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321 Ribs – Method for the Best Smoked Ribs

321 ribs is a method for cooking pull-off-the-bone, tender, and juicy ribs. The name comes from its 3 main steps, which are smoking the ribs for 3 hours, then steaming them for 2, and finally glazing for 1 more.

The 321 ribs method is one of the first we ever learned because it is ideal for first-timers and almost 100% foolproof. 

321 Ribs
321 Ribs TheSundayGrill Version

The method consists of 3 main steps:

  • In the first 3 hours, you start to cook the ribs and infuse them with smoke flavor.
  • The next 2 hours, you’re “steaming” the meat, making it tender and juicy.
  • In the final 1 hour, you baste and sauce the ribs to make a glaze over them.

Let’s get things clear. The 321 ribs is a method, not an actual recipe. We have tried several and researched many more until we came up with our very own 321 Ribs TheSundayGrill version. 

Follow our step-by-step recipe, give it a try, and let us know what you think!

321 Ribs – TheSundayGrill Version

Ingredients for a serving of 6

  • 2 racks of baby back ribs
  • 1/3 cup yellow mustard
  • 4 tbsp of your favorite dry rub 
  • 1/2 cup apple cider (juice also works) 
  • 1/2 cup dark brown sugar
  • 1/3 cup honey
  • 4-6 Tbsp salted butter
  • 1 cup of your favorite bbq sauce


  • If you don’t have a favorite one, try using a mix of chili, paprika, brown sugar, sea salt, and garlic salt
  • You will also need to have heavy-duty aluminum foil 

321 Ribs Preparation

  1. The first step is to get you ribs ready if they aren’t already. This means:
  • Having them unfrozen and dry before you start.
  • Removing the membrane on the back of the ribs. This could be tricky, but it’s easy if you use a butter knife to get on the edge and peel it off using a paper towel. Taking the membrane off will make the ribs less chewy at the end. 
  1. Once your ribs are ready, season both sides of the ribs with a coat of mustard, this will act as a binder for the rub. Put a nice layer of your favorite dry rub, again, on both sides. Press it a little bit with your hand to make sure it sticks to the mustard. Don’t worry, the taste of the mustard goes away after smoking. Remember to season the edges.
  2. Prepare your smoker and set it to 180 F. Place the ribs on the smoker, bone-side down. The position of the ribs is important. At this point you want the smoke to penetrate the meat, not creating a pool of juices in the middle. 
  3. After 3 hours in the smoker, grab a couple of large pieces of foil and lay down the ribs, bone side up. Make a warm mix of the dark brown sugar, honey, and apple cider. Make a “boat” with the aluminum foil and pour the mix on top of the ribs. Then distribute the salted butter on top. 
  4. Fold over the foil to cover the ribs and tightly wrap the edges to make sure there are no leakages. 
  5. Increase the temperature of the smoker to 225 F and place the ribs bake for another 2 hours. 
  6. Take the ribs out of the grill and remove the foil. Be careful not to burn yourself with the steam. Lean them a little to drain some of the excess apple juice off. 
  7. Finally, brush the ribs with your favorite BBQ sauce and put them back in the grill for another hour at 225 F. The goal here is to make the ribs one with the sauce. You can check in to see when the sauce tightens and shows as a shiny glaze on top.     
  8. Enjoy your ribs!

Other info 

  • Effort: Low-Mid
  • Prep Time: 20 minutes
  • Grill Time: 6 hours

The Bottom Line

With the 321 ribs method, you are almost guaranteed to have an amazing barbecue. The 321 method won’t win any BBQ competitions, but people will surely enjoy them.  

This is a base recipe but you can get creative and add new tastes. Once you’ve tried it, play yourself with it! You can also adjust the cooking times and temperatures to change the meat’s tenderness and juiciness. Don’t be scared of trying different variations to find your perfect recipe.  

As you can see, temp control is crucial in the 321 ribs method. To learn more about the importance of meat temperatures, check out our meat cooking temperature guideline. If you are looking for a smoker, you might also want to check our guides for the Best Smoker Grill Combo or the Best Smoker for Beginners.

Kansas City BBQ Sauce
Tri Tip
Homemade BBQ Sauce
Smoking Meat for Beginners
Pork Butt
How to Grill Ribs

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