Grilling bbq ribs is not only a fun experience but also a tasty treat. However, most of you guys have been conned by the supposed bbq rib experts into believing that this 3-2-1 method is the end all of smoked ribs cooking. To be honest, I have been using a similar method for years and years now, long before the 3-2-1 became so widespread. I say "similar" because my way of smoking ribs is much better; the 3-2-1 bbq ribs is flawed and here is why.
First, let me explain real quick what this 3-2-1 bbq ribs method is. The numbers simply refer to hours: 3 hours then 2 hours then 1 hour. The bbq ribs formula reads like this: 3 hours in the smoker, 2 hours in foil, then 1 last hour back into the smoker.
The glaring problems with this method is that it does not take into account the size of the smoker, or the amount of bbq ribs, or the distance the meat will be from the heat source, or whether or not there will be other foods in the smoker absorbing smoke. These things may sound like small concerns, but serious bbq rib smokers will tell you that they are not small concerns at all. An hour variation here and there on the smoking or the tenderizing phase could be HUGE and can mean the difference between 'honorable mention' and $7,500.00 first prize.
Even if you are not a bbq ribs competition monkey like me, it is worth noting that the times prescribed in the 3-2-1 method are all wrong. If you use a full competition smoker, for example, then 3 hours of smoking is simply not enough unless you are grilling only one rack of ribs. Remember, this is bbq SMOKED ribs that we are talking about here... not "slightly puffed on" ribs. Three hours won't cut it; you'll want to go more like 5 to 8 hours of good constant smoke exposure. Get those bbq ribs as far away from that heat as possible in order to allow that smoke to penetrate the meat slowly and consistantly, although you will want to make sure that your temps are 250 or above in order to maintain food safety.
Again, the 3-2-1 method is flawed on the first number. It is also flawed on the second: two hours in the foil. Read my other posts if you are lost on this step of smoking ribs. What the foil stage accomplishes is the tenderizing of the meat. By double wrapping the racks of bbq ribs in good quality foil you can essentially trap the steam inside the foil pocket and slowly tenderize the meat. You do not have to baste during this stage, as many proclaim, because the water steam vapor trapped inside the foil keeps the ribs constantly basted. As matter of fact, you will do more damage by opening the pouch to baste them because it will take quite a while for the ribs pouches to build back up the necessary steam to start the tenderizing again. This second stage is vital if you like your ribs tender. Do not skimp on this by tenderizing for only two hours. Oh, and by the way, it does not matter if you use the grill, smoker, oven or slow cooker for this part of the bbq smoked ribs formula. Why? Because since the ribs are double wrapped in foil, very little if any of the smoke is getting to the meat anyway. Do let people tell you that this part has to be done on the grill. Makes no difference in taste. I often will smoke the bbq ribs for about 5 to 9 hours and then wrap in foil and let set overnight to allow the smoke to cure into the meat. I will then slow-cook in either a slow cooker or the oven for about another 5 to 7 hours. I like to do this at a very low temperature, usually around 225*.
The third number in the 3-2-1 smoked ribs method is also wrong. No good reason for this stage at all unless you just want to color up your ribs for plating or presentation effects. Otherwise, you should have already attained the desired texture color prior to the tenderizing. Again, keep in mind that it all depends on the amount of bbq ribs that you are preparing and the size of your rib smoker and the distance that the meat is from the heat source. Other than the 3, the 2, and the 1 in the 3-2-1 method, the rest is good for bbq ribs.