The 3-2-1 method, a controlled experiment

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Meat Mopper
Original poster
OTBS Member
Jul 3, 2005
North Texas
I have been reading about the 3-2-1 method of cooking ribs. While open minded, I am also skeptical by nature. Now Iâ€[emoji]8482[/emoji]ve been smoking meat for 25 years with mixed success, I have self taught myself some things including my method of cooking ribs. Everyone who tastes my ribs says that they are the best they have ever had. But about 10 months ago I discovered the BBQ forums we all know about and read about this “3-2-1 method†(actually read about it in the “smokeymountain†forum). There seems to be disagreement about what exactly is the 3-2-1 method is but as I understand, it is 3 hours of smoking, 2 hours of aluminum foiled braising with apple juice and another hour naked again. My method is similar. It is three hours smoking, two hours with BBQ sauce applied for moisture and then placed in foil and finally allowed to rest for another 45 minutes or so (still in the foil) covered with a towel or in a cooler. Let me say, I like to serve ribs with sauce on them. Iâ€[emoji]8482[/emoji]m not a dry rub only fan. Now the only complaint that I have about my method is the final appearance. The ribs look moist but the sauce does not shine. I know thatâ€[emoji]8482[/emoji]s a petty complaint, but they do not have that perfect look like I would want to serve in a restaurant. They are “soft looking†if you know what I mean. My problem with trying the 3-2-1 method before was that 6 total hours cooking time seems excessive.

So I set out today to test my method against a version of the 3-2-1 method. The following depicts what happened. Twenty four hours in advance, I prepared 4 racks of ribs (loin backs from Samâ€[emoji]8482[/emoji]s). I rinsed, removed the membrane, rinsed again and dry rubbed them with my rub. I then wrapped them in food preparation quality (Saran) wrap. They were then refrigerated over night. This is standard procedure, so far no difference, either method.

Next day, I prepared the smoker (GSM wide body propane smoker, @ 220 degrees, mixture of 60% Hickory, the remainder Oak and Pecan wood). The ribs were placed on the 2nd and 3rd racks, two to a rack. For three hours, I checked them hourly and mopped (sprayed) them hourly. Water was added at 1.5 hours although not necessary.

At hour three, the Aubrey method ribs were slathered with BBQ sauce (see below) and the 3-2-1 ones were doused with unsweetened apple juice. All were quickly double wrapped in heavy duty aluminum foil and returned to the smoker (constant 220). The ribs were chosen one rack each for each method from each shelf.

Two hours later, the Aubrey method ones were relegated to a cooler wrapped in towels. End of the line for them. The 3-2-1 method ones were brushed with a thin layer of BBQ sauce (this may not the standard method, I do not know) and placed back in the smoker. Now there was a problem, they fell apart as I was trying to remove them from the foil. So I left them on the foil but formed a small pan out of the foil to hold them. I then placed them back in the smoker for another hour (220 degrees). I did not encourage more smoke at this point. I did nothing more to them for the next hour.

So at 7:00PM, the hour of reckoning came. First let me say that my (Aubrey method) ribs were their usual great. They fell apart and tasted great. Hard to beat. They were tender and delicious. But the 3-2-1 ones looked like I would want the perfect restaurant ones to look. My wife does not use sauce at the table, I do. She said she could taste the apple juice in the 3-2-1 ones. But she said mine were more tender. She slightly preferred the taste of mine over the 3-2-1 ones. I preferred the 3-2-1 ribs, surprise surprise. The margin was slim though. The appearance though of the 3-2-1 ones was a winner. The taste was also great. They were virtually equal in tenderness. Again she does not add sauce at the table and I put a little in a saucer and dip mine.

Results, mixed. But since I am the chef and Q master, I declare the 3-2-1 method as described above the winner. It solves any remaining imperfections in my method and makes the near perfect rack of ribs.

Details left out of above. Used about ½ cup un-sweetened apple juice total. My rib sauce is about 1/6 honey and one tablespoon Starnes sauce mixed with 1 cup of Cattlemanâ€[emoji]8482[/emoji]s sauce (smoky) from Samâ€[emoji]8482[/emoji]s club. My standard rib BBQ sauce recipe for years, always gets raves, now everyone knows.

Hope this helps someone.

Aubrey Page

I like the way you think.. I am an industrial engineer in the real world and we test everything to death! I love stats and comparisons and I think that works so well in the cooking world as well.

We all have likes and dislikes but until you have compared and tested various samples against each other it is hard to say that one thing is better than another.

Your experimentation is exemplary and I commend the courage that it took to step outside of your proverbial box and try something in an entirely new way even though you already seem to have a tried and true method.

I prefer the ribs memphis style.. dry rub and no sauce but I also tried the 3-2-1 method when I first heard about it and it was very good. I did not like it better than my methods but It will be something I will do from time to time because it is very good and because variety is the spice of life.. and bbq in my opinion.

Keep up the great work.. that is an excellent post and I suspect it will be extremely helpful to many people.
Good job Aubrey and nice post!!! I'm glad you thought to test the two. Everyone has there own ways of doing things, and some don't like to experiment with change. Although I introduced the 3-2-1 method to this forum (back in the Yahoo stage), I definitely can't take credit for inventing it. But it has proven to be an almost foolproof method of smoking ribs!

Hi Aubrey
Thanks for taking the time to post your results. As a new smoker this will help be a great deal. I am from northern canada and with our inclement weather i dont get alot of time for testing and count on people like you to help out. I bought my smoker about 2.5 months ago and averaging a smoke once a week my wife said that the best ribs she had ever tasted were yesterday. Although i have never used tinfoil before i will give it a try. Thanks again for your time and thanks to jeff for these forums and food tv for all there help.

Nova Scotia
I'm just now getting around to reading some of these posts. This is a great job! The comparison was absolutely commendable. I have tried the 3-2-1 method back in the yahoo days that Jeff mentioned and have been very pleased with it. But the work and documentation you went to here is outstanding. Thanks for posting the results of your trial.

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