How to Smoke Ribs on a Gas Smoker (3-2-1 Method & Recipe)

By Autumn Ellenson

Do you want the best baby backs in town? Then smoking them is the way to go.

Not only do smoking ribs infuse them with intense, delectable flavor. But smoking your meat at a low temperature is the best way to ensure they become fall-off-the-bone tender.

Smoking is a sure-fire way to cook delicious ribs. And the best news is, it’s easy!

The following guide takes you through the pros and cons of using a gas smoker and how to select the best ribs for smoking. Then follow the easy 3-2-1 recipe to make the most amazing ribs of your life!

Pros and Cons of a Gas Smoker

propane tank in between green checkmark and red X

A gas smoker is an outdoor cooking appliance that smokes food using natural gas or propane as its heating source. The propane fuels a gas burner that burns wood chips, providing smoke that indirectly cooks your food.

You can easily control the temperature of your gas smoker by turning a knob to adjust it. This is very similar to how you would use a gas grill.

Typical gas smokers attach to an external propane tank, like a 20-pound tank. If you purchase a natural gas smoker, it hooks into your home’s natural gas line, much like an oven.

Pros of a Gas Smoker

There are several pros to using a gas smoker. First and foremost, smoking your food infuses it with mouthwatering smoke flavor. But they go beyond taste, offering an easy-to-use, versatile cooking tool to have in your backyard.

One great thing is that they are portable so that you can throw them in the back of your truck. Take it with you to the beach barbecue or camping trip to make a meal that everyone will rave about.

They are pretty easy to put together and set up. They are also easy to learn how to use and control.

Many models also provide you with versatility by being to roast and grill in addition to smoking your food.

They are very similar to ovens and have a temperature that you can set and gauge. You can also easily control the heat, preventing you from overcooking your food. That can be more challenging on a grill, especially when using charcoal. Controlling charcoal grills usually require some experience.

Cons of a Gas Smoker

While gas smokers are great, they also have a few drawbacks.

They can have a steeper learning curve to operate them when compared to electric smokers. They can be slightly more demanding than electric smokers and have to be watched a little more closely so that you don’t burn your food.

In addition, gas smokers can be used in all weather conditions. However, they need a little more care in cold, wet, or windy conditions.

Gas Smoker vs. Electric Smoker

propane tank vs electric plug

While both types of smokers can be great, they also have some differences.

Many people claim that gas smokers offer a better quality of finished food. They have a more intense smoker flavor than electric smokers do.

But a gas smoker can be more challenging to learn to use than an electric smoker. Gas smokers can also require more “babysitting” regarding temperature control.

An excellent thing about gas smokers is that many versatile models offer ways to cook food beyond smoking. Some come with the option to roast and grill food in addition to smoking it.

Gas Smoker vs. Grill

Many people wonder what the difference is between a gas smoker and a gas grill. A smoker cooks meat, vegetables, and other foods using smoke from burning wood chips. The smoke flavor gets infused into the meat, giving it a heightened flavor.

A gas or charcoal grill uses heat to cook food, either directly from a flame or from the indirect heat caused by the flame. The gas grill uses propane to fuel the heat, while a charcoal grill uses charcoal briquets to provide the heat.

(You can smoke meat on a grill with a few extra steps and a smoker box.)

How to Choose the Best Ribs for Smoking

cow and pig butcher diagrams

There are many different types to choose from when making ribs. It can become a heated debate among longtime barbecue enthusiasts since everyone has different tastes.

Most people choose between pork and beef ribs, although you can also find lamb and other specialty ribs.

The following are the most popular types:

  • Baby Back Ribs
  • Spare Ribs
  • Short Ribs
  • St. Louis Style Ribs

Generally speaking, pork ribs are easier to cook on the smoker. While the ribs will be smaller since pigs are smaller animals than cows, they may also fit a little easier in your smoker.

Pork has a delicious flavor and tender bite and contains less fat than beef. Due to its smaller fat content, it will not have as meaty a flavor as beef.

While beef ribs have a fantastic flavor, they can be finicky when cooking. If not smoked properly, they can become tough very quickly. Your best bet when choosing beef is to go with beef short ribs.

In addition, beef tends to be priced higher than its pork counterpart. So be prepared to spend a little more on those cuts!

How to Smoke Ribs on a Gas Smoker

gas smoker

Slow cooking your meat on a smoker with indirect heat results in the most tender rib meat you can cook. That’s because cooking for an extended period at a low temperature melts the collagen inside the ribs, tenderizing them and making them more juicy and tender.

Smoking ribs also infuse the meat with an incredible smoke flavor that most people love!

While there are several techniques to smoke your meat, the following outlines the prep and 3-2-1 method that any novice can master!

How to Prep Ribs

There is not just one way to smoke your ribs, and people use different techniques. No matter how you choose to smoke your ribs, you will want to prep it much the same way.

Remove the Silver Skin

The silver skin is a thin membrane on the underside of the ribs. It’s really tough and will not render down during the cook. Plus, it will keep your seasoning from soaking into the rib meat.

Though it is technically optional, removing it will give you the best results and render the meat more tender and flavorful.

To remove this membrane from the back of the ribs, follow these simple instructions:

1. Place ribs on a cutting surface, silver skin side up. Using a sharp knife, slide it under one edge of the silver skin. If it is too tight in one spot, try another.

2. Once the silver skin lifts in an area large enough to grab it, use a paper towel to grip it tightly. Then gently pull it up off the meat. The entire skin should peel away as a large sheet. If it breaks, repeat the process with whatever skin is leftover.

Trim the Ribs

How to Smoke Ribs on a Gas Smoker (3-2-1 Method & Recipe)

How you do this actually depends on the type of ribs you use. If you’re smoking baby back ribs, you likely won’t have to do much.

Aside from removing the silver skin, baby backs are pretty much ready to go. You may need to trim off excess fat, which is just cutting any chunk of fat down to a thin layer.

Trimming spare ribs takes more work. There are two ways to do it, Full and St. Louis style. I’m going to focus on the easier Full Spare Ribs style, but the video link I attached for you shows how to trim it more for St. Louis style.

  1. Remove the skirt. The skirt is the flap of meat that’s easy to identify. Just slide the knife along the base to remove it.
  2. Remove the breast bone. It’s a chunk of bone on a corner that likely has cartilage on it, too. (Cartilage looks like bone but it bends.) Carefully, cut along the bone to remove it.
  3. Trim off excess fat. Remember, fat adds flavor and tenderness so the key word here is “excess.” If there is a flap or chunk of fat, trim it down to a thin layer.

Rub the Ribs

rub ingredients next to ribs

Next, slather the surface of the meat, including the meat side and the sides of the ribs, with your favorite wet and dry rub.

You can, of course, just use a dry rub. However, a wet rub will help tenderize the ribs. Plus, it helps keep the dry rub on.

If you need it, here are easy-to-make wet and dry rub recipes.

Wet Rub for Ribs Recipe

The following wet recipe takes your meal to the next level. It helps keep your ribs moist while also tenderizing and providing a layer for your dry rub to adhere to.

Ingredients

  • 1/2 cup yellow mustard
  • 1/3 cup apple juice
  • 1 TBSP Worcestershire sauce

Directions

Mix the ingredients in a bowl, then slather onto the meat after removing the silver skin.

Dry Rub for Ribs Recipe

This is a tasty, simple-to-make BBQ rub recipe for your ribs. You’ll likely already have the ingredients in your spice cabinet.

Ingredients

  • 4 tbsp paprika
  • 3 tbsp brown sugar
  • 1 tbsp garlic powder
  • 1 tbsp onion powder
  • 1 tbsp salt
  • 2 tsp cumin
  • 1 tsp pepper
  • 1/4 tsp cayenne pepper

Directions

1. In a small bowl, mix all ingredients. When ready, rub on the meat!

Pro tip: You can make this dry rub mixture ahead of time to be ready to go when you smoke your meat. That gives you one less thing to prep for barbecue day.

You can store the mix in an airtight container for up to a month!

Using a Meat Probe

Alright, before we finally get to actually smoking the ribs, there’s one last thing you need to know.

Any avid meat smoker will tell you that owning a meat thermometer is a must. Most recipes will tell you what ideal temperature to cook the meat to in its directions.

Inserting an instant-read thermometer in the meat at the start of your cook will accurately tell you at what stage your meat is during each step of the cooking process. This will help you cook the most succulent meat possible.

3-2-1 Rib Method

3 2 1 Method Listed

A very popular process for smoking ribs is called the 3-2-1 method. And for a good reason! It breaks the entire six-hour cooking process into three steps:

  • 3 hours: You let the meat smoke without foil for the first three hours, infusing it with that delicious smoky flavor.
  • 2 hours: Steam the meat by wrapping it in foil, allowing its moisture to tenderize the meat.
  • 1 hour: In the final hour you baste and glaze the meat with your favorite barbecue sauce.

1. Preheat your gas smoker to 225 degrees F.

2. If you have not already done so, prep the ribs as described above.

3. Place the ribs on the preheated gas smoker with the bone side down, and cook for 3 hours.

4. Pull off the ribs, but leave the smoker heated. Place each rack of ribs on its own foil sheet.

Optional: Sprinkle the ribs with brown sugar.

5. Place another foil sheet on top of each of the rib racks, then crimp the edges to seal the ribs.

6. Return the ribs to the smoker for an additional 2 hours.

7. Carefully take out the ribs and remove them from the foil. Brush them with your favorite BBQ sauce.

8. Place the ribs, without foil, back onto the smoker for the last 1 hour of cooking. Place the meat probe into the thickest rib, careful not to touch it to the bone. But be sure to read the next step!

9. 50 minutes into the last hour, start monitoring the internal temperature. Ribs are safe to eat at 145 degrees F and “good” at 170 degrees, but they’re not fall-off-the-bone tender at either. The Best Internal Temp for Ribs is actually 190-200 degrees. That’s when you want to remove them, regardless of the actual cook time.

10. Once you remove them, slice in between the ribs to separate them, serve, and enjoy!

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