on May 28, 2023, Updated Aug 22, 2023
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If you’re looking for a surefire method to get delicious ribs, 3-2-1 ribs are the way to go! As soon as I discovered this technique for smoking Traeger 321 ribs, I was blown away — it yields delicious and tender pork ribs that are fall-off-the-bone tasty every time. The 3-2-1 method is so easy to pull off, and the results are so out of this world you’ll wonder how it took you so long to discover it. The 321 method is a process where you cook the ribs for 3 hours unwrapped, 2 hours wrapped in foil with liquid, and 1 hour unwrapped with sauce.
Table of Contents
The 3-2-1 method was developed specifically for fall-off-the-bone pork spare ribs or St. Louis-style ribs. If you are working with baby back ribs or if you prefer for your ribs to have more bite and not fall off the bone, jump down to the section below to learn about some variations to the 3-2-1 method.
I’m going to teach you everything you need to know about 3-2-1 ribs! Keep reading below for detailed instructions, other BBQ ribs recipes, and suggestions for pulling off the perfect 3-2-1 ribs recipe!
💪 Why This Recipe Works
- It will give you delicious smoked ribs every single time!
- Easy to adjust to your flavor preferences.
- Awesome for barbecues or backyard parties.
- You only need 5 ingredients!
- I swear by my Traeger, but you can use any pellet grill, smoker, or charcoal grill!
- Use baby back ribs or spare ribs, and we also include variations of the 3-2-1 method below!
You’ll find a list of key ingredients below, and be sure to scroll down to the printable recipe card for all of the other details.
- Ribs. Opt for spare ribs or St. Louis-style ribs for the best (and tastiest) results. You can also use baby back ribs, but read the variations section below for modified instructions.
- Cajun seasoning mix. Use my homemade Cajun dry rub version!
- Tart cherry juice. You need to add some sort of liquid to the 3-2-1 ribs to make them even more tender. If you don’t like cherry juice, use apple cider.
- Brown sugar. To give you a touch of sweetness — and to help caramelize the BBQ sauce.
- Butter. For added flavor and moisture.
- BBQ sauce. Feel free to use your preference! I love this homemade Kansas City-style BBQ sauce myself.
👨🍳 How To Make It
Here’s what you can expect when you make 3-2-1 ribs! For more detailed instructions, be sure to refer to the printable recipe card at the end of this post.
- Preheat your Traeger, grill, or smoker.
- Prepare the rack of ribs by removing the thin membrane from the ribs and adding the Cajun seasoning all over.
- Smoke the ribs at 225° F for 3 hours, meat side up.
- Remove the meat from the grill and position them bone-side up on a large piece of aluminum foil.
- Apply the brown sugar and butter, then pour the cherry juice all over.
- Close the foil and return the 321 ribs to the grill to cook for 2 more hours.
- Take the meat off the grill again and remove the foil.
- Put the ribs back on the grill, meat side up, and brush on the BBQ sauce.
- Cook for the final hour.
- Remove your Traeger 321 ribs from the grill and let them rest for about 20 minutes before serving!
Remove the membrane from the ribs and coat it in the dry rub.
Throw the ribs on the Traeger and smoke for 3 hours.
Remove the ribs from the smoker, and wrap them in foil with brown sugar, butter, and juice. Smoke for 2 hours.
Remove the ribs from the Traeger and brush on the BBQ sauce. Smoke for the final hour. Let the ribs rest before slicing.
😉 Tips For Success
- Remove the silver skin from the back of the ribs. Flip the ribs so the bones are facing up. Use a butter knife and slide it under the thin membrane against one of the rib bones. Use the knife to work the membrane away from the ribs. You can use a paper towel to get a grip on the membrane once you work it a bit, and then you can gently peel the membrane from the ribs.
- Don’t skip the wrapping with liquid step. At this point, the heat from your grill paired with the foil essentially steams the ribs — this step is key to getting melt-in-your-mouth tender results.
- If you do want a bit more structure and bite to your 3-2-1 ribs, simply shorten the wrapped cooking step and cook for 1 hour rather than 2. We call this the 3-1-1 method!
- If you are using baby back ribs, use the 3-1-1 method. Cooking the baby back ribs for 2 hours in foil will be too much for baby back ribs. You can adjust the final cook time with sauce to just 30 minutes instead of the full hour (3-1-½ method?? 🤪). If you want to shoot for perfection, get yourself a reliable thermometer and monitor the temp throughout the cook. I use the ThermoWorks Signals to precisely monitor the cooking temperature and internal temperature.
- Monitor the internal temp of the ribs. For that fall-off-the-bone result, you will want to pull the ribs once they reach about 200-205°F before letting them rest. You will hit that temperature right around the 6-hour mark if you are following the 3-2-1 process. If you want the ribs to have a bit more bite and structure, pull the ribs once they reach 185°F and let them rest before slicing.
- Make sure to use the right cut of meat. Remember that I suggest using spare ribs or St. Louis-style, but that is my preference for my barbecues. Spare ribs have more fat and marbling throughout the meat, which gives them tons of flavor! Baby back ribs have a bit more meat on top of the ribs (rather than between the bones) and are usually more tender than spare ribs.
🍖 Other Killer Rib Recipes
- Traeger Smoked Beef Short Ribs (Dino Ribs)
- Traeger Smoked Beef Back Ribs
- Air Fryer Beef Back Ribs
- Traeger Short Rib Ragu
🤔 Substitutions and Variations
- For baby back ribs, use the 3-1-1 method. Only cook the ribs wrapped in foil with the liquid for 1 hour instead of 2. Baby back ribs are generally more tender, so they don’t need as long in the smoker.
- Cook by temp, not time! The 3-2-1 ribs method is a guide. It really works well if you want fall-off-the-bone results. But to adjust the ribs to your preference, cook by temp, not time. Monitor the internal temperature of the ribs using a ThermoWorks thermometer. For super tender and fall of the bone ribs, pull them once they reach 200-205°F. If you prefer your ribs to have some structure, pull them at 180-185°F.
- Use your favorite BBQ sauce. I love my Kansas City-style BBQ sauce! But you can use your preferred barbecue sauce instead.
- Adjust the dry rub seasonings. Again, feel free to get creative and use your preference. My Cajun seasoning rub is a great jumping-off point, but if you like making your own BBQ rubs, you can play around with the flavors you like most!
- Use a binder. You don’t necessarily need a binder for pork ribs in order for the dry rub to stick. However, if you want to build a thicker bark, use yellow mustard as a binder to help the seasoning stick better to the ribs. Coat the ribs, even the bone side of the ribs, in yellow mustard before adding your rub.
- Play with the types of wood you smoke with. I generally like to use more mild types of wood like cherry, apple, or pecan. They give a subtle smoky flavor without overpowering the pork. You can also try blending in some oak or hickory to bump up the smokiness.
🥡 Storage and Reheating
You can store any leftover Traeger 321 ribs in an airtight container in the fridge for up to 4 days. I love the idea of using the meat in sandwiches for the week, or you can toss the rib meat into some macaroni and cheese. Use the leftover ribs as a topping for air fryer baked potatoes or sweet potatoes.
If you want to freeze them, allow the ribs to cool completely before you place them in a freezer-safe, airtight container. When properly stored, they will last for up to 6 months.
My absolute favorite way to reheat the Traeger 321 ribs is in the air fryer. Cook them in the air fryer at 380°F for 6-8 minutes. To reheat your ribs in the oven, throw them in at 250° F for about 20 minutes or until warmed through to 140°F. You could also use your microwave in 1-2 minute intervals until warmed thoroughly.
If you are reheating frozen ribs, be sure to let them thaw in the fridge before reheating them.
The 321 rib method is a foolproof cooking process to get the best fall-off-the-bone ribs ever — and it’s super easy to pull off once you try it a few times.
They’re called 3-2-1 ribs because of the cook times for each step:
3 hours on the grill, meat side up, low and slow cooked at 225° F.
2 hours wrapped in foil, bone side up, with liquid to keep the meat juicy and to add more flavor.
1 hour meat side up smothered in BBQ sauce to complete the process.
It’s easy to remember, thanks to the name! My Traeger 321 ribs recipe calls for you to smoke the ribs at 225° F for 3 hours, 2 more hours wrapped in foil with liquid, and 1 last hour after being brushed with BBQ sauce to lock in all of the flavors.
I suggest setting your grill to a low temperature of 225° F for the entire process. Some people like to cook at a slightly higher temperature and adjust from the 3-2-1 to the 3-1-1 method.
I like to use a liquid that enhances and adds to the flavor of the ribs. Go with apple juice or apple cider, cherry juice, pomegranate juice, or pineapple juice. You can get creative here and make some adjustments.
I love using fruit woods when smoking pork ribs, but I will also add some oak or hickory for a more intense smokiness. Try using a blend of cherry and hickory. I think you will fall in love with that smoke flavor profile!
🛠 Tools and Equipment
- Traeger Timberline 1300
- ThermoWorks Signals or the Thermapen One
- John Boos butcher block
- New West 12″ chef knife
🤤 Other Amazing Recipes
- Traeger Smoked Prime Rib
- Air Fryer Parsley Baby Potatoes
- Smoked Baked Beans
- Smoked Bacon Wrapped Meatloaf
- Smoked Shotgun Shells
🎁 Wrap Up
Now that you know everything there is to know about the 321 rib method, all that’s left is to fire up your smoker and try it at home. I know you’re going to love these perfectly tender, smoky, and juicy ribs — they just may become your new weekend go-to.
If you tried out my 3-2-1 rib recipe, let me know how it turned out in the comments below! I love hearing from you guys.
💬 Tell Me What You Think!
Did you try out this recipe? Please leave a comment below and let me know how you liked it. Also, snap a picture and post it to your favorite social platform. Be sure to tag me at @alicensetogrill and let me know how you liked it!
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- Preheat your Traeger, grill, or smoker to 225°F.
- Remove the rack of ribs from the packaging and place it on your cutting board, bone side up. Use a butter knife and slide it under the membrane on top of one of the bones. Work the butter knife through until you are able to grab the membrane and peel it away from the ribs. Use a paper towel for a better grip.
- With the membrane removed, season both sides and all edges of the ribs.
- Place the ribs on the grates bone side down and cook at 225°F for 3 hours.
- Lay down a large piece of foil on your work surface. Make sure the foil is large enough to wrap completely around the rack of ribs. Remove the ribs from the grill and lay them down on the foil, bone side up, so that the bones don't puncture the foil. Sprinkle the ribs with the brown sugar and place slices of the butter on top. Fold the sides of the foil up to retain liquid and pour in the cherry juice. Finish wrapping the ribs in the foil and pinch it closed. Return the ribs to the smoker for another 2 hours.
- Remove the ribs from the Trager and unfold one side of the foil. Discard the juices and remove the ribs from the foil. Place the ribs on the grill, bone side down, and brush the ribs with the BBQ sauce. Cook for another 1 hour until the BBQ sauce is caramelized.
- Remove the ribs from the grill and let them rest for 10-15 minutes. Slice the ribs and serve them.
- St Louis-style ribs are my favorite when grilling at home. They have a higher fat content than baby back ribs, and they are slightly bigger, with more meat between the bones. But you really cannot go wrong. Both types of ribs are delicious when cooked properly! If you are using baby back ribs, adjust to the 3-1-1 method.
- Monitor your cook with a grilling thermometer to ensure that you have perfect results. You can always deviate from the 3-2-1 method if you prefer that your ribs have more structure and don't fall off the bone too easily. Pull the ribs at 180-185°F if you prefer more bite, and pull the ribs at 200-205°F if you prefer fall-off-the-bone results.
- If you like your ribs to have a bit more structure to them and not fall from the bone, use the 3-1-1 method and only cook the ribs for 1 hour in the liquid and wrapped in foil.
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Nutrition Information:Yield: 4 Serving Size: 1
Amount Per Serving: Calories: 277Total Fat: 17gSaturated Fat: 9gTrans Fat: 1gUnsaturated Fat: 6gCholesterol: 62mgSodium: 5109mgCarbohydrates: 21gFiber: 2gSugar: 17gProtein: 11g
Nutrition information is a guideline only, is calculated automatically by third party software, and absolute accuracy is not guaranteed.