3-2-1 Memorial day ribs a bust, help!! (warning - long post :)

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Smoke Blower
Original poster
May 5, 2007
North Shore - Boston, MA
I've been doing a TON of research on this site to make sure I had everything just right.....8 1/2 hours later, the flavor was there but the doneness was not.
This was my first ever go at it....and although nobody complained about the racks that were completed for the party, I was extremely disappointed after the amount of work and time that was put into the process for a finished product I would have a hard time giving myself a C- on. I will give a fully detailed description of my day, if it's too much info I apologize....I figure the more you people have the better.

Saturday @ Noon

Meat - Two full racks of baby back pork ribs purchased Saturday morning from BJ's Wholesale Club for $3.49 lb. totalling 6.5 lbs.

My buddy laid down a layer of French's mustard and then our favorite rub mixture on them. Now, I will point out some possible key mistakes along the way that could have made a big difference but I would appreciate some feedback on them as well to see if I am right in my thinking. So, I was tending to the firebox and getting the charcoal ready in the chimney starter for his Char-Broil smoker with chimney stack when the mustard/rub was being applied by him. Apparently, the membranes weren't removed when this process was done and I had forgotten to tell him to do so. (Mistake #1?) We place ribs back into fridge for about two hours and crack a few beers to enjoy the afternoon 90 degree sunshine with.

Smoker used

Saturday @ 2:30 PM

The first firebox gets the temperature in the smoker up to about 250 F and finally settles in around 220 F. I had gotten the racks out of the fridge about a half hour earlier to get them to room temp. I first put the racks in at about 230 F and tend to the fire for the first three hours, not opening the main compartment where the ribs go....just the firebox on the side for stirring the charcoals and adding the wet hickory wood. About two and a half hours in, we notice temp is down below 200....like 180 or so. I go to start another chimney of charcoal but this normally takes 20-30 minutes to get ready, so ribs in first 3 hour step are at 180 F for the final half hour. (Mistake #2?) Oh yah, one more question on the first step.....I thought early about whether or not to flip them in this step. I decided not to because I didn't want to lose warmth and smoke in the main compartment of the smoker. (Mistake #3?)

Saturday @ 5:30 PM

At the end of step #1, I take racks out....begin wrapping them in heavy duty foil and spray them down with apple juice. I didn't make a "tent" with the foil (Mistake #3?) Firebox gets us back up over 230 and we maintain a good fire for the foil step, eventually ending around 200 F.

Saturday @ 7:30 PM

After the two hours in foil and one opening of the foil packet after the first hour in the process to spritz with apple juice....I decide to probe the ribs. They are only sitting at 126 F after FIVE HOURS?? I got really worried at this point but just get the temp. back up to 230 F in the firebox and thought to myself, "Ok, this 6 hour method isn't an exact science, maybe this will turn into the 3-2-2 method." I spritz them with the apple juice, close the box for about 45 minutes more. After 45 minutes I decided it was time to begin the sauce basting. I use my homemade tomato based sauce and begin to lather them up. Now, remember when I had said early on that I didn't want to flip them? Well....at this point I'm panicking because of the low temp so I decide to flip them. I maintain temp around 225 F for the next 1 hr. 15 min, opening once to flip yet again and baste the other side with sauce.

Saturday at 9:30 PM

I'm up over 7 hours and it's really getting dark outside. Ok, are they done??? Stick the probe in and it reaches 138 F!
Crap, where did *I* go wrong?!? I decide to just continue on with the process.....get it up to 250 F again and continue on until they reach the proper temp, my goal was 165 F. Another hour later, just 148 F or so. At this point, I give up and decide to take them into the oven inside to finish up. At 11:30 PM (they were supposed to be done around 8:30 PM), I get the temp up to 170 F from the oven and let them rest. I bite into them first and of course the flavor is AMAZING, but there is just no pulling from the bone. *huge sigh*

Sunday around Midnight (are you serious!?!)

We all eat while watching the Chuck Liddell UFC match on Pay-per-view. Bone still firmly attached to pork, however.

Yes, I was a smoking ribs virgin and understand they won't come out perfectly every time since they are one of the most difficult pieces of meat to master. However, I was expecting the 3-2-1 method to be fool proof and made a huge misstep somewhere along the way. I couldn't believe that even after 8 1/2 hours in the smoker, they didn't get to temp.

My apologies that no pics included in this post but my digital camera is on the shelf right now with a torn ACL (ok, it's broken somehow :). You guys are the best, so what key mistake was costly?

- How important is the membrane removal?
- What do you consider the "perfect" temp throughout?
- How important is control of the chimney stack?
- What temps. should ribs be at the end of each step?
I believe the membrane is huge, it's the glue that makes them stay together. I'll let someone else type about temps, but I don't know why they didn't come up.....
Sad news indeed…sounds like quite a perplexity! After step #1, was the meat pulling back from the bones like maybe 1/4"? That would be a good sign to foil. Yes, the membrane removal is desireable for pulling off the bones, but would not render ribs inedible. Are you sure your thermometer(s) are working properly, and you werenâ€[emoji]8482[/emoji]t reading in Centigrade? Your pork needs to be like 160° to be safe. They werenâ€[emoji]8482[/emoji]t frozen were they? There is something not kosher here. How often were you checking the ribs?
Didn't check then, so I don't now. Yah, I know I was not reading in Centigrade. :)No, they were in the fridge section of the local BJ's and were sitting at room temp. for close to a half hour. Not often, honestly. At most, once an hour. I'm still stumped myself....I'm wondering if step #1 should have been longer. I have a good inkling it was because of the membrane, it seemed very thick and inhibited the pulling from the bone once they were officially done.

They were a 3-pack, so my buddy and I have one left that we are trying again on Memorial Day....I will not be easily defeated!!
Did you check your thermometer for accuracy?

Personally I don't use one on ribs (too easy to get an eroneous reading ... I just go by time , temp and 'feel' ... don't give up!
Amazing. 3-2-1 has to be one of the simplest methods of doing ribs. Pretty much full proof, although fine tuning is needed for personal taste. I use a vertical charcoal smoker and do them with temps in the 200-250 region all the time. Once I open the foil up after the second stage (no tenting, just wrapped tightly) they are STEAMING, they are so hot. Actually when I do Baby Back ribs, I go with 3-1.5-.5 for only 5 hours total or them seem dried out.
The only thing I can venture is you need more charcoal to create more heat. I have never had a side box smoker, so not sure how well they work. But all the post I've read of those that have them seem to be positive.
Grill temp taken where? On the lid of the smoker? Maybe not the best place for it. On the rack next to your meat is more accurate. I have a handful of thermometers and trust none of them, two or four of the so called insta read stick it in the meat and read the dial kind and a couple that you hang or set on the grill called oven thermometers and one that I just installed on my smoker (Guess where? Yea the lid) I am telling myself that the one in the lid is for a quick check to see if things are working and not about accuracy.

I am guessing, sight unseen, that a damper maybe wasn't allowing enough heat thru into the cooking chamber and or because there was a bad thermometer reading in the cooking area there just wasn't enough heat. I have read that the temps inside a rig can vary greatly in just six inches (tempurature stratification may have been the big word) and if you were going by an el cheapo thermometer mounted in a location that was too far from the cooking surface....Live and learn

Not pulling the silver skin! You should be.... Well I guess the worst thing is that you would have to eat it, big deal, a non issue amoung freinds except to rub ones face in once and awhile.
I would have to agree that the thermometer you used to check the chamber temp was either inaccurate or too far above the cooking grid. If it takes that long with the 3-2-1 method then you just don't have enough heat going on. You need a bigger pile of coals to start or you didn't get enough heat transfer to your cooking chamber.

If you must use the thermo, get a good oven type to place on the cooking grid. Then watch those ribs for the pull back on the bones and go from there. Give it another shot - I'd be willing to bet they come out much better next time.

Keep Smokin
I also think you were having issues with your grate temperature. Try putting the probe of your thermometer through a potato and laying it on the smoker grate next to your meat and then compare the temp to the thermometer on the smoker. I bet the grate temp is far below the one you were watching. Here is a pic that I took doing some spares a few weeks ago on my Pitmaster which is a lot like your smoker. My thermometer was almost 75* cooler than the factory one was.

The membrane wouldn't have stopped the ribs from cooking, it would possibly stop the smoke from penetrating as well. Most of the commercial BBQ spots around here don't pull membranes due to the number of racks to be cooked it would be too time comsuming.

I also don't ever flip. Just put them on bone side down. When the meat pulls back slightly from the end of the bone, wrap them in foil with a splash of apple juice. Let them go without opening (opening causes you to lose your steam) until you can lift the foiled ribs and feel them bend in the middle real easy. Then unwrap (careful of the steam and hot juice) and slide them back on the rack with an extra dusting of rub and any type of sauce your wish to apply for about 30 minutes to an hour. This last step is really just to get the appearance and final taste to your liking. They are done when they come out of the foil. Baby backs usually take me about 4 hours using this method.

Hope this helps and don't get discouraged. You will get it right with a little more work.
I think that your fire had to be too cool. Those ribs should have been done in that length of time. Here is the way I cook mine. I moisten them with Worcestershire and then apply my rub. With my smoker at 250 I place them on the grill bone down and hardly ever touch them until they are done. My main concern is to keep that fire at about 250. When the meat pulls back from the bone a little, I pick them up with tongs. If they bend at about a 45 degree angle and the meat cracks just a little, they are done. You can either eat them as is or sauce them and then eat. The few times that I do open the smoker to look, I give them a spritz of Worcestershire, lemon juice, and cooking oil. If you can hold your hand on top of your smoker to a three- one thousand count, it is too cold.
If it makes you feel any better, I think I just ruined a batch myself. I usually go with a vacpac top brand (Tyson ? or anybody proud enough to put their name on the pack)

1st, mistake I bought the store brand on a tray with 1/3 folded under

2nd, mistake I didn't inspect close enough to see that the chine had been split between some ribs on two racks

3rd. mistake the ribs just didn't feel right, too loose, too thin on the meat, not tight enough grain or something, but I couldn't tell on the tray

4th, mistake My cayenne pepper that I used in my rub turned out to be way way too damb hot! (didn't discover this until I was kind of ready to foil)

5th problem, Knowing that the ribs seemed weak or thin and I actually cut each rack in half for space I figured on doing the foil early like maybe at two hours depending on pull back and smoke color and temp and dryness and the moon and the sun and well...At any rate they looked too dry already after only one mop at one hour (mistake 4.50) So I foiled at two hours and a high thermo reading (150+)with a dash of cider but in hind site I should have scrubbed off the damb rub Mistake #5A

I don't know? It may turn out OK, but I got a bad feeling on this one, and it is gonna take some honey or something to kill the dam heat!
Well out of the foil they were juicy and tender, but still too hot to eat. I don't know what happened. I am guessing that maybe I mistook paprika and red pepper and put in all red pepper or something? I actually washed a couple of ribs off under running hot water and It is still too hot for me. And I made a batch of the Atomic buffalo turds that are mild compared to the ribs. My wife says that the ribs are good if they are washed and then covered in a sause, but I don't see it.
Do NOT be afraid to open the cooking chamber. I have a side fire box, as well. Make a few mods to help direct and retain the heat in the cooking chamber. But get some oven thermometers to place around on your grate so you can check them every 30 minutes to an hour. After a few smokes, you will get a feel for how well your temp is doing just by feeling the top of the cooking chamber or by looking at where your lid thermometers are reading. Like smokeyjoe said, they are not going to be accurate, but they can give you and indication of how it's performing. But if you open now and again for short peeks at the oven thermometers, you're not going to lose so much heat that it takes a long time to get back up.

I'm sure you have figured out by now that it is a problem with the temp in the cooking chamber. You might throw a handful of chips in the firebox just to observe where the smoke billows out. This will give you an idea of where all the heat is going. You can then determine what types of modifications you need to make. Theres several good threads for that.

Keep experimenting... and have fun!
I agree that the problem could be your lid thermometer. The one in my GOSM reads 25 degrees hotter than the grate temp.
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