These 3-2-1 ribs are cooked low and slow and yield fall-off-the-bone meat that truly melts in your mouth! Use the 3 2 1 method or oven-bake them.
My 3-2-1 ribs recipe yields tender and flavorful ribs every single time. Like country style ribs or boneless beef ribs, these will prove you wrong if you have always thought you need special skills to make succulent and rich-tasting ribs.
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What is the 3-2-1 rib method?
So what exactly are 321 ribs? Well, the name 3-2-1 ribs comes from the timing used in this cooking method for them. It implies three hours of smoking the ribs, two hours of cooking them wrapped in foil, and one hour of cooking them in sauce unwrapped.
Now, this method does takes quite a bit of time- you typically need at least 6 hours to cook them. Furthermore, most 3-2-1 rib recipes call for a smoker.
To ensure everyone can make these fabulous ribs, I’ve included my oven-baked option AND my method for smoking ribs.
This recipe calls for simple pantry staple ingredients you’ll likely already have. Here is what you’ll need:
- Pork spare ribs. I like to use a rack of ribs (baby back ribs) because they are of equal size, and the ribs are generally more meatier. Look for ones with the membrane intact.
- Mayonnaise. My secret ingredient that helps the rub stick to the ribs while infusing some extra richness.
- Rib rub. For this particular recipe, I’m using a mix of brown sugar, smoked paprika, garlic powder, onion powder, chili powder, and kosher salt and black pepper. These have sweet, salty, and smoky flavors that work well together.
For the marinade:
- Pineapple juice. To tenderize the ribs and add a mild tangy flavor. You can use orange juice but I found that a little too citrusy.
- Butter. Or oil. You need some fat in the marinade to help the ribs pack in all the natural juices.
- Brown sugar. Adding some granulated sugar helps the edges caramelize.
- Honey. For the sticky sweetness.
- BBQ sauce. For a smoky and tangy flavor.
Find the printable recipe with measurements below.
How to bake 321 ribs
As I have already mentioned, my recipe doesn’t take hours to cook. Here’s how you get tender ribs in a fraction of the time.
Step 1- Make the rub. In a small bowl, mix the rub ingredients–including garlic and onion powders, brown sugar, smoked paprika, chili powder, and sea salt.
Step 2- Rub. Rub mayonnaise all over the ribs, bone side down.
Step 3- Season. Season the ribs with the dry rub on both sides. Place the ribs on a baking rack with the rib side up. Cover the rack with tin foil. Put the ribs into the oven preheated to 135C/276F degrees and bake for 2 ½ hours.
Step 4- Prepare the marinade. While the ribs cook, prepare the marinade. For the marinade, whisk together the pineapple juice, honey, brown sugar, barbeque sauce, and softened butter.
Step 5- Bathe the ribs in the marinade. Remove the cooked ribs from the oven. Remove the tin foil wrapping and generously brush both sides of the ribs with the marinade.
Step 6- Broil the ribs. To give the ribs a nice charred look, turn on the oven’s broiler setting and cook the ribs uncovered for 4 minutes. Remove the ribs from the oven and serve.
How to smoke 321 ribs
If you are not short on time and have a smoker, you can cook the ribs following the original 3-2-1 method. Here is how:
Start by rubbing the ribs with mayonnaise, followed by the dry rub. Next, smoke the ribs uncovered for 3 hours. Now, cover the ribs with foil and steam them for 2 hours. Finally, remove the foil and brush the ribs with the marinade. Cook the ribs on the grill at 225 degrees for 1 hour, applying the marinade every 10 to 15 minutes.
Recipe tips and variations
- Allow the ribs to rest. My #1 tip when cooking rich and tender meat. Cover them with foil and let them sit for 10 to 15 minutes once you remove them from the oven or smoker. This helps redistribute the juices in the meat and make the ribs tender.
- Cook low and slow. Ribs turn out good only when they are cooked low and slow. I know it’s tempting to cook these faster, but trust me, they will not be anywhere near as good and will even be a little dry.
- Use St. Louis-style ribs if you prefer fattier ribs. If my butcher has these ribs in stock, I sometimes use them because the higher fat content naturally makes them juicier and more tender.
- Use sweet wood chips. When testing these ribs in my pellet grill, I found that sweet types of wood chips like hickory, cherry, and pecan yielded the best flavor.
- Play around with the marinade. You can use any marinade you like for these ribs so long as you know it will caramelize nicely. I like giving it an Asian twist by using either bulgogi sauce or katsu sauce, or a combination of apple juice and mustard.
To store: Cooked pork ribs can last up to 4 days in the fridge.
To freeze: Place the cooked and cooled ribs in an airtight container and store them in the freezer for up to 6 months.
Reheating: To reheat leftover ribs, place them in an oven-safe pan and cover them with foil. Reheat the ribs at 250 degrees until heated through.
Frequently asked questions
While some people like their ribs to be slightly chewy, others prefer them to be fall-off-the-bone tender. If you belong to the second group of people, the 3-2-1 method of cooking ribs is for you. The long cooking time makes the juicy meat fall off the bone.
Tough ribs are usually the result of fast and high-heat cooking. The ribs should be cooked at low temperatures long enough for the meat to tenderize.
As a general rule, ribs do get more tender the longer they cook. However, this is only if you cook them on low heat.
As these ribs are an impressive dish, we like to keep the sides simple. Salads, vegetables, and a simple baked potato is always a solid combination.
More delicious smoker recipes to try
- 1 rack pork ribs
- 2 tablespoons mayonnaise
For the rub
- Preheat the oven to 135C/275F. Line a large baking tray with tin foil.
- Mix the rub ingredients together.
- Rub the mayonnaise all over the ribs. Season with the rub on both sides.
- Place the ribs on a baking rack, rib side up. Cover the rack with tin foil and bake for 2 ½ hours.
- While the ribs are baking, whisk together the marinade.
- Once the ribs are cooked, remove them from the oven and discard the tin foil. Generously brush both sides with the marinade.
- Turn the broiler setting on and broil the ribs for 4 minutes.
Recipe originally published October 2022 but updated to include new information for your benefit.
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