3-1-1 Ribs Method – Amazing Smoked Ribs (And Recipe)

September 20, 2023
Written by Kristy J. Norton
Edited by John Smits 

To use the 3-1-1 method, cook ribs on your smoker unwrapped for 3 hours, then wrap them in foil and cook for an hour, and finally unwrap the ribs and cook them for another hour. Boom. Ultra-tender, smoky, delicious ribs await you. The 3-1-1 ribs method is so easy and consistently delicious. 

I’ve been using the 3-1-1 method to cook unbelievable baby back ribs for more than a decade. The 3-1-1 rib process gets me mouth-watering results each time. These ribs are next-level good. Like, last meal on earth good.

Let’s dive into the 3-1-1 method and see what all the hype’s about.

3 1 1 Ribs

Sourcing – Spare vs Baby Back Ribs

The 3-1-1 method is perfect for baby backs. They’re smaller than spares, so they cook up a little faster. Try the 3 2 1 method for amazing spare ribs. Let’s take a quick look at each cut:

Spare Ribs

Spare ribs, also called side ribs, are a set of various ribs cut from the lower side of a pig, specifically the belly and breastbone area. Spare ribs typically include between 11 to 13 bones and a layer of meat at the top.

Baby Back Ribs

This is the cut where the loin meets the backbone. They are shorter than spare ribs, thus the name “baby.” Baby backs also have less fat than spares. They are the ideal cut for the 3-1-1 method.

3-1-1 Ribs Method

Dry Brine

I like to dry brine my ribs. Use ½ teaspoon of Kosher salt per pound of meat, or ¼ teaspoon of table salt per pound. Sprinkle the salt over the meat and refrigerate the ribs for 4 to 24 hours. The salt adds flavor and helps lock moisture into the meat.

Raw Pork Ribs with Spices and Herbs

Get Your Smoker Ready

Preheat your Big Green Egg or whatever smoker you’re using to 225°F. If you are using the Big Green Egg or other kamado cooker, a water pan is unnecessary. Eggs are well sealed and insulated, so you don’t need water to add humidity or stabilize temperatures.

Pick your wood. I like to smoke ribs over oak. It will not overwhelm the natural flavor of ribs, and it’s a classic smoking wood. You can also use hickory wood, pecan, or apple. Play around with different woods and see which you like the best. I don’t soak my wood chunks or chips in water before using them.

If you are using a gas or charcoal grill, set it up for 2-zone cooking by placing the wood or coal on one side of the firebox and an aluminum pan filled with water on the other. The water pan will help keep the temperature regulated and add moisture to the cooking environment.

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Get Your Ribs Ready

Trim excess fat off the ribs. The ribs have two sides. One side is meaty. The other side is the bone side, which is covered by a thin membrane. Work a sharp knife right between the membrane and the bone and pull it off gently. Don’t skip this step. The membrane is rubbery. You don’t want to serve that to your guests.

Cover the ribs with a layer of yellow mustard, and then apply your favorite barbecue rub. I highly recommend Killer Hogs The BBQ Rub. Be sure to press the rub gently into the meat to lock in that flavor. The mustard acts as a binder and helps the rub stick. You won’t taste the mustard in the ribs, but you don’t need to use it if you don’t want to.

Smoke the Ribs

With our Big Green Egg up to temperature, place the ribs meat-side up on the grill. Smoke the ribs undisturbed for 3 hours. The internal temperature should be around 165°F after 3 hours.

Add Moisture and Wrap the Ribs

I like to add a flavorful liquid when I wrap the ribs. The addition of moisture to the ribs helps keep the meat moist. It also steams the meat, making it unbelievably tender. Apple juice, cider, vinegar, beer, wine – the sky is the limit to what you stick in the foil. My go-to is ½ stick of butter cut into pats. 

Remove the ribs from the smoker and add the liquid before wrapping the ribs tightly in two sheets of foil. Be careful not to puncture the foil with the bones.

Put the ribs back on the smoker bone side down and smoke for 1 hour.

Rack of Baby Back Pork Ribs on BBQ Grill

Unwrap the Ribs

Carefully remove the ribs from the Big Green Egg and unwrap them. Smoke the ribs for another 1 hour.

While the ribs are finishing, prepare a barbecue sauce by mixing ¼ cup of brown sugar, 1 tablespoon of salted butter, 2 tablespoons of honey, and 2 tablespoons of your favorite BBQ sauce. I use Killer Hogs The BBQ Sauce + Vinegar Sauce Bundle.

If you want to add even more flavor, 45 minutes into the last hour, feel free to brush some of your favorite BBQ sauce on both sides of the ribs. The barbecue sauce also gives your 3-1-1 ribs a rich, attractive color. This step is optional. Close the Big Green Egg for the remaining 15 minutes.


After that hour, carefully remove the ribs from the grill. Let them rest, wrapped, in a cooler for 2 hours if you’ve got time.


Once the ribs are done resting, it’s dinner time. Plate the ribs. Voila! You’re staring at your very own 3-1-1 ribs. 

Ribs go with anything, including bread, grilled corn, fries, rice, and, of course, don’t forget the BBQ sauce.

Wine Pairing For 3-1-1 Ribs

When it comes to pairing wine, the key is balance. One element should not overwhelm the other; instead, they should elevate each other into something more than if they were enjoyed separately.

For these 3-1-1 ribs, I am looking for a wine that will stand up to the flavors of the barbecue sauce and dry rub while not overwhelming the delicious smoke flavors of the tender ribs. I prefer red wines with bright berry notes. My favorite with these ribs is Sagelands Merlot. You will not regret it.

Smoked Pork Ribs with Glass of Wine

Tell Me About the 3-2-1 Ribs Method

This method also smokes pork ribs at 225°F. It’s great for spare ribs. Smoke ribs for 3 hours unwrapped, then 2 hours wrapped, and finish by smoking them for an hour unwrapped.

The idea is to cook the meat just enough to easily pull off the bone and not fall off the bone. Remember, when the ribs are wrapped in the foil, they are not smoking but steaming to make them tender. The longer they steam, the mushier the meat gets. Spares are bigger, so they can handle being wrapped for longer. I think baby backs shine using the 3-1-1 method.

Cooking Temperature for Smoked Ribs

For 3-1-1 ribs, I set my smoker temp to 225°F. I prefer using this ThermoPro TP20 500FT Wireless Meat Thermometer. You can monitor the internal temperature without having to open the smoker. At 203°F, 3-1-1 ribs are done cooking and extremely tender.

Why Do We Wrap the Ribs

Typically, when the internal temperature of the meat reaches 150°F to 170°F, a lot of its natural moisture makes its way to the surface. The meat is “sweating.” At this point, evaporation starts, creating a cooling effect. This evaporative cooling is known as the stall, and it can keep the temperature from climbing for hours. 

To combat the stall, we wrap. When you wrap the ribs, the moisture cannot evaporate. It simply pools in the bottom of the foil.

Wrapping also makes the ribs taste juicier and more tender. That extra liquid helps steam the meat.

Person Trying to Cover Pork Ribs with Foil

The Takeaway

3-1-1 ribs strike the perfect balance between flavor and tenderness. They are absolutely stellar for backyard parties, game nights, football games, or even just an intimate family dinner. This delight requires 5 hours of cooking time:

  • 3 hours unwrapped
  • 1 hour wrapped
  • 1 hour to crisp the bark.

Grab some baby back ribs and give the 3-1-1 method a try. You’ll be glad you did, I promise. With that, I wish you all the best. Happy grilling!

By Kristy J. Norton
I'm Kristy – a chef and connoisseur of all things BBQ! You can find me either in my kitchen (or someone else's) or at a big outdoor barbecue surrounded by friends and family. In both my professional and personal life I’ve picked up more than a few tips and tricks for turning out delicious food. I consider it a privilege to share it with others!
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