3 1 1 Ribs Method – Easy Tender Smoked Ribs Recipe

November 16, 2022

The 3 1 1 ribs method is as easy as cooking the meat racks on the smoker unwrapped for 3 hours, wrapping them in foil wrap, preferably heavy-duty foil wrap, and cooking for another hour before you finally grill for another hour.

I have been using the 3 1 1 method to cook tasty tender baby back ribs for more than a decade. In 5 hours, the 3 1 1 rib barbecue process assures you of consistent results each time.

If you are on the clock, this method is sure to come in handy. So today, let’s put this cooking process to the test and see if it lives up to the hype.

3 1 1 ribs

Sourcing – Spare vs Baby Back Ribs

So, between spare ribs and back ribs, which is best suited for our 3 1 1 ribs method?

Spare Ribs

Spare ribs, also called side ribs, are a set of various ribs cut from the lower side of a pig, specifically the belly and breastbone area. Spare ribs typically include between 11 to 13 bones and a layer of meat at the top.

Baby Ribs

This is the cut where the loin meets the backbone. They are much shorter than spare ribs thus the name “baby”. It has less fat and is very lean, making it the perfect cut for this 3 1 1 recipe.

3 1 1 Ribs Method

Preparation

Behind a great barbecue is a proper plan. Allow yourself 1 hour of preparation before cooking.

Getting Your Smoker Ready

For an intense smokey flavor, use around 10 dry cherry chunks. If dry cherry is not available, I would suggest oak wood because the bacon taste is subtle. It will not overwhelm the natural flavor of ribs. You can also use hickory wood. It is available in pellets and flakes and can also be found in all types of smokers.

Preheat your Big Green Egg smoker to 225°F. Many say you should use a water pan or soak the wood chunks before grilling but if you are using the Big Green Egg, that is unnecessary.

If you are using a traditional grill, set it up for 2-zone cooking by placing the wood or coal on one side, and an aluminum pan filled with water on the other to keep the temperature regulated.

Get Your Ribs Ready

Trim excess fat and stray ligaments off the ribs. The ribs have two sides. One that is meaty and the other that is covered by a thin layer of membrane. Work a sharp knife right beneath the membrane and pull it off gently. If you skip this step, you will end up with a bark that is not evenly crisp.

Cover the ribs with a layer of yellow mustard and then apply your favorite barbecue rub. I highly recommend Killer Hogs The BBQ Rub. Be sure to press against the meat to lock in that flavor.

With our Big Green Egg up to temperature, place the ribs meat-side up, bone-side down on the grill. Smoke the ribs undisturbed for 3 hours. The internal temperature should be between 195°F-200°F.

Raw Pork Ribs with Herbs and Spices

Adding Moisture While Smoking Ribs

A rib spritz is composed of apple cider vinegar and apple juice or water. The addition of moisture into the oven helps in coloring the smoked ribs and keeps the texture hydrated. If you prefer, you can add some kosher salt and chili powder to your spritz for that extra kick.

Remove the ribs from the smoker and spritz generously before wrapping the ribs tightly in two sheets of foil or butcher paper. As you wrap the ribs, make sure that the foil sticks to them such that steam does not escape. Be careful not to puncture the foil with the bones.

Put the ribs back on the smoker bone side up and smoke the ribs for 1 hour.

Carefully remove the ribs from the Big Green Egg, and unwrap spritz again. Smoke the ribs for another 1 hour.

While that is cooking, prepare a barbecue sauce by mixing ¼ cup of brown sugar, 5 scoops of salted butter, 2 tablespoons of honey, and 2 tablespoons of your favorite BBQ sauce. I use Killer Hogs BBQ Sauce + Vinegar Sauce Bundle. Brown sugar is used in meat sauces because it is a natural tenderizer.

If you want to add even more flavor, 45 minutes into the last hour, feel free to brush some of your favorite BBQ sauce on both sides of the ribs. The barbecue sauce also gives your 3 1 1 ribs a rich inviting color. This step is optional. Close the Big Green Egg for the remaining 15 minutes.

After that hour, carefully remove the ribs from the grill.

Carve And Eat

Once five hours have passed the ribs are done. Voila! You’re staring at your very own home grilled 3 1 1 ribs. The meat is very tender and the smell is inviting. Sprinkle some kosher salt and pepper as you prefer and let it rest for 15-25 minutes.

This goes well with bread, grilled corn, fries, rice, and of course don’t forget the BBQ sauce.

Wine Pairing For 3 1 1 Ribs

When it comes to pairing wine, the key is balance. One element should not overwhelm the other; instead, they should elevate each other into something more than if they were enjoyed separately.

For these 3 1 1 ribs, I am looking for a wine that will hold onto the flavors of the barbecue sauce and dry rub while not overwhelming the delicious smoke flavors of the tender ribs. I prefer red wines with bright berry notes. My favorite is the 2015 Sagelands Merlot with these ribs. You will not regret it.

Red Wine Being Poured

Tell Me About The 3-2-1 Ribs Method

This method smokes pork ribs at a 225°F temporal range. It includes 3 hours of grilling the ribs unwrapped followed by 2 hours of grilling when wrapped in heavy-duty aluminum foil with the meat side down, and 1 last hour of smoking when unwrapped.

Barbecue enthusiasts have called out the 3 2 1 rib method as unreliable, citing that it is better suited to cook bigger cuts like the pork butt. The extra hour in the heavy-duty aluminum foil is the difference between perfectly cooked and overcooked ribs.

The idea is to cook the meat just enough to easily pull off the bone and not fall off the bone. Remember, when the ribs are wrapped in the foil, they are not smoking but steaming to make them tender. The longer they steam, the mushier the meat gets consequently reducing the flavor so when in doubt, stick to the 3 1 1 method for great ribs.

Cooking Temperature For Smoked Ribs

For 3 1 1 ribs, we will set our Big Green Egg smoker at 225°F. I prefer using this ThermoPro Wireless Meat Thermometer. You can monitor the internal temperature without having to open the smoker. At 195°F , 3 1 1 ribs are extremely tender.

Why Do We Wrap The Ribs?

Typically, when the internal temperature of the meat reaches 150°F, a lot of its natural moisture makes its way to the surface. At this point, evaporation starts, creating a cooling effect. This keeps the temperature from stagnant yet the ribs need to cook to 195°F.

Wrapping the rib rack is essential to create an oven-in-oven effect cutting down on the cooking time and ensuring the meat cooks to the required temperature.

Wrapping also locks in the natural juices and allows it to absorb all the spice from the meat while retaining the smokey flavor.

The Takeaway

3 1 1 ribs strike the perfect balance between flavor and tenderness. They are perfect for backyard parties, game nights, sleepovers, and even just an intimate family dinner. This delight requires only 5 hours of cook time.

  • 3 hours unwrapped
  • 1 hour wrapped
  • 1 hour to crisp the bark.

If I were you, I’d go shopping for back ribs and see for myself. With that, I wish you all the best. Happy grilling!

By Kristy J. Norton
I'm Kristy – a chef and connoisseur of all things BBQ! You can find me either in my kitchen (or someone else's) or at a big outdoor barbecue surrounded by friends and family. In both my professional and personal life I’ve picked up more than a few tips and tricks for turning out delicious food. I consider it a privilege to share it with others!
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