How Long Should I Smoke Ribs?

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How Long Should I Smoke RibsHave you heard of the 3-2-1 method for cooking bone ribs? This simple and easy technique provides a better way of cooking ribs using just a few key techniques. For this cooking process, we’ll be using a slow and low-smoking approach to create St. Louis Style ribs for a delicious dinner. Whether you like fall-off-the-bone tender ribs or want it firm enough to bite, with this guide, we’ll help you get perfect ribs every single time while answering the question, “How long should I smoke ribs?”

Choosing the Right Ribs for this Method

If you’re wondering whether you should use spare ribs or baby backs for smoking, the difference between the two options is that the former will be flatter and meatier compared to the latter. This is because they come from the belly of the pig while the other comes from the spinal area. Spare ribs are also trimmed in a way that gives them a more uniform shape, allowing the connective tissue to become rendered through slow and low cooking.    

On the other hand, a rack of baby back ribs will cook faster since it has less meat. They also come with a curve that sets them apart from spare ribs. But no matter which option you choose, be sure to look for an option with some marbling that will produce more flavor.   

What is the 3-2-1 Method?

The 3-2-1 rib method refers to the 3 different phases of smoking your ribs, which amounts to a total of 6 hours of smoking at a low temperature.  

  • 3 – Refers to cooking your ribs unwrapped at a low heat for 3 hours
  • 2 – This second step refers to smoking the ribs for another 2 hours while wrapped in butcher paper or heavy-duty aluminum foil
  • 1 – For the final hour of your smoke, unwrap your ribs and finish it with your favorite sauce

This great method is a good starting place to find a balance of texture and flavor. While some may argue that cooking a full rack of ribs for 6 hours will overcook them, we’ve never encountered this problem.   


For this smoked ribs recipe, below are the ingredients you’ll need to get started. 

  • Ribs: The best type of ribs for this recipe are St. Louis cut ribs or spare ribs but you can also use large baby back ribs. 
  • Mustard: Dijon or yellow mustard can be used as a binder to help your seasoning stick easily.
  • Seasoning: A sweet and savory blend will work well; making a rib rub can be as easy as combining some brown sugar, kosher salt, black pepper, and garlic powder. 
  • Spritz: It’s essential to use a little apple juice to spritz your beef ribs while it smokes to help the smoky flavor stick to your ribs and allow humidity to build up inside the pit. 
  • Barbecue Sauce: This is used to help braise your wrapped ribs; you can also add honey and unsalted butter. Finally, apply more BBQ sauce at the end of your smoke for added flavor.      


If this is your first time making smoked ribs, it’s important to remember that both sides of the ribs need to be trimmed. This includes the meaty side and the bone side of the ribs where the silver skin (a thin and chewy membrane) needs to be removed. Be sure to use a sharp knife to ensure that you don’t eat anything unpleasant while trying to enjoy your ribs. 

To get started, remove a part of the skin from one corner of the rib then use a paper towel to take it off entirely. Pat your ribs down and start seasoning it. You can also use a butter knife under the membrane by slowly lifting it up and pulling it in one go. 


When seasoning your ribs, it’s best to lock down the smoke flavor during the first 3 hours using a slather and a dry rub.  

  • Slather: Consists of a liquid element such as mustard or olive oil, which will help your dry rub to stick.
  • Dry Rub: Add your seasoning to ensure that your ribs caramelize and develop a smoky flavor, it should have some sort of sweetener like cane sugar or brown sugar. Rubs with sugar in them can help create the bark and color that we all love.  

Smoking Ribs Using the 3-2-1 Method

First 3 Hours 

For the first part, you’ll be smoking your ribs for 3 hours, so you need to start by getting the right wood. Fruit wood such as cherry will work well with ribs since it will produce a mild smoke flavor and a rich red color in your bark. Be sure to place your ribs bone side down on your pellet smoker and leave it for 3 hours. 

During these first 3 hours, it will help to use a spray bottle with some apple cider vinegar to keep your juicy ribs nice and moist. You can use equal parts water and apple cider vinegar or you can also add apple juice for a bit more sweetness. Start spritzing after 90 minutes pass, then spray your meat every 30-45 minutes over the next 90 minutes.  

Next 2 Hours 

By this time, the bones in your spare ribs will start to show, so it’s time to wrap them in aluminum foil. Try to mix some butter and honey into your ribs inside the foil and try adding some of your liquid spritz as well. Enclose everything inside a tight foil pouch and place your rib meat-side down back inside your pellet or electric smoker. 

Over the next 2 hours, it will baste and steam inside the foil and will become infused with the liquid, creating the tenderness and soft texture we all look for. At the end of 2 hours, you can remove the foil; you’ll see that the bones will come out even more. This is the part where your butter and honey will add tons of flavor. 

Last Hour

To make sure that you get delicious ribs, you can’t forget this last step; adding a glaze or sauce for tender ribs. Remove the foil from your ribs or simply open it up and keep cooking your ribs unwrapped for the final hour. Make sure to brush your favorite BBQ sauce onto your ribs right after unwrapping to get the most flavorful and tender meat. 

You’ll know that your smoked ribs are finished cooking when you can wiggle the bones and take them out with a slight tug. If the bones fall out quickly, technically, your meat is overcooked, but if this is how you like your ribs, then there’s no problem with that. Keep in mind that rib recipes like this are more in tune with home cooking rather than professional BBQ competitions. 

The Best Temperature for Smoking Ribs 

When smoking ribs, you’ll want to get an internal temperature of 205 degrees F. Use a leave-in thermometer to monitor the temperature inside your ribs, as well as the ambient temperature around the smoker. Look for thermometers that come with a remote unit so you can monitor the temperature without the need to open and close your lid. 

For your 3-2-1 ribs to reach the right temperature, aim to get your smoker to reach 250 degrees F; if you smoke at 225 degrees F, they will take even longer to cook. The important thing to remember when it comes to smoking is to keep an eye on the temperature around the grill while your BBQ ribs are smoking and try not to open your smoker too much.  

Keeping Your Ribs Moist Throughout the Cook 

Some people like to cook using a pellet grill with a water pan, which can be a better option but how you smoke should be up to your personal preference. It’s best to spritz your 3-2-1 ribs as they cook; the added moisture inside the cooking chamber will help to add color to your smoked ribs while keeping them moist. The best ribs can be achieved by using wood chips and placing your rib meat over indirect heat but you should always watch your cooking time while spritzing every 30 minutes.  

Reheating and Storage Instructions

If you have leftover ribs, you can store them for as long as 5 days inside an airtight container in the fridge. When you want to reheat and eat them, simply wrap them up inside aluminum foil and place them inside a preheated oven at 350 degrees F. Bake your 3-2-1 ribs for 15 minutes or until they’re warm, then open the foil and give them a nice coat of BBQ sauce before serving. 

How Long Should I Smoke Ribs? 

These delicious, tasty, and tender ribs are perfect for any occasion, and you’ll be proud to serve these 3-2-1 ribs to your friends and family. While smoking for 6 hours may sound like a big task, you’ll be happy that you followed each step once you savor each perfect rib. From now on, you won’t be smoking a rib rack any other way, because you’ll get great results every time.