How to smoke fall off the bone ribs: Does 3-2-1 work?

Smoked pork ribs on electric smoker rack with dark bark
Fall off the bone ribs in a Smokin-It Model 3

So you’ve got your new smoker and you want to smoke some fall off the bone ribs. The good news is it’s incredibly easy. I remember my very first rack – they were fall off the bone tender and juicy. But, how do you cook ribs anyway? Many folks abide by the 3-2-1 method which works, but may not be all it’s cracked up to be.

The 3-2-1 method is pretty simple – cook for 3 hrs. then wrap in foil for 2 more hours, then finish unwrapped for the last hour. A few things to consider before embarking on this method. First off, if you are using an electric smoker, don’t worry about 3-2-1. Your ribs will be plenty tender without wrapping. Just follow the instructions that came with it. It’s likely that you’ll start around 225 degrees and just let them go until they’re done. We’ve settled on about 4.5 hours in our Smokin-It model 3. Beautiful and tender – fall of the bone for sure.

Secondly, whether you know it or not, many folks will tell you ribs aren’t supposed to fall of the bone at all. Some say it’s a sign of over-cooking. some say it’s a sign of an electric smoker. So, think about that before you start with the 3-2-1 method. If you’re new to smoking ribs, try a few racks without. Then try a few using 3-2-1 and compare. If you’re using a charcoal, pellet, or wood smoker, the 3-2-1 may be the better choice for you as they can get dried out. However, it’s a bit of a pain to wrap and unwrap. I mean this is supposed to be Lazy-Q so we like to keep it simple. For the record, we are not wrappers.

Here’s how we do it.

Prepping ribs for the smoker

Prepare the ribs by rinsing under cold water to remove any bits of bone. Then remove the layer of membrane on the bone side. It can get leathery and be hard to chew so most folks choose to remove it. Insert a butter knife and then work a section loose until you can grab it with your fingers and remove it. I use a paper towel to give me a better grip. If you’re lucky it’ll come off in one piece. It gets much easier with a little practice. Lastly trim the excess fat off both ends.



Next you apply your favorite rub. Be aware of whether or not your favorite rub contains salt. If it doesn’t, you should salt the ribs first. About 1/4 teaspoon Kosher salt per pound does the trick.

If you don’t have a favorite rub here’s one I’ve used and quite like:

  • 3/4 cup firmly packed dark brown sugar
  • 3/4 cup white sugar
  • 1/2 cup American paprika
  • 1/4 cup garlic powder
  • 2 tablespoons ground black pepper
  • 2 tablespoons ground ginger powder
  • 2 tablespoons onion powder
  • 2 teaspoons rosemary powder

Once prepped and rubbed you are ready to smoke them!

What kind of a smoker are you using?

It doesn’t matter! Smoking ribs is so easy, it just doesn’t get any easier. Bring your smoker up to 225 degrees. If it’s electric you just set the temp. Otherwise follow the manufacturers instructions to get it going and adjust as needed until you’ve got a temp of 225 degrees. Remember not to trust any built in thermometer – get yourself something more accurate and reliable. Once you’ve reached temp, put the ribs in and check on them after 3 hours for baby backs or 5 hours for SLC. If you can insert a toothpick into them next to a bone and wiggle it back and forth easily, the ribs are done. If they aren’t quite done, check again in half an hour.

Enjoy your fall off the bone ribs

Hopefully you were successful of your first try. Smoking ribs gets easier and better with practice. Experimenting with different rubs, temps and techniques is fun and keeps things interesting. And remember that flavor is the key here. Regardless of how things turn out for one cook, there’s always the next time!


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