2-2-1: Your Ultimate Recipe for Ribs

By Kristy J. Norton

Like most budding pitmasters, you may have heard of the 3-2-1 method of cooking ribs but the 2-2-1 process may be a bit of a mystery.

Photo by Luis Aleman

Well, the 2-2-1 method is pretty similar. For this process, you smoke the ribs for 2 hours, uncovered. Then, you wrap the ribs and cook the ribs for another 2 hours. Finally, you unwrap the ribs and then cook for an hour, until the ribs are done.

Now, why should you make the switch to the 2-2-1 method? Well, the 3-2-1 method may be the more accepted process but it is also known to yield dry and unappetizing ribs. This is especially true in the case of baby back ribs.

Baby back ribs tend to be smaller and have less meat on them. As a result, they are more likely to dry out when exposed to heat for too long. If you want to guarantee that you get juicy and fall-off-the-bone ribs, here is the recipe that you should be following:


  • 2 racks of baby back ribs or 1 rack of spareribs
  • 2 tbs. of Dijon or yellow mustard

Dry Rub

  • 1/4 cup of brown sugar
  • 1 tbs. of kosher salt
  • 1 tbs. of chili powder
  • 1 tbs. of paprika
  • 2 tsp. of ground cumin
  • 1 tsp. of mustard powder

For Basting

  • 1/2 cup of BBQ sauce


Step 1

Remove the membrane from the surface of the ribs. Use a sharp knife to get a piece of the membrane free. Once you have freed enough of a section pull the membrane away from the flesh.

Repeat this process until the membrane is completely removed.

Step 2

Ground cumin photo by Luísa Schetinger

Combine the ingredients of the dry rub in a bowl.

Pat the ribs dry with a paper towel. Then, apply mustard to both sides of the ribs.

Sprinkle on the dry rub and pat into the place. Make sure that every inch of the ribs are covered.

Cover and refrigerate for 2 hours.

Step 3

Take the ribs out of the refrigerator about 30 minutes before you are going to smoke them.

Preheat your grill to 225 F if you are using a pellet grill or an electric grill.

If you are using a gas grill or a charcoal grill then set up two zones on the grill. One section should have direct heat while the other section should not.

Step 4

Place the ribs, close the lid, and smoke for 2 hours.

Open the lid and apply a thin layer of barbecue sauce to one side of the ribs. Close the lid and smoke for 5 minutes.

Open the lid again and flip the ribs over. Apply a thin layer of sauce to this side. Close the lid and smoke for 5 minutes.

Remove the ribs from the grill.

Step 5

Use a couple of sheets of aluminum foil to wrap each rack of ribs tightly. A tight seal means that no moisture can escape out of the packaging, keeping the ribs nice and tender.

Place the ribs back on the grill and close the lid.

Smoke the ribs for another two hours.

Step 6

Open the lid and unwrap the ribs but keep them in their packaging.

Apply a thin layer of barbecue sauce to one side of the ribs.

Close the lid and smoke for 30 minutes.

Open the lid and flip the ribs over. Apply a thin layer of sauce to the other side.

Close the lid for another 30 minutes.

Step 6

Take the ribs out of the grill and test the ribs for doneness – pick up the ribs at the middle point with a pair of tongs. If they droop downward, they are done.

Place on serving plates or on a cutting board.

Let the ribs rest for at least 30 minutes before serving.

Tips for Smoking Ribs

To make certain that your ribs turn out as delicious as possible, follow these top tips:

Choose the Right Wood Chunks or Pellets

The wood that you use to smoke the ribs is often just as important as the dry rub and the barbecue sauce.

The best options for ribs tends to be the sweeter woods like apple or cherry. Pecan and maple are a good choice as well. For a smokier option, hickory can work but make sure to use very little and to balance this wood out with plenty of cherry or apple.

Keep the Temperature Low

You may be tempted to smoke the ribs as fast as possible but low and slow is the way to go here. This will give the muscle time to break down so that it is nice and tender. A lower temperature will also prevent the ribs from drying out.

Now, if you are using a pellet grill or electric grill, then you can take the temperature up to 250 F but should avoid going any higher than this.

Know When to Take the Ribs Off

It can be tricky to know when the ribs are cooked all the way through. Unlike with other cuts of meat, you can’t rely on internal temperature as there is so little meat on the bone.

Due to this, you have to use the bend test. Wait until the ribs have cooked for 5 hours. Then, using a pair of tongs, pick up the ribs from the middle of the rack.

Do the ends droop downwards and do you see some cracking near the middle? If so, this means that the ribs are ready to be taken off the grill.

If this doesn’t happen, then they need to go back on the grill. It is best to keep checking the ribs at 10 minute intervals after this to ensure that they don’t overcook.

Let the Ribs Rest

Last, but certainly not least, let the ribs rest once they come off the grill. Don’t touch them or serve them for at least 30 minutes.

This gives the ribs time to reabsorb any liquids that may have been lost during the smoking process. In turn, you will get juicier and tastier ribs to enjoy!

There you have it – the ultimate recipe for ribs! All that is left for you to do is to try this method out for yourself. Once you do, you are sure to never go back to the old ways of smoking ribs!

Author Bio

Kristy J. Norton is a professional chef who also comes from a long line of pitmasters. This allows her to combine the worlds of fine dining with BBQ. If she isn’t hosting her own cookout, you will probably find her helping out at someone else’s!

“CatHead’s BBQ was the combined dream of Richard Parker and Pamela Schafer. Their goal was to bring delicious, authentic, and rural barbecue recipes and techniques into the heart of San Francisco, taking over Big Nate’s BBQ in 2012. People from all over the country flocked to CatHead’s BBQ with the unique, sizzling flavors becoming a must-taste for locals and tourists alike.

Unfortunately, Richard and Pamela had to shutter their restaurant in the aftermath of the global pandemic. Their legacy continues to live on, though Kristy has made the site a guide and haven for barbecue enthusiasts everywhere. From recipes to step-by-step instructions, this website can show you everything you need to know to turn out a perfectly grilled piece of meat each and every time.

If you are looking to take your barbecuing skills to the next level, then you have come to the right place! From novices to experts, this site is a fount of wisdom – tips and tricks that everyone can use. Go ahead and put these to the test and discover just how quickly your BBQ parties can be the talk of the neighborhood. ”   

Explore CatsHead BBQ.

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