321 Ribs Recipe | Easy Fall of the Bone Smoked Ribs

321 Ribs On The Pellet Grill

321 ribs are the easiest way to get fall off the bone tender ribs. The 321 method of cooking pork ribs is one of the most tried and true ways to get a consistent fall-off-the-bone rack of ribs for any new or experienced pitmaster.

This 321 ribs recipe breaks down into 3 simple steps and takes 6 hours to complete.

  1. Smoke your ribs directly on the grill at a low temperature for 3 hours
  2. Wrap your ribs in foil, add liquid and put back on the grill for 2 hours
  3. Partially unwrap your ribs, add BBQ sauce, and put them back on the grill for 1 hour

321 Smoked Ribs

Smoking 321 ribs is always our preferred way to make juicy and tender ribs, however, you can follow this method on a gas grill as well!

When smoking your ribs, you can use a pellet smoker, charcoal smoker or an electric smoker. Any type of smoker will work and will give you seriously amazing ribs.

The best meat to use for the 321 ribs method is either baby back ribs, or pork side ribs (also known as St Louis style ribs). Pork ribs are the only type of ribs that this recipe works for.

The 321 Ribs Method

The 321 smoked pork ribs method is the best and simplest rib method to try. You can use this method with either baby back ribs or St Louis Style ribs. As long as you’re smoking pork ribs, you should be good to go!

The 321 method breaks down your pork ribs in the perfect way to give you the best possible outcome! Juicy, tender and fall off the bone ribs.

The method itself is very easy. Here’s the basic overview of how to do 321 ribs:

  1. Trim up your pork ribs and prepare them for the smoker
  2. Season your baby back ribs or St Louis Style ribs well with our homepage rib rub (ingredients below)
  3. Place your rack of ribs on the smoker bone side down for 3 hours (spraying with apple juice halfway through)
  4. Remove from the smoker, wrap in aluminum foil, add some apple juice (or Apple Cider Vinegar), and place back on the smoker for another 2 hours (meat side down)
  5. Remove the wrapped in foil ribs from the smoker after 5 hours, open up the top of the foil, flip your ribs to be bone side down, add your favorite bbq sauce to the meat side, leave the top of the foil open and place the wrapped ribs back on the smoker for 1 hour.
  6. After 6 hours of smoking ribs, your ribs are cooked and ready to rest for 10-15 minutes before serving.

When not to use the 321 Ribes Method

This method of smoking 321 ribs is amazing, but it’s best to only use it while making ribs at home for your friends and family. You should not use this method to cook ribs when in a BBQ competition.

Having fall off the bone 321 ribs is frowned upon in BBQ competition. The best competition ribs method is Hot and Fast smoked ribs. The meat on hot and fast ribs is not as tender but allows the judges to make a clear bite mark into the rack of ribs (which is important in judging).

How to Make 321 Ribs

We’ve walked you through the basics of how to make 321 ribs, now we’re going to give you every bit of information that you could need to make perfectly smoked baby back ribs!

321 Ribs Overview

  • Prep Time: 5 minutes
  • Cook Time: 6 hours
  • Total Time: 6 hours, 5 minutes
  • Wood Flavor: Apple
  • Cooking Temperature: 185ºF and 225ºF
  • Servings: 3 people

BBQ Tools for Ribs

The Best 321 Rib Rub

When preparing your 321 ribs (baby back ribs or st louis style ribs) you’re going to want to apply a dry rub before you put them on the smoker. Below is our tried and true homemade rib sweet rub. Give it a try!

  • 1/4 cup brown sugar
  • 2 teaspoons Kosher salt
  • 2 teaspoons black pepper
  • 2 teaspoons smoked paprika
  • 1 teaspoon garlic powder
  • 1 teaspoon onion powder
  • 1 teaspoon ground mustard
  • 1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
  • 1/2 teaspoon celery salt
  • 1/4 teaspoon cayenne pepper

BBQ Tip: Watching your sugar intake? No problem! Just use half the brown sugar and it’ll still taste great!

Ingredients for Smoked 321 Ribs

  • 1 package of baby back ribs or St Louis Style ribs (2 racks of ribs per package)
  • 1 mixed bowl of our homepage rib rub
  • 1 cup of BBQ Sauce
  • 1 cup of Apple Juice (or Apple Cider Vinegar)
  • Yellow Mustard (optional for binding the rub to the ribs)

Preparing for 321 Ribs

  1. Remove the ribs from their packaging, pat dry with a paper towel
  2. Peel off the rib membrane from the bone side of your ribs
  3. Trim off any excess fat bits or loose shards of rib bones
  4. Add our homemade rib rub directly onto the ribs and make sure to get all sides (optionally you could also use yellow mustard as a binder before adding the rib rub).

Smoking 321 Ribs

  1. Get your smoker or grill stable at 185ºF and make sure you have clean grill grates.
  2. Place your seasoned ribs bone side down on your grill. If your grill has hot spots, but the thickest part of the meat towards that area.
  3. Close the lid for 1.5 hours of smoking and let your baby back ribs cook (or pork spare ribs).
  4. After 1.5 hours, grab your spray bottle, fill it with apple juice and give your ribs a good spray. Enough to make them moist, but not too much so that the seasoning falls off. Close the lid and wait another 1.5 hours.
  5. After 3 hours, your smoked ribs are ready to wrap in foil. Remove your ribs from the grill, increase the temp to 225ºF and head inside to wrap your ribs.
  6. Prepare your foil by placing a few 2-foot sheets of foil on the counter. Add a couple of tablespoons of butter onto the foil, a sprinkle of rib rub, and then place the smoked ribs on top of it all.  Wrap your ribs tight (don’t puncture the foil) and pour 1-2oz of the remaining apple juice into the open end of your wrapped ribs (this will keep them moist). Place them back on the smoker bone side up.
  7. After another 2 hours of cooking, remove your wrapped ribs from the grill and place on the counter. Carefully open the foil and flip the ribs over so that they are meat-side up. Add a good coating of your favorite bbq sauce and put the ribs back on your grill grate with the top of the foil open (to set the sauce).
  8. After a total of 6 hours of smoking, remove your smoked pork ribs from the grill and let rest for 10-15 minutes. Once your smoked baby back ribs (or spare ribs) are properly rested, cut between the bones and serve!

321 Ribs Grilling Instructions

If you’re new to smoking ribs, don’t worry! We’ve broken down our process to making fall-off-the-bone baby back ribs and spare ribs below! If you have any questions or think we’ve missed something, let us know in the comments below and we’ll update this smoked ribs recipe as needed.

1) Set your smoker to 225ºF

For the best ribs, we’re going to smoke the ribs low and slow at a grill temperature of 225ºF for the entire cook. So, before you go put those ribs on (bone side down to start), make sure that your smoker or gas grill is stable at 225ºF. If your grill fluctuates in temperature too much, you could risk ruining your rack of ribs.

2) Place your ribs on the smoker for 3 hours

While this step looks fairly simple, there are actually a few very important steps within it.

First off, before you place your ribs on the smoker, make sure they are properly seasoned. If you’re using our homepage rib rub, you’ll have deliciously flavored smoky and sweet ribs thanks for the brown sugar and smoked paprika in our recipe.

Next, we’re going to start by smoking the ribs for 1.5 hours (90 minutes) before we spray them with apple juice. This is an important step as it makes sure that your ribs meat doesn’t dry out at the start of the cook!

Finally, after 3 hours on the grill, you’ll notice that your ribs seem tough. Don’t panic! This is normal and all part of the process. They’ll soften up in the final stages of the cooking process.

3) Wrap your 321 ribs and smoke for 2 hours

About 10 minutes before your first 3 hours is up, start preparing for the next step where we wrap the ribs in foil. To properly prepare, lay out 2 sheets of aluminum foil on the counter (one on top of the other). Add a couple of blobs of butter (1 tsp each) somewhere in the middle to the foil. Add a light coat of seasoning (maybe even a little brown sugar if you like it sweet) and then place the ribs on top of it all (bone side up). Start wrapping your ribs tightly with the foil but leave one end open for the next step.

Once you’ve wrapped your ribs tightly (without puncturing the foil), pour 1-2 ounces of apple juice into the open end of the foil. This will keep your ribs moist for the next 2 hours.

Finally, close up the foil and place your wrapped in foil ribs back onto the grill bone side up for 2 hours.

4) Add BBQ sauce and smoke for 1 hour

After 5 total hours of cooking, remove your ribs from the grill and place them on a solid surface. Open the foil from the top, trying not to rip the foil or let any of the juices run out. Flip your ribs over so that they are facing meat side up.

With a barbecue sauce brush, spread your favorite bbq sauce on the meat side of the ribs. Roll down any excess foil and try to give your ribs a nice foil boat to live in for the remainder of the process.

Once you’re satisfied with the amount of barbecue sauce on your ribs, put the ribs and their tinfoil boats back on the grill for another hour. This last step will help ‘set’ the barbecue sauce and give you that amazing BBQ Restaurant finish!

5) Remove, rest and serve!

The last step of the 321 ribs method is to remove the ribs after 6 total hours, rest for 10-15 minutes and serve! Ok, maybe crack a beer at this point because you’re almost done!

First, remove the ribs and their foil boat from the grill at the same time. It’s much easier taking the ribs out once they are inside and on a solid surface. Plus, we don’t need any grease fires!

Next, let your ribs rest in their foil boats for 10-15 minutes. Resting produces more tender ribs. Take this time to finish preparing the rest of your meal (we’ve got some great sides for ribs down below). Letting your ribs rest will allow them to come down in temp because right now they are super hot, and it also allows the meat to calm down, putting all the juiciness back into the meat.

Lastly, cut your ribs and serve! We’ve found that while it’s easiest to cut ribs meat side down, doing this will ruin your barbecue sauce. So, we recommend finding the biggest knife you have, looking to see where the meat is between 2 ribs, and trying to cut right down the middle. Check out that beautiful pink smoke ring!

If you miss the meat and hit a bone, don’t worry, just adjust and keep cutting. Cutting ribs takes a little practice but anyone can do it.

Sliced 321 Ribs
Sliced 321 Ribs

Best Sides for 321 Ribs

1) Smoked Corn on the Cob

One of the most popular sides for smoked pork ribs is Smoked Corn on the Cob. The fresh sweetness from the corn is a perfect complement to the juicy and smoky flavours in the meal. To make it even better, you can smoke corn on the cob at 225ºF (the same temperature as pork ribs) for only 1 hour. Just toss them on the grill at the last stage of this recipe’s cooking process and you’re done!

Smoked Corn On The Cob

2) Smoked Mac and Cheese

Another very popular side dish for ribs is our Smoked Mac and Cheese. The cheesy, rich and and gooey flavors compliment so nicely with sweet smoked ribs that we’ve seen many people just mix them all together!

Smoked Mac Cheese

3) Ceaser Salad

Looking for a simple side dish that balances out the fattiness and nutrition calories of pork? Adding a simple Ceaser salad can do just that! Just cut up some romain, add Ceaser dressing, parmesan cheese and a few croutons to complete the salad!

Ceaser Salad
Ceaser Salad

321 Ribs FAQS

What temperature should I cook ribs at 321?

The best temperature to cook ribs low and slow is 225ºF. At this temperature, the ribs can cook slowly giving them a tender texture and smoky flavor.

What is the 321 rule for ribs?

The 321 rule for ribs has 3 steps. First, smoke your pork ribs for 3 hours at 225ºF. Then wrap in foil and smoke for another 2 hours. Finally, cover in BBQ sauce and smoke for 1 final hour.

Are 321 ribs good?

321 ribs are amazing! They are tender juicy and fall off the bone ribs that are easy to duplicate again and again. For competition ribs, try the hot and fast ribs method.

Is 321 too long for baby back ribs?

No, the 321 method is perfect for a full rack of baby back ribs and pork side ribs. The only time this method may not work perfectly, is if you have a very small rack of ribs or cut a full rack in half.

Can you 321 beef ribs?

No, the 321 ribs method does not work for beef ribs. Beef ribs are much larger and take more time to fully cook. We recommend reading our Smoked Beef Ribs recipe for exactly how to smoke beef ribs.

What temp should ribs be after 3 hours?

Ribs should be near 170ºF after 3 hours of cooking at 225ºF. The internal temperature can vary depending on the size and thickness of your ribs. So if you’re up to or down 5ºF – 10ºF don’t worry and just keep following the steps.

Should you let ribs rest after smoking?

Yes, you should let ribs rest after smoking. Letting your ribs rest for just 10-15 minutes will allow the temperature of the meat to go down, the juices to go back into the meat and give you a nice tender rib.

How long do you smoke spare ribs at 225?

Following the 321 ribs method, the total cook time for spare ribs is 6 hours at 225ºF. Any longer than 6 hours and your meat will start to fall apart, any less and your meat will be chewy.

Why are my 321 ribs dry?

If you followed out 321 ribs recipe above, your ribs should not be dry. However, if they are dry, make sure that you’re adding enough liquid into the foil during the wrapping step. Also, you could also add a tray of water on the grill for the first 3 hours of smoke. This will help keep the air in your smoker humid and your meat moist.

Can you smoke ribs too long?

Yes, you can smoke ribs too long. Smoking ribs too long will make them rubbery and eventually fall apart. Trust us when we say, 6 hours is the perfect amount of time to cook ribs.

Are fall off the bone ribs overcooked?

No, fall off the bone ribs are not overcooked. In fact, most people prefer fall off the bone ribs over competition ribs that are meatier and stick to the bone. Personally, I like my ribs cooked to the point where they leave a clean bone.

How many ribs per person?

Plan for 3-4 ribs per adult and 1-2 ribs per child when making baby back ribs or spare ribs. This means that one package of ribs, containing 2 racks or ribs, should easily feed 4 adults. Or, the same 2 racks of ribs should feed 2 adults and 3-4 younger children. The amount people eat also depends on how big the ribs are and what sort of sides you serve as part of the meal.

What’s the best wood for smoking ribs?

The best woods for smoking ribs is Hickory, Apple, or Maple! While hickory is a great all-around wood for smoking ribs, Apple and Hickory offer a bit more sweetness, which is great for any pork!

321 Ribs Summary

Well, that’s our entire 321 method to smoke ribs! Let us know win the comments below how they turned out and if your pork baby belly is as big as mine after eating a whole rack!

Oh, and once you give this recipe a try, feel free to adjust it to suit your preferred doneness and flavor. That’s the only way you’re going to become the BBQ Hero in your house!

Bonus: Traeger 321 Ribs!

Almost everyone has heard on Traeger grills! They’ve been around for over 20 years and make some pretty amazing smokers and grills. They also make some pretty great recipe videos! Check out this video on how to make 321 ribs on a Trager!

Their process and recipe is slightly different than ours, but it works great as well!