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321 Rib Method Explained

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Unlock the secrets to unbeatable smoked ribs with the ultimate guide for the 321 rib method. Discover the perfect blend of wood-fired flavor and mouthwatering tenderness in just 3 hours of smoking the ribs.

The 321 method for ribs is simple: 3 hours of smoky bliss, 2 hours of wrapping them in foil, and 1 hour of causing them for mouthwatering caramelization. Hungry yet? Dive into our guide to unlock the full potential of your ribs. Get ready for masterful ribs in 3, 2 1.

What is the 321 Rib Method?

The 321 rib method for smoking ribs is the secret sauce to achieving barbecue perfection. Imagine tender, fall-off-the-bone ribs infused with layers of smoky flavor, all thanks to a precise three-step process:

First, let them bathe in the rich aroma of hardwood smoke for three hours (we recommend our Hickory wood pellets), infusing every bite with that unmistakable BBQ essence.

Second, we wrap them snugly in foil for two hours, locking in moisture and tenderness until they practically melt in your mouth.

Finally, we unveil them for an hour of caramelization, where they transform into golden, sticky masterpieces that will leave you craving more.

It's not just a cooking method – it's a culinary journey that elevates every rib to legendary status.

Tools & Ingredients for 321 Ribs

No method is without its ingredients. To master the deliciously easy Traeger 321 ribs, you'll need the following ingredients:

To smoke these ribs to perfection, make sure you also have the following tools:

  • Wood Pellet Grill: We guarantee that after you make these ribs, you'll be making them again and again. To ensure you have as much room as possible for as many racks, we recommend the Traeger Ironwood XL.
  • Wood Pellets: To infuse your 321 ribs with wood-fired flavor, you'll need hardwood pellets. We suggest Hickory, Apple, or our Signature Blend.
  • Foil: This will be used in step two of the 321 method.
  • Meat Thermometer: The 3-2-1 method takes a bit of time, and no meat thermometer is better for that than the MEATER. With its wireless capabilities, you can chill out after each step instead of monitoring your cook.
  • Grill Tongs
  • Basting Brush

Now that you have the tools, you'll need the steps. Keep reading to become an expert in the 321 rib method:

321 Method Steps


You have your ingredients, you have your tools, and now you're wondering how to smoke 321 ribs. Luckily for you, this is your one stop shop guide to making your ribs melt-in-your-mouth tender.

1. Remove the Silver Skin: If your butcher hasn't already done this, remove the silverskin membrane from the bone-side of the ribs. Use a butter knife and work the tip underneath the membrane over a middle bone. Grab the skin with a paper towel and tear the membrane off in one clean sweep.

2. Season on Both Sides: Next, combine the mustard, 1/4 cup of apple juice, and the Worcestershire sauce, and spread the mixture thinly on both sides of your ribs. Then, season generously with Traeger Pork & Poultry Rub or with your rub of choice.

3. Preheat & Smoke for 3 Hours: Let your Traeger do the work. This is where the 3 2 1 method comes into play, the "3" is for the three hours you envelop your ribs in flavorful smoke. Set the grill temperature to 180℉. Preheat with the lid closed, for 15 minutes. Then, place the ribs meat-side up on the grill and smoke them for three hours (or when your MEATER wireless thermometer tells you that the internal temperature of the ribs has reached 165℉).

4. Wrap in Foil: Once your 3 hours are up, it's time to hit the second part of the 321 rib method and wrap your ribs so they can cook low and slow for the next 2 hours. Raise the grill temperature to 225°F, cook the ribs until tender, then transfer them to a baking sheet. Wrap them tightly in foil with brown sugar and honey, and cook for another 2 hours until the internal temperature reaches 205°F. Pro tip: Prevent leakage by crimping the foil edges.

5. Brush with Sauce: After two hours, coat the ribs with BBQ sauce and smoke for an additional hour until the sauce thickens. Be cautious as the sugar in the sauce can caramelize and burn the ribs if left on the grill for too long.

Recipe Variations


Of course, not everyone likes to follow the rules and here at Traeger and we celebrate that. Our pitmasters even have their own variations of the method. Check out their tips below.

Pit Boss Chad Tip:


That’s the great thing about BBQ, it’s totally and completely yours. You are the master of your own flavor. Make it great and make it yours.

Get the full recipe for these 3-2-1 St Louis Ribs, and explore our other 3-2-1 recipes:

321 Ribs FAQ's

How long to smoke ribs?

  1. 3 Hours: Start by smoking the ribs unwrapped for 3 hours at a temperature of around 225°F to 250°F. This allows the smoke to penetrate the meat and develop flavor.

  2. 2 Hours: After the initial smoking period, wrap the ribs in aluminum foil. This helps to tenderize the meat and lock in moisture. Continue cooking for an additional 2 hours.

  3. 1 Hour: Finally, unwrap the ribs and return them to the grill for the final hour of cooking. This step allows the ribs to firm up slightly and develop a nice bark on the outside.

Remember, these times are approximate and may vary depending on factors such as the exact temperature of your grill and the thickness of the ribs. It's always a good idea to use a MEATER to ensure that the internal temperature of the ribs reaches around 200°F for tender, fall-off-the-bone ribs.

What temp for 321 ribs?

For your smoking temperature, set your smoker at around 225°F to 250°F. For your internal temperature make sure that your ribs hit 200°F.

What are the best sauces and rubs for 321 ribs?

Choosing a sauce and a rub entirely depends on your pallette. There are a ton of different 321 ribs variations with different flavors, from tandoori to traditional BBQ. However, we suggest checking out our Traeger-made sauces and rubs for inspiration.

Can I leave the BBQ sauce off?

Yup -- just make sure to have it on the side in case some people want it.

321 Ribs

by Danielle "Diva Q" Bennett

Prep Time

15 Min

Cook Time

6 Hr





Our famously easy 321 ribs will make your rib game the envy of the neighborhood. This super simple recipe takes all the confusion out of making baby back ribs without sacrificing any of the flavor. You'll begin this method by smoking your ribs for 3 hours, then cooking inside foil for 2 hours. Finish by removing your ribs from the foil, brushing on BBQ sauce, and then cook for another hour.

2 Rackbaby back pork ribs
1/3 Cupyellow mustard
1/2 Cupapple juice, divided
1 TablespoonWorcestershire sauce
To TasteTraeger Pork & Poultry Rub
1/2 Cupdark brown sugar
1/3 Cuphoney, warmed
1 CupTraeger 'Que BBQ Sauce
  • 1

    If your butcher has not already done so, remove the thin silverskin membrane from the bone-side of the ribs by working the tip of a butter knife or a screwdriver underneath the membrane over a middle bone. Use paper towels to get a firm grip, then tear the membrane off.

  • 2

    In a small bowl, combine the mustard, 1/4 cup of apple juice (reserve the rest) and the Worcestershire sauce. Spread the mixture thinly on both sides of the ribs and season with Traeger Pork & Poultry Rub.

  • 3

    When ready to cook, set Traeger temperature to 180℉ and preheat, lid closed for 15 minutes. Smoke the ribs, meat-side up for 3 hours, or until the internal temperature reaches 160℉.

  • 4

    After the 321 ribs have smoked for 3 hours, transfer them to a rimmed baking sheet and increase the grill temperature to 225℉.

  • 5

    Tear off four long sheets of heavy-duty aluminum foil. Top with a rack of ribs and pull up the sides to keep the liquid enclosed. Sprinkle half the brown sugar on the rack, then top with half the honey and half the remaining apple juice. Use a bit more apple juice if you want more tender ribs. Lay another piece of foil on top and tightly crimp the edges so there is no leakage. Repeat with the remaining rack of Traeger 321 ribs.

  • 6

    Return the foiled ribs to the grill and cook for an additional 2 hours, or until internal temperature reaches 205℉.

  • 7

    Carefully remove the foil from the ribs and brush the ribs on both sides with Traeger 'Que Sauce. Discard the foil. Arrange the ribs directly on the grill grate and continue to grill until the sauce tightens, 30 to 60 minutes more.

  • 8

    Let the ribs rest for a few minutes before serving. Enjoy!

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