Pitmaster (noun):
One who operates a barbecue pit. Sometimes a term of respect for someone who is skilled at barbecuing.

Jim is usually our rib pitmaster…..I tried once and they didn’t come out the same, even though I did exactly as he told me.  But, as we’ve recently learned….. even Jim’s “recipe” isn’t always failproof.  This last time, even after smoking the ribs for 9 hours, they weren’t as tender as they’ve been previously.

This time, I’m going to see if I can earn the pitmaster title when it comes to ribs- trying the popular 3-2-1 rib technique.

Here’s how it works (using a Traeger):

3:  Smoke the ribs, meat-side up, for 2-3 hours.

2:  Increase the temperature to 225 degrees and wrap the ribs tightly in foil.  Cook for 2 hours.

1:  Remove from foil, brush ribs with BBQ sauce, then grill for an additional hour to “tighten” the sauce.

In summary:  (3) hours smoking – (2) hours in foil – (1) hour glazing

I had read that the 3-2-1 guideline really isn’t THAT critical- you can smoke for 1-3 hours, wrap in foil for 2-3 hours, and glaze the last hour.

Anyway, here’s how my 3-2-1 worked out:

We were expecting dinner guests at 6:30, which meant I needed to put them on at 12:30 for their 3 hour smoke.  First I prepped the ribs by sprinkling them with a sweet BBQ rub. I leave the silverskin on our ribs because I actually LIKE it.  I set the Traeger to “smoke” (which cooks at 150-180 degrees) and put the ribs on the grill grate and started their 3 hour smoke.  At 2:15 I checked on them and decided to increase the temperature to 225. (This was per one of Jim’s coworkers who is a literal PITMASTER and he says he cooks his ribs at 225 for the whole time).  Anyway, I turned the temp up.   At 3:30 I wrapped them in foil.

Here’s a trick for that….. take a large cookie sheet with edges, lay a large piece of foil over it (well, one piece for each rack).  Pull the rack off the grill and place it on the foil.  Drizzle with about 1 T of warmed honey, sprinkle with 2 T brown sugar, then pour 1/4 cup of apple juice over the top).  If the foil is large enough you can wrap it tightly.  If you need a second piece of foil, go ahead and do that. 

The wrapped ribs were returned to the grill, and continued cooking at 225 for 2 more hours.

And at 5:30 we unwrapped them to glaze with BBQ sauce.  Uh oh.  They were DONE!  (See doneness tests below).  As I was trying to remove them from the foil they were falling apart.  It was a ginger process to remove them, but I got them all off the foil with little damage.  The problem was there was still an hour before our guests were arriving and I was supposed to keep cooking them for an hour to tighten the glaze!

We turned the temperature back down to “smoke”, brushed them with Sweet Baby Ray’s BBQ Sauce, waited 20 minutes then glazed them again, then pulled them off the grill at 6:20.

So my lesson here is….

Keep the smoke setting for the full 3 hours.  For the foil part either do it for just an hour, or turn down the temperature to 180 instead of 220.

Personally, I think they were perfect- falling off the bone and super tender and they weren’t dried out or anything- no toughness.  But I wished the BBQ sauce could have dried out a bit more (I don’t like my ribs to be too saucy).

That’s my official Baby Back Rib Recipe/Technique for the Traeger.  If you do it, post a comment here and let me know how they worked out- or post your technique to share!

Note: There are several ways to gauge doneness:
1) the ribs should flex and tear in the middle when lifted on one end with tongs (um, mine were falling apart!)
2) an instant-read meat thermometer inserted in the meat between bones should read 190 degrees F (never tried this)
3) the meat will have shrunk away from the ends of the bones by 1/4- to 1/2-inch (yep! or more!)