Ribs are simple to cook, less simple to cook well. One of the main complaints that barbecue newbies have is that their ribs turn out tough and dry. Ribs are prone to this because the meat is naturally tough and rubbery, which means that you need to use a cooking method designed to tenderize it.
Normally, the only way to make ribs tender is with indirect heat and time. Shortcut methods like boiling the ribs or using meat tenderizer are seriously flawed in that they will either not work, or they will detract from the ribs’ flavor and texture.
The traditional option is to do it the hard way and smoke ribs for 12 hours. This will work, but most of us do not want to get out of bed at 6 AM to start cooking dinner. That is where the 3-2-1 method comes in. It is a simple, easy-to-remember way to get tender ribs in a reasonable amount of time.
What is the 3-2-1 Method?
Three hours is the length of time for the initial smoke. Set your gas grill to 225 degrees. Prepare your ribs by applying your preferred dry rub before placing them on the grill grates bone side down. If you are using a charcoal grill and don’t have a lot of experience with that fuel, your best bet for a precise temperature is to get a grill thermometer. Along with traditional grill thermometers, there are wireless and Bluetooth devices that can alert you via your phone.
You can also add your preferred smoking wood when you put the ribs on to smoke. Note that if you are using wood chips, you will need to add a handful or two every 30 minutes or so. Add it quickly and keep the grill closed the rest of the time to keep the temperature stable.
After two hours, wrap your racks tightly in aluminum foil. The key here is the tightness of the seal. You will want an airtight seal on your foil packet. The point is for it to hold the steam in. The steam will help to soften the muscle fibers and baste the meat in its own juices. This is also a good time to add a liquid. Your options include beer, cider and apple cider vinegar. Note that acidic liquids enhance the meat’s tenderness. As your wrapped rib racks cook, you can get your barbecue sauce ready.
After the two hours are up, you should unwrap the ribs and apply the sauce. Place the ribs back on the grill and cook for 1 hour. Keep the heat indirect so that the sauce does not scorch. After the hour is up, you should have succulent and flavorful ribs.
Dos and don’ts
- Do be precise about the time that your ribs stay wrapped. Going for much longer than two hours will result in mushy ribs. Many cooks claim that their ribs will fall right off the bone. This may be true, but it is not a good thing. These people are boasting that they overcook their ribs. Most barbecue experts strive to get their ribs tender without having the texture of stewed meat.
- Do choose thicker racks for this method. This will lessen the risk of overcooking.
- Do remove the membrane from the backs of your ribs, either before you get the rack on the grill for the first smoke or immediately after. It will get tough during cooking.
- Don’t adjust the wrapped ribs too often after placing them back on the grill. You run the risk tearing small holes in the foil, which will cause a loss of steam and dry ribs.
- Don’t turn the heat up after applying the sauce. Not only will this increase the risk of charring, it will make your grill grates harder to clean.