When it comes to ribs, I’m partial to baby backs – lean, tender, tasty, and fairly quick to cook. I usually do them over an indirect heat at 225°F for about 5 hours. But for this batch of ribs I decided to try going with direct heat and rely on a foiled cooking technique that I typically use for spare ribs to give me equally tender ribs in less time.
Known as the 3-2-1 (or in this case 2-1-1) method, it is one of the best ways to create tender ribs without drying them out. The first number is how long the ribs are smoked unwrapped. The second number is how long they are cooked after being wrapped in foil. The final number is how long they are finished unwrapped. This combination gives the ribs a smoky flavor, breaks down the toughness of the meat, and adds a final crispy bark.
The night before the cook, prepare the ribs by removing the membrane on the back side of the ribs and trimming any large amounts of fat or stray flaps of meat. Slather both sides of the ribs with a thin coating of yellow ballpark-style mustard and apply a generous coating of your favorite rib rub.
Wrap the slabs in plastic wrap and store them overnight in the fridge. By morning the mustard will have almost disappeared, melting into the rub and forming a glaze on the ribs.
Set up your cooker for a direct cook that will burn for at least 5 hours at between 225 to 250°F. Yes, I mean direct. Add your smoking wood, and put the ribs bone side down. The bone side of the ribs will act as a diffuser for the heat.
After the ribs have been on for 2 hours, remove them from the heat, wrap them tightly in two layers of heavy-duty aluminum foil, and return them to the cooker bone side down for an hour. This braises the ribs and makes them tender while decreasing the overall cooking time.
After an hour, carefully unwrap ribs and return them to cooker bone side up. This is to firm up the ribs and set the bark. After 30 minutes, flip the ribs bone side down and start checking for doneness. You want a full slab to “break.” This is the point were when you pick up one end with a pair of tongs it almost folds in half and the meat near the tongs starts to crack. When the ribs get to that point it’s time to sauce.
Purists will skip this and serve the ribs dry. I like a little sweetness added at end to balance the flavors and seal the crust. First sauce both sides with a light coating. After about 15 minutes, sauce them again just on top.