Johnny Trigg is a modern legend in the BBQ world. He swept through the competition circuit in the 1990’s with his wife Trish going by the team name The Smokin’ Triggers.
They are the only team to win the Jack Daniel’s World Championship BBQ Invitational twice. Needless to say, they’re kind of a big deal.
In this article, we’ll show you one of Johnny’s award-winning rib recipes, the ingredients he chooses, and the techniques with which he prepares them. Get ready to taste the best ribs you’ve ever made.
The 3-2-1 method for cooking pork ribs
Johnny utilizes the 3-2-1 method when cooking his ribs. This technique calls for the ribs to be unwrapped directly on the smoker for three hours, wrapped tightly in foil for two additional hours, then unwrapped again for the final hour.
It’s hard to say who first invented this way of cooking ribs, but it’s gained a lot of momentum both in competition BBQ as well as backyard BBQ.
The 3-2-1 method is a surefire way to cook high-quality ribs on any style smoker.
Prepping your ribs
Traditionally, Johnny uses a whole slab of spare ribs with tips and cartilage attached, but the 3-2-1 method works well with any style of pork ribs. Here, I’ve used racks of St. Louis cut and baby back ribs.
First off, run your hands over the rack of ribs to feel for any loose bone fragments or gritty parts leftover from the butcher block. Rinse it under cold water to get any grit off, and trim any excess fat, loose bone parts and shiners.
Flip your ribs over to the back, non-meaty side, and remove the membrane. Most rib racks come with the membrane on unless you specifically ask for the butcher to remove it.
It’s important to remove the membrane because it becomes tough and chewy when left on to cook, and it prevents smoke and rub from penetrating and adding flavor to the meat.
After removing the membrane, sprinkle your dry rub liberally onto both sides of the rack. Be sure to press the rub into the meat with an open hand to help it adhere and penetrate. Once your ribs are fully dry rubbed, let sit at room temperature for 45 minutes to an hour.
Smoking the ribs
While your ribs are resting, prepare your smoker to 250°F. A little bit of temperature fluctuation is fine here so long as you maintain as steady a temperature as you can between 225°F and 275°F. Once your smoker is up to temp, add your smoking wood.
I’m using a Backwoods Chubby 3400, so my fuel source is a bed of B&B all natural lump charcoal made from oak in the firebox.
Staying true to the Johnny Trigg method, stick with natural fuel sources like wood or lump charcoal. He uses one hardwood, pecan, and one fruitwood, cherry, giving a complex, layered flavor to the smoke.
Try to steer clear of briquettes that have unnecessary fillers and may influence the taste of the final product in an undesirable manner.
If you’ve been following this process closely, it should have timed up almost perfectly to where your smoker is steady at temp with clean smoke and your ribs have reached the proper amount of rest time at room temperature.
Place your ribs directly on the smoker grates with the bone side down.
Smoke your ribs uninterrupted for three hours.
Note – if your smoker does not have a built-in water pan, you may want to place a container of water inside to keep moisture in the cooking chamber, ensuring the ribs do not dry out. Another method is to spritz the ribs with a liquid like apple juice every hour during this portion of the cook.
Wrapping the ribs
Using heavy-duty aluminum foil, tear off a piece that is large enough to cover one entire rack of ribs – generally twice the length of the ribs themselves.
At the three hour mark, lay the aluminum sheet flat on a table. Spread the softened butter – I used ghee in this instance – on the foil the same length of your rib rack. If you’re using squeeze butter or margarine, a zig-zag pattern in this area will do.
Once your butter is down, sprinkle the brown sugar and one ounce of the tiger sauce on top. Lastly, squeeze the agave nectar or honey back and forth to cover the same area as the butter.
Mix the ingredients together using a gloved hand, making sure all ingredients are incorporated. If your mix seems too tacky, you can cut with a tablespoon of apple juice to thin it out to the desired consistency.
Place the ribs-meat side down into the glaze mixture. Using the same gloved hand, spread excess glaze onto the bone-side of the rib rack.
Wrap the foil tightly around the ribs leaving no pockets for air and steam to build up. Be careful not to tear the foil, but if you do notice a small rip, just double wrap the ribs with another layer of foil.
Place back onto the smoker uninterrupted for two more hours.
The final countdown
After two hours in the foil wrap, pull the ribs off the smoker, unwrap them then stick them back onto the grates. Mop the ribs with your favorite BBQ sauce and let them cook for another hour.
Use a towel or gloved hands to remove them from the grates as metal tongues can shred the glazed bark you’ve worked so hard to build.
The ribs are done when the internal temperature between the bones reaches 195°F. They should have a good bend to them and offer some resistance when the bones are pulled apart.
You want the ribs to have a little give, but not fall apart when you take them off the smoker. The temperature will carry-over and finish close to 200°F giving you a succulent, tender rib that stays on the bone.
If your rib meat literally falls apart off the bone when you pick it up, they’re overdone (but make for a mean shredded pork sandwich!)
Slicing and serving the pork ribs
Once you’ve pulled your ribs off the smoker, they should be good and glazed with a nice bark, and if you pull on two bones, they should begin to pull apart. Let them rest for ten to fifteen minutes.
Now it’s time for the reward. Turn the rack bone side up to prepare to cut the ribs. Bone side up makes it easier to see where to cut between the ribs.
With a very sharp slicing knife, slice cleanly between the bones being sure to leave a little meat on each side of each bone.
Plate and serve while warm.
Johnny Trigg Competition Ribs
- 2 whole racks of ribs spare ribs, St. Louis style, or baby-back ribs
- 4 tbsp pork rub or enough to cover the 2 racks
- ½ cup clarified butter or ghee
- 1 cup brown sugar
- 12 oz wildflower honey or agave nectar
- 1 oz Tiger sauce
- apple juice for spritzing
- 1 cup bbq sauce your favorite
- Rinse ribs under water. Remove membrane from bone side.
- Dust all sides with dry rub. Press rub into meat with open hand. Let sit at room temperature for 45 to 60 minutes.
- Preheat the smoker to 250°F using lump charcoal and hardwood/fruitwood combination like hickory and peach wood.
- Smoke ribs directly on racks, meat side up, for three hours.
- Spritz the ribs with apple juice every hour and/or add a water pan to the smoker.
- Lay down a sheet of aluminum foil per rib rack.
- Spread a quarter cup of ghee onto the foil. Sprinkle half a cup of brown sugar onto the butter and squeeze the honey in a zig-zag pattern over the butter and brown sugar. Then pour on the Tiger sauce . Mix together with a gloved hand.
- Place ribs meat side down into glaze mixture. Spread excess glaze onto the bone side of ribs. Be sure the rack of ribs is thoroughly and evenly covered.
- Wrap the foil tightly around the rack of ribs, making sure there are no loose spots where steam can escape. Place foiled ribs back on the smoker for 2 more hours.
- After 2 hours, carefully remove the ribs from the foil. Place back on the smoker rack and mop all over with BBQ sauce.
- Cook for another hour mopping once more at the half hour mark.
- Remove from smoker and serve warm.