How to Smoke Baby Back Ribs with the 3-2-1 Method

Brandon WadeCuts of Meat, Grill, Pork, Smoke7 Comments

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How to Smoke Baby Back Ribs with the 3-2-1 Method

Ribs are my go-to when I’m in the mood for some smoked meat. Unlike larger cuts of meat like brisket – which I do love – you can throw a rack of ribs on the smoker at noon and have them done by dinner time. And it’s just plain easy to get great results every time.

This step-by-step guide will show you my favorite way on how to smoke baby back ribs using the ‘3-2-1’ method! That means the ribs will first smoke for three hours. Then you’ll wrap them (with brown sugar and honey!) and let them cook for another two hours. Finally, take the foil off, add some of your favorite sauce, and let them cook for the final hour.

What you’ll need:

  • 1 rack of baby back ribs (or more!)
  • 2 tablespoons of mustard
  • ½ cup brown sugar
  • 1 stick butter
  • ¼ cup honey
  • ½ cup of your favorite barbecue sauce

This is really a foolproof method on how to smoke baby back ribs. Follow these instructions and I promise you’ll end up with some deliciousness. Let’s get started!

Preparing Your Ribs

Unlike some other cuts of meat, there’s not a ton of work involved in preparing and learning how to smoke baby back ribs. One important step that some people unknowingly skip over is removing the membrane from the back side of the ribs. Just slip a knife under the membrane at one end, or find a bit that’s already loose, then pull it off. It’s super slimy, so use a paper towel to grab it, like so:

There’s no need to trim down fat, but if your rack has any little bits of meat hanging off, you can get rid of those.

The last thing you’ll need to do before throwing your ribs on the smoker is add some seasoning. But before getting that rub on your ribs, it’s a good idea to add some kind of binder so that your seasoning really sticks. I use mustard for this. Just throw on about this much on each side and spread it around before adding your rub:

For the rub, you can make your own, like our Flavor Bomb Pork Rub or buy one. If you want Some rubs are specifically marketed as being for ribs, but really any BBQ rub will work fie. This Killer Hogs rub is a great all-purpose BBQ seasoning. 

The Best Wood for Smoking Ribs 

A lot of folks are really opinionated when it comes to the best wood for smoking ribs. Me, not so much. For the most part wood is wood, and smoke is smoke. I smoked the ribs you see in these photos on my pellet smoker and I used a “Perfect Mix” of Hickory, Cherry, Hard Maple, and Apple.  You should use whatever you can get your hands on. With that being said, Apple is an amazing choice for ribs, so go with that if you need to buy some wood.

What Temperature for Smoking Ribs?

You’ll want to get your smoker up to 225 degrees Fahrenheit for smoking ribs. Depending on what kind of smoker you’re using, the weather, wind, etc. the temperature inside your smoker will fluctuate either a lot or a little. Don’t worry too much about that – just try to keep your temperature in the 225 – 250 degree range, more towards the lower end.

Smoking the Ribs

Finally, time to get those ribs on! For the first three hours, you’ll want to cook the ribs uncovered. Let them take in all that delicious smokey flavor. Some people baste their ribs periodically during this time, and others don’t. I’ve done it both ways and never noticed a difference, so I don’t find basting to be necessary. After a few hours they should have some great color:

After cooking the ribs uncovered for the first three hours, the second part of the 3-2-1 process is wrapping the ribs up in foil and letting them cook for another two hours. Oh, and did I mention the brown sugar, honey, and butter? This part of the recipe really takes the flavor to a new level. While I usually just eyeball it, I included ingredient amounts in the intro. Here’s roughly what you’re looking for in the foil:

Then put your ribs on top meat-side down and add a little more brown sugar and honey on top. Wrap them up tight and get them back on the smoker! You should try to do this relatively quickly so your ribs don’t lose too much heat – I usually like to have the foil and ingredients ready before I pull the ribs off the smoker.

After two hours wrapped, your ribs will start looking and smelling insanely delicious:

The last step is to put your favorite sauce on your ribs and let them cook for one more hour. That will allow the sauce to set up nicely and really adhere to the meat. If you really want to get adventurous, try this Utah Tart Cherry BBQ Sauce recipe! Note that a full hour might not be necessary, depending on your desired doneness. If you like your meat to stick to the bone more, use less time. If you want them basically falling off the bone, which most people seem to prefer, go with a full hour.

I think you’ll find it’s hard to argue with the results. Here’s the final product:


I really hope you enjoyed learning how to smoke baby back ribs using this smoking guide! It’s really hard to mess up the 3-2-1 method, so give it go and impress your friends and family! And if you want to read more about BBQ, please check out my blog BBQ Smarts.

– Tim Nelson with BBQ Smarts


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Print Recipe
Smoked Baby Back Ribs
How to smoke baby back ribs
Course Dinner, Main Dish
Prep Time 10 min
Cook Time 6 hours
Course Dinner, Main Dish
Prep Time 10 min
Cook Time 6 hours
How to smoke baby back ribs
  1. Remove membrane from ribs (see pic)
  2. Rub both sides of ribs with mustard
  3. Season as desired. You can make your own, buy one, or try our Flavor Bomb Pork Rub by searching our site.
  4. Smoke ribs over indirect heat at 225 - 250 degrees celsius for 3 hours
  5. While ribs are smoking, get out foil - cut enough to generously wrap ribs
  6. Place brown sugar, butter, and honey on foil (see pic)
  7. Place the ribs, meat side down on the mixture. Add a little more honey and brown sugar to the bottom up side.
  8. Wrap foil around ribs and return to smoker for another 2 hours
  9. Remove and unwrap ribs. Cover ribs with BBQ sauce and return to indirect heat for another 30 min - 1 hour
  10. Remove from heat, cut rubs and enjoy!

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