The Quick Start Guide to 3-2-1 Ribs

We get a lot of questions about the easiest way to cook smoked ribs. This is one of the most common methods we recommend as you start out and get to know your cooker and preferred style of ribs.

©2020 by Mary Cressler and Sean Martin. Excerpted from Fire & Wine: 75 Smoke-Infused Recipes from the Grill with Perfect Wine Pairings by permission of Sasquatch Books. Photo by Dina Avila.

What exactly are 3-2-1 ribs?

For 3-2-1 ribs, the numbers represent the initial smoke time (three hours), followed by time spent wrapped in foil (two hours), and a final unwrapped smoke time, with a sauce (one hour). Sometimes people will opt for a four-one-one or two-two-two combination. It really comes down to your preference of smoke flavor and texture. The key, though, is knowing the cooking order: smoke to wrap to smoke again with a sauce to finish.

We use St. Louis–style ribs, where some of the extra flap meat is already trimmed off of a full spare, making it easier for you.


Makes 6-8 Servings

2 racks St. Louis–style spareribs
4 tablespoons Dijon mustard
4 tablespoons Sweet Rub (ingredients below)

Sweet Rub
1 cup dark brown sugar
¼ cup kosher salt
2 tablespoons smoked paprika
2 tablespoons coarse ground black pepper
1 tablespoon granulated garlic
½ teaspoon cayenne pepper 

1 cup apple cider vinegar
1 cup apple juice

Wrap (at the 3-hour mark)
4 tablespoons unsalted butter, cut into 8 equal pieces
4 tablespoons honey or agave nectar

1 cup Pinot Noir BBQ Sauce or your favorite BBQ sauce

    1) Prepare the ribs

    Preheat the smoker to 250 degrees F (we like cherrywood or applewood). Trim the excess fat and remove the silverskin from the bone side of the ribs using a paper towel.

    Pat the ribs dry using a paper towel, then coat both sides of the ribs with the Dijon, 1 tablespoon per side. For the Sweet Rub, combine all of the ingredients in a small bowl and apply to both sides, 1 tablespoon per side. Do this at least 1 hour before cooking or the night before.

    Place the ribs meat side up on the smoker. Plan to smoke for about 3 hours.

    2) Make the spritz

    Combine the vinegar and apple juice in a food-safe spray bottle. After the first 90 minutes, start spritzing the ribs every 20 to 30 minutes. Minimize how long you keep the lid open.

    After the third hour, lay out two long strips of aluminum foil. Place the ribs on them bone side down.

    3) Make the wrap

    Distribute 2 tablespoons of the butter (4 pieces) evenly over the top of each rack of ribs. Drizzle 2 tablespoons of the honey evenly over the meat side of each rack. Squirt a few times with the spritz, then wrap the ribs tightly. Place them back on the smoker meat side down for 2 more hours to allow the butter and honey to steam the ribs.

    After the second hour wrapped, gently remove the ribs from the foil. The meat should be tender and the bones pulling back.

    4) Apply the glaze

    Use a silicone brush to apply BBQ sauce to the bone side, then flip and apply sauce to the meat side (you may not need the entire 1 cup BBQ sauce). Place back on the smoker, meat side up, and cook for 1 hour, uncovered. The last hour helps set the meat and give it more flavor. Remove from the heat and lightly glaze with more BBQ sauce one more time. Serve immediately.

    3-2-1 ribs pinot noir wine pairing

    Recommended Wine Pairing

    Pork (smoked ribs in particular) is almost always an appropriate pairing for a fruity pinot noir. This is especially true if you use the recommended Pinot Noir BBQ Sauce. Pork and pinot are a great match, and ribs are no exception with this mild sauce. If you use a bolder Kansas City–style sauce, opt for a zinfandel or malbec. If you use a more acidic sauce, try a domestic sparkling wine (bubbly rosé works great).


    Do you have a favorite go-to wine to pair with your BBQ? Share with us in the comment section below!

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