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Q-talk *ON TOPIC ONLY* QUALITY ON TOPIC discussion of Backyard BBQ, grilling, equipment and outdoor cookin' . ** Other cooking techniques are welcomed for when your cookin' in the kitchen. Post your hints, tips, tricks & techniques, success, failures, but stay on topic and watch for that hijacking.


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Old 01-09-2012, 03:42 PM   #1
King
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Default Tutorial: How to BBQ 3-2-1 ribs

I promised a buddy last year that I would write up this tutorial because I don't have a problem with helping out fellow backyard Q'ers. A lot of the research for this tutorial came from you; fellow brethren, rib contests I've done and just plain ol' experimentation while drinkin' jack-n-cokes.

I hope this helps those that may be interested in giving this a shot.

Note: The original post is extremely long, this is the short version. Go here to read the whole post.




What is 3-2-1?
This method is a way to smoke ribs from start to finish. 3-2-1 represents the amount of hours the rack of ribs cook at each stage. In other words, the ribs smoke for 3 hours, wrap for 2 hours and cooks without smoke for the last hour. Total, the ribs will spend 6 hours on the cooker. Details of this are broken down even further as you continue to read.



2 St. Louis style ribs, meat down



The Plan
Basically, the 3-2-1 method calls for a simple list of ingredients that are applied at different steps in the process. This list of essentials includes:
  • Ribs
  • BBQ Rub
  • Liquids (for foil wrap)
  • BBQ Sauce
  • Olive oil
Sure, this list is short, but the ingredients themselves are complex and broad. You will find out exactly what products I use and I hope to explain my reasons for the flavor profile I choose.

Step 1
If the ribs are frozen, thaw them out for approximately 3-4 days in the refrigerator. On the day of the cook, let the unfrozen ribs come to room temperature, it’s OK to set them out for 45 minutes or so. While the ribs are sitting out, coat them with canola oil, then apply a sweet, sugar based rub on the ribs. Just because the spices are called a rub, you don’t actually rub it into the meat. That just tears up the surface of the meat. Instead, gently pat the rub into the meat. Let it sit until the rub turns into a syrup glaze.



Ribs with a homemade rub




Ribs coated with competition rub



During this time, prepare the cooker for smoking. You should have a smoker or a charcoal grill to cook ribs. If you have a charcoal grill, use the 2-zone method. Set the temperature of the grill to approximately 225 degrees.







Step 2
Wait about 20-30 minutes for the temperature to stabilize at 225 degrees. Add the glazed rack of ribs to the cooker, flesh side up. Remember, the lid is always on or closed with the vents wide open.



Ribs on the smoker, meat side up



Add 2 or 3 chunks of dry seasoned hardwood/fruitwood such as: cherry, oak, apple, hickory, pecan, peach or a combination of wood. These are some of my favorites. However, stay away from mesquite, the smoke will overpower the pork. Moreover, do not use wood chips or soak the wood in water.


Let the ribs smoke for 3 hours. Check the temperature often without opening the cooking chamber and keep it around 225 degrees. Also, check the charcoal and water/liquids as necessary.

Step 3
At 3 hours, the ribs could be considered ready to eat. But, the connective tissue has not broken down at this point. Eating the ribs now would be tough and chewy. This next step will accelerate the break down of connective tissue which will result in a tender product.



Smoked ribs after 3 hours



When the 3 hours are almost up, create a flat preparation area. Tear a sheet of aluminum foil, enough to completely wrap 1 rack of ribs. Remove the ribs from the grill and wrap the ribs in aluminum foil. Before you seal it up, add ¼ cup of apple juice. Doing this will expedite the cooking process of breaking down the meat and render off the fat. Seal it up tight so no liquids leak.



Hot pepper jelly and bacon fat spread on the foil wrap




Do the same for the other side of ribs too



Place the ribs flesh side down on the grill grate and continue to cook at 225 degrees for 2 hours. At this point, wood chunks are no longer needed, but continue to add water and charcoal.



Foil wrapped ribs, meat side down



Step 4
At 2 hours, 5 hours total, remove the foiled ribs and unwrap them. They should look moist and the rub looks mealy. Another thing to notice is how much the meat has pulled back from the bone. If there is about a ¼ inch of bone pulled back, you’re in good shape. If not, don’t sweat it because it is not a litmus test for doneness. Discard the foil wrap and liquid.



Unwrapping the ribs after 2 hours




The meat is starting to pull back from the bone



Place on the grill flesh side up and apply more rub one last time. Pop on the lid and cook for the last hour to firm it up.


If you use barbecue sauce, now is the time to 1) Take it out of the refrigerator and sit out at room temperature 2) Warm it up on the grill/stove. The popular application for barbecue sauce is to put it on the 10 minutes before you take the ribs off the grill.



Place back on grill, meat side up



For myself, I don’t sauce my ribs. When I have guests, sauce is served on the side. In addition, I prefer to kick up my own BBQ sauce. Just buy any inexpensive store bought sauce and kick it up with other ingredients. I pretty much use the same ingredients that I use in the foil wrap. Be sure to cook the kicked up sauce in a sauce pan on the stove or grill, this thoroughly mixes everything together.

Step 5
Using the 3-2-1 method takes the guessing out of knowing when ribs are done. Nonetheless, there are several ways to check to make sure they are tender. Here are a few ways to tell:
  1. When the meat pulls back about a ¼” from the bone.
  2. Take a toothpick, poke between the bones at the thickest part of the ribs. If it easily slides in and out of the rack…it’s done.
  3. With a pair of tongs, grab one end of the ribs. If they bend easy they are done, if not, keep them in the cooker.

Meat is pulled back, it's done



Step 6
Once the ribs are done, let them rest for a few minutes to let all the juices settle. When cutting the ribs, use a sharp, un-serrated knife. I cut mine into single or 2 bones so everybody can dig into those tender treats.



Resting without sauce




With BBQ sauce





Get in my belly!!!



Congratulations, you successfully applied the 3-2-1 method to make authentic BBQ ribs.
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Old 01-09-2012, 03:54 PM   #2
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Real nice!
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Old 01-09-2012, 04:00 PM   #3
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Haven't tried the pepper jelly and bacon fat bit but I will be in the future
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Old 01-09-2012, 05:01 PM   #4
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Looks great. Thanks for the tutorial.
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Old 01-09-2012, 05:10 PM   #5
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Nice. You should consider adding yourself to the Roadmap. Definitely worthy.
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Old 01-09-2012, 05:10 PM   #6
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The full version is quite the tutorial, even the abridged one would be a good reference for someone looking to try this method.
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Old 01-09-2012, 05:43 PM   #7
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Nice read, well put together. One suggestion (actually I say this pretty much anytime someone posts 3-2-1 or 2-2-1) but I would put the weight of the ribs in. There is a HUGE variation of the effects and more than once I've seen people put spares in and at the 5 hour point they're falling apart. Typically because they were small racks. There is a big variation between a 1.5 pd rack of small spares and a thick 3.5 lb st. louis and 3-2-1 doesn't time well for both
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Old 01-09-2012, 05:53 PM   #8
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Thanks for the short tutorial, and the link to the full tutorial. I've heard people talking about 3-2-1, and knew that it had to do with the timing of the various steps, but didn't know the details. Now I do, and will be prepared when the time comes. Also, thanks, Russ... I'll keep it in mind, as my ribs are bound to be a smaller rack.
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Old 01-09-2012, 06:13 PM   #9
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I'm a newbie, and a new proud owner of a 18.5 WSM. Your tutorial was very well put together and will certainly help me out!
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Old 01-09-2012, 06:48 PM   #10
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Quote:
Originally Posted by SmokinOkie View Post
Nice read, well put together. One suggestion (actually I say this pretty much anytime someone posts 3-2-1 or 2-2-1) but I would put the weight of the ribs in. There is a HUGE variation of the effects and more than once I've seen people put spares in and at the 5 hour point they're falling apart. Typically because they were small racks. There is a big variation between a 1.5 pd rack of small spares and a thick 3.5 lb st. louis and 3-2-1 doesn't time well for both
You're absolutely right and I breifly mentioned it posted on the long version (on my website), but not here. Perhaps I can expand more, but this is what is written:

Quote:
Keep in mind that baby back ribs weigh less than 2lbs, anything above it are loin back ribs. In addition, spare ribs are trimmed to make St. Louis style ribs. Thus, St. Louis style has nothing to do with how they are cooked.

Furthermore, loin backs ribs or St. Louis style ribs benefit most from the 3-2-1 method. Otherwise, cook times will have to be modified if cooking with baby back ribs or spare ribs.
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Old 01-09-2012, 07:01 PM   #11
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This is awesome. I farked up some ribs playing around while smoking two turkeys for Thanksgiving and I needed something to get refocused. Thanks King.
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Old 01-09-2012, 07:12 PM   #12
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That's about as well thought out and thoroughly transcribed version of the 321 that I have ever seen. Once upon a time I cooked mine this way but now I use the 123 method

1. I rub em
2. I smoke em @ 275-300 till they pass the done test
3. I eat em

I've eaten a LOT of ribs both ways (they are my Q-addiction) and praise is due for both methods. Been a while since I made them 321. Never used bacon fat/spicy jelly tho and I keep plenty on hand so I should ear mark this thread and use it the next time I have ribs. Thanks for the post, I can't wait to try it!
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Old 01-09-2012, 08:00 PM   #13
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I'm with lonestar. Put them in, take them out, eat them. That said, you've made we think about another shot at 3-2-1. Well done.
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Old 01-09-2012, 08:28 PM   #14
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Very nice tutorial that explains the method well.

(.....gotta try the hot pepper jelly.)
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Old 01-09-2012, 09:05 PM   #15
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Quote:
Originally Posted by LoneStarMojo View Post
That's about as well thought out and thoroughly transcribed version of the 321 that I have ever seen. Once upon a time I cooked mine this way but now I use the 123 method

1. I rub em
2. I smoke em @ 275-300 till they pass the done test
3. I eat em

I've eaten a LOT of ribs both ways (they are my Q-addiction) and praise is due for both methods. Been a while since I made them 321. Never used bacon fat/spicy jelly tho and I keep plenty on hand so I should ear mark this thread and use it the next time I have ribs. Thanks for the post, I can't wait to try it!
You're right, there is no wrong way to smoke ribs. When you got them cooked exactly the way you like'em...it's ecstasy.

One of the most important steps for me is to wrap those ribs in foil because I cook 2 or 3 at a time, even for competitions. Moisture is important to tender ribs...it's equivalent to an insulated BBQ trailer cooking dozens of ribs, pork butts and briskets all at once...that's a lot of moisture.
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