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The Controversial 3-2-1 Method for Ribs

The process gives you meat so tender it virtually slides off the bone.
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Barbecue controversy alert! Are you familiar with the popular 3-2-1 method for cooking ribs? I first encountered the technique researching my book Ribs, Ribs, Outrageous Ribs. (Competition barbecuers sometimes call it the "Texas Crutch.") In a nutshell, you break cooking ribs into 3 time blocks:

  • 3 hours of smoking unwrapped at 225 degrees, followed by
  • 2 hours of cooking wrapped in foil (with a little liquid, such as apple cider), followed by
  • 1 hour of cooking unwrapped at a higher temperature, with a generous basting of barbecue sauce

I tried the method again a few nights ago and understand its appeal. The process gives you meat so tender it virtually slides off the bone, with the multiple layers of flavor most of us associate with great barbecue. And within a predictable 6-hour time frame, too.

It's relatively fail-proof, meaning that if you follow the directions, you are almost guaranteed you'll avoid the dual pitfalls of ribs that are tough or dry.

And if you serve ribs cooked by the 3-2-1 method, 95 percent of the people who taste them react with delight and will declare you a barbecue genius. My guests sure did, and I did not deflect their praise.

And yet . . . and yet . . . I felt a certain unease accepting their compliments. These were good ribs--very good ribs. These were easy ribs. Safe ribs. These were ribs almost anyone could love on account of their moistness and tenderness.

But they weren't hall of fame ribs--ribs with character, with soul. Find out why at

Bottom line? Most people will love ribs cooked by the 3-2-1 method. Purists like myself remain skeptical. Form your own conclusions by doing a side-by-side comparison. Please post your results and photos on the Barbecue Board and on our Facebook pages (Barbecue Bible and Steven Raichlen).

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Steven Raichlen is the author of the Barbecue! Bible cookbook series and the host of Primal Grill on PBS. His web site is