The BBQ 3-2-1 method is a timekeeping and process method for smoking meats on a BBQ. It doesn’t work for all cuts of meat so don’t go thinking you can chuck on a supersize cut of brisket and cook it like this.
The 3 stands for three hours smoking unwrapped. This is to get the choice wood smoke flavor plenty of time to soak into the meat and form that glorious bark exterior. The 2 stands for two hours wrapped in foil in the smoker. Wrapped refers to the Texas crutch method, to accelerate through the stall and cook the meat through. The 1 stands for one hour returned to the smoker unwrapped to finish off cooking the meat.
At what temperatures?
I know you may be thinking, ok great but at what temperatures am I doing all this?
Well, there is no right or wrong answer for this but low and slow BBQ smoking meats is usually in the range of 225 – 255 degrees Fahrenheit.
What meats work best for the BBQ 3-2-1 method?
The best meats for the BBQ 3-2-1 method are pork ribs, the larger cut ribs work very well with this method. Baby back ribs don’t work with this method and require a tweak to the timing to get right.
The smaller joints of pork shoulder respond very well to the BBQ 3-2-1 method, however huge bone-in pork joints work better without any wrapping or set methods like this in my opinion.
All pork no beef?
The 321 method was specifically designed for pork ribs. Beef ribs have been done in this method but it is not the way to achieve the best results with any cuts of beef.
Beef responds better to being wrapped/Texas crutch method but not at a set time, beef ribs should be wrapped when entering the stall or at a set temperature if at all.
Why should you use the 3-2-1 method?
The main benefit to using the 3-2-1 method and why you should use it is during the two hours wrapped stage you can add additional flavor to the meat. For example, you may already know pork is complemented by apple so you can add apple juice or apple cider vinegar to the bottom of the wrap. The apple juice will steam as it is heating adding a nice apple flavor to the ribs.
Apple may not be for you so could wrap with the addition of BBQ sauce or any flavored sauce to soak into the meat.
Why go by time and not temperature?
Just through the number of times this has been tried and tested by nearly all BBQ smokers and enthusiasts. The timing will be nearly perfect for the temperature needed to achieve the perfect results on pork ribs. As mentioned here Pork is one of the more forgiving meats to smoke, so even overcooked Pork will generally smoke and taste great.
Does the 3-2-1 method work every time?
Well, 90% of the time it will be spot on if you have ribs of a larger size than normal then before removing from the wrap and during the last hour of cooking the temperatures should be monitored. The desired temperatures need to be achieved from the internal temperature of the meat before serving.
Learning how to 321 method on the BBQ is a great starting point when starting out smoking meats. It is a great addition to your BBQ arsenal that will be used and is by the most experienced smoking chefs.
The one thing to take away from the 3-2-1 method is while it will work more or less every time it is still essential to take the internal temperature before removing it from the BBQ, if it is not at the desired temperature return to the BBQ unwrapped and continue smoking. Do not remove it early and make sure your food is cooked correctly and at safe eating temperatures.