The basic idea behind the 2-2-1 technique is smoking the baby back ribs for 2 hours, then wrapping in aluminium foil and cooking them for another two hours. Finally, remove the foil from the ribs and smoke them for an additional hour.
I learned the method of smoking ribs 2-2-1 from my grandpa, and I’ve improved the recipe over the years. This recipe is so good that it never fails to blow away my guests and clients. In today’s article, I’ll show you how I always make the most succulent, flavorful ribs in about 5 hours. This method makes smoking ribs easy and consistently produces delicious results. So, without further ado, let’s dig in!
How to Smoke Baby Back Ribs?
- 3-pounds of baby back ribs
- 1/2 cup of brown Sugar
- 3 tablespoons of margarine
- 1 cup of light brown sugar
- 2 tablespoons of chili powder
- 2 tablespoons of onion powder
- 2 tablespoons of garlic powder
- 2 tablespoons of dry mustard
- 2 tablespoons of kosher salt
- 2 tablespoons of freshly ground black pepper
Step 1: Prepare the Ribs
Start preparing the ribs by removing the silver skin from the ribs. Locate and remove any transparent membrane that is attached to the back of the baby back ribs. If the membrane stays on the meat, the meat will become chewy, and the spices and smoke flavor from the grill won’t penetrate the meat. Next, give the ribs a little trim. Cut off any fat pockets and excess meat folds you find on the ribs.
Once you’ve cleaned up the ribs, apply dry spice rub all over the meat. Thoroughly mix the dry rub ingredients in a small bowl. Rub a good amount of seasoning on both sides of the meat and let it sit for about 30 minutes at room temperature, so the rub properly sticks to the flesh.
Step 2: Prepare the Smoker
Switch on your smoker and set it to 225 °F. I used a Traeger pellet grill for this recipe, however, any grill works fine.
I like using an intense wood pellet, like hickory, because the strong flavor complements the mild smokiness from the smoker. That said, I’ve found fruit woods, like pecan and apple, impart sweet undertones to the pork cut. However, fruit woods tend to be milder in flavor.
Place the foil pan filled with two to three glasses of hot water in the smoker. Next to the foil water pan, place a smoke tube containing your hickory pellets. Afterward, place your seasoned rack of ribs on the top cooking grate, above the foil pan and smoke tube. If your grill has only one grate, skip this step and throw in the flavored wood pellets in the hooper.
Step 3: Smoke the Ribs for 2 Hours
Once the loin back ribs are ready to smoke on the pellet grill, it’s time to shut the lid and start the cooking process. Smoke the ribs for two hours at 225°F while keeping the lid closed. This way, the ribs will absorb the smoky flavor and develop a mouthwatering color. Once the ribs have smoked for 2 hours, it’s time to move on to the next stage.
Step 4: Wrap the Ribs in Aluminum Foil and Smoke for 2 Hours
For this stage, you will require two large sheets of heavy-duty aluminum foil. Next, add half a cup of brown sugar and three tablespoons of margarine to one aluminum sheet and spread it around the foil.
Afterward, remove the rib rack from the smoker and place the meat side down on the brown sugar and margarine mix.
Next, wrap the ribs tightly in the foil sheet and tuck them into the second foil sheet. The second sheet serves as a backup to catch all your meat’s juices in case the first sheet is punctured.
Take the wrapped ribs back to the smoker and cook them for two more hours at 225°F with the bone side up. At this stage, the ribs are in the process of getting tender and absorbing the sweet and savory tastes of the brown sugar and margarine.
Remove the ribs from the grill and put them on a baking sheet after they have cooked for two hours. Then, open the aluminum foil carefully to reveal your flavorful ribs.
Make sure you remove the foil carefully because there will be built-up steam in the foil that can burn you. For this reason, I advise using a pair of tongs to remove the ribs from the aluminum foil. Return the ribs to the smoker with the meat side facing up after removing them from the foil.
Step 5: Smoke the Ribs for 1 Hour
At the final stage, we’ll put the ribs back on the cooker and smoke them for another hour at 225 F. Now’s the best time to use your favorite barbecue sauce to baste the ribs. I use Rufus Teague’s delicious BBQ sauce for this recipe. Let the ribs smoke for an hour, or until they are as tender as you like them. Pay attention to the internal temperature of the meat and make sure it falls between 190 and 205 degrees.
Personally, I prefer my ribs with a bit more bite. However, if you want a fall-off-the-bone texture for your ribs, cook the meat for about an hour longer.
Once your ribs are perfectly cooked and tender, take them off the smoker and arrange them on a cutting board with the meat side down. Then let the meat rest for half an hour before carving. The ribs will be easier to cut with the meat side down because the rib bones will be visible, so you can cleanly cut between the ribs.
Step 6: Serve and Enjoy
After slicing your ribs, it’s finally time to sit back and enjoy these delicious smoked baby back ribs. Fortunately, you can enjoy these flavorful ribs on different sides. Smoked corn is one of my favorite sides to enjoy with this tasty cut.
The sweet smokiness of the corn perfectly complements the meatiness of the ribs. Baked beans are another delicious dish to serve with ribs. Smoked ribs and baked beans can fill you up pretty quickly. You can also never go wrong with coleslaw; the creaminess of the slaw pairs well with the flavorful rack of ribs.
What are Baby Back Ribs?
Baby back ribs are meat cuts gotten from the upper spinal region of a pig. The term “baby” is used because these ribs are smaller than spare ribs.
When buying ribs, ensure you choose well-marbled meat with specks of white fat. Also, make sure you trim any blobs of excess fat. Additionally, look for a slab with a lot of meat on the bones when you’re picking a rack of ribs.
What Does 2-2-1 Mean?
In essence, the numbers in the “2-2-1” approach represent the various cooking times (measured in hours) for each step of the cooking process.
This method involves cooking uncovered ribs on the smoker or grill for two hours. Then, wrap the meat in foil and cook for two more hours. Wrapping the meat in foil makes it cook faster as it reduces the chances of the stall happening. Lastly, the meat is removed from the foil and placed back in the smoker or grill to cook for one hour.
Remember that the overall cooking time may take a little more than five hours if you’re cooking very large ribs. The cooking time can also increase if the smoker’s cooking temperature drops.
The Best Types of Smokers for Ribs
Pitmasters can smoke their tender ribs in different smokers. Here are my three favorites:
- Electric Smoker: I love using electric smokers because they are quite user-friendly and affordable. This smoker helps maintain a steady temperature whenever I’m cooking my delicious ribs. So, I can smoke the meat without checking it repeatedly.
- Pellet Smoker: A pellet smoker is my favorite to use. I love the flavor it imparts on bone ribs, and it is quite versatile; I’ve used this to smoke, grill, roast, and bake different meals. When using a pellet smoker, you only need to select the desired temperature and remove the meat once it is fully cooked. This smoker is easy-to-use and will have you experiment with smoking different types of meat.
- Charcoal Smoker: Despite being the classic choice for barbecues, I’ve found a charcoal grill to be the most difficult to control in terms of cooker temperature and smoke. You will need to devote time and patience when stoking the flame and maintaining a steady temperature. That said, the smoke flavor it produces makes the hassle worth it.
2-2-1 vs. 3-2-1: What’s the Difference?
While smoking baby back ribs, the 2-2-1 approach produces deliciously supple meat, the 3-2-1 method produces even softer meat that falls off the bone. In the first three hours of this technique, smoke the meat directly on the smoker’s rack.
After the first three hours, wrap the ribs in foil, baste with barbecue sauce, and continue smoking for an additional two hours. Take them out of the foil, brush on the barbecue sauce, and cook for one final hour.
The 2-2-1 technique is always my preferred choice for smoking back ribs because there’s less risk of overcooking and the meat retains a robust texture that makes the cut more delicious. The 3-2-1 method also produces delicious meat, but I find the meat to be too mushy.
Frequently Asked Questions
1. What is the Difference Between Baby Back Ribs and Pork Spare Ribs?
Pig ribs come in different cuts, including baby back ribs and spare ribs. The section of the rib closest to the pig’s spine is known as the baby back ribs, while spare ribs are the portion closest to the belly.
Baby back ribs are shorter than spare ribs because the loin section of the ribs has fewer ribs than the belly section. Moreover, back ribs are softer than spare ribs because of their closeness to the pig’s spine. The area around the pig’s spine isn’t exercised like other parts of the pig.
Additionally, baby back ribs cook more quickly than spare ribs since the flesh is more soft and the ribs are smaller. Moreover, baby back ribs are more likely to remain tender when cooked at higher temperatures than spare ribs, which might dry out.
2. Can I Cook Ribs in the Oven?
You can prepare baby back ribs in the oven if you don’t have a smoker. First, preheat the oven to 275°F. Then, apply the dry rub to the ribs (you can use the same rib rub recipe we used earlier) and brush on the barbecue sauce. Next, tightly wrap the meat in thick aluminum foil and bake for two hours.
Open the aluminum foil after taking the ribs out of the oven. Then, add extra BBQ sauce to each slab using a basting brush. Set the oven to broil and broil the meat for 5 to 10 minutes. Finally, take the meat out of the smoker and let it rest for about 10 minutes, then enjoy.
3. At What Temperature Should I Smoke Ribs?
Smoke your baby back ribs at a temperature between 200 and 250 degrees Fahrenheit.
That said, I’ve gotten good results cooking at lower temperatures of 160–180 degrees. However, if you decide to cook the meat at any of these low temperatures, make sure you apply mop sauce to the meat every hour to keep it moist and juicy. Note that basting with mop sauce is only applicable during the first 2-hour smoking phase.
There you go, the complete 2-2-1 smoking guide for baby back ribs. Smoke the ribs for two hours unwrapped, then wrap them in foil and smoke for two more hours before removing the foil and cooking for an additional hour. It’s that easy! You should have your delicious ribs ready after roughly five hours. So, what are you waiting for? Fire up your smoker and start cooking.