a beginner at smoking meat then ribs are an excellent place to start. It is easy to get perfect smoked ribs with the 3-2-1 method.

The simple three-stage method takes you through the most effective cooking process for smoked ribs, leaving you with perfectly delicious and juicy meat every time. 

John Rinder
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