How to Smoke Pork Ribs Using the 3-2-1 Method

how to smoke pork ribs 2

Hey guys, in this article, we’ll share with you a fantastic recipe for pork baby back ribs on the Z Grill. The 3-2-1 method will be used, which is explained below. So let’s get started.

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    What is the 3-2-1 Smoked Pork Ribs Method?

    If you already know how to smoke pork ribs on a pellet grill, all you need to know about the 3-2-1 technique is that you smoke for the first three hours, as usual, then cook the ribs in foil for two hours, then cook them for an additional hour unwrapped. In the first three hours, when smoke is absorbed the most, the meat has time to soak up the smoke. The pork ribs are steam-cooked as they are wrapped, which increases their tenderness and helps the meat separate from the bone. The ribs are once again exposed to the dry, smoky heat during the last hour, creating a surface crust.

    You will learn in this guide how to prep the ribs and apply the rub, how to cook the ribs, how to wrap them in foil and smoke them bone side up, then unwrap and smoke bone side down. Lastly, we will show you how to apply a sauce during the last 30 minutes. It is a really easy-to-follow recipe for beginners, so don’t worry if this is your very first-time smoking ribs.

    We use the amazing Z Grills 700D3 with competition blend pellets  – it’s everything you need to take your outdoor cooking to the next level!

    If you’re looking for a new grill, Z Grills is the ideal choice for your first wood pellet grill. We’re a grill manufacturer with over 30 years of experience within the industry. With over 650,000 pellet grills sold and 85 million cooks made.

    How Long to Smoke Pork Ribs at 225F?

    Usually, we would cook the ribs at a constant temperature of 225F; however, to get some extra smoky flavor infused in the ribs, we are going to start with a temperature of 180F. We will be using the 3-2-1 method but just altering the temperature at different stages.

    Total cook time: 5hr 30 mins

    Stage 1: 180F for 3 hours

    Stage 2: 225F for 2 hours

    Stage 3: 225F for 30 minutes

    The 3-2-1 Method are Over Cooked?

    The most common complaint with ribs is that they often come out tough and dry. The smoking of ribs using the 3-2-1 method almost always results in tender, fall-off-the-bone ribs. Even though we have used the 3-2-1 method, we have slightly altered it. Instead of smoking the ribs for the full final hour in stage 3, we only smoked them for 30 mins. This was to ensure they did not overcook. They came out perfect! There is no hard and fast rule to the 3-2-1 method, it is there as a guide. You can alter the cooking times as you see fit; when the ribs are done they are done!

    Should You Put Mustard On Pork Ribs Before Rub?

    Yes, it is highly recommended to put mustard on the ribs before you add the rub, in fact, it is a very popular BBQ technique. It is believed to help in the meat’s absorption of the rub. Some people might find this off-putting because the idea of ribs soaking in mustard doesn’t seem particularly appealing. But if you ever get the chance to use this technique, you’ll be amazed to learn that it has no impact whatsoever on the final flavor of the ribs.


    • Two racks of baby back ribs
    • Mustard
    • Lane’s Signature Rub Seasoning
    • Lane’s BBQ Kinda Sweet Sauce (Or make your own homemade BBQ sauce)
    • Butter
    • Dr Pepper

    How to Smoke Pork Ribs Using the 3-2-1 Method, Step-By-Step

    Step 1. Take off the membrane

    Some people like keeping the membrane on, but personally, we prefer removing it. The thin membrane that covers the backside of the ribs can be chewy and won’t dissolve when the ribs are cooked.

    Start removing the membrane with a butter knife; once you have separated enough of it, grab a paper towel and gently pull until the membrane is fully removed.

    Take off the membrane

    Step 2. Season the ribs: bone side first, then meat side

    To add a binder to the ribs, take some mustard and coat the ribs with it. This helps the seasoning stick. If you don’t like mustard, you can use another ingredient of your choice, but honestly, there will be no mustard taste at the end whatsoever.  

    Then add your rub seasoning on the bone side first, then the meat side. Season generously by holding the bottle at a height; this is so that the seasoning is evenly distributed across the whole rack of ribs. Check to see if any spots are missed and ensure they are seasoned.

    Season the ribs

    Step 3. Set the temperature to 180F

    As we mentioned earlier, to infuse the ribs with a great smoky flavor, we are going to cook them at 180F. So set your grill to that temperature.

    Step 4. Put the ribs in the pit and smoke for 3 hours.

    Place your ribs in the grill bone side down and let them smoke for 3 hours without checking them.

    Put the ribs in the pit

    Step 5. Take them out and set the temperature to 225F.

    Gently take out the ribs and increase the temperature of the grill to 225F.

    Gently take out the ribs

    Step 6. Wrap the ribs in foil.

    We always double wrap, so get two large pieces of foil and add some pieces of butter to it. Then place the ribs in the foil, meat side down, on top of the butter. Sprinkle in some more of the rub seasoning and pour in some Dr pepper soda. Do the same for the second rack of ribs.

    wrap the ribs in foil

    Step 7. Put the ribs back into the smoker.

    Make sure the temperature of the grill is at 225F. This stage of the cook is for the tenderness of the ribs. The internal temp we’re going by is 200F, which should take about 2 hours to cook, but we will check them after 1hr/1hr 30 minutes just to ensure we’re in the right spot.

    Step 9. 2 hours later, check the internal temperature of the ribs.

    Check the internal temperature of the ribs with a thermometer after 2 hours. It should be 200F. We had them at 202F, which is pretty good. Now take the ribs out.

    Step 10. Add the sauce.

    Take your homemade BBQ sauce and add it to both sides of the ribs. Using a brush is helpful as you can coat the ribs evenly and generously.

    add the sauce

    Step 11. Put them back in the grill for 30 minutes.

    After you’ve covered them in the BBQ sauce, put them back in the grill for the last 30 minutes!

    And that’s it, you’re done! You should have a lovely color on them. Aren’t they incredibly delicious? That’s how you cook delicious smoked pork ribs using the 3-2-1 method.

    Tips for Smoked Pork Ribs on a Pellet Grill

    Do you smoke ribs, bone side up or down?

    It is recommended to smoke ribs with the bone side down. Ribs need to be cooked slowly over an extended period of time since they are quite tough and grisly. So the thin meaty layer shouldn’t overcook during this lengthy process, therefore the bone side of the ribs should always be facing down.

    Should I flip my ribs when smoking?

    Flipping ribs is actually a rookie mistake. When smoking, you don’t have to worry about one side getting hotter than the other, because the meat cooks indirectly.

    What to Serve with Smoked Pork Ribs?

    We would recommend any of these three amazing dishes to accompany your smoked pork ribs!

    1. Grilled Stuffed Jalapeño poppers

    Delicious, with a spicy kick, these poppers are healthy and fresh – an alternative to the traditional breaded and fried version.


    2. Grilled Butternut Squash (with Arugula Salad)

    You’ll be left wanting more by the smoky complexity of this dish, which is also sweet, nutty, and a little bitter.

    Grilled Butternut Squash

    3. Smoked Mac and Cheese

    The best comfort food! The smoky, cheesy flavors in this Smoked Mac and Cheese will wow you.


    Just like the smoked pork ribs, all of these recipes are best cooked on the amazing Z Grills 700D3 for that truly unmatched wood-fired flavor!

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    About The Author

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    Z Grills

    Z Grills is a grill manufacturer with over 30 years of experience within the industry. With over 650,000 pellet grills sold and 85 million cooks made, trust us.

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    1. Eric Gilberg says:

      After wrapping in foil, meat side down?

      1. z grills Author says:

        Yes, bone-side up

    2. Julieta Wright says:

      Dear administrator, Your posts are always well-written and easy to understand.

    3. Jake Sanford says:

      How much Dr Pepper should go into the foil with the ribs? I think i used a little too much last time i made this recipe

      1. z grills Author says:

        In this recipe, you need to apply 2 tablespoons Dr pepper into the pork ribs for marinate to perfection, it main depend on your size of the pork ribs.

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